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Why Inclusivity Requires The Courage To Be Uncomfortable

07/12/2018 01:38 pm ET Updated Jul 13, 2018

By Dinesh C. Paliwal, president and CEO, Harman

The global conversation about diversity and inclusion is changing. It’s getting louder. The push for racial, ethnic and gender equality is now top of mind for business leaders around the world. And yet, talk has not always led to action. A fear of being uncomfortable has led to a misguided mindset -– an avoidance of difficult conversations and concrete action –- in the workplace.

That needs to change. And change starts at the top.

I’m proud to be a member of The CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion. The initiative was launched last year to rally the business community to advance diversity and inclusion within the workplace. Its mission is to cultivate an environment in which all employees feel empowered to discuss diversity and inclusion, and to catalyze bold ideas that lead to lasting change.

In my experience as the CEO of Harman, I can tell you that building an inclusive corporate culture that prioritizes integrity, respect, diversity and teamwork has helped us create incredible value across the business. It’s what enables us to hire the best talent, enhance the technologies our people produce and unlock innovations and services that improve the lives of millions of our customers around the world. Diversifying our organization across gender, geography, culture, age and experience has been the single most valuable component of Harman’s transformation and success over the past 10 years. Simply put, diverse teams perform better.

And it’s not just Harman. A recent McKinsey study found that companies in the top quartile for ethnic and racial diversity in management were 35 percent more likely to have financial returns above their national industry mean, and those in the top quartile for gender diversity were 15 percent more likely to have returns above their industry average. Today, diversity and inclusion are not “nice-to-haves” ―  they’re absolute business imperatives.

Diversity and inclusion is also a deeply personal topic for me. As an immigrant to America many years ago, and as the father of a daughter and son who are now making their way in the professional world, I know that the way organizations support and amplify traditionally underrepresented voices can have a profound impact on individual opportunity.

Of course, change does not come easy. People carry preconceived notions, often unintentional or sub-consciously, about others who may look, sound or act differently from them. That’s why establishing programs and resources that help employees identify and overcome bias should be first on the agenda of every corporate leader.

Here are five helpful steps you can take to build an engaged and diverse workforce that feels valued and delivers results:

1. Acknowledge and remove obstacles to inclusiveness.

Studies show the positive effects of mandatory diversity training rarely last beyond a day or two and suggest that it can even activate bias or spark backlash. Voluntary training, however, evokes the opposite response ― the feeling that, “I chose to show up, so I must be pro-diversity.” 

2. Walk the talk. Training and seminars inform, but we must lead through our actions. 

Engagement and inclusiveness are closely related. Engaged employees are more likely to say their company values diverse ideas

Engagement begins with executives. GM became the first automaker to have a female CEO and CFO. Diversity starts at the top with Mary Barra, who in recent years has elevated many women of GM to leadership roles across critical areas of the business. A recent study from PwC showed that 40 percent of organizations where diversity is not seen as a barrier to progression have a C-Suite executive serving as a diversity and inclusion program leader. 

3.  Invite debate. Fear and complacency are poisonous; disruption and disagreement are liberating.

Bank of America, another CEO Action member, launched a Courageous Conversations initiative for which it hosted dialogues ranging from small conversations within teams or employee networks, to enterprise conversations with community partners. Over the course of these conversations, participants discuss race, gender dynamics, the role of the majority in diversity, social justice, LGBT equality, inclusion in the workplace and local and national current events. As a result, Bank of America has reached over 60,000 employees, including its board of directors, global senior leaders and local market presidents.

4. In the war for talent, win at home.

Issues of “retention and engagement” are among the greatest challenges cited by business leaders. Research shows that mentoring programs within organizations boosted minority and female representation in management on average by 9 to 24 percent.

Harman invests significant resources in professional development groups that have resulted in higher retention and aided the career trajectory of many of our most valued executives, including Sandy Rowland, our CFO, and Jessica Garvey, our global head of procurement. Women also hold top-ranking positions across the departments of compliance, communications, strategy, talent, tax and intellectual property.

5. Reinforce diversity and inclusion as competitive growth advantages.

Because of our ability to harness the diversity and creativity of our people, Harman has continued to establish major partnerships with virtually all global automakers and the biggest tech companies in the world. We maintain high retention rates, earn most innovative companies honors and customer service awards and achieve industry-leading financial performance.

Still, we realize we have room to grow. For companies, communities and economies to achieve sustainable success, we need for everyone to be engaged ― to openly celebrate our diversity and build inclusive cultures that stimulate collaboration, productivity and invention.

This is not about philanthropy; it’s about sustainability. It’s not about compliance, it’s about competitiveness. Our future depends on the competency and creativity of those who will lead our organizations, industries and the world after us. Change is on us. And together we can do better.

The CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion was spearheaded by PwC U.S. Chairman Tim Ryan.

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