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Blending Diversity & Inclusion: Rattling the Status Quo

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Editor's note: This piece originally appeared in the April edition of MReport.

While diversity and inclusion has been at the forefront of workplace conversations, the distinct nature and impact of both the processes often go undifferentiated. Most organizations have done well in adding people from a wide roster of demographic characteristics to their team. However, once hired, the practice of infusing a sense of belonging through the active process of inclusion—creating a cultural and environmental feeling of belonging—lags behind. While diversity is tangible in a sense that one can see faces from different ethnicities and backgrounds in a workplace, inclusion can be assessed only by understanding the extent to which employees are valued, respected, accepted, and encouraged to fully participate in the organization. To put it simply, while focusing on diversity is essential to attracting great talent, inclusion is what will retain employees.

During our conversations with some of the professionals who are committed to further D&I, MReport learned how far we have come and how much is still left to do to create an all-inclusive workforce that goes beyond the framework of policy-making.

Understanding the Nuances

Verna Myers, a diversity and inclusion consultant whose TED Talk on overcoming bias has received nearly 1.2 million views, said, “Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance.” This analogy resonates meaningfully with people who comprise today’s multicultural workforce. Despite roadblocks, given the opportunities at our disposal, this might be the most effective time to manifestly refashion the dynamics of diversity and inclusion from transactional interactions to value-based relationships. While a framework of robust policies is of paramount significance for legal protection, it is the everyday personal experience of employees that determines how successfully they have been implemented.

Defining what inclusion means to her, Dana Dillard, EVP, Corporate Social Responsibility, Mr. Cooper said, “Inclusion is about having a seat at the table and a voice. It’s not enough to just have diversity, the inclusion part is just as important.”

One of the pitfalls of embedding D&I initiatives from a mere policy perspective is the failure to cut through hierarchies of power. When power is concentrated in the hands of a few who are from a similar background consciously or subconsciously—they circumscribe the space within which diversity can operate freely.

Randy Miller, President, Randall S. Miller & Associates, explained, “To me, diversity includes a workforce comprised of a representative number of races, religions, and genders. Inclusion is the act of incorporating the diverse workforce into the decision-making process. If half of your workforce is made of up of various minority groups, but none are part of management or upper management, you have not been inclusive. Instead, you would be considered homogenous.”

Carina Cortez, EVP, People, Ellie Mae, perceives inclusion to be “the intentional act of ensuring that everyone, regardless of surface-level category, is able to bring their authentic self to work and has a valued voice as part of a team.”

D&I From a Financial Standpoint

In an effort to understand the impact of diversity on revenue generation, a 2018 study by the Boston Consulting Group looked into 1,700 different companies across eight different countries, with varying industries and company sizes. The study revealed that companies that have more diverse management teams have 19 percent higher revenue due to innovation. This improved financial performance was attributed to the level of increased diversity at leadership levels, making a strong business case for D&I.

Sharing her insights on how D&I initiatives quantifiably brings in more business, Lola Oyewole, Director, Human Resources and Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer, Ocwen Financial Corporation, said, “There is significant research that shows that having a diverse workforce drives economic growth. A report by McKinsey & Company found that a 10 percent increase in diversity in the senior executive team resulted in an almost 1 percent rise in earnings in the U.S. A 10 percent increase in gender diversity increased earnings by almost 4 percent in the UK. As we become more creative and innovative, we must also consider the largest generation in the U.S. workforce today: millennial workers.”

Speaking of the initiatives underway at Ellie Mae, Cortez shared that the company is investing in learning and development to counteract and reframe unconscious bias and improve our ability to connect with the talent both within Ellie Mae and externally.

“We support multiple Employee Resource Groups and host an annual company-wide diversity conference—Stronger Together— which encourages participation in our initiatives and reaffirms company commitments,” she added.

“Creative thinking and strong team communication is encouraged when different point of views are brought to the table,” said Lori Eshoo, Founder and President, National Tax Search. “Without this, your business risks are stagnation, failure to grow and thrive, low morale and team spirit.”

Humanizing D&I

The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., once said, “It is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is 11 o’clock on Sunday morning.” His statement resonated deeply with those who faced the brunt of exclusion from a spiritual realm that only valued the presence of a select few. Compare this to today’s workforce. How much of this segregation has been eradicated in a country that is further diversifying by the day is a question that still looms large over a broad spectrum of industries.

Urging the need to be more open and human in our approach to such initiatives, Miller said, “There is so much hate these days. I scoff at people who claim to be religious, but spout hate towards people that are different than themselves. It is hypocritical. We are all on this planet together, and therefore need to work together to make it a better place to live. Diverse and inclusive workforces have been empirically shown to outperform businesses that are not, so failing to incorporate D&I will only act as a hindrance to future success.”

“Recently, we have seen many examples of the high reputational price that companies pay by not leveraging diversity and inclusion in their business decisions. From racial profiling, to false accusations, to the recent examples of racist imagery in product designs at luxury brands—all indicate that having a stronger focus on diversity and inclusion may have helped to stop some of these situations from happening. We can all learn from these stories: diversity and inclusion matters,” Oyewole said. “The United States as a whole is becoming more diverse. The percentage of people of color and women entering the workforce is increasing and therefore those companies who embrace diversity will be in a much better position than those who don’t,” she added.

Commenting on the exponential risks that come from ignoring diversity from an ethical standpoint, Eshoo said, “Your employees may feel they are not in an environment that promotes equality. So many issues come into play such as race, gender, religion, nationality, age, and disabilities. Prejudices can be perceived and negativity festers. As an employer, it is your ethical responsibility to maintain equality and promote a harmonious workplace for all. Provide opportunities for all including workplace and diversity training, equality in terms of hiring and salaries, open communication, sensitivity to disabilities, work and family balance, just to name a few.”

Loreli Wilson, Director of Diversity and Inclusion at Veterans United Home Loans, stated that, statistically speaking, predictions indicate that by 2040, people of color will no longer be a numerical minority. “These shifts will continue to require businesses to be responsive to the preferences of their customer base and to be inward facing in their commitment to providing a work environment that is conducive to a strong and diversified workforce. At Veterans United, part of our values state, ‘We achieve more collectively than we ever could individually.’ To us, collective achievement includes having a firm commitment to recruiting and retaining diverse teammates. Ethically, we believe it’s just the right thing to do,” she added.

Different Faces, Different Names—One Common Goal

Those that MReport interviewed agree that to engineer perceptible changes in the D&I landscape, the most important step is to continue the conversation, especially to provide a platform for the underrepresented groups and to give them fair share of opportunities to be heard and understood. This will help usher in a purposedriven workforce moving in harmony to advance their careers without being pigeonholed.

“Just the fact that we are talking about diversity and inclusion in our industry is a step forward. However, many organizations and their leaders still struggle with recognizing, accepting and even celebrating the differences in people,” said Diana Peterson, President of AuctionWorks. “It is human nature to feel most comfortable with people who look, think, and act like you. It takes honesty and a real effort to recognize this and to treat everyone equally, even when some people’s differences make you feel uncomfortable.”

Addressing the level of exponential growth in knowledge and experience sharing in the last five years, Dr. Amanda Andrade, Chief People Officer for Veterans United Home Loans, said, “The transfer of knowledge between businesses and individuals in our industry is a huge advantage in moving D&I programs to new levels.” She also indicated that “diversity and inclusion departments are actively becoming an integral part of our industry, which allows all of us to evolve with the demographics of our borrowers and potential employees.”

“Whether it’s celebrating Chinese New Year, Kwanzaa, or Ramadan, among others, we recognize and celebrate these holidays together. Our Cooper Pride team members even go so far to say that they “get to be celebrated vs. being tolerated at work,” Dillard added, reiterating the need to understand and accept cultural sensitivities.

Speaking of the varied client base at Randal S. Miller & Associates, Miller said, “There has been a substantial change in the faces we deal with on a daily basis. Our client contacts now include a substantial number of women, as well as a jump in Hispanic representation. What we have not seen is a change in middle management to board rooms. That is the area that needs to be looked at the most. While the glass ceiling has elevated, it still exists, and needs to be shattered once and for all.”

Quoting data from the National Association of Realtors, Cortez noted that single women accounted for 18 percent of all home purchases last year compared with just 7 percent by single men. “Awareness of more diversity with homeowners has ignited companies to increase diversity efforts of their own. At Ellie Mae, for example, we sponsor several ‘Women in Leadership’ events across the industry; plus, we have expanded internal employee group engagement. We find that interaction in these groups help impact policy, culture, and innovation and give our teammates an outlet to share their perspective,” she added.

Probing the cause of gender leadership gap and the proverbial glass ceiling, Coldwell Banker’s recent “Examining Women and Leadership Survey” compared the leadership and professional ambitions of men and women who work in female-dominated industries—as determined by data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The survey revealed a serious dearth of women in boardrooms and C-suites, with 75 percent men more likely than women to hold an executive-level position.

Commenting on her collaboration with the American Mortgage Diversity Council (AMDC), Maureen Hart, SVP, Vendor Management and Information Security for Aspen Grove Solutions, pointed out that she learned how gender equality remains an area of focus despite the great awareness that has been created on this issue.

“Further work is required to ensure that people are paid equally for the equal work they perform. The industry, especially through the AMDC, encourages organizations to support gender equality as a strategic objective and to support emerging female leaders. Despite progress, 51.4 percent of workers in the Real Estate Industry group are male and, on average male workers earn more than 1.47 times more than their female counterparts,” Hart said.

Miller also stressed on the importance of minority communities in the workforce. “If you walked through my various offices, you would find an incredibly diverse and inclusive workforce. The one area where that is not true is with our attorneys. We have a large number of female attorneys, but for some reason do not attract a lot of minority candidates. As positions open, we intend to implement better recruiting tools to attract a more diverse applicant pool. Several AMDC webinars have offered such guidance. As positions open, we intend to implement better recruiting tools to attract a more diverse applicant pool. Several AMDC webinars have offered such guidance. I can’t hire people that do not apply. This is something I really want to work on,” he said.

Lessons Learned and Change Implemented

As we look toward the future, MReport asked these experts spearheading D&I initiatives about the key takeaways of such programs and what changes they implemented as a result of lessons learnt in the past.

Explaining how D&I is at the heart of Cooper Culture, Dillard said, “At Mr. Cooper, we want all of our team members to recognize that we lead with inclusion. That is my top priority—every day. Our Leadership program gives up and coming leaders opportunities for one-on-one executive coaching to help them take their careers to the next level. Our D&I initiatives are part of a journey that will never really end.”

This year, Aspen is focusing on personality types, learning types, and thinking styles. “We are training all our managers in using off-the-shelf tools that can be used to better understand their team members. We are encouraging team members to use these tools to better understand their own team members,” Hart said.

Cortez believes that great products are built on a diverse and inclusive culture. She reiterated how this is evidenced by the diversity of their customers and borrowers, increased engagement in the company diversity initiatives, and the advancements in innovative technology.

Wilson said, “We have certainly learned a lot. Probably the most significant lesson is that as a team of nearly 2,400 employees, we need to always focus on evolving our processes and initiatives as we grow as people and as a company. We drop what doesn’t resonate and are intentional about making sure that we are constantly tapping into our
network of employees and external colleagues who are passionate about D&I work.”

In a world where most shrink away from asking the big questions, Hart urged, “Don’t be afraid to talk about D&I programs, embrace it! When introducing a program, keep an open mind and make time to conduct the research into best practice and the huge amount of resources that are freely available. One word of warning: don’t do it because you think it might increase business—that is unlikely to positively impact the culture—do it because you believe it.”

About Author: Donna Joseph

Donna Joseph is a Dallas-based writer who covers technology, HR best practices, and a mix of lifestyle topics. She is a seasoned PR professional with an extensive background in content creation and corporate communications. Joseph holds a B.A. in Sociology and M.A. in Mass Communication, both from the University of Bangalore, India. She is currently working on two books, both dealing with women-centric issues prevalent in oppressive as well as progressive societies. She can be reached at donna.joseph@thefivestar.com.
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