Real change happens when people choose to let down walls and invite someone different in. Today we introduce you to 3 Voices Practical Choices. This thought leadership series brings together "the unlikely team" of Lorene, Leah & Gavin to discuss everyday actions companies and individuals can take to create a more inclusive world. While the issues may be complex, change can be accelerated through daily, intentional, heartfelt conversations and actions that break down barriers and walls. So welcome to our conversation, always with each other and sometimes with a guest. Every article that we share will help us move; you move, companies move, and be the change that we want to see in the world. Let's get started!
Why is DEI Important to you, and how did you come to connect with 3 Voices Practical Choices?
Growing up in the large Caribbean island of Jamaica, my childhood affirmed that I was important, valued, included, and that anything was possible. This changed drastically for me when I went off to university in Canada and experienced for the first time what it was like to be a 'minority and 'other.' This 'Aha' moment occurred when a white person slammed a door in my face (and laughed). I was speechless. At that moment, I was made to feel 'less than’, and I woke up to the realization that there was a BIG world out there, and I am a really small part of it. I have been awake ever since. I learned quickly to adapt or assimilate to survive and quite honestly to be 'seen' for who I am, not what this 'new majority' predetermined I already was. Easier said than done. I held true to the essence of myself as I tried my very best to navigate the myriad of challenges that I faced as I strived for success in the 'real world' as a minority - a black female. Sometimes it worked out okay, but in full transparency, often, it did not. Not easy. My resilience and optimistic outlook on life helped me to thrive despite the imposed setbacks.
How do you exist in a world that is not aligned with the way you really are and does not support your talent, dreams, and aspirations? A world that does not see you and all your worth? A majority that does not value your difference? I don't have all the answers, but I sure want to be a part of the solution, at least for the next generation and the next.
In 2019 I returned home to Bermuda and reconnected with Leah. She was aware of my pursuit to bring solutions to DEI issues, especially in the corporate environment where I worked for three decades. Leah introduced me to Gavin to chat further around this topic, and it was evident that we had something individually and together to offer. We still have a ways to go to address these issues, and I believe we can go farther to solve them when we go with others - plus, it's more fun taking this journey with Leah and Gavin! Being a part of a group that is as passionate and forward-focused as I am about DEI and other issues impacting our places of work is both an empowering and growing opportunity.
As a child, I was blessed to be raised in a loving family. We didn't have much, but we had love and a spirit that said, take risks, don't settle. However, from a very young age, I was very aware that there were things that I wanted to achieve in life that were unobtainable. Looking back, they were out of my reach because either I had never been exposed to it OR we didn't have the financial resources to shape a different future. I could taste a different future, but so many things were simply out of our reach.
As I reflect back on my journey to the place where I now find myself, at each inflection point, my risk-taking and hard work had the opportunity to blossom because someone took the time to mentor me, expose me to something new, or push me to do things that I did not believe were possible until I believed that I could.
In the world, there will always be the haves, and the have nots. That is just life. However, there is so much beauty and untapped potential hidden in the minds of people who need exposure, who need someone to open the door and say welcome into my space, my team, my tribe, let's do this together.
So that is why DEI is important to me. I have been a recipient of what tribe, community, and business leaders living diversity, equity, and inclusion can look like...it literally changed my life. It will change the destiny of my family for generations to come. I believe that when we share our stories, we can inspire others to "be different."
One day, Gavin reached out to connect and said, how can I support you? That sparked a series of check-ins and conversations that led to 3 Voices. For me, 3 Voices Practical Choices is a great opportunity to connect with friends old and new but with different backgrounds, different experiences but with one desire to make a difference and BE DIFFERENT. Who wouldn't want that?
I grew up in Canada in a white middle-class family. While I worked hard for everything, I recognized that I had it easier than some and did not feel disadvantaged. I had people around me who could give me advice along the way and helped me integrate into the corporate world.
My first recollection of thinking about diversity and inclusion came over 20 years ago. An HR leader at one of the companies with which I did business was a woman of color. She was a very bright and insightful person. She had confidence and a willingness to speak her mind. As we worked together, I had the opportunity to get to know her well. Through her eyes, I came to appreciate that the corporate environment was inherently more difficult for non-white people. That HR leader shared with me the issues and the challenges, and the feeling of otherness that she felt. I came to appreciate the impact of our actions and our omissions, which has been important in shaping my work. However, I have not always known what to say and how to discuss diversity, equity, and inclusion with my business contacts without fear of saying something wrong. I have tended to focus DEI discussions on the searches we were conducting rather than more personal conversations. Over the years, Leah and I have collaborated to hire leaders for her former employer. Diversity was always an important consideration because of the impact each hire had on the organization.
I look forward to sharing my experiences from a recruiter's perspective and sharing the learnings from Leah and Lorene to contribute to positive change.
When you think back over your career, what are some of the characteristics of desirable employers that you have personally seen or experienced?
Living the values: Most companies have values. However, for many people, they are just words on a page or on a plaque on the wall. I have had the pleasure of working with some incredible leaders who lived their personal values and the organization's values. Values guide us, help us navigate conflict, and tell us how to show up in ways that impact others and help us achieve results. In my life and work, I try to be values-led. I may not always get "it" right, but my values are the compass that helps me to get back on track.
Recognizing that we are whole people - as an HR leader, I was the keeper of and presided over a lot of policy and process - some days that was really hard. However, one of the characteristics that I valued in one particular organization was their willingness to shape policies designed to exercise compassion in the face of employee crisis. When we come to work, even if we don't share it, we are whole people, with hurts, pains, and sometimes severe distress. To watch a group of leaders who were willing to carve out the time and space to design something different because it was needed was powerful.
First impressions can be impactful. A call from a previous boss before I started saying 'we can't wait to have you join' produced feelings of belonging and value BEFORE I started the job. This played a significant part in my decision to make a leap from an established company to a start-up.
The consistently right 'tone at the top': This type of environment also built my confidence level so I could bring my whole self to work, take intelligent risks, be curious and innovative. I was unafraid of making mistakes because I felt psychologically safe and supported to learn through my mistakes. This was a very empowering growth environment.
Creating a safe environment to take risks. I had good fortune early in my career to work at a company where the leaders created an environment that encouraged its people to stretch and take on as much as they could. The leader of the company with whom I worked said to me early on that he would let me make mistakes and would only let me know if I was about to make a big mistake that could have significant consequences. Not only was it empowering and motivating, but it fostered a more open environment where people were more willing to be themselves.
If there were no obstacles and you could select the perfect workplace for you and the next two generations, what would that look like?
It's challenging to summarize perfection in a few short sentences, so I will say this, the perfect workplaces for me will have two key attributes. (1) they will be places that my children, with all of their gen z effervescence, would want to work. Places where they will feel included, valued, invested in, stretched and rewarded without bias. These companies will intentionally design diverse environments, design equitable programs and policies, and justBE inclusive. It's not a program; it's just what they do, and (2) the perfect workplaces will be flexible in their policies and processes so that employees can navigate the inevitable challenges of work and life with more ease. Key tenets would be: work outside of the box and deliver results!
There would be an intentional inclusive culture. I would ensure that there is an intentional unbiased system to ensure that there is a diverse pipeline very early within an organization. This would start as far back as, say, internships and certainly entry-level positions. I would ensure there were promotion structures with key mentorship and sponsorship of individuals to ensure the development of crucial social networks and access to plumb opportunities.
Additionally, there needs to be accountability built-in with these efforts being measured and rewarded or penalized as any other business KPI. Why? Because DEI is essential to the business success of an organization, metrics should be in place, like any other KPI.
It is imperative that there is a structure in place to ensure there is also honest feedback without any fear or perceived fear of retaliation to ensure that any amendments to improve inclusion and belonging are achieved.
Having employees that are most themselves provides a healthy environment where there is engagement, the feeling of being valued, and overall outperformance. Much like the experience I had at the start-up company I worked at for many years.
An environment where everyone feels safe to express their ideas without judgment and that their voices matter. A company led by leaders demonstrates a genuine interest and commitment to being a desirable diversity employer, beyond checking boxes. Where leaders are committed to educating themselves regarding unconscious bias, are focused on building and promoting diversity and ensuring that everyone is truly on a level playing field with equal opportunities to succeed. I would want each of our children to all feel that there are no limitations on what that can achieve.
Leah JM Dean is a leadership strategist, tribe formation expert, certified strengths coach, best-selling author, facilitator, speaker, and founder of the women’s leadership program, the Tribe Advantage. She is on a mission to help women and organizations all across the globe transform their tribes in life and leadership. To learn more about Leah's work, her best-selling book Assemble the Tribe, or join The Tribe Advantage Leadership Program, visit www.leahjmdean.com. Leah lives in Bermuda with her husband and two children.
Gavin Naimer is the Founder and President of Granite International, a retained executive search firm specializing in recruiting senior executives for the insurance industry. Gavin has over 20 years of experience conducting global searches and building leadership teams for P&C and life and health insurers and reinsurers in North America and Europe. Gavin began his career as an insurance lawyer. Gavin resides in Toronto with his wife and three children. Contact Gavin at www.graniteintl.com.
Lorene Phillips is the founder of corporate coaching firm Clarendon Wallace and The British School of Etiquette, Bermuda. A well-established (re)insurance executive, certified executive coach, speaker, and author, Lorene now works with professionals to establish and achieve their goals, with an emphasis on business development, leadership development, career transition, and diversity, equity, and inclusion. Lorene now resides in Bermuda with her husband Eugene and their three adult sons. To read more visit: www.clarendonwallace.com