Zurich : Breakfast Dialogue

21 Feb 2011

Diversity & Inclusion

Josefine van Zanten, Vice President and Global Head of Diversity & Inclusion, Shell
Tabi Haller-Jorden, General Manager, Catalyst Europe AG

Hanneke Frese, member of the IHRC Core Team, introduced the launch of the IHRC Breakfast Dialogue series.
The twenty some members present debated issues relating to Diversity and Inclusion.

A useful definition of diversity (any difference that impacts a task or a relationship) helped the participants broaden their focus away from purely observable differences (gender, nationality, visible handicaps). Any of us may have experienced subtle differences not noticeable to others but that set us apart and are nevertheless extremely important for the individual.We know there is a fundamental business case to focus on diversity and inclusion for organizations, but there is an equally important societal case and, as the above illustrates, a personal case. This also plays a part in recruiting and keeping the talent needed to achieve sustainable growth in a changing environment.

Some Highlights:
On selecting talent: Recent data shows that the number of female graduates is higher than the number of male students in many sectors and that the female graduates are often out performing their male counterparts. For organizations such as Shell which hires top graduates from top schools it is of essential importance that they can attract top female talent. The focus of recruitment and selection decisions needs to be based on meritocracy and the best candidate needs to be appointed. But “best” is often a subjective term. An organizational culture based on strong values (of which diversity and inclusion are key ingredients) tends to fare better.

On helping talent succeed: Even if someone is appointed from an underrepresented group – and that fact may be celebrated – much support needs to be provided to ensure this person is able to perform their job well and succeed. We may be surprised to hear research has shown that any subgroup which is smaller than 20% of the overall group is prone to facing levels of non-acceptance, lack of inclusion or outright discrimination

On metrics: Measuring the positive impact of higher awareness and better integration of diversity and inclusion in the decision making process is simply not that easy. Organizations can count the women in their workforce and it is probably allowed in most countries to have nationality as a data-base entry. Other aspects of diversity and personal values such as religion, sexual orientation, slight disabilities that are invisible to the outsider, etc may not be known and cannot be measured. One way of creating Inclusion metrics is to run regular employee attitude surveys and generate a reputational index for the organization as part of the overall people survey

On making a difference: So what does the Diversity and Inclusion function (which requires engagement of the Human Resources community) do to make a difference? Strong experience and knowledge of the subject matter is a must but so is the ability to negotiate, the passion to communicate and a commitment to enlist the help of others. Only then can a Diversity and Inclusion strategy be embedded in the business context. The reality is that those responsible for Diversity and Inclusion need to go where the energy is and where they can make a difference, be it in talent decisions, strategy, branding, advertising, communications, etc.

Clearly, the closer to the Chairman the Diversity and Inclusion function is, the better. Senior leadership tends to be very comfortable in the organization’s economic paradigm. While some executives may excel especially during dire times this can be at the cost of employee engagement. Of course it is exactly at these times that there needs to be a healthy overlap between the economic (business) and engagement (human dimension) paradigm. Only then can the long term objectives of the organization be achieved and values are not trampled on or inadvertently disregarded.

Some Tips:

  • If you are a member of an underrepresented group in a team, find yourself a buddy. Many people from underrepresented groups will have experienced that their idea is ‘not heard’ in a meeting, only to be picked up by a member of the “in-group” minutes later, to his or her full credit. The buddy can help put the argument back where it belongs: with the first person who raised the suggestion in the first place.
  • For people with hearing and reading disabilities there are some outstanding and affordable software applications to help the employee feel more comfortable at work and be more efficient.
  • If organizations are unable to employ disabled employees because of the type of work they do or the product they create, extra effort can be made to ensure that in other parts of the value chain the organization collaborates with companies that do employ people with disabilities.
  • Offer training courses or facilitated focus group meetings in your organization. All of us – whoever we are – have had moments in our lives when we felt excluded. Create a dialogue of respect with a mix of local and non-local employees. What is the local culture like? What are other cultures like?
  • An international supplier of technology to the oil and gas industry often needs to send their specialists to far away places, oil rigs in oceans, etc. Rather than sending a single woman into such an environment they send, where possible, a cluster of women to operating sites which have previously been rated as to ‘women friendliness’. This avoids attrition, builds support between the women and provides them support and more included.

When one of our female participants joined a symposium some years ago, she was the only woman in a large group of men. Another participant, an African American gentleman walked up to her and said: “Hi, I am the black guy, you must be the woman!” Both were invited as ‘token’ people from underrepresented groups and although connecting immediately, were also aware of their role within the group.

Recommended Reading:
Rocking the Boat: How to Effect Change Without Making Trouble by Debra E. Meyerson

Text by Mary Bronson/IHRC Support Team
Photos by James Macsay/IHRC Support Team