Hello, Diversity: I’m Equality

Aneeza Haleem

Aneeza Haleem is a Senior Manager in Cognizant’s Banking & Financial Services business unit, working mainly with independent mortgage banks, nonbank servicers and select depository institutions. She’s taken up multiple roles in her career spanning both technology and domain consulting, always with an eye for challenging the norm. She can be reached at Aneeza.Haleem@cognizant.comhttps://www.linkedin.com/in/aneezah/.

“Prejudice is a burden that confuses the past, threatens the future and renders the present inaccessible.” –Maya Angelou.

Tolerance, diversity and inclusion should not be political opinions or corporate checkboxes–they are non-negotiable human rights.

“Diversity & Inclusion” has become a buzzword spouted by many a “woke” leader, including myself. Over the past decade, I’ve been amazed by the whirlwind of initiatives working towards upliftment of underserved communities and eradication of biases. The news is saturated with stalwart women who are paving the road for future leaders, organizations working on empowering the new generation and of enterprises taking initiative to create an inclusive environment. Enterprises have invested heavily in D&I focused initiatives like career fairs, internal support groups, mentorship programs, trainings focused on removing biases.

These platforms go beyond corporate circles and form social awareness, make it socially acceptable to speak about these concerns and the need for change. This phase of focused opportunities–for example, career fairs or tech training focused on women, internal support groups–is great to give us a step up in a male dominant world. But what happens after that? Do we remain a number? A checkbox? A token? How do we ensure that the effort spent on these initiatives gives us quality, not just quantity? That the quality is sustained and the spirit of inclusivity maintained year on year?

Based on a Deloitte survey (https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/us/Documents/about-deloitte/us-about-deloitte-unleashing-power-of-inclusion.pdf), respondents do not want inclusion to be solely a programmatic initiative or add-on. Rather, inclusion should be a fundamental aspect of their experience and felt throughout everyday aspects and behaviors. So how do you rewire behavior across the enterprise to ingrain “belonging”? The solution–a Diversity & Inclusion Index (DII).

Next Step: Diversity & Inclusion Index

DII are used by many firms such as Forbes (https://www.forbes.com/lists/best-employers-diversity/#74ad62636468) to measure the effectiveness of DII programs in enterprises. Typically, they have the following broad categories:

–People Metrics: % of new hires, promotees, attrition

–Subjective Metrics: survey responses from teams and clients

–Action Metrics: sponsorship programs, training/opportunities provided, etc.

Now imagine if we applied these metrics internally (within each enterprise) and assigned KPIs to them. Make them specific to every BU and use the plethora of internal data available to customize it as far as possible. At an elemental level, these indices could help unearth fallacies like motherhood being a significant contribution to attrition among women (https://www.pwc.com/gx/en/diversity-inclusion/best-practices/assets/the-pwc-diversity-journey.pdf). At a macro level, they give visibility into specific areas of concern, allowing for programs to be developed catering to those areas. This is true “belonging”.

Permeate Actionable Goals

DIIs are often implemented at the C-suite level–but why not implement them across the enterprise? Anyone with a team should be held accountable. Middle management is usually the black hole where many a great idea goes to die. This band often accounts for half the population of the company, but the group neither benefit from the inspiration achieved from direct C-suite interaction nor the focused attention given to new hires. They are the unsung heroes of today who could potentially become the “sung” heroes of tomorrow. Empower them to be champions!

In the spirit of D&I, recognize that middle management is not a one-size-fits-all group. You’ll have the firebrand supporters, the followers, the idealists, the “I-will-do-just-enough-and-not-an-iota-more,” the complainers–it’s a large group, expect diversity. Each one will require their own individualized concoction of attention, coaxing, threat and encouragement. Invest time here since the vision of the C-suite and the energy of the new hires will need the catalyst of middle management support to become a tangible solution.

A robust DII program will help quantify and qualify the effort spent towards D&I initiatives–a clear ROI that even the most P&L focused leader can’t refute.

How Focus on Diversity Leads to Equality

The focus on underserved groups is precisely because of that–the fact that they are underserved. But years into the future (hopefully not too long!), the dream is to have a truly meritocratic society. One where the norm is, worth over all else. A society where it will no longer matter what race, gender, orientation, ability you have/are–you are defined by what you can contribute to society at large.

The push for enabling opportunities based on diversity or inclusion is not about tipping the scales to favor any one group. It’s about balancing the scale so we all have the same opportunities, thereby enabling the best ideas towards a better future for all.

(Views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect policy of the Mortgage Bankers Association, nor do they connote an MBA endorsement of a specific company, product or service. MBA NewsLink welcomes your submissions. Inquiries can be sent to Mike Sorohan, editor, at msorohan@mba.orgor Michael Tucker, editorial manager, at mtucker@mba.org.)

The Mortgage Bankers Association’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee was formed in 2013 to provide leadership and guidance to help the real estate finance industry gain a competitive advantage by increasing diversity in leadership, workforce and suppliers.

MBA encourages its members to support these efforts and to recognize the competitive advantages of embracing a diverse and inclusive workforce and marketplace. For more information about the MBA Diversity and Inclusion Initiative, click https://www.mba.org/who-we-are/mbas-diversity-and-inclusion-initiative/about-mbas-diversity-and-inclusion-initiative.