By Sandye Tapylor
I once attended a presentation by a senior executive where the speaker used the phrase “noose tightening around our necks” to describe changes in the regulatory environment.
To some, the words may have been unremarkable, but the symbol of the noose is steeped in a history of violence against blacks that sadly, continues to be used to invoke antiblack sentiment to this day. After the presentation, I shared my concerns with the executive, who responded with alarm and honest regret, pledging to remove the phrase from his vernacular.
I began my career as an attorney, at various points representing union members, so I am accustomed to stepping up and combatting the social mechanisms that enable discrimination. Today, as the global head of diversity and inclusion of
a major investment bank, I think about the people at our firm who are early in their careers, and if they would feel as comfortable as I did to speak up.
Over the past decade, companies in virtually every industry have heeded the call from activists, investors, stakeholders, and younger generations to diversify their workforces. A recent Gallup poll revealed that 55% of employees say their workplaces have policies that promote diversity and inclusion. Yet women make up only 21% of the C-suite, and people of color make up just 14%, according to McKinsey.
INCLUSION IS ABOUT MORE THAN REPRESENTATION
In the financial services industry, numbers speak volumes and measurement drives action. Diversity is relatively easy to measure, and while it is critical, it’s not enough. Companies must also foster a sense of inclusion, which involves appreciating differences and recognizing the value they add to an organization.
Diversity is about representation. Inclusion is about giving people a sense of belonging, connectivity, and empowerment to speak up and share their ideas. This is where most firms, including in my industry, still have work to do. How do we ensure everyone feels valued and equipped to perform their best?
ADVOCATES MUST LEAD BY EXAMPLE
Companies that make measurable progress in the areas of diversity and inclusion often do so thanks to advocates who lead by example. These individuals demonstrate inclusive leadership behaviors, act as vocal and visible champions for marginalized groups, and speak up when a situation isolates, embarrasses, or demeans someone else. Building an inclusive environment requires trust, which is why the most effective champions for inclusion embody three values: transparency, vulnerability, and courage.
Leaders must be transparent about their commitment to inclusion, both internally and externally. Setting actionable goals and sharing them publicly demonstrates commitment and boosts accountability. Executives and managers should speak to their teams regularly about how they are doing with regard to representation. Managers should offer public praise and highlight the work of team members who are promoting inclusion. It sends a signal that the company values their contributions to improve the workplace.
Building strong relationships is essential to gain support for initiatives to drive inclusion. This requires a willingness to be vulnerable. Taking a leap of faith and standing up for what you believe is right, despite the possibility of being questioned, is paramount to creating change.
Originally posted on Fast Company