Inclusive diversity at the workplace goes far beyond quotas for minorities. It means finding ways for people with different mindsets to work together productively to make a business more competitive.
For example, a workplace where younger employees have little input would lose out on finding new ways to sell to the youth market, where potential customers tend to text and not call, record TV shows while skipping over ads, and use social media more than their elders.
Francia Baez, head of global Diversity & Inclusion at payments company Visa, shared those insights at WorldCity’s HR Connections in a wide-ranging discussion March 11. One example she offered: Should the company include Braille on credit cards?
Baez said a key challenge to inclusive diversity is involving senior management. Too often top executives say “get it done.” But for inclusiveness to take root and blossom, senior managers must be personally involved, so that other employees will follow their lead, she said.
It helps to tie performance on diversity to pay, so that executives will push to hire minorities, foster and mentor them and take other steps to make the workplace more inclusive, Baez said.
But securing senior management buy-in faces hurdles. Too often, managers say they support diversity, but when they hire people of different nationalities, race or gender, they seek out people of similar background and schooling and ultimately, similar mindsets.
“They want people who might not look like them, but think like them,” Baez said. “But the real issue is difference of thought. That’s where you make the most progress.”
Baez has been busy with her task since top managers at Visa asked her to help make their team more diverse and inclusive. She traveled to Visa’s hubs to speak with staff, conduct focus groups and try to find ways to address the issue of diversity. She found little common ground at the different sites.
Concerns in Mexico, for example, centered on including women in senior management; in San Francisco on including African-Americans and the disabled; in London, on bringing in more youth; and in Singapore, on how to hire more people who don’t have backgrounds in finance, she said.
Baez also talked with roughly 50 major corporations to benchmark their efforts on factors from supplier diversity to budget and employee resource groups for women, gays, Latinos or others.
“My greatest learning from those companies is there are no competitors,” she said. “We all want to include different sectors, and we want employees to feel part of the organization and be themselves, whatever that means.”
Baez said the research led her to focus not on quotas for minorities or diversity but more on inclusion. It matters little if companies hire more youth, for instance, if they don’t listen to them or train, mentor and promote them in the organization longer-term, she concluded.
Yet measuring inclusion is difficult. Asked Ken Finneran, chief people officer for the Americas for Hellman, the Germany-based logistics company: Where do you start and end, and how do you move to a broader discussion beyond quotas?
Baez said quotas can be a starting point, but she tries to mobilize senior managers by presenting diversity and inclusion as key to expand business. She reminds managers, for instance, that the disabled spend about $1 trillion a year, so it pays to include them to find new ways to reach their market.
“In a consumer company, you’re going to lose business if you don’t” hire and promote employees that reflect the diverse segments of the market, added Andre Chambers, an executive in People and Organizational Capability for Microsoft Latin America.
Measurement is not static either, because over time, societies recognize new groups that have been excluded, not just women or gays but perhaps Iraq war veterans and their spouses, participants said.
“There’s not one moment of Nirvana, where I say this is accomplished,” said Baez. “It’s a process.”
In Latin America, there’s already progress in diversity. For instance, the subtle discrimination often practiced by Mexicans of European heritage against Mexicans of indigenous descent is waning, said Lorena Keough, a director at Diversified Search Odgers Berndtson executive search firm in Miami.
“It’s more than what you look like or who you know. It’s more how competent you are,” Keough said. “And that happened from need,” she said, from growing demands to compete in a more global market.
Seasoned Latin American executives used to volatility in business in their homelands also are being recruited to top positions in other emerging markets from China to South Africa, Keough said.
Yet U.S. students would be better prepared for the global marketplace and jobs of the future, if schools taught more geography, world history and languages and generally fostered more of an international mindset, said Mayra Puchades, human resources manager at Banco Sabadell.
Developing cultural awareness is vital for people of all nations and all backgrounds to build a collaborative workplace and help companies compete globally, Baez said. That means learning a wide range of skills. For example, there are cultural differences in how long it takes to build trust before doing business. For some, that means learning not to become restless, if they don’t close a deal after just a few meetings.
“To learn to be comfortable with the uncomfortable” is key to developing inclusion, she said.
HR Connections is one of seven event series organized by WorldCIty to bring together executives on international business topics. The HR series is sponsored by the University of Miami School of Business Administration and Diversified Search Odgers Berendtson. The next HR meeting is set for May 13.