The time has come to lead with inclusion: Eric Stallworth
Billions of dollars have been spent on failed diversity & inclusion programs, but still, most of them fail to achieve the desired results. When it comes to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI), just knowing that the problem exists is not enough. In order to initiate true change, we have to move beyond lip service, roll up our sleeves and make inclusion an everyday task for us.
For Eric Stallworth, Head of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DE&I) at ISS Facility Services, North America, his mission focuses on the day-to-day work of DE&I because it’s fundamental to a healthy business. ISS is one of the largest private employers with an incredibly diverse workforce. A global workplace-experience and facility-management company, ISS is publishing its D&I strategy online for all to see. This transparency is an open call for accountability.
Eric walks the talk. He has spent 25 years of his career focused on diversity and inclusion with Motorola, Rockwell Collins, American Airlines, Exelon, and Kimberly Clark.
In this special interview, Eric shares some of his biggest learnings from this pandemic as a global diversity and inclusion leader, and his insights on how to build and embed D&I in the business strategy, the biggest challenges in embracing diversity and inclusion at a strategic level, and how the challenges can be surmounted.
Here are the excerpts from the interview.
How do you see the larger diversity, equity, and inclusion dashboard today globally? What are your major learnings from this pandemic as a global diversity and inclusion leader? Can you share some insights?
Diversity and inclusion concepts and best practices have changed slightly over the years but the general rule for success has, and will, essentially remain the same: lead with inclusion and empathy and treat others the way they want to be treated. However, the pandemic is forcing organizations to adapt in numerous ways. Inclusive leaders will continue to have the greatest positive impact if they remain curious and listen to learn, remain flexible around how their workforce collaborates, and focus on building cultural intelligence and allyship.
It's clear that the corporate world is experiencing a moment of awakening about their efforts around diversity and inclusion-and it's in part because employees and customers are speaking up. How can boards ingrain inclusion into their organizational strategy?
Boards are a critical driver in fostering real organizational change, establishing a dedicated focus on D&I priorities, and helping to provide structure to a D&I strategic direction. They provide platforms to oversee and assess the effectiveness of the D&I function and introduce reform when needed.
At ISS, our data-driven strategy and analytical approach to D&I guide us in ensuring that we are focused on what is truly important, allows us to accurately measure our success, and consistently monitor and adjust as needed. Our culture is made up of three pillars: lead, grow, and deepen. We lead with inclusion. Inclusion unlocks the power of diversity and leading with inclusion creates an environment where all people feel welcomed and valued. We grow diverse representation and cultivate an inclusive culture. As we create a ‘diverse by design’ culture, it is imperative that we look, think, and behave like the people that use our service. We deepen client and community partnerships. In our quest to become more reflective of our community and clients, we will take on a more explicit approach and actively look for opportunities to work directly with clients and community partners in order to gain additional perspective, build trust, and win consistently.
In the post-pandemic world, do you think, we need leadership that recognizes the potential of diverse talent and understands its implications on inclusion and culture? With leaders in every industry working hard to protect employees and build resilience, what according to you, should be their strategy with regard to embedding a culture of inclusion across their organizations?
I would contend that leaders with an inclusive mindset would recognize that ALL hired talent is potentially ‘diverse talent’ and it is up to them to create an inclusive work environment whereby all talents are not only heard but recognized, understood, valued, and ultimately engaged in a way that allows their differences to truly make the difference.
What, according to you, are the biggest challenges in embracing diversity and inclusion at a strategic level? How can the challenges be surmounted?
One of the biggest challenges is pushing past the strategy and focusing on solutions. An impactful D&I strategy needs not only ways to leverage diversity but also promote inclusion. At ISS, we lead with inclusion and prioritize it because we know that valued and engaged employees create better results for our clients. Employee retention is increased, and we transform our culture from “a place to work” to “a place where employees do their best work”.
There are ample studies that demonstrate a strong correlation between diversity at a leadership level and business results. But not much is changing in the real world. Why are we failing?
I suspect that the root of this correlation lies in the speed at which business is conducted. In a world where deadlines are yesterday, it doesn’t permit time for the creation of meaningful and trusting relationships. In order to tap into the value of diversity, it requires one go deeper than the surface and understand what that difference (diversity) is and how to manage that difference effectively. That requires time; time many of us don’t have. However, we have to begin to ask ourselves - what becomes the true cost of not investing that time? Turnover, disengaged employees, maintaining the status quo, and stagnated diversity programs.
What would be some of the pitfalls and predictions on D&I in the new world of work?
The new world of work, whether fully remote or hybrid, creates an opportunity for companies to spread opportunities, provide additional flexibility, and showcase a more empathetic style of leadership. At all levels of an organization, managers and employees alike will need to think about ways to be intentional, proactive about checking in and working together to instill an inclusive company culture where all voices are heard.
How do you unleash talent, ensure that your organization has representation from multiple points of view, and can leverage diversity and inclusion practices as a sustainable competitive advantage for your company? Can you share some insights on how ISS is looking at this?
At ISS, we have multiple touchpoints to optimize our D&I strategy and to ensure our organization has representation from multiple points of view and can leverage diversity and inclusion as a sustainable competitive advantage for our company. We optimize our D&I strategy through a number of inclusion-first touchpoints including community awareness, recruitment, onboarding, training, career development, evaluations, and off-boarding to ensure success in achieving our D&I goals.
Will workplace diversity initiatives survive in a post-COVID-19 era? How do organizations ensure that they do?
The pandemic has put an unprecedented strain on individuals and companies alike and it has showcased, in many ways, that we need D&I more than ever. Companies with diverse teams have been found to have stronger employee engagement and able to produce larger revenues from innovation - both critical attributes for businesses to emerge from the pandemic successfully.
ISS has always been a people organization, working with a strong belief that great people and their wealth of perspectives and experiences, can and do make all the difference. When organizations put their people at the center, they can create environments where diversity can thrive.