Some people believe corporate inclusion and diversity (I&D) commitments could be considered the new greenwashing – that words aren’t translating into action, much less meaningful progress. And maybe that’s true at some companies. But not Zebra.
I’ve personally seen changes occur as the result of conversations with – and between - colleagues. I’ve witnessed widespread allyship and, on several occasions, watched people courageously reveal their full and authentic selves to their colleagues. In some cases, I was the one with whom they chose to share their story – not because I’m on the I&D team, but because people are becoming as comfortable talking about who they are and what they’ve experienced as they are talking about fun weekend plans. In my experience, it’s not taboo – or considered unprofessional – to share personal fears, frustrations, or expectations at work. Vulnerability is very much a sign of strength, especially among people leaders. At least here at Zebra. And, for that, I feel extremely lucky.
But I know that equality is not universal and inclusivity not yet unconditional in the world at large, and part of that is because we’ve yet to reach a consensus on what I&D really means.
Ironically, our inherent biases influence the way individuals and collectives define inclusivity, diversity and equality and measure “success.” As such, personal life experiences shape perspectives that are used to make decisions around corporate I&D strategies, objectives and metrics. Some people believe that forming and funding programs to educate and support others is the best way to drive progress. Others feel that grassroots efforts to ensure equal opportunities and encourage open conversations are better warranted.
So, I thought it would be good to take an informal poll among equality advocates around the world to see if there’s a single best way for companies to approach I&D – or a better way for us all to think about what I&D is, what it is not, and what it should be:
Maite Cassandra da Silva, Localisation and Marketing Project Manager for Zebra, works to uplift members of the LatinX community across EMEA as the regional co-chair of the Zebra UNIDOZ inclusion network.
Rhonda Green, Escalation Manager for Zebra, strives to create an environment of community, inclusivity and opportunity as the local Chairperson/Office Liaison for the Zebras of African Descent (ZAD) inclusion network.
Sally Lim, who serves as a Total Rewards Partner for Zebra in APAC, has been working to #BreakTheBias through her leadership in Zebra’s Women’s Inclusion Network (WIN).
This is what they had to say:
Laura: What do you think of when you hear the term “inclusion and diversity” or I&D?
Sally: In my opinion, I&D is about being open to all areas of life, be it professionally or personally across different cultures. Different people will interpret I&D differently depending on the stages of their professional and personal journeys. It may be impactful and meaningful for each organization to define what I&D means to set the tone and culture so that leaders and employees have a common purpose to which they can align their I&D experiences and journey. This will help achieve both organizational and personal espoused reality.
Maite: The first thing that comes to my mind when we talk about diversity is that we must celebrate our differences and take advantage of the unique experiences that each individual has so that we can expand our way of seeing and doing things, whether professionally or personally. And, to me, inclusion is about making the workplace a safe place for everyone to feel comfortable being themselves so they have the chance to share and use their uniqueness.
Rhonda: I&D is also about promoting cultural insight and an organization’s dedication to equality by fostering a culture of curiosity, learning and acceptance that empowers every employee to bring their best self to work.
Laura: What do you think many people misconstrue when it comes to I&D?
Rhonda: Many believe it is a form of affirmative action, which is a set of policies and practices to ensure an organization includes groups based on their gender, race, sexuality, creed or nationality. But I&D is not a policy nor a practice. Instead, it is a manner by which individuals conduct themselves through inclusive behaviors.
Maite: Some people think that just by knowing other people who are different from themselves and not prejudging in a bad way, they are being inclusive and accepting differences. But I&D is more than that.
Sally: Based on my personal observation, leadership plays an important role in setting the tone and culture when weaving I&D into the fabric of an organization’s way of life. It cannot be approached as just a tick in the box to verify that I&D has been actioned. As you mentioned, Laura, one school of thought is to create a culture of inclusion and diversity through grassroots efforts. The problem is that such efforts are often misconstrued as being sufficient. There is no doubt grassroots support is an important ingredient in the recipe. But I feel leadership team members who “walk the talk” profoundly propel the organization’s I&D journey and mold the organization to be more relatable to employees, external stakeholders, and prospective employees.
Laura: Do you believe employers – and society as a whole – should be defining or approaching I&D differently?
Rhonda: I believe it is necessary for employers, as well as society as a whole, to define and approach I&D differently based on the individual participants. There is no cookie-cutter approach to I&D since every community has its own means of existence.
Sally: There is an increasing focus and discussion on Environmental, Social, and Governance issues at the societal level in corporate boardrooms, in the news, and permeating across all walks of our professional and personal lives. That is good news, as I believe employers and leadership can help set the tone for entire workforces and communities by defining what I&D stands for and traveling alongside change agents at the societal level.
Maite: I agree. I know some people think things cannot be changed, and it is what it is. I agree that when we try to drive change alone, it is harder to make difference. But if we raise our voices together to discuss and legitimatize individuals’ differences as a group, things can be better. We can create a truly inclusive culture that is strengthened because of diversity.
Laura: Do you get the sense that organizations feel obligated to speak about I&D issues because employees, customers, and partners demand to know their stance? Or do you think corporate I&D efforts are genuine?
Rhonda: Because of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, a part of me senses that yes, organizations now feel obligated to exhibit their I&D stance. However, prior to BLM, many companies prominently shared their I&D values about how they were building a culture where everybody belongs.
Sally: I think each organization is on a different journey. Even the APAC I&D groups here at Zebra are in different stages of maturity compared to the groups in EMEA or the Americas. For example, the APAC WIN network is more established and mature whilst the Zebra Edge and A-to-Z inclusion networks are just now forming and developing in the region. I feel the differentiating factor between an organization that genuinely wants to be more inclusive and one that is just ticking the box is that a committed organization will visibly “walk the talk.”
Maite: I agree. Nowadays, when the efforts are not genuine, both the stakeholders and the employees themselves can see that. Such efforts can actually have the opposite impact and reflect badly on an organisation. Companies that genuinely seek to grow and evolve are able to understand the value that having an inclusive and diverse environment can add to their overall success and use this tool to think about the next steps of the company from a talent and business growth perspective.
Laura: What do people expect of their employers when it comes to I&D advocacy based on your conversations with others in your networks and communities?
Maite: People are expecting action. But it needs to be adapted to each situation and become practical and not just something nice written on a piece of paper. Even a small step is better than no action.
Rhonda: Maite’s right. People now expect and, in some instances, demand that a company has a defined mission and vision around I&D advocacy that includes a pathway of progress toward creating a more inclusive workforce.
Sally: I know I’ve said it a few times now, but I believe based on my conversations that “walking the talk” is important and that an organization’s commitment to I&D will permeate through its actions.
Eighty-two percent of employees trust their company to do the right thing for society and prospective employees cited brand/reputation as the biggest reason to join a company after job security (source: 2022 Mercer APAC High Tech total rewards conference). So, the best approach to I&D is one in which an individual employee can relate to the organization view. That alignment is critical, as it drives I&D to become a common goal at both the personal and professional level for individuals.
Laura: Globally, there seems to be this air of formality around I&D and a belief that well-structured programs and clear-cut policies are required to “be successful.” Yet, I’ve heard people say that, unless efforts to promote equality are truly organic, that they’re just another form of greenwashing. What’s your take?
Maite: We must make room for organic efforts, as many important things and insights can appear in hallway conversations and informal chats. But to direct and understand what types of action should be taken, having a defined strategy and policies is important. I believe that a balance between both is necessary.
Sally: In my experience, I&D does not always translate to equality because some topics cannot be defined in terms of equality. So, I believe truly organic efforts do not equate to equality every time.
Rhonda: Efforts to promote equality are successful when the participants share their experiences inside and outside of the organization. Internally structured programs and written policies of compliance are necessary. However, hearing a new hire mention that they decided to apply because of the I&D initiatives is equally as important.
Laura: How do you think a company’s actions – or inaction – related to I&D issues impact employees’ personal wellbeing, to include physical and mental health?
Rhonda: Companies that take action related to I&D issues stand a much better chance of attracting and retaining the best talent. The greater employees’ feelings of authenticity are, the greater their job satisfaction, engagement, and performance. Maintaining personal wellbeing, including physical and mental health, means finding a balance so that we can be true to ourselves while flourishing and finding success within our organizations.
Sally: I think it’s important for leadership to reinforce the company’s culture – to reassure employees that we believe in and offer a safe and supportive environment to speak up respectfully. I have lived in a few countries, and it is difficult to put oneself in the shoes of another culture, particularly if it is significantly different from one’s norms. So, by being supportive and listening well to others’ experiences, company leaders and employees can help widen their perspectives and increase the I&D element in a two-way street relationship. This, in turn, will help employees feel valued, safe, and included, and it will help widen their perspectives of the world as well – all of which help increase trust and in turn address personal wellbeing.
Maite: It took a while for both companies and employees to realize that wellbeing is not something extra but something essential in everyday life. Mental and physical health are the pillars of healthy living. People need to know their employers are allies and care about their all-around wellbeing. Otherwise, an individual’s personal and professional growth can be inhibited and their motivation and output reduced, which isn’t good for anyone.
Laura: What does equality mean to you (either in the workplace or in life, in general)?
Sally: It is very important to me in my profession and based on my personal value to treat each person as equal human being under the healthcare banner.
Maite: Equality to me means giving people the same opportunity, but for that, I believe we also need to talk about equity –that is adapting opportunities and making them fair for each individual.
Rhonda: Equality to me means that the words within the U.S. Declaration of Independence (July 1776) “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” and those stated within the speech of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “one day live in a nation where his children will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character” will become a reality.
Laura: If you could give people leaders, influencers, and change agents in corporate environments one piece of advice related to I&D, what would it be?
Rhonda: Always remember to exhibit good manners and to “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” This is an essential element of I&D.
Sally: “Walk the talk” and don’t just tick the box.
Maite: Don’t just be silent in situations of prejudice. It's up to all of us to ensure that situations like that do not go ignored. Also, be open to new experiences. Be open to changing your mind about something you are sure you know. Let the differences surprise you and learn from that. Take the time to understand the particularities of the people around you – what can they teach you? How can your point of view add value to experiences they already have? I&D is a rich resource that can help us grow.