Project Management Institute

The Value of Diversity

Transcript

STEVE HENDERSHOT

As the world stares down a recession, corporations will be looking for places to cut back in the wake of COVID-19. But if your organization is thinking of reducing your inclusion programs, that would be a strategic error. 

BLAIR TAYLOR

Diversity unlocks potential. It unlocks an untapped area of potential that, quite frankly, there’s no other way to get at. That’s the way I hope people will continue to view it. And in so doing, I think we set ourselves up for some great future successes.

NARRATOR

The world is changing fast. And every day, project professionals are turning ideas into reality—delivering value to their organizations and society as a whole. On Projectified®, we’ll help you stay on top of the trends and see what’s ahead for The Project Economy—and your career.

STEVE HENDERSHOT

This is Projectified®. I’m Steve Hendershot.

This episode is sponsored by PMTraining.com.

From live virtual classes to online on-demand courses, PMTraining prepares students for popular PMI certifications, including the Project Management Professional, or PMP®.

For special listener discounts up to $400 per class, please visit them at PMTraining.com/podcast.

You heard a moment ago from Blair Taylor, a partner in the Workforce of the Future practice at the global consulting giant PwC. The case he makes, about the way that diverse teams have a unique potential to arrive at unique solutions and thus to unlock unexpected value—well, a lot of project leaders are nodding their heads right now. Research in a new PMI Pulse of the Profession® In-Depth Report shows that 88 percent of project professionals believe diversity on project teams leads to increased value.

Pull people together who have different mindsets and skill sets, and they challenge one another. They expose faulty or incomplete assumptions. They approach problems from new angles. And that’s precisely the sort of interplay that often leads to innovation.

To hear more about how diversity delivers value, let’s hear more from Blair. Prior to joining PwC in Seattle, Washington, USA, he was chief community officer at Starbucks and also worked as CEO of the My Brother’s Keeper Alliance, the signature urban youth development initiative of former U.S. President Barack Obama.

MUSICAL TRANSITION
STEVE HENDERSHOT

Whether we’re talking about ethnicity, sexual orientation, age or gender, why is diversity so important for project teams? 

BLAIR TAYLOR

First of all, diversity yields better business results ultimately, and that comes from the fact that when you have different points of view in the room, you’re going to end up building a more creative and impactful solution. And that’s been something that I’ve seen and experienced over the course of my career.

Second, diverse teams I think send a message about the values of an organization. And so having a diverse team of people or work groups sends a message about who you are as an organization. And because it’s becoming more and more valued by society, it will elevate your brand. And quite frankly, if you start with a diverse, say, senior team or start with a diverse set of leaders, it actually starts to elevate everybody else’s focus on diversity within an organization.

And then I would say diverse teams really start to stimulate I think personal connections between people. And when you look at the situation we’re in today in particular, we need those connections. We need them for the health of society. Corporations are in many ways the deepest pond that we have in terms of fostering interpersonal communications and breaking down barriers. Why? Because that’s where people are spending the majority of their waking hours: in a business, in an office, whether it’s a small business or a big business, whether it’s a big corporation or a small company. If we can foster those interpersonal connections within that environment, that translates into a whole lot more understanding out at community and street level.

STEVE HENDERSHOT

You’re not only championing diversity from a social or moral standpoint, because, in most organizations, to sell this in the C-suite you’ve also got to demonstrate that it’s delivering value. So what does that look like? 

BLAIR TAYLOR

I think what’s happening now is organizations are beginning to realize and recognize that this is actually fundamentally important to us strategically, and we have to weave it into everything that we do. We can’t think about, we’ve got an office of diversity and inclusion over here, and then we’ve got business operations and marketing and sales and HR. All of those things need to be thinking about diversity, equity and inclusion all the time in every strategy that’s developed. The winning organizations, the ones that are progressing I think the fastest—and quite frankly, from a predictive standpoint, I think the ones who over the next 10 or 12 years will be the most successful—are the ones who are thinking about diversity across every aspect of their business. They weave it into every business decision. They recognize that this is a higher-level thing than just about doing the right thing in quotes. It’s more about the future of our business. It’s more about doing the kinds of things that our customers care about. It’s more about doing the kinds of things that our employees and future employees care about. And that’s the way that you build a brand and you build a resilient brand and you build a brand that lasts, that outlasts the individuals who are in a leadership position at any given time.

And I think there’s a recognition of that that’s going on right now. I think it’s an important shift; it’s underway. I don’t think it’s come fully to fruition. But I think it’s a good environment because people who have been talking about this stuff for many years, and I put my hand up as one of them, are finally starting to see, in the business world, companies saying, “Yes, this is important. Now, what do we do? How do we get there from here? What kinds of specific things would you recommend, and how do we get our people ready for this next wave?” And that’s an exciting place to be.

STEVE HENDERSHOT

That gets to the growing awareness of the importance of empathy. How do people and teams go about building their empathetic capacity?

BLAIR TAYLOR

It’s interesting, I published an article on LinkedIn a few months back called “The Diversity Paradox.” And one of the things that that article positioned was, “Hey, if we really understand all the values and virtues of diversity, we understand the impact to productivity, we understand how it makes for better teams, we understand how it makes our customers more excited about our brands, then why haven’t we seen more progress in the areas of diversity, equity and inclusion?” And one of the theories that I put forward in this article is empathy is the missing ingredient, that we haven’t solved the empathy problem.

I break it down into two different types of empathy. One is what I call associative empathy, which is, I’m an African American and therefore I have a certain degree of empathy just by the fact that I’ve lived being an African American. A Jewish American has a certain amount of empathy just because they’ve lived being a Jewish American. A female has a certain amount of empathy just because they’ve been a woman for their entire life.

But there’s this other type of empathy called acquired empathy, which is really about, I’m not a woman, but how do I get to the point where I have empathy for the journey that women have gone on? Or somebody might say, “I’m not a minority, but how do I get to the place where I can have some empathy and understanding?” I may tell you and teach you all of the values and virtues of diversity, equity, inclusion, but when it comes time to you as a leader going out and leading a team and speaking emphatically on the subject and why you should follow the leader down that path, if I don’t have an authentic voice, it’s really hard for me to convince people. And so this acquired empathy is a really important concept.

And so then people ask the next question, which is, “Well, how do I get that?” I didn’t grow up Latino, or I didn’t grow up African American; how do I get that? And there’s many different ways to get it, but maybe the most important is experientially. It’s really about understanding who you’re talking to by having some experiences with them. And let me just give you a couple of examples. One is, I say to people quite often, if you’ve gone through your life in the majority population and you’ve never been the only one in the room, you need to change that. You need to figure out a way to make yourself be the only one in the room because that’s what the minority population, underrepresented populations, are going through all the time. And so that feeling and understanding what that feeling is can help you with empathy.

Likewise, I often tell corporate leaders, if you can get people out and engage with populations that maybe they’ve never had experiences with, they can start to understand that I have more similarities with that population than differences. So let me give you a very explicit example. With respect to me, I’m not a person with a disability, but when I’ve been in corporate America, and I was overseeing our employee resource groups, I intentionally put myself over the group of people with disabilities as the executive sponsor of that group. We all were assigned to an individual group, which I think is very important for all organizations to do. I chose the one that I had the least amount of knowledge in and the least understanding.

I had sympathy and hoped to understand, but I didn’t have empathy. After a year of working with that group, listening to their stories, understanding the challenges that they faced in the workplace, I was armed with stories that I could tell myself. I was armed with methods and approaches that I could take to help them solve the real problems they were facing in the workplace. But I didn’t have that before, but if you asked me, “Are you supportive of people with disabilities?” I would say, “Of course I am. Yeah.” But actualizing that and activating that was a gap for me until I spent that time with that group and its leaders and really understood at a ground level what issues they were grappling with.

And that’s the way that we have to think about empathy. How do we acquire it? How do we get closer? Experiences through volunteerism, experiences through corporate social responsibility, all of those are opportunities for organizations to use a mechanism to enable their leaders and others in their organization to gain empathy. And I encourage corporations as entities to do just that.

STEVE HENDERSHOT

So let’s finish with the idea that we’ve convinced everyone of the value of diversity, but there are still some organizations out there for whom it is more aspirational, and whatever they’ve tried, either to bring in talent or retain talent, they’ve gotten frustrated in that way. What’s your advice for organizations who are stymied on how to bring this all to fruition?

BLAIR TAYLOR

I love the question, and it’s interesting: I’ve had conversations with CEOs or a chief human resource officer, and you’ll say, “Hey, what do you think about diversity?” And say, “Wow, I really value it. It’s tremendous, and we’re doing a full-court press on changing the diversity of our workforce.” And then you say, “Well, let’s take a walk and go look at your recruiting staff.” And you go down and you look at their recruiting staff, and there are no people of color. And it’s almost all male or all one gender. And then you say, “Okay, well, let me take a look at the organizations that you’re working with to foster a diverse environment.”

And they point you to a number of placement firms that have very little if any diversity within them. The analogy I often use is I’m a fisherman. I love to go fishing. And I do a lot of ocean fishing, or at least I used to. If you’re going out in the ocean to try to catch a marlin, you have to be fishing in the ocean, right? You can’t drop your line in a lake and think you’re going to catch an ocean fish. And similarly, we’ve got CEOs who are fishing for marlin in a lake.

I mean, you’ve got to have the right relationships. You’ve got to have the right people in place. You’ve got to think about: Are there community-based organizations that we can rely on to help provide a pipeline of talent if we’re really interested in certain kinds of recruiting and recruiting a more diverse workforce? You’ve got to establish those relationships and cultivate them. And there’s nothing mysterious about it. If you don’t have any minority recruiting firms, you’re probably not going to recruit a lot of minority talent. If you don’t have anybody on your recruitment team who’s either a person of color or a woman or a person with a disability, etc., you’re probably not going to have a lot of success recruiting those populations. Because all of that associative empathy that we talked about isn’t going to be there.

MUSICAL TRANSITION
STEVE HENDERSHOT

PMI’s new Pulse report reveals that younger workers especially value inclusion, and that smart companies are leveraging their diversity efforts as tools for recruitment and retention.

Projectified®’s Hannah Schmidt spoke with Annice Joseph, co-lead for Inclusive Career Journeys at SAP in Bengaluru, India.

In her role, Annice looks at how the company can operate with greater inclusiveness at all points along an employee’s career journey—whether that’s as a candidate, employee or even as an alum of the organization.

MUSICAL TRANSITION
HANNAH SCHMIDT

What does having a multigenerational team bring to projects? 

ANNICE JOSEPH

Today we live in a knowledge economy. It is no longer so much in terms of physical endurance that you bring to the table, but really in terms of your intellect, your experience and your skills. And when you have a cross-generational team contributing to that project, you have outcomes which bring about group wisdom. You have the real fresh thoughts and innovations and creativity coming from one group, while you have experience, you have risk-taking capability, you have leadership coming from another group. So having a mixture of cross-generational team who are respectful for each other truly brings more and more innovation, better creativity and overall better productivity.

In terms of the team itself, there is so much that you can learn. In a homogeneous group, you might fall into the traps of group thinking, but in a heterogeneous cross-generational group, you can actually leverage the collective intelligence, and you can see the group wisdom coming out. So it’s no longer your way or my way, but it is our way, which is so much more larger than just one plus one is equal to two, but rather a much, much more, maybe in terms of five times or 10 times more productive and more innovative.

HANNAH SCHMIDT

In 2018, SAP began a cross-generation mentoring initiative. Why did the program begin?

ANNICE JOSEPH

The reason why we thought we should launch it as a program and as a pilot starting in Germany was, really, to bring the teams together who are more interested to learn more about other generations. So this was something that we started in 2018 with more than 100 pairs, and it’s consistently been increasing.

The cross-generational mentoring program itself is not very different from any other mentoring program except for two additional things. One is we encouraged the pairs, the mentors and the mentees and vice versa, to ask the question “why” a lot more often so that you understand what is the premise from which a particular person is recommending a solution or working in a particular way and so on.

And the second thing is that like the name suggests, it’s cross-generational mentoring, which means the mentor and the mentee take turns to be mentors themselves. So it is not just one person giving all the knowledge and all the sharing, but it is also the younger person and the older person sharing with each other equally. And this has been very successful. It is now part of the regular SAP mentoring program where people can choose their mentors from different generations.

HANNAH SCHMIDT

What’s been the response from participants, and how has it improved project performance at SAP?

ANNICE JOSEPH

The managers have come back and told us that they have learned so much from the cross-generational mentoring. So much so that their behavior has changed when they go back to their own teams for interviews, for sharing tasks and giving out responsibilities, they are a lot more inclusive, respectful of all age groups.

HANNAH SCHMIDT

Many project professionals may not be in a hiring capacity, but what steps can they take to advocate for more diverse teams?

ANNICE JOSEPH

The workplace of the future is right here, and no longer are we bound by organizational structures to form teams. More often than not, we are looking at skills and talent across the organization: Who can really help us out and find the best solution rather than just working with the team we are given.

Inclusion should be across your entire life’s journey in the organization. And for that, it means that while you’re talking to your team members, while you’re having coffee conversations, while you’re going for lunch, how are you really including your team members? So you know, we would encourage them to really think through and say that, okay, can you have a mindful lunch where you’re going to a colleague and a friend and a team member who you normally don’t go with? Making your single commitment to be more inclusive has a ripple effect on the entire organization and your project.

MUSICAL TRANSITION
STEVE HENDERSHOT

Because of COVID-19 and its economic fallout, this is a moment when organizations and project teams around the world will have to check their priorities as they’re forced to operate with maximum efficiency. But the way forward depends on innovation, on understanding the landscape and envisioning solutions that elude your competitors. And one of the best ways to develop that ability to see around corners and to find ways through intractable problems is by convening a team that is distinguished not only for its intelligence, expertise and creativity, but also for its diversity.

This episode is sponsored by PMTraining.com.

From live virtual classes to online on-demand courses, PMTraining prepares students for popular PMI certifications, including the Project Management Professional, or PMP®.

For special listener discounts up to $400 per class, please visit them at PMTraining.com/podcast.

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