Transcript: Setting The Tone

Interview with Nancy Roberts, founder, Business Inclusivity

For podcast release Monday, November 13, 2017

KENNEALLY: Whether an organization serves only a local market or does business in many countries across the globe, its leadership has responsibility to welcome diversity and difference in the workplace. Publishers who set an inclusive tone will see a change in management and in the mirror.

Welcome to Copyright Clearance Center’s podcast series. I’m Christopher Kenneally for Beyond the Book. In business, says Nancy Roberts, maintaining an inclusive workplace means addressing more than cultural differences. She encourages leaders and others to identify and nurture what she calls cognitive diversity. The reason is all about the bottom line, but the result will find leaders challenging themselves and the status quo. Nancy Roberts joins me now from London. Welcome to Beyond the Book, Nancy.

ROBERTS: Hi, Chris. Thanks for having me on.

KENNEALLY: Well, we are looking forward to speaking with you, Nancy Roberts, about this topic. We’ll tell people that you are the founder and director at Business Inclusivity, a social enterprise working to encourage greater diversity and inclusion in corporate life. You work with board members and C-suite officers to develop inclusive leadership practices, as well as with individual businesswomen to support their career development. Nancy Roberts has worked in publishing for over 20 years in a variety of production and operation roles, including as academic global operations director for Cambridge University Press.

So I guess we should start with something that seems like a fairly straightforward question, but you have an interesting take on it, Nancy, and that is what about the importance of diversity and inclusion? Why are they important? And why should anyone working in an organization aspiring to or in the role of a leader want to be an inclusive leader?

ROBERTS: That’s a really good question, and I think the emphasis on inclusion is important to me here. The business benefits of diversity are actually pretty well documented. So there’s a lot of research – some good from McKinsey proving that diverse teams have been shown to deliver greater profitability, to facilitate better decision-making, to generate more innovation. There’s lots of bottom-line and business benefits to it. But there’s also obviously the moral argument that diversity and inclusion is the right thing to do, so it can help with staff attraction and retention and it can build a happy workplace for your employees. So I think generally people believe that diversity is a good thing. And on the back of this, many companies have started to implement diversity strategies so that they can start to leverage some of these benefits.

I think for me, the question of inclusion is really critical. As management guru Peter Drucker famously said, culture eats strategy for breakfast. So simply putting a diversity strategy in place is probably not going to be enough. You really need to develop an inclusive culture so that those diversity strategies that bring different people into the business can create an environment where they’re going to succeed.

KENNEALLY: And the way for that to happen, at least through leadership’s role, is to set the tone. And again, something that sounds obvious, leaders – they’re leaders because people follow them, I suppose. What should leaders be doing that will inspire their organizations to follow them towards this notion of inclusivity?

ROBERTS: I think leadership is really, really critical in this. Again, a lot of the research proves that unless this comes from the top down, it’s unlikely to really drive that cultural change in the organization, so I think leaders have a really unique role to play. And there’s again been lots of interesting research about what that looks like, and Deloitte have developed a model which focuses on six key traits of inclusive leadership. So if you’re happy, I’ll just take you through what those six traits are and what they might mean.

KENNEALLY: Well indeed, and we will post a link on our website at Beyond the Book to more about this on your own website at Business Inclusivity, and we’ll sort of give people a heads-up here that they’ll remember all of these if they think about C, because all of these begin with the letter C. Tell us about them. The first one, as you see it, is cognizance – a big word, but again I think you can bring it down to the ground for us. Tell us what it is.

ROBERTS: Yeah, so cognizance is really about understanding yourself and being very aware of your own biases. We all have biases, some of which we may be aware of, some of which we may not, and you really need to be conscious of those as a leader. So if you think about the publishing context, which is obviously one that I know well, there is a bias in publishing towards, for example, employing graduates or people who’ve been to university. Now, in some roles there may be very good reasons for that, but in some roles you could question, well, is a university degree really going to help someone who’s perhaps in a technology role or an operations role? As a leader, you really need to be cognizant of what biases you’re imposing when you look to build your leadership team.

KENNEALLY: The next one is one that I can identify with, because as an ex-journalist, it was my job in those days to be curious for a living. So curiosity is something that leaders need to remember is important to them as well.

ROBERTS: Absolutely. And I think it’s that desire to understand how others see the world and being very curious about what insights that might bring, so how do people around you – how do they differ from you? What different experiences have they had? Being curious about that and trying to understand how that might shape their thinking I think is a really critical trait in a leader.

KENNEALLY: I guess I won’t keep knocking these off one by one. You can run through a few of them. But courage is the next one, cultural intelligence, and commitment. We’ll close with the final one, but tell us about courage, cultural intelligence, and commitment.

ROBERTS: So courage for me is probably one of the most important. Championing a kind of diverse and inclusive organization does involve personal risk, so as a leader, you will have to put yourself out there, acknowledge your biases, really stick your head above the parapet. And you probably will make mistakes. You may use the wrong language. You may put initiatives in train which don’t work the way that you were hoping. You need to be brave enough to take those risks and show your vulnerabilities to your team, so courage to me feels like quite a critical one. Of course, leaders need to have courage in all sorts of ways, so it’s not unknown to them, but this is an area where you perhaps expose yourself to more personal risk.

In terms of cultural intelligence, I think many publishers now are global organizations, or they’re certainly trading globally. So being very aware of those kind of cultural differences and the frameworks that people see the world through is really important. A good example I came across recently which was new to me is that in English, we capitalize the personal pronoun I, so we would say I will, I do always with a capital I. Whereas in Polish, the personal pronoun’s not capitalized, and that suggests a different way of looking at the world and a different view of the centrality of the individual. So that does bring a different kind of perspective into the room, and I think cultural intelligence – being aware of those differences – can really help to smooth that experience and get the best out of those different viewpoints.

Commitment I think goes with courage, really, as a critical aspect. It does take time and energy to build an inclusive culture, and obviously leaders have lots of pressure on their time, lots of things that they have to attend to. So it’s quite important that the leaders are personally committed to the notion of inclusivity and that they are defining a strategy which fits with their own personal values so that they can really deliver that personal commitment to the initiatives that they put in place.

KENNEALLY: We are speaking right now with Nancy Roberts in London, and the discussion is about inclusivity and leadership. And the final of all those characteristics – those traits of inclusive leadership – is collaboration, Nancy Roberts. Collaboration clearly is going to be the foundation for this. Without collaboration, there really isn’t inclusivity. But it’s about creating space for that collaboration. You can’t just snap a finger. You need to make it a possibility in the workplace.

ROBERTS: Yeah, that’s right. Again, I think publishing is generally a very collaborative industry. People like to work together in teams and get the best out of that. So again, this is not a huge shift, but it’s about just maybe changing the mindset a little bit around that collaboration, so trying to find ways and create spaces for different voices to be heard.

We probably all know someone in our teams who’s maybe a little bit more reflective, who likes to take time to process information and think about their views about it. Actually, a meeting can be quite a difficult situation for those people, because they’re presented with some data, everyone’s got an opinion, and actually maybe they need to go away and think about it, or maybe they don’t feel comfortable just saying the first thing that comes into their head.

So it’s thinking, how can you create a space where all those different approaches can be equally valued? Could you provide information in advance of the meeting to those people so they’ve got time to think, or could you take a timeout that allows them to kind of process a little bit on their own? Because you’ll get a better value from them in terms of their understanding, but also a more rounded conversation. It won’t just be the people who are perhaps more extrovert and think out loud who take the floor.

A really good example I’ve seen of this is if you’re doing a town hall meeting with all of your employees, often the CEO will say please ask your questions, feel free to ask me anything, and I’ll try and answer it. Of course, some people are very comfortable putting their hand up and asking that question, but other people are less so, and they don’t want to stand up in a room full of people and ask a question that they’re not sure if it’s controversial or if it might reflect on them in a certain way.

There are some good tools that people can use around this. There’s a really good tool called, which allows you to give people a code, and then they can put that into their mobile phone – their cell phone – and then they can text in their questions, which can come up anonymously. That might just be a way for those people who don’t feel completely comfortable standing up to still input into that discussion and have their views heard, but without them taking the sort of personal risk that would be involved in putting themselves out there. It’s really just those sort of small things that can enable that collaboration to work better and make sure that everybody’s getting that equal chance to input into the conversation that I think is critical.

KENNEALLY: Right. Nancy, in your work looking at organizations and at leaders, give me an idea of how successful people are at achieving these ambitions. They sound straightforward, and yet the point we’re raising them for is to remind people of their value, to help them move forward. How difficult is it? What are the challenges people face? They may be personal challenges, cultural, institutional challenges. What are the roadblocks in front of inclusivity?

ROBERTS: I think really it’s often personal, because these are emotive and personal things. Our own biases, our own life experiences that form us are very important to us, and we’re much more comfortable with people with similar experiences. So if you’re going to try and create a culture full of different voices, there are challenges in that. There will be conflict. There will be tensions. There will be people who challenge you in a way that perhaps you find personally difficult. So I think it’s less around the institution or the kind of cultural situation as your own personal willingness to be open to that. And nobody likes to be disagreed with. Nobody likes to be challenged. But it takes a certain courage to do that, and I think that’s probably one of the biggest roadblocks.

KENNEALLY: Right. And I wonder, Nancy, whether there’s a leader either in history or in fiction or drama or somewhere that you can point to and say there’s a model that people could do well by following.

ROBERTS: That’s an excellent question. I think my personal role model in this area would be Michelle Obama. I think you look at the role that she had, which other first ladies have treated in different ways – they’ve been more or less visible – and she really took that role on, and she was incredibly inclusive about that role. She was very open to meeting with people. She spent lots of time out in schools and working with young women and black communities to raise voices. And I think it’s that personal risk element – you know, she could have had a very nice time as a first lady and got a nice wardrobe and traveled around a lot, but she actually was prepared to go somewhere further with that and to expose herself to criticism. So I think for me that takes bravery, and you of course can see the effect that she had through doing that.

KENNEALLY: Nancy Roberts, founder/director at Business Inclusivity in London, thanks for joining us on Beyond the Book and telling us a bit about inclusive leadership.

ROBERTS: You’re welcome. Thanks for having me.

KENNEALLY: Beyond the Book is produced by Copyright Clearance Center, a global leader in content management, discovery, and document delivery solutions. Through its relationships with those who use and create content, CCC and its subsidiaries RightsDirect and Ixxus drive market-based solutions that accelerate knowledge, power publishing, and advance copyright.

Beyond the Book co-producer and recording engineer is Jeremy Brieske of Burst Marketing. I’m Christopher Kenneally. Join us again soon on Beyond the Book.

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