We all know by now that a diverse team and a solid inclusion strategy fosters innovation in the workplace and contributes to a stronger bottom line. But while this news hits the headlines time and time again, companies continue to struggle with where to start.
At Capital One Canada, diversity and inclusion are fundamental to how their associates think about talent. The financial powerhouse has won awards for their cutting-edge D&I policies and programming, including Fortune’s “100 Best Workplaces for Women” and “Best Workplaces for Parents.” Over the past two years, they’ve also been named one of Canada’s “Best Diversity Employers,” “Top Employers for Young People” and “Best Workplaces Managed by Women.” What’s their secret? According to Diana Brown, Chief People Officer at Capital One Canada, it’s all about hiring great people — and not carbon copies of our own experiences.
“I’ve been with Capital One for almost 20 years, and the thing that has remained true throughout is our focus on hiring great people. We said then that we wanted to hire great people, give them big jobs and watch their careers flourish. And that’s continued to be true,” says Brown. Beyond the initial hiring strategy, inclusive thinking is baked into the company’s DNA. Here’s a closer look at what that means in the day-to-day.
Diversity is more than just gender.
Companies need to understand that diversity is an umbrella term for a wealth of identity dimensions. By focusing on only one or two of these, you fail to understand the compounding issues that people in your company, or client or customer groups, are dealing with on a daily basis.
“When you’re a leader or hiring manager, you need to consider things like: how do I think about these sets of experiences that are different than mine? How do I hire people that might look different than me? How do I hire people who have a different background or skill set than mine?” says Brown. When building your Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) plan, take an intersectional approach — do your research and ask the experts. At Capital One, for example, their strategy includes being more intentionally inclusive about everything from gender, race and age, to education, communication style, language, physical ability, sexual orientation and more.
“It is a human experience to want to be with, and hire, people like yourself,” she adds.” “We have to actively and intentionally work against that.”
Actions speak louder than words.
A noted pain point of D&I is feeling like we’ve been having the same conversation for 40 years with no real action. There comes a time when companies need to walk the walk — and no, it’s not enough to march your employees into a cookie-cutter bias workshop. In 2014, Capital One launched a Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Board to guide their D&I strategy and elicit feedback from their associates regularly. They also developed multiple Business Resource Groups (BRGs), which provide a space for associates from different identity groups and their allies to connect and drive change.
Safe and inclusive spaces are crucial.
This might be the hardest and most important piece of a successful D&I strategy, and one that Capital One has put a lot of energy into. Not only have they built a culture that breaks work hierarchy, but there is an intentional focus on creating open and safe spaces for communication on various topics. Building a whole new ‘safe space’ culture doesn’t happen overnight and can feel a bit daunting. However, by being intentional and empowering leaders to actively engage their teams in conversations, companies can make a positive change in the work environment.
Employees must know there’s room to grow.
Professional development is key to attracting and retaining top talent, particularly for young professionals who want to see a clear path to growth. Capital One’s investment in continued education is a key part of how they help their associates continue to hone their skills, stay relevant and excel in an ever-changing marketplace. Some initiatives include access to an internal portal with hundreds of courses and opportunities to develop both soft and technical skills. Not all companies have the capacity to build their own programs, but you can start by holding consistent conversations about career and training goals while leveraging external resources as needed.
You can’t be what you can’t see.
A recent study from Women in Tech World revealed that access to visible role models and formal mentorship programs is key for creating more inclusive tech communities. If you don’t have the capacity to build a program, a quick Google search can uncover mentorship programs that are available through external organizations. n important first step is demystifying mentorship — for instance, there are no rules about level or experience, so long as the mentee feels supported in their goals. At Capital One, there is an expectation that leaders and managers play an active role in mentorship and coaching to help with both professional and personal growth.
“As a leader, when you are bought into, and understand, the opportunities that come with having a diverse and inclusive workforce — and you are championing that and expressing that every day — folks will not only believe it, but they will follow suit,” says Brown.
Leadership buy-in is key.
There’s no magic wand or checklist to improve diversity in your office, and if you don’t have leadership buy-in, any efforts made — however well-meaning — are less likely to succeed. Include and energize your leadership team from the start and ensure they feel supported. This might mean investing in specialized consultants to expertly communicate and navigate the successes and challenges. Brown urges companies hoping to improve their D&I practices to view diversity not as a problem to be solved, but as an opportunity for growth.
“When I describe an inclusive environment made up of different experiences, however those may come, you can hear the energy that comes from it, right? It just makes the workplace a much more exciting place to be,” she says.
In the world of D&I, we’re still learning. Best practices shift and require companies like Capital One to be agile and persistent and to make big changes that challenge ingrained ways of thinking. It’s important to remember that it’s a journey and every small initiative is but a step in the right direction.