The Business Imperative of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion with Laura Liswood
December 7, 2022 | Webinar
What is true diversity, equity and inclusion in an organization, and why is it a business imperative today? What difference does it make to a company’s bottom line? What does it mean for a workplace environment, and how does the right (or wrong) kind of leadership factor in? Award-winning speaker, best-selling author and diversity and inclusion expert Laura Liswood met with us to talk about her latest book, The Elephant and the Mouse: Moving Beyond the Illusion of Inclusion to Create a Truly Diverse and Equitable Workplace. Ms. Liswood, Co-Founder and Secretary General of the Council of Women World Leaders, provided us with detailed strategies for de-biasing workplace processes and gaining real benefits from diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives. We explored the skill sets and traits that make great leaders in today’s workplace and the tactics and strategies employed by successful leaders the world over. We ultimately came away with a better understanding of how leaders can move beyond traditional diversity efforts towards more modern practices that embrace—and thrive from—the differences between people.
What did we learn? Here are the top takeaways from The Business Imperative for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion with Laura Liswood.
Liswood’s new book lays out a blueprint for achieving diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace. Following up on her equally influential offering, The Loudest Duck, Liswood’s latest book, The Elephant and the Mouse, explores practical ideas and tools to propel DEI efforts. “The lived experiences of some are not those of others,” Liswood said. In the book, Liswood describes how people at all levels in an organization must consider the different perspectives of those living and working around them for DEI efforts to succeed.
Real DEI goes beyond simple representation. In the ten years since The Loudest Duck was published, “progress has been a little slower than we thought,” said Liswood. “A lot of organizations have been frustrated. We all thought it was going to be like Noah’s ark. If we can just get two of each in the ark, we’ll have our diversity.” But without the equity and inclusion sides of the equation, she proposed, DEI can never truly be achieved.
Unconscious bias training has evolved from awareness to action. “Senior executives want to know what behaviors need to change,” noted Liswood. Moving beyond an understanding of what unconscious bias is, to an understanding of what to do about it, is the key. Citing one research study, which found that women are typically over-mentored and under-sponsored, she punctuated this point: “This tells you that your mentoring programs are only going to go so far. Now you need to think about actions in the sponsoring category.”
It's good to be an ally, but better to be an “active interventionist.” Liswood believes that colleagues acting as active bystanders have the power to help their co-workers be heard, and their companies succeed at inclusivity and equity efforts. “You need to have people who are, what I call, ‘active interventionists,’” she proposed. “They see that someone is not speaking in the meetings, is getting interrupted or is not getting the assignments they should, then they have to actively intervene… to really step in and help someone else when they need it.”
Independent evaluators can help leaders see DEI challenges more clearly. Inviting someone who isn’t part of the group to sit in on meetings and give their insight can be an invaluable tool, Liswood advised. “Someone who can say: ‘Hey, look. You might not be aware of this but five people spoke 80% of the time, and five people didn’t speak at all.’” That ongoing, unbiased feedback is priceless. “Inclusion is a conclusionary word,” she said. “To just say ‘we’re inclusive’ or ‘we’re equitable’ doesn’t cut it. You have to actually have the behaviors that prove that you are.” For Liswood, that means everyone must be invited to contribute to the conversation since, oftentimes, people who may not feel comfortable to speak up without being asked if they have something to say.
Heterogeneous groups imagine better solutions. According to Liswood, a workforce lacking diversity leads to “group think,” which can lead to poor decision-making. “Some interesting research shows that homogeneous groups don’t come to better solutions, they just think they did. Heterogeneous groups come to better solutions, they just don’t think they did,” she summarized. “When everyone thinks alike, the decision-making process is pretty easy. But, in fact, you may not have gotten the cognitive diversity, the different perspectives and experience that would actually help you make better, innovative and creative decisions.”
Liswood’s perspective is informed by top women leaders around the world. Since co-founding the Council of Women World Leaders in 1996, Liswood has worked with female presidents and prime ministers all over the globe. “We’re seeing more and more women who don’t come through the path of the ‘legacy leader,’ following husbands or fathers who have been in the political role before them,” she said. She also acknowledged, regrettably, how women leaders are still being critiqued the same as they were 25 years ago: “They still talk about over scrutiny of the press, less tolerance for mistakes, over scrutiny of their dress and their hair… so there’s good news, and not so good news.”
Presented by the Travelers Institute, the Master's in Financial Technology (FinTech) Program at the University of Connecticut School of Business, MetroHartford Alliance, Big I Minnesota, the American Property Casualty Insurance Association, the Women's Diversity Network and SHE Travels
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