Podcast transcript: Diversity and inclusion as accelerators of innovation (Agents of Change)
26 min approx | 20 February 2019
Welcome back to the Agents of Change podcast series. I’m Roger Park, EY Americas Advisory and Financial Services Innovation Leader, and the series host. I’m joined today by Trusha Mehta. Trusha leads EY’s inclusiveness and flexibility efforts within the firm’s Financial Services Organization. Trusha, why don’t you tell me a little bit about yourself.
Great. Thank you so much, Roger. Thank you for having me. This is a pleasure.
So, give you a little bit of my background and my story, which will give the audience a glimpse into who I am. Born and raised in Mumbai, India. Immigrated to the States with my family when I was 10 and did not speak a word of English. So English is my second language and really learned by watching Saturday morning cartoons. But that really gave me passion for this work around diversity inclusion, which has been my focus my entire career and my entire career with EY.
So, EY has been home for me. I went from undergrad to grad school. My background is in organizational development change management, but always focused on D&I, and that’s been my subject matter with the firm for the past 18 years. The majority of that time was spent at the Americas level or national level focusing on our strategy.
Also worked on developing our learning curriculum on how do you develop inclusive leadership skills and move people from awareness into behavior change. And then, also had the opportunity to take this work outside of the US, particularly in South America, helping them launch some of their efforts and initiatives.
And a little over five years ago, had the opportunity to move into my current role in our Financial Services, really building and focusing on equity, creating equity for all of our people, for the 12,000 people in the Americas. And really, a portion of this is also working in sharing and leading best practices with our clients.
That’s great. Thanks for being with us today. English is actually my second language too. It’s my only language now. I’ve forgotten a lot of Korean. So, you must have seen a lot of changes over the time you’ve been at EY, not just in financial services, but across the D&I agenda. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Yeah. And talk about having a front-row seat in watching our firm go through its own evolution.
And I really think that for us, it’s been two key things that I think were instrumental for us in our journey as an organization. And I think this may resonate for many of our listeners as well, as they look at their own organizations and where they are.
There’s no right or wrong, good or bad, in my view. D&I really is a journey, and in our case, I think one of the critical things that happened for us in the mid-2000s was a step back and looking at how we were using and defining these terms, and so that became a really critical focus area for us.
And then, the second key aspect, in my view, in our journey was this, what I call leadership ownership. It’s not necessarily just a commitment because you can have an organization that talks the talk, but how do you really ensure that as leadership changes take place, as directional changes take place for the business that you are still very much focused on this work, the D&I work being central to the direction where the organization is going?
And, for us, I feel like that was a critical piece that was a focus area for us and has remained.
Recent research conducted by publications such as the Harvard Business Review and Forbes point to the direct link between a diverse workforce innovation and financial performance. And for those of us actively engaged in driving innovation and diversity, like Trusha and myself, an inclusiveness, both within our firms and for our clients, this may not come as a surprise, but as companies focus more and more on their innovative and transformational journeys and on incorporating technologies such as data analytics and AI to facilitate those efforts, there is an even greater need to ensure that the teams and leaders working on these projects represent diverse backgrounds, generations and viewpoints in order for those systems to accurately reflect and serve their clients’ needs.
So, Trusha, you’ve been leading our diversity and inclusiveness efforts within EY FSO for several years. I’ve always known the firm to be very diverse and inclusive, but definitely I’ve seen an increased focus on this in our hiring and teaming practices over the years, especially recently.
The innovation teams and client projects that I lead have certainly been benefiting from this focus. Why do you think D&I is such an essential part of EY’s identity as a firm?
Yeah, Roger, that’s such a great question and especially in the environment and the changing times that we’re part of currently.
So, in my view, two key things stand out to me when I look at our journey as a firm and, you know, how we’ve been able to integrate this identity. The first piece is we serve global clients. As you mentioned, in order to solve those complex challenges that our clients are facing, we have a workforce and we need to create high-performing teams that can really work across differences, different opinions, perspectives, country cultures and that, to me, has been a really important foundation for the firm in focusing on this work and embedding it into our business strategy because of our clients and making sure we’re helping our clients be successful.
And the second key perspective, for me, around this identity for the firm has been when I look at our senior leadership, true ownership around this, understanding and ownership of this work and, to me, it goes beyond this notion of commitment.
I think commitment is important, but sometimes if you just stay at commitment you’re just talking the talk and not necessarily making substantial changes. And, in my view, when you have that true ownership at that senior level in an organization, you are able to withstand changes in the marketplace, leadership changes and shift that may happen for an organization.
And I think that’s been very much a DNA for us in our firm where every single senior leadership has been committed to this work.
Yeah, that’s something that I see every day, and I’m actually quite proud of as a firm that we’ve got such commitment from the leadership on our D&I agenda. I know in my career at EY, I’ve benefited in a lot of cases from the leadership sponsorship and then also try to be a leader myself by supporting and sponsoring D&I initiatives, and especially recently, when it comes to innovation and coming up with new ideas, the ability to get access to the diversity and breadth and depth of expertise and all the brains from all the different folks within the firm and bring those to bear on our clients’ problems or our own internal problems is incredibly powerful. And that’s, I think, one of the benefits we’re accruing from our long investment in D&I.
You’re absolutely right, Roger. You know, even when I step back and think about these terms, right, and the way we are defining them in our firm, which has been a really important shift in our journey. Diversity is all differences.
So, yes, it’s definitely focusing on our women and our diverse population, minority population, our LGBT group, but really going beyond those traditional dimensions of diversity and really thinking about differences as leadership style, difference as thinking style, differences, different locations, even different service lines and practices.
So, diversity is all difference, and inclusion, inclusiveness is how we leverage that difference in the way we make business decisions.
And if we really think about looking at that as two equally important parts of the equation, it will allow us to build a culture where everyone feels that they have a sense of belonging and are able to contribute 100% of their ideas that leads to innovation and fuels that for the firm.
Yeah, I think that sense of belonging is really important. I tell this to my clients all the time, that innovation requires taking risks and if you’re not comfortable taking risks in the environment that you work, then it’s going to hold back your ability to innovate.
Trusha, let’s talk more about how valuing differences and building trust really drives an innovative mindset and approach to complex problems that we’re facing these days. In the market, as you know, we’re focusing a lot on client projects and coming at them from a creative and thought-provoking angle, and in particular, financial services clients need to trust this inclusive and mold-breaking approach to drive innovation.
The trust that our teams place in one another to share ideas in a safe environment to fail fast, which enables us to move forward quickly and allows us to be agile when working on these transformative projects, that agility and trust also allows us to respond more quickly to shifting client needs and, ultimately, to provide a very tailored and comprehensive approach to solving problems in this increasingly Transformative Age.
You’re absolutely right, Roger. These are unprecedented times and the teams need to be agile, flexible, creative in order for them to be innovative. And what I have seen is that our clients are very much in the same place. They are facing the same challenges, particularly when I put on my D&I hat. It is very much a core to their strategy, and what we’ve been able to do knowing that the same focus and the concerns that we have within the walls of EY, our clients and the broader marketplace faces similar concerns and focus on this.
We’ve been able to host events and connect with our clients to share leading practices, to talk about in roundtable settings and co-host events to really get to the root issues so that we can move forward and come up with some innovative solutions teaming together, because at the end of the day, the financial services industry as a whole needs to continue to work on this together and if we can do jointly, to me, it’s the better answer for us. And so, I think everything that you’ve said around is important, of having trust as a foundation that you cannot have without a sense of belonging and in order to have a sense of belonging you need a culture that is inclusive of everyone at the table, regardless of background and perspective and all of those aspects that go into it.
And we’re really looking forward to continuing to team with our clients in this space because none of us have solved it and there is no silver bullet around creating this cultural transformation that we’re all after, and so I look forward to having more innovative solutions come out of joint ventures.
I couldn’t agree with you more. That’s awesome. I think in a lot of cases, and we see this every day if we just look around, the types of connections that people make, particularly around their differences, I mean, also around the similarities that they share, but connecting with people on what makes them unique, I think, is really powerful, especially these days where we’re trying to get to more of a personal relationship or engagement through all parts of our lives. So, that’s great, Trusha.
As we’ve seen in a recent EY study focused on FS firms that have successfully implemented digital transformation and innovation projects, it’s really key for all parts of leadership to buy into the project and to feel accountable for success, or else it doesn’t work. Again, it all comes back to inclusivity and trust throughout the process, but it’s not just about creating inclusivity and trust, we have to get engagement at all levels of the firm.
I know, Trusha, you’re doing something pretty cool inside the firm. Would you like to share a little bit about that?
Thanks so much, Roger. Absolutely. And you know everything that we’ve been talking about up to this point around importance of innovation for businesses to thrive and to remain competitive, we’ve been very focused on doing that internally within the walls of EY and, particularly, in the D&I space, which, you know, sometimes people may think is a little old and stale.
So this was our approach to bringing a different perspective, tapping into some of the key tenets of innovation. And so, what we did is a three-month pilot in the fall with a gamification approach to inclusion. And we had 28 teams that opted in to participate, about 400 individuals, and we had curated 22 activities we called adventures. And these teams picked and chose which adventures they wanted to do for points and then, of course, at the end of the three months, whichever team had the most points were our winners, and at the individual level as well. What we found, there are two interesting things in moving in this direction.
One is we also created an app to go with this team-based challenge competition to get people to practice inclusive leadership behaviors, because you can do workshops and they all have a place for it, we can do the best programs in the world, but at the end of the day if we don’t help our people do behavior change and bring it down to where they live on their teams, then we’re not going to be able to succeed in the long run. And so that was the whole goal of this pilot was how do we create this innovative approach using technology?
So, having an app that was at people’s fingertips where they can share ideas on what they’re learning, others can comment and build on it, and truly create a shared experience for everyone that’s participating so that we can move forward together around this culture change continuum that we’re after.
So, tapping into the competitive spirit of all the people to drive D&I. That’s awesome. That’s brilliant.
It was. And it’s been. We have received very high marks from participants’ perspective and the other piece that you had mentioned a bit earlier, Roger, around this leadership buy-in, you know, and all parties being involved in it.
One of the things that we also built into this pilot was that our leadership team had to partake in two adventures over the three-month period with one of the teams. So, you are no longer just a bystander watching this happen, and then we come in and present a PowerPoint slide deck at the end of their experience. But they’re actually part of it. And that has been really incredible, and we’re seeing this organic, grassroots focus and conversation in a way that we hadn’t seen before.
And, again, tying it back to our earlier conversation around this, in order for us to have innovation you have to have individual different perspectives around the table. But that’s only part one. The second part is making sure that those individuals really feel that they can contribute without the fear that it’s going to be held against them if it’s not the right idea or not said in the right way, all of those aspects.
And what this challenge, this pilot, allowed us to do is get our teams to talk about these topics at a very personal level, that this is not just a workshop or a training that you go to, but you’re talking about it over a lunch and learn in the midst of how you’re delivering client work and you get to apply it immediately. Are we asking all the right questions? Who is not contributing? And so, really it gave them a platform to learn and practice in their own little microcosm. And that, to me, is the success of what we’re doing with that pilot.
I think that’s so important, to make it part of what you do every day and get them used to that through that pilot process. That’s awesome. You guys are doing awesome stuff, Trusha. Alright, Trusha, I got a tough one for you.
What do you think the impact on D&I is going to be of disruptive technologies like AI, for example?
So, I’ll start with the first part of it. I really think D&I will continue to remain central to the business agenda, and I would say that even more so intertwined with growth strategy for organizations that truly want to thrive. As the marketplace continues to shrink, you have a diverse demographic pool that’s coming into your workplace. How do you maximize that? How do you create an environment that allows for them to thrive and to bring innovative solutions to the table? So, I personally don’t think that we are in a fad. I think D&I will continue to remain central for organizations that truly are focused on that growth trajectory.
I do think that the way we think about D&I will shift and change, as it should. I think the language around these terms are a bit archaic. They also have sometimes connotations attached to it. There’s sometimes fatigue for those who’ve been at this for a very long time.
And so, I think there will be some changes coming to how we talk about this work because this work is about creating equity of experiences and knowing that what one looks like, where they come from, their background, their perspectives, that equity may look differently, and I think the organizations will have to continue to strive to create an equitable platform. So, the terminology may shift, but to me, this work of equity will continue. And to bridge to that, in my view, when I think about the disruptive technologies like AI that’s developing and growing, we have to also keep in mind that what those technologies can do for us is limited by the humans that actually work on developing these technologies, and we have to know that as human beings, we are biased and so that shows up in the technologies that we are creating as foundations.
So, to me, it’s really, really important that we are challenging ourselves that as the group that’s designing this disruptive future, what do they look like? Do they come from different perspectives? As they are innovating solutions, are they equitable in taking into perspectives how it will be impacting different individuals, different groups, different businesses, different industries? And, so, I think that’s the power of diversity of thought needed in making sure that the technologies of tomorrow doesn’t incubate new challenges for us to solve in the future and that we’re mindful of it now.
Wow! That’s something that’s really relevant to our clients, and I know we’ve working with a number of them around what we call trusted AI, which is addressing some of the biases that may be in historical data that we’re using to train our AI and machine learning algorithms, because the last thing we want to do is to propagate biases that have existed in the past in all of our future systems.
And I really like the point you made, Trusha, that everything we’re doing in technology really augments what we are as humans and how we connect with each other so we don’t want to build in anything into those systems that create barriers to differences or inclusivity. Really good. Thank you so much.
So, as we start to wrap up this podcast, Trusha, what is the one thing you want audiences to remember after listening to us today?
Very much my style, I’ll give two things. One is really understanding, recognizing, believing that strength is in our differences and so you absolutely need diversity of perspectives and experiences in your teams. Challenge that decision-making when you have opportunity to do so.
And then, the second piece for someone who’s been a practitioner in this space for a very long time, realizing that this work is a journey, it’s not a destination. And so, more and more, as organizations think about what does evolution of this work look like, really make sure that it’s integrated into the long-term view because this, I don’t think, is something that we’re going to be done with as a check-the-box exercise and so really that focus of, you know, it’s not only the what we’re doing, but it’s how we’re doing it that’s important, so that focus on the journey, the journey is equally as important to the destination in this work.
So, focus on the journey and take strength in our differences. Good thoughts to take away from this podcast. I’ll also add that I think diversity inclusivity is a winning strategy when it comes to innovation.
So, certainly something we should all be investing our time and energy and resources in. So, what we like to do at the end of these podcasts, Trusha, is just as a couple of personal questions, not too personal. So, we’ll start with this. Trusha, what is the one thing that you challenge yourself to do every day?
I will say some days I’m better at this than others, but I really, really try to understand the motivation of my decisions, and it could be simple decisions around what aspect of my work I’m focusing on for the day, and it could be big decisions such as how I’m delegating my work, which will impact my team members’ career trajectory.
But I think the key is self-awareness for us as professionals, as leaders, as individuals in our personal lives and in our professional lives. If we are not cognizant and focused in to that motivation, then we may be open to our blind spots. So, that’s been at least one of my focus areas, is being mindful of why I’m making the decisions that I’m making.
Great advice. Great advice. What book would you recommend that you’ve read recently?
Such a great question, and particularly from a D&I vantage point and perspective. I am a big fan of HBR, does case studies. They all seem very relevant examples that we can all apply to our own business worlds. But in terms of truly understanding this work and space, I have to recommend the Book of Life.
You know, this D&I work, you can talk about it, you can read about it, but at the end of the day, you have to experience it. It’s this experiential learning that will really propel people into going to that uncomfortable place until they become comfortable talking about differences and so that they can leverage those differences on their teams. So, just do it would be my recommendation.
Yeah, get out there and get those experiences. And last, but not least, which skill should our listeners teach their kids?
The one I would really, really recommend as a foundation is curiosity. Teaching these little people of today to think about, to be open minded, to listen. And that, to me, stems from curious, asking questions, asking the right questions, better questions in our world so that by the time they enter the workforce of tomorrow and they’re part of our organizations in the corporate setting, we have something to build on, that they are already thinking about some of these things before they walk into meetings, into company organizations, and so, to me, that, generating that curious mind at an earlier point that it helps them not only from a work perspective but throughout their path in life would be my recommendation.
I think that’s good advice, not just for kids. I think we should all take that advice.
Absolutely. It’s a little bit harder as we all get older and life gets in the way. But you’re 100% right that if we focus on it we, it’s continuous learning mindset at the end of the day which feeds innovation again.
Exactly. Trusha, this has been such a great conversation. Thank you so much for coming out today. I know a lot of our listeners are going to want to connect with you directly or reach out to you. What’s the best way for them to get ahold of you?
Thanks so much, Roger. This has been fun, and I would love to answer questions and connect and learn from those that are participating in this conversation virtually. Feel free to reach out to me on LinkedIn as well as my EY.com email address, which is email@example.com. Look forward to sharing and learning through this process.
Thanks, again. I encourage everyone to reach out to Trusha on LinkedIn and via her email address. And if listeners want to make suggestions on topics, guests or questions, you can do so on Twitter using #agentsofchange. Thanks for your time and our next podcast will be in four to six weeks.