Diverse group of business people talking

Beyond the Bottom Line: The Case for Building a Diverse Team

Racial injustice. Peaceful protests. Riots and looting. Angela Smith Jones felt intense reactions as she witnessed this summer’s events unfolding in Indianapolis and across America following the murder of George Floyd.

Smith Jones experienced Floyd’s death and its aftermath on many levels—as a Black woman, a mother, a sister, and a daughter. And as the Deputy Mayor of Indianapolis and an economic development leader, her heart broke to see the looting and damage to downtown Indy businesses.

“That weekend, all of that national tension and anxiety really descended upon my house and my heart and my mind. I really was just grappling with: How do I deal with this in my own head and heart and mind? How do I deal with this with my children? On behalf of our city and our business owners? For our mayor and our teammates and our community and our residents? I literally had one thousand emotions at any given moment of any given day.”

That was true for Smith Jones on May 29 and it’s still true today as talks about social justice, diversity, and inclusion continue to be a raw topic of conversation across America.

Because diversity and inclusion is such a relevant topic, First Person invited Smith Jones to deliver our Week Three talk at RESOLVE Increments on Going beyond D&I to Build an Equitable Team. I introduced Smith Jones and joined her for a vulnerable, transparent and thought-provoking discussion.

“Congratulations on the RESOLVE Increments series! Yesterday’s was especially well done. It’s not an easy topic for two white men to talk so openly about racial equity with a powerful Black woman and you did a really great job! We are really proud to partner with a firm having these important conversations. Angela was fantastic and approached the conversation from a very compassionate point of view. I’ve passed this along to our HR Team to have a listen. Like many businesses in this field, we have some work to do too!”

Anonymous human resources leader, RESOLVE Increments attendee

Here are my takeaways from this enlightening RESOLVE Increments talk. To watch the talk in full and grab some helpful resources, get exclusive access here.

Diverse teams perform better—by a long shot.

Diversity has multiple dimensions, and you can make both a business case and a human case for why it matters. I cited a study by McKinsey & Company that showed the business impact of building a diverse team:

  • 21% more profitable when your executive team is gender diverse
  • 33% increase in performance with ethnic and cultural diversity

Boston Consulting Group reinforced the power of diversity in a survey of more than 1,700 companies in eight countries that found:

19% higher revenue due to innovation from diverse management teams

Diverse teams outperform other teams for several reasons:

  • They focus more on facts.
  • They process those facts more carefully.
  • They are more innovative.

“You don’t rely on your own bias or your own tendency,” I said of diverse teams. “You get different opinions. There are studies talking about reduction in errors, increase in critical thinking, increase in decision making based on the type of leaders and teammates that are in the room together. You get folks of various backgrounds and experiences and mindsets and cultures and ethnicities, and you start to realize that there’s not just one way to look at a problem.”

Diversity and inclusion isn’t just a “trend” for 2020.

Don’t expect the topic of diversity and inclusion to fade away when we finally emerge from the pandemic. It’s only going to become more important for your people and your business.

“As we think about the future of organizations, 80% of employees said an employer’s DE&I policy is an important factor in deciding to work for them,” I said. “By the way, that is continuing to increase.”

Your company may not have all the answers—and that’s okay, I added. There’s no one single way to solve this. It’s about active listening, discovering how to be a more productive organization, and how to be a better employer for both your employees and the surrounding community.

Many employers don’t have a Diversity and Inclusion strategy yet or are trying to figure out how to get started. Meanwhile, many of America’s largest employers are becoming more vocal about the importance of creating opportunities for people of all backgrounds. Here at First Person, we responded to the pandemic and calls for racial justice by accelerating the development of the First Person Advisors Foundation. The foundation launched in August now drives our philanthropic efforts and matches the contributions of each employee up to $1,000 a year. The foundation supports a wide array of charitable endeavors, and employees are able to select and support the organizations that mean the most to them. First Person funds the foundation through its annual revenues, with the goal of contributing 1% annually.

This diversity discussion will continue as our nation becomes more sensitive to and aware of race and inclusion issues. Smith Jones pointed out that your family and your neighbors are talking about things you never imagined you’d ever discuss at a dinner table because it intersects everything—and it’s your opportunity to teach others how to love and treat everyone with respect.

“This is the marathon of our lives, you guys,” Smith Jones said. “This is a long journey and it intersects every fiber of who we are. I cannot not be a Black woman. Everywhere I go, that’s what I am. You cannot not be who you are—and that’s fantastic. So we always need to bring our whole selves and always bring our best selves, whatever our best is that day.”

You can’t win with just point guards.

Smith Jones grew up near the Butler University campus in Indianapolis and is a huge sports fan, so she uses sports analogies to talk about building a winning team—starting with basketball.

“If you’re recruiting for the team, do you go out looking for only point guards? Do you want a bench where everybody is a point guard? You’re probably not going to be as successful as the Bulldogs have been over the years in the NCAA tournament. You need all kinds of different people to come onto your team in order to create a winning team.”

Begin the journey by starting the conversation.

Smith Jones experienced a lack of diversity in meetings she attended as an Indy economic development leader.

“When you sit down and there’s nobody who’s different than you in the meeting, that’s your first opportunity to start the conversation and say ‘Where is there an Angela?’” Smith Jones said. “I can tell you there are so many meetings I attend—and especially as the Deputy Mayor of Economic Development—99 percent of the time I was the only person of color and absolutely the only Black person. Then very often I was the only woman, and other than one project, I was the only woman of color and absolutely the only Black woman in a meeting.”

If you’re leading a meeting and have the opportunity to bring someone who’s “other” with you, do it “no matter how uncomfortable you feel,” Smith Jones advised, adding that she often brought interns from all backgrounds with her to meetings to allow them to experience meetings and discover if it’s a field they wanted to pursue. Another layer of this relates to age, and sometimes it helps to “just bring someone younger to the meeting.”

Creating a diverse team takes buy-in from leadership.

Smith Jones said creating a diverse team starts at the top of an organization.

“If you are the CEO, I ask you to be bold and stand up and say ‘I want diversity, equity and inclusion in my company for emotional, personal, strategic, financial—every reason.’ And put it as an independent office, not under HR, not under chief strategy but as a lead role because it’s a strategy that cuts all the way across. If you’re not the CEO, either approach the CEO or your Chief Strategy Officer and say ‘I’d like to have a conversation about how I can feel more included here, or how ‘Angela’ can feel more included here. What steps can we take to make our company more welcoming and more inclusive.”

Lead with your heart. Learn about their journey.

Smith Jones shared four authentic ways that employees can help those who have been marginalized. It all starts with reaching out and understanding their journey.

Ally: Someone who recognizes their privileges and demonstrates compassion and support for those who don’t have them

Accomplice: Someone who steps all the way in, even if they run the risk of losing something as a result (for example, the white people who joined their Black friends on the freedom rides in the 60s)

Mentor: A trusted partner who guides someone and provides career advice

Sponsor: Someone who can influence a promotion decision and puts their reputation on the line on behalf of someone with a different background

“The most important thing is literally leading with your heart, whichever side you’re on—it doesn’t matter,” Smith Jones said. “Just relaxing, allowing yourself to be vulnerable and allowing that other person to be vulnerable.”

Attracting diverse talent means looking in new places—and describing opportunities in new ways.

Examine the places where you recruit. What type of diversity exists in that talent pool? If you go back to the same places with the same composition of diversity, you can’t expect to find different results.

Another issue involves the wording of job descriptions.

“When you do job descriptions and you have your algorithms that your computer will spit out, sometimes what you put in your qualifications—the way you’ve written them—automatically kicks out somebody who is the ‘other.’”

Smith Jones shared how she applied for a position but didn’t make an interview where one of the requirements was 7-10 years of leadership experience at a Fortune 500 company—a requirement that excludes many talented ‘other’ candidates because most people with that specific experience are white males.

When you’re networking, get comfortable being uncomfortable.

You can ensure your company feels more welcoming to ‘others’ when you network. For example, when you attend a chamber of commerce event, do you talk with the people you already know, or do you make an effort to meet new people from other backgrounds?

Smith Jones advises leaders to be open when talking with other business leaders.

“Be blunt about it. Just say, ‘I really want to hire a Black woman.’ You can say that, and then say, ‘Do you know anybody who is qualified?’ ‘Do you know anybody who knows somebody?’ That’s that vulnerability part and being okay with being a little uncomfortable and realizing it may come out funny, but that’s what I really want on my team right now.”

A few words make all the difference.

Sometimes we don’t know what to say or how to support a friend of another race or ethnicity. But saying something is better than remaining silent.

Smith Jones shared how well-to-do white businessmen reached out to her following Floyd’s death and all that resulted.

“As a Black person, that is the best thing you can do is say ‘I don’t know what to do, but I am here for you.’ And I’m telling you when those men reached out to me, I was in tears. I never expected it.”

“Even if you’re saying the wrong thing, … you’re saying the right thing because you said something.”

Angela Smith Jones

So, what now?

To watch Week Three of RESOLVE Increments, fill out the form below and gain exclusive access to the full replay and resources we shared throughout the session, including SHRM credits.

Leading from anywhere—through anything.

Now that we’ve taken a raw and transparent look at race, diversity and inclusion, RESOLVE Increments looked at how to engage employees and lead through a changing, uncertain environment.

Grab the recap of the presentation by Karen Mangia, VP of Customer and Market Insights at Salesforce, on Leading and Succeeding from Anywhere: Tips for Engaging Employees Today. Also, catch Rebecca Ellis’s Leading through Change: Two Truths and a Lie.

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