CHAPTER SPOTLIGHT: WOMEN EMPOWERMENT
Viewpoints from IAOP’s Women Empowerment Chapter By: Sandy Frinton, Editor-in-Chief, PULSE
A NOTED DIVERSITY ADVOCATE HAS SAID: “DIVERSITY IS BEING INVITED TO THE PARTY. INCLUSION IS BEING ASKED TO DANCE.”
IAOP started the important conversation about promoting greater diversity in the industry by launching its Women Empowerment (WE) Chapter in 2017. Since then, the chapter has evolved to expand its focus on the importance of inclusion. Combining diversity and inclusion can lead to workplaces where individuals from all backgrounds can be seen, heard and empowered. Along with a greater sense of belonging also comes more engagement.
What goes into creating an environment where both diversity and inclusion go hand in hand and complement each other? We turned to our experts in our WE Chapter to find out more about the benefits of hiring diverse candidates, the biggest myths they would like to debunk, the lessons they have learned, the importance of mentors and the role IAOP can play.
Our experts sharing their personal viewpoints are: Shimona Chadha, Senior Director Marketing, HCL Technologies; Maura Hudson, COP, Senior Managing Director, Newmark Knight Frank; Chitra Rajeshwari, aCOP, Executive Director, Avasant Foundation; Heidi Solomon, Global Vice President of Sales, VXI; and Wendy Shlensky, Vice President, Analyst & Advisor Relations, HGS.
MESSAGES FOR HIRING MANAGERS
It is first important for hiring managers to recognize that everyone has inherent biases or underlying factors or assumptions that skew their viewpoints. Being aware of those biases and having a transparent and open conversation about them is important for hiring managers, according to Solomon.
“Talent is talent,” says Hudson. “In today’s society and corporate culture, unconscious bias appears not just based on race and gender alone, but also age, appearance, sexuality, etc. The key to success is to always hire for the person and their potential, not just for the position.”
Rajeshwari notes: “There are huge amounts of value in recognizing the views of those with different backgrounds in order to break new ground in organizations that are truly committed to moving forward.”
She added the gender isn’t the only bias to be aware of: “Age discrimination in either direction – too young or too old – is becoming an issue where people believe that only a certain demographic can have the skills or knowledge to do the job, particularly in the tech industry where millennials are high in demand. Hiring managers and all managers must be careful not to discount the value of knowledge in either direction, from historical to trending now.”
According to Chadha, evaluating a candidate based only on their perception of how that candidate will perform in a specific role is a seriously flawed strategy. “As we move away from a siloed approach and towards workplaces that are integrated and fluid, employees can contribute in myriad ways, some of which may not be limited to the role for which they were hired,” she says. “As a hiring manager, it’s important to carefully consider your shortlist, especially with leadership positions.”
Hiring managers and recruiters should, above all else, favor diverse candidates that have a great attitude and the aptitude and willingness to learn, she says. Other pluses these professionals may bring to the table: the ability to collaborate and demonstrating inclusive thinking – a skill that isn’t easy to train for.
DIVERSITY DOESN’T ALWAYS EQUAL INCLUSION
The WE Chapter members stressed that it’s not enough to just hire diverse candidates, these professionals have to be welcomed and valued in an organization.
“Diversity and inclusion are not synonyms,” says Shlensky of HGS. “Diversity is creating policies to have a diverse workforce or a diverse group. Inclusion is about involvement and empowerment— recognizing the value of a diverse group of people. In order to attract diverse candidates, a company needs to have inclusive practices, otherwise, the diversity hires will leave, as they won’t feel or be welcomed.”
Rajeshwari of Avasant explains why inclusion needs to be brought into discussions. “Policies need to move beyond throwing a few different demographics together and letting things ‘work themselves out,’ which often results in leaving minorities to fend for themselves,” she says. “Instead, companies should not only allow but facilitate and encourage everyone to be part of a vibrant conversation. These voices will thrive where they know that they are valued, and organizations that successfully communicate that value will benefit from them.”
Hudson of Newmark Knight Frank calls diversity and inclusion “the ying and yang of each other.” She says, “The more hiring managers consider these concepts holistically, and through the lifecycle of an employee’s time spent within the organization, the more opportunity there is to evolve the strength of a firm’s employee base and related competitiveness.”
OTHER MYTHS DEBUNKED
OK, let’s put the untruths out there: Diversity is not about checking the box or lowering standards. It’s not enough to just say your company has a diversity and inclusion program. Diversity isn’t only Human Resource’s responsibility. And it’s perfectly acceptable (even great!) for women to show their emotions at work.
According to Chadha: “Diversity hiring is not about ‘lowering the bar’ so you can achieve a certain metric that makes your company or team look good. Diversity has a documented positive business impact on a company’s overall success and market share.”
One of the biggest myths about diversity Chadha sees is that the HR department of an organization is solely responsible for building diversity in the workplace while, in fact, the stakeholders, senior management and key decision-makers of the company largely dictate the diversity of a company.
“Companies that are serious about fostering a culturally inclusive atmosphere are investing in diversity training for their entire workforce, not just for their HR department,” she says. “Diversity initiatives need to be built into an organization’s policies across all stages of the value chain – right from the people who raise a resource requisition, to the recruiters, and finally, the decision makers. Not every company can afford a Chief Diversity Officer. However, being aware of these misconceptions and working to eliminate them is a first step in the right direction.”
Solomon of VXI agrees that diversity and inclusion have to be part of the company’s mission and DNA that is embraced by the entire management team. The initiative also has to have a formal budget.
“You can say that you have a diversity and inclusion program but if you don’t have a budget it’s really difficult to get anything accomplished,” Solomon says, sharing her own past experiences of diversity programs failing because they were essentially viewed as volunteer undertakings. “There has to be a formal plan for execution that can be both measured and managed with a tangible ROI associated with the program. If a budget is not allocated, the program essentially becomes window dressing. It makes the company look good but accomplishes very little. Even if you can’t have a formal Chief Diversity Officer, you still need a budget to support training and sending individuals to conferences, hosting community events, mentoring software and other initiatives.”
Another common myth facing women in the workforce, Hudson says, is that “their ability to display emotion is somehow incongruent with their ability to think clearly or logically when making a leadership decision. As such, they are often dismissed when they do exhibit a strong reaction or take strong action.”
“The truth is this: Women can be some of the most effective and prolific negotiators out there. Their ability to harness emotional intelligence and apply it to understanding a client’s or employee’s needs is an important quality for leading teams and firms,” Hudson asserted.
Over the last few years, it’s become a part of the corporate canon that diversity has a direct impact on the bottom line. According to a report by Catalyst, businesses with the most females had on average, 42 percent greater return on sales, 53 percent better return on equity and 66 percent greater return on invested capital.
The list of benefits that come from hiring women and diverse candidates is long, according to the experts, and include greater productivity, more creativity, improved engagement and customer service, heightened competitiveness, greater understanding of cultural differences, better solutions, and so on.
“With diversity, there is a representation of multiple perspectives and of opinions, which typically creates better solutions and results than a homogenous workforce,” Shlensky says.
In short: “Out-of-the-box thinking can’t happen when all of the pieces have resided inside the same box for all of their lives,” Rajeshwari says.
Having diverse teams is particularly important today for global companies with employees from around the world. “It is important to know how to work with people with people from different cultures and be aware of cultural differences,” Solomon says.
A candidate from a minority group may be better suited to managing and driving results from a diverse, multi-cultural team, notes Chadha.
“As our world becomes more diverse and inter-cultural, having an employee base that is reflective of that is important,” she says. “It makes our customers feel like they are giving their business to organizations that are a true reflection and representation of who they are. As an obvious consequence, diverse companies also provide better customer service. As they are better adapted to respond to a wide range of experiences and perspectives and can better address those concerns.”
Behind every successful professional is likely a mentor or role model that made a difference to inspire, encourage and motivate the individual. The WE chapter members all agreed that having mentors – whether individuals or through affinity groups – are essential.
“Mentors can be a guiding light and a wonderful source of support and advice for professionals navigating challenging situations,” Chadha says. “If your mentor works with you, they can open doors for you that may have remained closed otherwise. The mark of a good mentor is their ability to make you confident in your abilities. When a mentor shows that kind of belief in you, it drives you to push yourself beyond what you thought was possible and excel.”
Despite record numbers of graduating women entering workplaces, the data still indicates that only 32 Fortune 500 companies are led by women, which amounts to a meager 6.4 percent. As minorities in these workplaces, a good mentor can create opportunities for increased visibility and growth, and show people their true potential, Chadha says.
“Mentors can serve as excellent sounding boards,” she added. “A mentor with great listening skills and a non-judgmental approach can step in to listen and actively support employees who are at pivotal stages in their careers. Mentors truly matter!”
According to Rajeshwari, mentors are an extremely critical component in enabling women and professionals from diverse backgrounds to achieve success.
“Young women especially should be encouraged to step beyond the comfort levels to work in any industry,” she says. “There is still a lot of hesitation to enter certain fields. The outsourcing industry, for example, has not been historically friendly toward young women in particular and a lot can be accomplished by the ally ship that mentors can provide. Many may say that the doors are open, but there are many thresholds that a young woman would hesitate to enter if no friendly face were provided to guide her through.”
Having male mentors is critical. Solomon noted that in addition to women who have made significant impacts on her, some of her best mentors have been male. Author and speaker Tony Porter, who she heard speak at the S.H.E. Summit in New York this fall, was particularly motivating. Porter’s book, Breaking Out of the Man Box discusses how men can empower women to be successful.
Shlensky, who used to run a women’s inclusivity program, found many of the topics discussed also resonated with men who attended the events. “Men need mentors just like women do, though possibly to cover different topics.”
Look everywhere for mentors, Hudson advises. “Mentors can span generations, and be multidisciplinary and multinational. Keeping the heart AND head open to new ideas from people you trust – even those with whom you may disagree with sometimes – is the epitome of being diverse and inclusive,” she says.
EXPERTS SHARING THEIR PERSONAL VIEWPOINTS ARE:
- Shimona Chadha, Senior Director Marketing, HCL Technologies
- Maura Hudson, COP, Senior Managing Director, Newmark Knight Frank
- Chitra Rajeshwari, aCOP, Executive Director, Avasant Foundation
- Heidi Solomon, Global Vice President of Sales, VXI
- Wendy Shlensky, Vice President, Analyst & Advisor Relations, HGS.