Diversity and inclusion (D&I) are essential – be it, gender equity, cultural diversity, disability, LGBTQ+, age – for creativity, innovation and businesses to get as close as possible to their diverse, hyper-connected and increasingly demanding customers. But it is not just about having a performance objective; it is about the meaning of life and our responsibility towards society, argues D&I expert Jaleh Bradea.
Individuals differences, the things that make us diverse are also the things that made us rich. Diversity is actually a great source of wealth.
Most companies are aware of the importance of being inclusive. And this is not only a societal conviction; it is also a lever for economic performance.
The McKinsey and Deloitte report Why Diversity Matters, says “Companies that integrate more cultural and ethnic diversity within management teams have a performance of 33% superior to the others”.
My personal history had already led me to the richness of diversity – let me explain.
Celebrating my diversity
I was born in Iran when there was still a King and a Queen. In those days, Iran was becoming a significant power in that part of the world. And as a family, we were comfortable.
During the Islamic revolution in 1979, my parents decided to leave our country and home, to give my brothers and me better conditions to grow up in. They knew that a nation, where religion was becoming the political power, was not a good place to be. I was ten years old.
We moved to Paris, France, thinking at the time that it would only be for a couple of years because no-one imagined an Islamic government could last so long. I had to learn a new language, get used to a new home, a tiny apartment compared to the big house we had in Iran. I faced the ignorance of fellow students calling me a terrorist or asking why I wasn’t wearing a headscarf if I came from Iran.
Happily, I also had plenty of intelligent people around me. Good friends were accepting my differences. Some of them probably even liked me more because I was different. By the time I was 18, I think I knew that we would not go back home. And I was getting used to my new life. I liked Paris – it was a great place to be as an adult and especially a woman.
Before I turned 30, when working as a consultant at PricewaterhouseCooper in Paris, I became ill and unable to work for several months.
I spent a lot of time thinking during this period, and it came to me that I wanted to go back to Iran to see my old town, school, and home. I had become convinced that I had to reconcile two conflicting parts of me – the me I showed the outside world and the real me.
So, I went back to Iran.
It was the strangest and the most magical trip I ever did. It was in some ways like a new country to me. I went back to the places I used to know and met up with people I used to see.
I wanted to understand what life was like in this new Iran. I talked a lot to people, from whom I learnt a lot. I was especially surprised by the young women’s intelligence; by their culture, education, and political awareness. They had no knowledge of what Iran was before the revolution. It was incredible, and it made me very humble.
I realised how what the media reported to us was not 100% correct. The young women I talked with seemed to know much more than I did. They were strong and combative, but they envied the freedom I had in France – the freedom that I also realised I ‘didn’t really use. I admired them for their maturity, their wisdom and the tremendous energy they had inside them.
I wrote a lot during and after that trip on what culture is or should be. I wrote about what people can bring to one another, each one with their differences. This was around the time of the Millenium; when, there was plenty of talk shows where people argued, but none that brought people together.
I wanted to change that. I wanted to use the incredible tool of television to bring new messages to ‘people’s houses. I wanted people to stop being afraid of what they didn’t know; of what was different. I wanted to deliver awareness and a positive message about my ‘differences’ and those I saw in others. So I started a whole new career, working in TV production.
It was not easy; especially as I ‘didn’t have the appropriate network. So, I had to build one. I had the capacity of daring to talk to anybody in every situation; I was motivated and extremely persuasive when I am convinced of something myself.
I began by casting candidates for real TV shows.
Believing in what you do
I wrote several TV projects that I tried to sell to channels – my own ideas and convictions. I managed to have appointments, but while people kindly told me they were personally interested, they usually added: “it’s not the kind of shows that are on air these days!”
Finally, after three years, Frederic Mitterrand, the chief of programmes at the station TV5 Monde, understood what I was trying to do. He told me: “I believe in what you do. I believe in women to make our world better.” At that time, TV5 Monde was the only French TV channel broadcasting globally, for French people abroad and in hotels in other countries.
Frederic allowed me to run my own TV show, featuring people useful to society. It was called: “Women Destinies”, and in each programme, I hosted two committed women born in different countries; a sort of North-South, East-West confrontation. I wanted to show that even if the two women had nothing in common, they were both committed to building a better and more tolerant world.
Let me remind you that this was after the Twin Towers attack. It seemed even more urgent to bring people from different sides to communicate and show the audience that we have so much more in common despite our differences.
The show was a success, but when Frédéric Mitterrand left TV5, I did too with all the shows he had put on the air.
I continued in TV production for some years. And despite my fragile health, I had two wonderful little boys born in 2007 and 2009, whom I knew wanted to spend more time with. So, I looked for a more relaxed job and worked with a tech telecom start-up, building its television proposition.
Although run from Paris, the team was very multicultural and proof of the richness of diversity. I loved it and quickly realised how much my history allowed me to understand the different cultures and solve eventual discords.
I realised that being a bridge between differences was an asset. We were all different but with the same goal: to make our company grow to success. We were so successful in growing the business that a much larger, highly recognised company bought us.
Thanks to exchanges with exceptional people, I learned about a Corporate Social Responsibility department within our major group, got in touch with the team and secured a new role. It seemed to a perfect way to start again, carrying out useful and meaningful projects.
In my TV shows, I had talked to and about women who change the world. I thought it was time for me to be like those women.
However, I was going through another health episode: I had breast cancer.
Why diversity matters
My conviction that I had to be more useful to the world helped me through this phase of cancer. It was, of course, very difficult. You cannot be diagnosed with cancer with joy and serenity. I cried a lot, not helped by the hormones I had to take. All the stages of my life came to the surface once again and with them the related battles.
In my work, dealing with our major media group’s social responsibility, diversity and inclusion was where I felt very legitimate. Diversity and inclusion have become more and more important, these last years, in all companies and even more in a major media group like ours, both internally and externally. We hold great responsibility with the content we produce, is viewed, listened to and read by millions of people. They help move the lines and change mentalities.
I have a job that directly uses my life path and my struggles. I can show that a little girl can have dreams of being a big boss in a tech company and succeed. I can show how a person with disabilities works as well as any other person seemingly without. And I have shown how to convince people that cultural differences can open minds and the field of possibilities.
Even though today, more and more companies understand that diversity and inclusion are keys to their future performance, there is still a lot more to do. Those who deliver on inclusivity will be the big winners.
I dare to draw a parallel with my personal life, where I am convinced that my battles to accommodate my differences have made me stronger. I feel aligned with myself, in phase, in harmony.
On the good days, I see that all my being carries this message: differences are richness, they are a chance, and I am fortunate. On the bad days, I see the little girl, who does not understand why she was born in a man’s world, the uprooted little girl with fragile health who feels hopeless.
In those moments, I would give a lot to be a wealthy and healthy white man. But after a good night of restorative rest, I’m ready for the fight! And I say to myself: rich, healthy, white men also have their bad days and their differences, and perhaps they suffer also in that we do not see their differences, which are usually invisible.
Because we all have differences that make us unique and singular, I’m sure you understand how I feel. And rather than hiding these differences, we can build on and thank them since they are our greatest assets, our greatest strength.
This is what the world expects from us. This is what, more and more, our world needs.