Yesterday I had the privileged opportunity to speak at the 2016 Achievers Customer Experience (ACE) conference in Toronto. I also attended the conference, which also included the awards gala on Monday night recognizing the Achievers 50 Most Engaged Workplaces. I served as a judge for these awards for the second time in as many years, and of course enjoyed this experience. The session yesterday was a huge opportunity for me to share my personal story of being born with, growing up with and overcoming a severe hearing disability and speech impediment. I had recently done a similar version of this session in the United States but never on Canadian soil. Needless to say, it was special.
The session title was, “Can You Hear Me Now? Good. Let’s Talk Diversity, Inclusion and Employee Engagement”, which was tweaked slightly from past talks where the focus was on the employee experience. However, since I delivered these talks in Louisiana and Illinois I realized that the greatest impact diversity and inclusion has on the workplace is employee engagement. If you’re wondering why, then read this blog post that I wrote for the Achievers blog. The timing was right for me to evaluate my presentation content, and change things up a bit. By the way, the cool topic name was thought up by long-time friend and uber-awesome, Salima Nathoo. Don’t know her? You should change that — check her out on LinkedIn here.
Here are the slides to my presentation.
As I mentioned this is not the first time I have told my personal story about my disability. Going back a couple of years when I told my story to my HR peer group in Baton Rouge, Louisiana at the Louisiana State SHRM Conference, I almost didn’t make it through the first 15 minutes. I was so overwhelmed with emotion while hearing myself talk about my own personal struggles growing up with a severe disability. Even though I have courageously tackled every single issue, barrier and problem that has been thrown my way, hearing myself talk about them to a group of 150+ HR Practitioners was different. Unlike Baton Rouge my talk yesterday at ACE went a little bit differently. Now 24 hours removed from the session and taking the time to think about how it went, I think it went very well. I was focused, on cue, a little bit funny (I think) and told my story exactly how I wanted it to be told.
The primary thoughts of everything that went down yesterday are the following. Diversity and inclusion is NOT… and I repeat, is NOT a checkbox exercise. Yes you have to comply with legislation but this is only the tip of the iceberg. There is a positive correlation between the degree to which an organization is inclusive and how engaged employees are. We also know that a positive correlation exists between how engaged employees are and business outcomes. Now that we know this it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that diversity and inclusion positively impacts business outcomes. This makes sense because inclusion is not about counting heads or reporting on how many of a certain type of employee you have employed in your organization. It’s values based, and is HOW you do business, and how you treat your customers and employees alike. It’s about how you deal with our unique differences, how you knock down barriers so that your employees can flourish and succeed. It’s about how open and receptive you are to different ways of thinking and approaches to solving problems. It’s about fully “serving the market” where you do business. And finally… it’s about seeing each one of your employees as a “whole person”.
Truly being an inclusive organization is not an easy feat. As human beings we naturally gravitate towards what we are comfortable with. We typically don’t like ambiguity, unknowns, confusion and the like. However, our workplaces are as diverse as they have ever been, and in order for organizations to flourish and succeed embedding diversity and inclusion into business strategy is a mandatory requirement. It’s no longer a legislative requirement, it’s smart business. The research proves this. Like any change we as people undertake during our personal and professional lives, we need to step outside our comfort zones and openly embrace the beauty and value of our differences. Trust me when I say that you’ll be happy you did.