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Psychological Safety is the Key to Inclusion

FEI Daily spoke with Julie Nugent, VP, Research and Chair, Catalyst Award Evaluation Committee, about organizational diversity and inclusion efforts, the difference between sponsors and mentors, and workplaces that work for women.

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FEI Daily: How have you seen the event evolve over the years?

Julie Nugent: I've been at the company for 16 years. I've led research and I'll soon be in a new role leading our global learning. But when we started off doing our awards event it was obviously a much smaller event. And I also think that, at the time, there wasn't as much of a focus on inclusion. Diversity was very much the focus. 

So, really thinking about representation and those metrics were critically important.  But there wasn't as much focus paid to how organizations can truly embrace and develop inclusive cultures. And as we've evolved over the years there's much more of a focus on that. The world is already diverse. But how do we then make sure that our talent feels included? And that's the key to great workplace cultures. 

FEI Daily: Does diversity have more to do with recruitment and inclusion more to do with retaining and keeping employees happy?

Nugent: I think it’s a bit of a mix. When we think about diversity, people do often think about the metrics. The percentages of women, of people of color, depending on your organization or setting, all those key things inside the workplace, the actual representation metrics.

And I do think in recruitment you're looking at a number of different factors and you want to make sure you're recruiting the best talent and that it is diverse. But there's a lot more to diversity. There’s diversity of style, diversity of thought and opinion. And I think that's what you end up getting when you're really tapping into inclusion. With inclusion, you're really looking at whether people feel valued for their uniqueness and feel like they belong inside the culture?

FEI Daily: What are the measurements for inclusiveness?

Nugent:  We actually just rolled out an amazing diagnostic called The Catalyst Inclusion Accelerator. And its focus is to go deep with companies. It's to help them better understand inclusion at a big picture level. 

We use psychological safety. Do people feel safe at work? Do they feel like they can bring their whole selves to work? Do people feel like they can contribute without being penalized? When you think about inclusion, those nuances, those are what make employees either feel included or not. 

What we've seen in the research is that if an employee does not feel included, there are so many negative effects that can actually affect their health. It can actually affect their wellbeing. So, why wouldn't a company want their employees to feel valued and included? 

FEI Daily: Senior-level financial executives may not be the first roles you think of when you think of diversity and inclusion. What can you tell me about what you've seen executives doing to move the needle?

Nugent: Any executive, regardless of role, can sponsor. Sponsorship is critical. A mentor talks with you, and a sponsor talks about you. 

For senior leaders, they need to be prioritizing talent. And what I tell companies is you don't have to necessarily have a sponsorship program -- because when you start going down that road a lot of companies will say, ‘We don't have resources for a program,’ or, ‘We don't have that kind of formality in the system.’ Every company can prioritize sponsorship as a leadership attribute. It should be something that all leaders are doing, no matter what. 

FEI Daily: What do you think of the practice of tying compensation or performance review to sponsorship explicitly? 

Nugent: I think that's great. Programs are great, and a lot of companies have them in place. Our award winners, I will say, all tie compensation into final results. And accountability is critical for them. And it sends a message, clearly. And a lot of times the CEO or the head of the company is saying, ‘You need to sponsor high potential talent. You need to sponsor women. You need to be driving an inclusive culture. And, you know what? You need to prove it to me.’

FEI Daily: What does a workplace that works for women look like today? 

Nugent:  Again, inclusion is the key here. And a workplace that works for women works for everyone. 

Think about something like flexibility. Flexibility works for everyone. It's not a women's issue and it's not a parent's issue. It's really about ensuring that your employees feel that they are valued, and that what they want and need is important to the company. That's an evolution, too. In the past, it was much more focused on motherhood and maternity. And that actually can disadvantage women, because then there are opportunities that come up and they say, ‘Well, Julie's a mom, so she's not going to want to go to Asia,’ or, ‘She's not going to want to do this because she will have to travel.’

An inclusive culture that's really working for women is one that is working for everyone, where talent is prioritized, where you are asking the questions of your talent, and where you're really understanding what the employee wants and needs, and then matching that to the business needs.