How to be an effective diversity and inclusion leader

Tech professional Abed Farhan shares his insights on diversity and inclusion friendly leadership

Abed Farhan, VP Sales & Account Management at software firm, ZoomInfo draws on his 20+ years of leadership experience to share with us his tips on what makes an effective diversity and inclusion leader.

Good diversity and inclusion leaders challenge tokenism

“Diversity”, some people think, pertains mostly to gender and race. Lots of lip service is paid to diversity initiatives, yet where is the follow-through or desire to truly make a difference? 

The privileged tend to be preconditioned to trust their personal view on diversity and inclusion. However, diversity gets more complicated given the fact that the migratory trends are limited to a few homogeneous STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) cities and talent pools. All tend to operate in similar environments, network with the same people and have the same habits which lead to smaller talent pools.

Bias is rampant particularly against women, people of colour, older people, and disabled people. While group thought and culture plays a large part in creating bias, I do think – to a limited extent – that some of the burdens fall on the individual. When you are on the receiving end of bias, your options are limited, and your wit and mettle are always being tested. That is truly exhausting. Below are some key challenges around diversity and inclusion.

  1. Polarisation: Polarisation can and often does lead to indifference and division to avoid confrontation or the prescription of being an obstructionist.
  2. Undervalued achievement or merit: Overachievers and successful people are often under scrutiny. Having a diverse background only adds to the burden. A good friend, an African-American female executive, has shared horror tales of how she is told often that her rise is due to her race and gender, not achievement.
  3. Lack of quantifiable effectiveness: It is difficult enough to show ROI in our daily jobs, let alone diversity. This is likely due to the challenge of measuring a state of mind, philosophy, and long-term strategy – while still dealing with the challenges of what’s right in front of you now where most aren’t willing to see it through.
  4. Competing initiatives: It is human nature to pay attention to what matters most as it pertains to our daily job or the order of the day. For example, hiring millennials could be the initiative of the company and for most, that cures the need for diversity. Leaders should have a more comprehensive approach that will be thought out and deliberate.
  5. Non-conforming: Diversity is to step out of one’s element of comfort, familiarity and understanding, and welcome perspectives from those with different experiences. That is hard enough within your space or environment, faith, race, gender, philosophy, etc. You step out of your space and then it gets really uncomfortable.

How to be an effective diversity and inclusion leader

  1. Hire people you don’t know: If you look at any given exec roster, it will hard to ignore the tribalism. We all tend to hire people we know or who look and act like us, compounding the tribal effect. Diversity is having a healthy balance between your view of the world and another’s and having the courage to welcome examination of your thinking and authority.
  2. Listen: Do things you do not understand with people who are not familiar. Adapt your approaches based on what you learned. Creating an open culture of listening is one of the key pillars of learning and personal development. People will be a reflection of who you are as a leader.
  3. Use the same measuring stick: Apply the same rules and criteria of success to all, regardless of who, where, and why. Fairness in dealings will frame a legacy of trust and collaboration.
  4. Expand the definition of diversity: Diversity extends well beyond the limiting definitions we are taught. It starts with a mental state of curiosity to seek an alternate path of learning. Find your own and build on it.
  5. Rinse and repeat: Live by your deeds and actions, say them again and again. Continue to listen, adjust your approach and start all over. Stay the course and be consistent, and only then will your legacy take form.

Abed Farhan is VP Sales & Account Management at ZoomInfo.

In this article, you learned that:

  • Hiring people that don’t look or act like you will boost team diversity
  • Apply the same rules and criteria to assess all employees to increase equity
  • Creating an open culture of listening for learning and personal development could help foster closer teams

Abed Farhan

Abed is currently SVP Sales & Field Operations at ServiceAide. Abed is an accomplished high-tech executive with 20+ years’ experience incubating new businesses and building world-class sales teams...

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