Diversity Leaders Look for 'Game-Changing Outcomes'

News Updates

Incremental progress in diversity and inclusion is no longer enough, according to Ted Childs, president & CEO of Ted Childs, LLP, who spoke during the Society for Human Resource Management’s (SHRM) Diversity and Inclusion Global Thought Leaders’ Summit, held March 4-5, 2010, at the Gaylord National Harbor in the Washington, D.C., area. “We are looking for game-changing outcomes,” he said. “We want leapfrog progress,” he added.

Childs, who retired from IBM’s corporate human resources team in 2006 after 39 years, said the changes happening around the world are “inevitable” and that diversity, HR and business leaders should “deal with the cards we are being dealt.”

The concept of inevitability was echoed throughout the invitation-only event, which brought together over 100 executive-level global thought leaders from academia, government, the military, business and the nonprofit sector and hailed from South Africa, India, China, Germany, Spain, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Dr. Clifford Stanley, President Obama’s recently confirmed Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness at the Department of Defense stopped by to observe the event and to greet summit attendees, including military officers from various branches of the service.

The summit focused on three key topics:

  • The employment and career success of women in the global workforce.
  • Education and employability.
  • Workplace flexibility.

Laurence G. O’Neil, SHRM’s president and CEO, kicked off the summit by welcoming attendees and setting expectations: “This is a room of power, of promise and of potential; of provocative ideas and compelling arguments. But it is also a room of solutions,” he said. “We have invested substantial resources to help advance the diversity and inclusion field and to gain a more accurate assessment of that field. … We have set the table. We have set our goals. And today our work begins together. Let change begin right here.”

Shirley Davis, Ph.D., SHRM’s director of diversity and inclusion, noted how important the April 2008 summit was—the first in the series—in helping to shape and inform SHRM’s strategy. “We learned during our first Summit that SHRM has an important role to play in advancing the Diversity & Inclusion field,” she said after the event.

Since that gathering, SHRM has conducted a diversity practice analysis, published global diversity research, released the Global Diversity Readiness Index (G-DRI) tool and developed, piloted and launched the SHRM Diversity & Inclusion Strategic Leadership Program.

Eric Peterson, MSOD, SHRM’s manager of diversity and inclusion, gave a brief demonstration of the G-DRI, a downloadable tool that rates 47 countries along 39 indicators related to national diversity, workplace diversity, social inclusion, government inclusion and the legal framework.

Data Captured Several Ways

During a session billed as a “Workforce 2020 Framing Exercise,” participants split into three groups to take a close look at the chief topics of the day—women in the global workforce, education and employability and workplace flexibility. Each group was asked to work on one of three scenarios that could occur in the year 2020 and to identify the associated workplace challenges, as well as solutions and strategies to address the issue.

Handheld polling devices were used throughout the day to capture feedback from the audience related to the topics being discussed. For example, participants were asked, “Do you think we have the right initiatives, processes and systems in place to fix the issues of education and employability so that the world will have enough qualified workers in 10 years time?” Nearly everyone present—92 percent—said “no,” citing “a disconnect between what is being taught and what is needed in the marketplace”; “inequities based on race/gender (access to technology, fully funded schools, etc.)”; and “students lacking instruction in critical thinking skills” as the top obstacles.

Participants were encouraged to use Twitter to share their reactions to the summit with the outside world using the hashtag #SHRMGTLS. During the summit, those reactions were posted on the screen so that participants could see real time discussions occurring in the “Twittersphere.”

A graphic artist was on hand to capture the events of the summit in visual form. Her work and the other data gathered at the summit will be published in an executive summary and used to inform SHRM’s diversity and inclusion strategy and future offerings.

Global Mega-Trends

Childs gave a brief overview of “Six Diversity & Inclusion Global Mega-Trends,” three of which aligned with the topics selected for the summit:

  • We the People: The changing face of the United States mirrors the world.
  • The shift and growth in regional populations will yield a shift in world power.
  • Education improves the quality and competitiveness of a society and is a predictor of marketplace performance.
  • Faith will play an increasing role in the world economy and politics.
  • The ascendance of women in the labor force will determine the competitiveness of countries and businesses.
  • How countries and businesses help people integrate their personal lives and work experiences will be a primary contributor to employee productivity, morale and retention, and it will be a key statement of a nation’s or workplace’s value proposition to potential residents and employees.

For example, Childs said, organizations need to stop assuming that women would rather stay home and have babies instead of working. But many women don’t want to have to choose between the two, and in some countries it’s essential that women procreate and work in order to maintain population growth and fill the talent pool, he noted. “We are going to be successful because of women, not in spite of them,” he said.

Childs was scheduled to provide more information on these global trends during a SHRM webinar on April 8, 2010, at 2 p.m. EST. 

Experts Discuss the Day’s Topics

Steve Miranda, SPHR, GPHR, SHRM’s global chief human resources and content integration officer, led an emerging workforce panel discussion with:

  • Meryle Mahrer Kaplan, Ph.D., who heads Advisory Services at Catalyst, a nonprofit organization seeking to provide advancement opportunities for women.
  • Manny Contomanolis, Ph.D., associate vice president and director of the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) Co-op and Career Services and president of the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE).
  • Lois Backon, vice president of the nonprofit Families and Work Institute (FWI).
  • Chai R. Feldblum, one of President Barack Obama’s nominees for a seat on the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and a professor of law at Georgetown University, where she serves as director of the Federal Legislation and Administrative Clinic and as co-director of Workplace Flexibility 2010, a campaign for a national policy on workplace flexibility.

When asked to identify the most worrying global workplace issue, Kaplan said organizations have become very good at talking about diversity but don’t necessarily take the kind of action needed to make a difference. “We are not doing justice to the talent out there,” she said.

Feldblum said she was concerned that leaders would not grab the opportunity to do things differently in the next 100 years. “Are we going to deal with transformation by pushing people into the box we already have set or do things differently?” she asked.

For example, Backon said, women who choose to pursue positions of power are often faced with a choice between life and work. “We need to create a world of both.”

Feldblum agreed, noting that workplace flexibility should not be thought of solely as a white, middle class woman’s issue, but as an issue affecting men and women working in a variety of jobs at all levels. “We all make choices against the backdrop of structures,” she said. Work has to get done, she noted, but “employers have to set up structures so women and men can live their lives.”

When a participant asked how organizations can provide workplace flexibility for nonprofessionals, such as on the manufacturing floor and in agricultural environments, Backon suggested they let the work team figure out how to make it work based on the needs of their team. She referred attendees to the “2008 Guide to Bold New Ideas for Making Work Work,” published by FWI, for examples of programs used by employers.

Contomanolis described five educational challenges, such as:

  • The disconnect between what students learn and what they need to learn.
  • The need for innovative, flexible teaching techniques that take into account different learning styles.
  • The lack of well-trained, quality educators.
  • The need for assessment and evaluation.
  • The gap in access and equity; there are people seeking education who don’t have access to it or that find that education systems don’t take their needs into account.

Contomanolis acknowledged that educational institutions can anticipate what students will need to learn, but not with perfect certainty. Institutions can emphasize the types of skills—such as the ability to communicate, work in teams and be innovative—that students need to develop.

For example, he said, students can develop global competencies by obtaining knowledge of the history, culture and economic conditions outside their countries; can learn to speak, read and think in a language other than their own; and can have a positive attitude and desire to engage with people in cultures unlike their own.

A Woman Breaking Down Barriers in India

Over lunch, SHRM’s Davis interviewed Nandita Gurjar, senior vice president and group head of HR for Infosys Technologies—the first company in India to have a formal diversity and inclusion office—about her approach to diversity and inclusion and her experiences as a female leader working in a male-dominated industry.

Gurjar said that first she had to persuade her father and then her husband that she should be allowed to work. Her husband agreed that she could do so after her youngest child was in school.

Gurjar encourages hiring managers to employ women by asking them what they found lacking in female candidates, by speaking the language of business and by using data and scorecards to track things like how many women returned to work after maternity leave.

Women in India have few role models, Gurjar noted, and often they can’t move beyond middle management because of family pressures.

In 2008, Infosys created a Family Matters Network so employees can share advice with one another on how to manage children, teenagers and in-laws, who often have a lot of influence on working mothers. “Women need to know that others are going through the same thing,” she said.

When asked what Americans should expect if they visit India, Gurjar said the three things people mention most are the number of people, the bright colors and the smell. “Be open,” she said. “You will get culture shock.”

As a global company of Indian origin, Gurjar acknowledged that Infosys is sometimes viewed as exporting Indian values and culture to other countries – something U.S. corporations are often accused of doing – but that it is not intentional. For example, employees in India are more inclined to relocate than U.S.-based employees, she said.

Diversity Drives Innovation

After lunch, Frans Johansson, an innovation expert and author of The Medici Effect (Harvard Business Press, 2004), led the group through a “diversity innovation solutioning session” focused on products and services SHRM provides, such as research, publications and conferences.

He said all new ideas are combinations of existing ideas but that all combinations of ideas are not equal. For example, a bikini and a sandy beach go together naturally, he said, but a bikini and an observant Muslim woman do not. Yet it was that combination that led a Muslim woman to create the “birkini,” a modest bathing suit that covers all but the hands, feet and face.

In a matter of minutes, in small groups, participants learned how to use Johansson’s ideation approach and generated dozens of ideas. Groups worked to further improve their ideas by splitting up to seek fresh input from a participant at a nearby table.

Diverse teams generate far more ideas, Johansson explained, because individual participants bring different perspectives and experiences. This is important, he said, because “you’ve got to have a lot of bad ideas to get a good one.”

“The challenges that we face are daunting, but SHRM is prepared to lead the way, bridging the gulfs between business, academia, non-profits, and governments to leverage and promote thought leadership and innovative solutions,” Davis said following the event. “The information, ideas, strategies, and solutions that we collected during this Summit will allow us to do just that.”

O’Neil made it clear in his closing remarks that the work of the participants in effecting meaningful change around the world had only just begun. “Let’s make change happen now. … Accelerate the inevitable,” he said. “Let’s go get it done.”

Rebecca R. Hastings, SPHR, is an online editor/manager for SHRM.