In a recent episode of Diversity: Beyond the Checkbox, host Jackie Ferguson of The Diversity Movement sat down with DEI expert Karyn Twaronite, Global Vice Chair of Diversity and Inclusion at Ernst & Young (EY), a global organization with over 300,000 employees in over 150 countries.
Karyn has the rather unusual distinction (at least in more recent job trends), of having worked at a single company, in this case EY, for over 30 years. Her journey with EY has allowed her to both grow and develop with the organization, and she has seen EY’s Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) program from its infancy. Having first started at EY as a tax professional, Karyn was later given the opportunity to work as a D&I officer, what was once an experimental role.
As a D&I officer during an era when EY and other companies were still trying to figure out exactly what D&I meant, and how it could fit into their business model, Karyn describes herself as often “the only woman in the room or the only woman that’s doing this kind of service or this kind of aspect on a project.” However, despite these challenges, she was able to dedicate herself to her work and was determined to become someone who added value to her company and team.
During her career at EY, Karyn has been confronted often with the complex and multifaceted issue of developing a culture of D&I across the globe—spanning different countries, cultures and languages. Developing an overarching company culture that could be applied globally has not always been easy, particularly because of the different cultural connotations associated with specific words and language across various countries.
“There are different societal dynamics everywhere you turn another challenge,” she said. “What global organizations can face is just the concept of words and words really matter. And the use of those words and their impact and how they land…South Africa, Australia, Canada, but there are certain countries in the world group, the word race, you can’t use that word at all because that’s considered, you know, labeling and inappropriate.”
Ultimately, the importance of nuance around words like racism or discrimination really matter. Since different cultures and countries will interpret words in different ways, the key to a global D&I program is to understand the often subtle, but still complex, nuances of words, and how they will be received across the world.
Another challenge to establishing D&I in a global organization, or even a small one, is to ensure that the organization understands that creating and enforcing a culture of D&I does not come easily, or quickly.
“The average tenure of a D&I leader is about two and a half years,”. “So that’s incredibly short, but I think it’s also because leaders get frustrated or they don’t get backing or they don’t get the proper resourcing or companies get frustrated that they expect all these results really fast. And of course results are important, but there are short-term and long-term results and successes and bumps along the way. I think part of innovating in this space is you’re going to have some misses here and there. But I think willingness to try allows you to at least try more and try more often and have a higher success rate and have higher hits within your company’s culture.’”
In short, establishing a D&I culture, particularly for a global organization, isn’t an easy or quick task; however, the benefits far outweigh the risks or time commitment. Companies that prioritize a D&I culture tend to have employees who are more efficient, innovative and productive. Additionally, happy employees are more likely to stay with a company, giving the organization an increased retention rate.
But even looking past the business benefits of having a D&I culture, among the younger generations of workers (millennials and gen z’ers in particular), D&I initiatives are becoming baseline expectations for workplaces, not things that are seen as unique or special. Therefore, it is important for companies both big and small to adapt to the changing needs and wants of their employees. Understanding what workers prioritize, how their personal values impact their career path, and that the way that work is conducted is constantly changing is paramount to building a robust and adaptable D&I culture.
For businesses looking to establish D&I cultures, particularly global organizations, Karyn recommends:
- Building up muscle and resiliency around issues like inclusivity and diversity;
- Enforcing hiring and performance management standards;
- Training employees and executives on D&I initiatives;
- Weaving D&I directly into the business agenda, and normalizing its importance within the business structure;
- Employing the concept of “belonging with uniqueness” as a business strategy to encourage people to be themselves at work, while also fostering a welcoming environment where everyone feels included;
- Encouraging equitable sponsorship, particularly for women and people of color, who historically have been overlooked for things like promotions and other opportunities;
- Understanding that this is a long journey, and there will be bumps along the way.
Slowly but surely, D&I initiatives are becoming the norm, as well as the expectation, in workplaces across the globe. Karyn is a perfect example of someone who has seen her company’s D&I initiatives grow from their beginnings to the current day across a wide range of countries and cultures, and she understands that D&I is a long journey with bumps along the way.
“DEI is a journey, you’re never finished. You’re never done,” Karyn said.. “And it’s so important to have that mindset.”