Throughout my career, I’ve worked for companies in Asia Pacific, Middle East, Australia, and now in the U.S. As you can imagine, the issue of diversity manifests itself in many different ways in different places. But one thing that always strikes me is how alike we all are and that most people genuinely want to do the right thing when it comes to the fair and inclusive treatment of others. The challenge is that they often don’t know how to do it or that it’s even a problem to begin with.
When I think back to my childhood, I’m reminded of how I felt when my parents emigrated from Italy to Australia. Australia was generally an accepting place, built on multiculturalism, but I still grew up with a sense of feeling different. My parents spoke Italian at home, so every now and then a word or two in Italian would slip out at school, drawing confused looks from my classmates. At the time, public schools in Australia still placed kids from migrant backgrounds into different classes from native-Australians. I’m sure they thought this was a good thing – maybe a way to ease the transition for kids. The problem was, while the school was welcoming of diversity, they didn’t understand the importance of inclusion.
I’ve found that to be the case often in business. The self-awareness I felt as a child shaped my view of what diversity and inclusion means in my professional life.
Early in my career, I lived and worked in different regions including Middle East and Asia Pacific and I was stuck by the cultural differences – not just religious or ethnic, but how work gets done in different ways and the under-utilization of great pools of talent. Think about the missed opportunities for creativity and innovation simply because not all talent was represented equally and included in the conversation. It was a huge takeaway that has guided my career since.
I’m sure there isn’t a person on the planet who hasn’t felt excluded at some point in their lives. We all know how it feels and no one likes it. And yet, we’re all guilty of doing it others, sometimes without even realizing it.
How many pictures have we seen of a room full of men deciding the fate of “women’s issues” and thought, “There’s something wrong with this picture.”? We’ve all read the research that shows diversity leads to higher-performing, more innovative teams. So, why do we still struggle with an issue that seems like a no-brainer?
I think much of it has to do with the fact that we are still faced with many cultural, social, and societal pressures and it’s difficult to have honest conversations about how that can cloud decision-making.
I also think we don’t do enough to demonstrate how everyone – every single person within an organization – can be an advocate for inclusion. At Mastercard, we try to do this in some very visible ways that tie back to our business. One example is “Give Me 5”, which is inspired by the United Nations’ fifth Sustainable Development Goal, gender equality. We launched Give Me 5last week in conjunction with the Women in the World Summitin New York City to reinforce the work Mastercard is doing to drive empowerment and equality for women and girls. You may have seen some of our other initiatives, including our Girls4Techprogram, our eight Business Resource Groups, and our Global Mobility program, which creates short-term, international assignments so that employees can gain experiences in other markets and an appreciation for diverse thinking.
But there is a deeper, invisible layer that is just as important. If a manager is sitting in his or her office thinking, “This is not my problem. I’m accepting of all people,” then they need to challenge themselves to do more.
I would ask, what are you doing to draw out the person on your team who comes to a meeting and feels uncomfortable speaking up? Some of the best ideas and innovations come from people of different backgrounds and experiences. Whether it’s gender, ethnicity, a disability, or someone from a different industry, how do you get the best out of people?
Once we can confidently answer that question across our organization – or better yet, we no longer have to ask it – I’ll know we’ve made real progress. We’ll be a place where all employees feel treated equally and career development is based not on who you know and what you look like, but what you can do. That’s what we should all strive for.