Born This Way
Let’s Talk: Nia Joynson-Romanzina on Diversity & Inclusion
You use a framework labeled “the diversity iceberg model.” Could you describe that?
Everyone has some basic traits that are readily visible to others like general age, gender, race, physical appearance and perhaps physical disabilities. Those make up the smaller, above-the-surface part of the iceberg.
And we all have a larger, below-the-surface collection of characteristics that usually can’t be discerned by casual observation. This section of the iceberg includes attributes we acquire at birth such as nationality, social background and family composition. It also contains things that can change over time like marital status, political/religious beliefs and education. Sexual orientation and gender identity are other below-the-surface features of a person’s iceberg.
So, we are all diverse! We all possess a unique, multidimensional personal iceberg made up of traits fixed at birth and others that evolve over the course of a person’s life.
If we are all diverse, why are many companies actively working to diversify their workforces?
If you look at a person holistically and take into account all of their above- and below-the-surface attributes, we are indeed all unique. Many industries and companies, however, have historically been highly homogenous, especially when it comes to gender and race.
The origins of corporate diversity and inclusion (D&I) programs can be traced to the passage of landmark equal opportunity laws in the U.S. more than forty years ago. In those early years, most efforts focused on eliminating gender and racial barriers.
As globalization disrupted and reconfigured numerous industries in the 1990s, many people suddenly found themselves interacting with colleagues, customers and suppliers in different countries all over the world. In response, D&I initiatives also began to spread globally, often with an emphasis on heightening employees’ appreciation of the ways in which values, social norms and customs vary in different countries/regions.
These efforts have all made a difference, but effecting meaningful cultural and organizational change is an ongoing challenge, especially in industries like insurance that have hundreds of years of tradition in the background. For instance, in a recent PwC survey of millennial women – those born between 1980 and 1995 – 21 percent said they would avoid working in financial services, more than any other industry. And within this sector, 13 percent are least interested in working in insurance; more than any other sub-sector within financial services.
These findings are certainly sobering, and reinforce why the increasing priority the insurance industry is giving to D&I, as witnessed by the Dive In Festival and other developments, is so important.
How do companies benefit from diversity?
At last year’s inaugural Festival, Paul Jardine noted that “diversity powers creativity and innovation.” (Paul is XL Catlin’s Chief Experience Officer.) I agree, and like that phrasing. It’s well known that creativity and innovation are stimulated when people with different backgrounds, experiences, styles, etc. collaborate in an open, trusting environment. In fact, according to an article in the Harvard Business Review, firms with a high level of diversity “… out-innovate and out-perform others. Employees at these companies are 45 percent likelier to report that their firm’s market share grew over the previous year and 70 percent likelier to report that the firm captured a new market.”
To borrow Paul’s phrasing, diversity also powers business resilience. Research has found that employee morale, loyalty and productivity tend to be greater in companies with diverse workforces. That, in turn, can help companies respond more quickly and adeptly to new opportunities, deliver superior customer service, bounce back faster from setbacks and excel in execution.
These efforts also pay off. Recent research conducted by McKinsey, for example, found that “… companies in the top quartile for gender or racial and ethnic diversity are more likely to have financial returns above their national industry medians. Companies in the bottom quartile in these dimensions are statistically less likely to achieve above-average returns. And diversity is probably a competitive differentiator that shifts market share toward more diverse companies over time.”
What about inclusion? Why is that important?
Inclusion is about belonging. Does the environment – that can be a country, local community, workplace – make you feel as if you belong? Is it accepting of different types of people? Does it value you for what you bring to that environment, or does it marginalize your contributions based on some implicit or explicit biases about an element of your iceberg?
In my experience, the D&I journey for many companies is often a case of “two steps forward, one step back.” They implement programs to broaden their recruitment efforts, and those are useful to a point. But many also experience what I call “hired because you’re different, fired because you’re not the same.” If someone’s perception is “Yes I’m different but no I don’t belong,” there clearly is a greater likelihood he/she will part ways with the company, either voluntarily or involuntarily.
In other words, diversity alone is important but not sufficient; tackling the harder challenge of creating a culture that is welcoming and inclusive is also critical.
In my work with CEOs and C-suite teams, I’m focusing a lot at the moment on what I call “the economy of belonging.” If leaders can make their people feel as if they belong, that unleashes incredible loyalty and discretionary effort. When people are in that zone of belonging, it’s very meaningful and powerful; they will swim oceans for you!
What can companies do to foster greater diversity and inclusion?
One of the most useful actions an organization can take is to give teams and individuals more autonomy in deciding how, when and where they carry out their tasks. Offering flexible work arrangements can have two significant benefits: broadening the talent pool and creating a context for building a more inclusive culture.
For large swathes of the workforce today, the traditional, rigid model of work that has been the path to success in the corporate world is either impractical or unappealing. So offering greater agility in work structures and arrangements can help an organization attract skilled, talented employees who would otherwise have looked elsewhere.
Also, giving teams/individuals greater flexibility in the how, when and where doesn’t change the fact that they still have to accomplish certain goals and tasks. But when you are no longer working solely within a rigid, inflexible structure, fulfilling your responsibilities often requires negotiating and compromising with colleagues. You have to understand other people’s preferences and styles and come up with collaborative solutions for getting the work done. These discussions are not always easy, but over time and with support from the company’s leaders, such interactions can stimulate greater trust, transparency, openness and dialogue within a work group and across the broader organization.
What can people in different roles within an organization do to promote D&I?
It starts with the CEO and the C-suite; they obviously have a huge influence on a company’s culture and priorities.
I believe most people’s default tendency is to see themselves as an outsider. So leaders need to be very intentional and deliberate in helping shift that perception from outsider to insider. The consistent message should be “you belong, you belong, you belong.” Otherwise, it doesn’t take much for the default perspective of being an outsider to take hold.
For people who aren’t in the C-suite, I believe it’s your duty not to be silent. A lot of what managers are doing is unwitting; they’re comfortable with where they are and the way they’re doing things. So speak up. Ask questions. “Would you want your daughter to work here?” Challenge people.
It’s also important to be curious about yourself. In particular, we all have unconscious biases, and understanding and acknowledging them – as uncomfortable as that may be – can help you become more accepting of others. (Project Implicit offers online “implicit association tests” based on research conducted at the University of Washington, University of Virginia, Harvard University and Yale University.)
Last question. “Born this way?”
(Laughs.) Well, I’m personally not a huge Lady Gaga fan. My musical tastes are quite varied, including being a fan of 90s Brit Pop. And even though it captures only part of the iceberg, I do embrace her sentiment!
I'm beautiful in my way
'Cause God makes no mistakes
I'm on the right track, baby
I was born this way.
About the Dive In Festival:
XL Catlin was proud to serve as a platinum sponsor for the second Dive In Festival celebrating diversity and inclusion across the insurance sector. Dive In is part of an initiative undertaken by Inclusion@Lloyd’s that aims “to pool resources, widen perspectives and share best practice in diversity and inclusion to effect change faster.”
This year the Festival went global with more than 50 events in 16 cities across Europe, North America, Asia and Australia. Nia Joynson-Romanzina was the moderator and keynote speaker at a Festival event in Zurich, Switzerland.
About Nia Joynson-Romanzina:
Nia Joynson-Romanzina is a D&I futurist specializing in the emotional power of belonging. She advocates winning hearts and minds to unleash the ROI of D&I: Diversity of Perspectives.
She combines a background in international development with FTSE 500 global executive experience: Integrating excluded groups into the workforce at the European Commission, socio-economic development with iNGOs, exploring the emerging Internet and the digital divide at the United Nations, Managing Director and Global Head of Diversity & Inclusion at UBS and Swiss Re.
An Adjunct Professor at IMD Business School and featured Huffington Post Blogger, she is frequently quoted in publications and articles such as Act Like a Leader Think Like a Leader by Herminia Ibarra (Thinkers50), Future Work by Alison Maitland and George Washington University’s Diversity Dividends.
As the Founder and Director of the consulting firm iCubed she provides the playbook to live inclusive values when and where it counts. She consults and coaches leaders to become fluent in the currency of trust.
Nia was born and raised in Wales and is a passionate advocate for Welsh culture and the Welsh language.
You can visit Nia's website here, and follow her Twitter account, here.