When I was asked to write this piece – I had to get quiet, I had to think about how to approach this very important, very personal topic.
I have been with Capgemini since 2015, and reflecting on my career before that, most of the time I would be “the only” woman, the only Black person, at the table (though it doesn’t register often, anymore).
I was the first Black female executive at one of the largest sites my former company had in the Americas. I looked back at some pictures from years ago and noticed that I was the only brown face in the group. I also noticed that there were limited (not zero) people who looked like me in executive leadership positions. I’ve had fellow colleagues from the business consult with me, hoping to gain some insights and make wise career decisions on whether they were in the right place, and whether the workplace included people from a similar ethnicity in the eligible pool for promotion opportunities. They were keen to know whether, if they put in the time and effort, they would gain the same recognition as everyone else.
Early in my career I knew I had to do it right. I knew I needed to do better – better than the rest. Never dress down too much. Hair and makeup perfect. First in, last to leave. Run a very tight ship. No mistakes. Know your targets and exceed them – making target wasn’t enough! Get comfortable with the stretch. Learn to think like the “boys.” And the list goes on.
Leaders are supposed to stand out and rise to the top. As difficult as it is to reach the executive level – it’s even HARDER to stay there. But when you are there, you see very few people who look like you, and you wonder, “Am I included or just being tolerated?” So, with these thoughts in mind while climbing the corporate ladder, here’s my personal take on inclusion:
Inclusion is extremely important to me because I am here to be part of the solution and feel valued. I am here to contribute to a winning team and help grow the business to new levels. I see that at Capgemini we are now striving to be more inclusive, to have a more ethnically diverse culture as well as gender equality. We are committed to being and doing better but it’s just the start.
When I am coaching mentees or recruiting people, I need them to know that I support a business culture that truly values, supports and equitably manages and compensates the talent we have. To accomplish this, we need to:
- Mirror the ethnic profile of the geography in which we compete
- Leverage the diversity of thinking that inclusion brings to enable higher levels of creativity and innovation and a competitive business advantage to solve business solutions.
When we do these two important things we come out as true winners. When we win, productivity is high, the business results are high, employee satisfaction and retention are high, and the company’s reputation of a “great place to work” is elevated even higher. EVERYONE WINS!
We must consciously pursue diverse talent and work just as hard to retain that talent given the business value it represents. Our employee profile should reflect our clients’ profiles; it should mirror our community. We have room to improve. None of us are more than the sum- total of our experiences. The full tapestry of those experiences is only realized when we include all aspects of talent. We all understand what is required, now we need to provide the evidence of our commitment.
Inclusion is more important than ever today. Inclusion isn’t complicated nor should it be debated. It is not simply the right thing to do, it’s the SMART thing to do.
Perhaps some of you saw the recent article on the first Black female tactical fighter pilot in the US Navy.
Vice Adm. DeWolfe, “Bullet” Miller III, the commander of Naval Air Forces, in a recent article on the first Black female tactical pilot in the US Navy, said:
“Lt. J.G. Swegle has proven to be a courageous trailblazer. She has joined a select group of people who earned Wings of Gold and answered the call to defend our nation from the air. The diversity of that group — with differences in background, skill and thought — makes us a stronger fighting force.”
In a video released earlier this month Swegle said:
“I think representation is important because we are a very diverse nation. I would like everyone to believe that they can achieve whatever they want to do. I’m excited to have this opportunity to work harder and fly high performance jet aircraft in the fleet. It would’ve been nice to see someone who looked like me in this role; I never intended to be the first. I hope it’s encouraging to other people.”
Inclusion isn’t the idea or focus of the moment. Inclusion is smart – smart for business and smart for our society.
Vice President, Insurance,
Capgemini Financial Services