"Work-life integration is a very transversal topic."

Thais Compoint is the CEO and Founder of Déclic International, a training and consulting company on diversity and inclusion. She is the author of the 'How to become an inclusive leader: The winning leadership habits in a diverse world' book and host of the Inclusive Shift podcast show. Prior to setting up her own consulting business Thais led global diversity and inclusion strategies at 3 Fortune 500 companies.

You can listen to the conversation on iTunes, Acast and other podcasting apps. What follows here are excerpts from our conversation with Thais, edited for length and clarity.

Agnes: Could you tell listeners a little bit about your passion and career?

Thais Compoint: I am really passionate about the topic of diversity and inclusion. I have been working in this field for nearly 20 years. Diversity and inclusion (D&I) is a very broad topic, but, in particular I am passionate about inclusive leadership. I wrote a book about this topic and organise global virtual conferences on this issue. This is my true passion. In most of my career I have been in the corporate world. A couple of years ago I went through my mid-life crises and I decided that I needed change, although I did not want to give up on diversity and inclusion. But, I needed to do things differently, which was the point when I founded my own consulting business in London. It has been a wonderful journey as I have been able to accomplish many of my dreams. I also like the idea of working with different companies in different industries from various countries. It could be Latvian bank, a Canadian pension fund or an American public relations company.

Agnes: This is great to hear, as it also shows that companies and organisations are waking up more and more to the idea of inclusion and diversity. There is a very nice quote on your website “Inclusion and Diversity is in the meeting point of profit and purpose”, which I think is very true. What is the business case for diversity and inclusion? Why do you think this is growing in importance?

Thais Compoint: There are 3 key reasons why companies and leaders should be paying attention more to inclusion and diversity. The first one is connected with a current crisis in traditional leadership models. If you look at studies they show that the key reason why people leave organisations is because of bad relationships with their managers. It is also the key reason for unhappiness at work. I just saw a research recently, which shows that even though 88% of employees consider they are disengaged by their leaders 77% of leaders believe that they are doing a good job at engaging their employees. I think that there is a need to do things differently and that’s why I believe inclusive leadership, and leading people in a more inclusive way, could be an answer for the current crisis in traditional leadership models.

In terms of the 2nd reason I just wanted to point out that there is a robust literature that shows the benefit of having diverse teams and leading them inclusively. There are benefits of better decision making, increased engagement and productivity, increased innovation capacity, better sales and financial results etc. There is a very recent Deloitte study, which shows that inclusive organisations are six times more innovative than, for instance, non inclusive organisations. There are other studies that show that companies that have diverse teams are 45% more likely to capture new markets compared to those that don't have as much diversity. So, there are lots of studies that point to the business case of diversity and inclusion within companies.

The third point it's about purpose. Obviously, inclusion and diversity is also the right thing to do. Especially because all the knowledge we have about unconscious bias, and how our brain works if we are not intentionally including people we might be excluding them. So for those who are really purpose driven inclusion and diversity is the right thing to do. I also do believe that this is also part of the business case. Another research shows that 37% percent of LinkedIn users consider themselves to be purpose driven, which means that they want to have a positive impact on this world and I consider inclusion and diversity to be contributing to this cause. D&I can also contribute to attracting more talent to companies specifically those people who are generally interested in this emerging topic nowadays.

Agnes: What are the key ingredients of a successful diversity and inclusion strategy or programme? What do organisations have to consider when either they are setting D and I policies up or wanting to go further and improve some of their outcomes?

Thais Compoint: If you want to make progress in your inclusion and diversity journey as an organisation the very first point that I wish to underline is that your policies have to be systemic. In order for you to be systemic I really think that you have to tackle different pillars. I call this the 4 pillar strategic model for inclusion and diversity. You have to look at how you are making people accountable and increase their skills and education level on this topic. People need to feel responsible for it and understand what are the expected behaviour from them. The fourth pillar is how you connect with people outside the company to make progress in this area. You will need to connect with important stakeholders outside the company.

One of the key mistakes that companies make is tackling diversity and inclusion in a very pragmatic way (i.e. setting up a leadership programme for women, diversity and inclusion awareness week etc.), but lacking the systemic aspect of the question. These pragmatic solutions does not necessarily change the way how organisations are operating and it would be more important for organisations to understand the strategic aspect and benefits of diversity and inclusion.

What I mean by strategic? Do you know where you are? Have you looked at numbers in terms of your employee engagement surveys? What are possible problems and potential strengths? Only mimicking other companies might not help your organisation tackling real issues. This is why it is important to have a very thorough diagnostic on where you are and setting up strategic a action plan which is sponsored preferably at the highest levels of the organisation. What I mean by accountability is the establishment of individual performance objectives related to that strategic plan. The D&I plan itself should be linked closely with the strategic business plan of the organisation and to the people’s plan. Everything interlinks with each other at the end of the day. This is the accountability part. If accountability is not there how can you make progress in this area?

If accountability is not enough you have to build people’s skills so that they know what they are supposed to do. You do this via trainings. It is about embedding elements of the inclusive leadership programme into existing ones. For instance, it’s about raising new colleagues awareness about D&I issues when you are onboarding them and how everybody can contribute to a more inclusive culture. It is really about finding all the touch points where you can raise people’s awareness and build their skills so everybody contribute to a more inclusive culture and organisation.

"My advice for diversity and inclusion practitioners is to have in mind that there is nothing that you can accomplish by yourselves. It is about accomplishing through others, and finding the right sponsors."

When it comes to processes and the work environment it is really important to review all HR processes, employer brand, hiring or promotion practices etc. and make them as much de-biased as they could be. In terms of the connection pillar it is key to be connected with stakeholders such as relevant universities and higher education institutions. It is about implementing lots of small things and then you have to be patient because change doesn’t come overnight.

Agnes: Where do you see is the current state of affairs of diversity and inclusion within organisations? What are some of the issues that are more accepted and tackled across the board, and some of the organisations that are still very challenged by some issues?

Thais Compoint: Most organisations start with the issue of gender balance and gender diversity; an area which we have been discussing for many years now. Sometimes we don’t do things in the right way so we don’t get the result we were originally expected. This could lead to gender fatigue around gender diversity issues. What is clearly visible after last year’s developments is that we are not yet done with gender balance. For instance, there is a new legislation in the UK to be transparent about gender pay gap, which revealed some huge differences at organisations and highlighted a country-wide problem.

Last year at a conference an HR Director had told me that her organisation has gone beyond gender diversity and they are now only focusing on diversity in personality types. I knew that there are only few companies where gender balance has been fully achieved across the board and hierarchical levels in different areas of the organisation. In fact, her organisation was really far from gender balance in terms of numbers, but she already considered this topic to be solved. Indeed, there is the risk when organisations feel that they have to move forward and let go gender diversity. The more organisations tackle a more explicit dimension of inclusion and diversity, such as gender or age, the more mature they are and tend to go towards the less visible aspects as well as dimensions of diversity and inclusion. This tend to be LGBT, religious diversity etc. There is currently a lot of interest about the topic of how to work with introverts and extroverts at companies, which is in the current focus of those organisations that have been mastering diversity and inclusion strategies for a while.

In terms of current trends and the various dimensions of D&I, companies tend to focus more on the inclusion part of this field. This means that the focus shifts toward a culture where everybody feels welcomed and free to be themselves no matter how different they are from the majority of that organisation.

Agnes: Where do you see work-life integration fitting with diversity and inclusion? How do these two connect?

Thais Compoint: Inclusion takes into account the different behaviours, needs or opinions of people. Work-life integration is a great way to include people. Work-life integration has also a ripple effect on so many other inclusion and diversity dimensions. For instance, when it comes to disability or religion one of the most asked accommodations is flexibility in connection with working hours. I still have to come across someone who doesn’t want to have a better work-life integration which is a very transversal topic. If you want to make progress on diversity and inclusion you certainly have to focus on work-life integration as a core pillar.

Agnes: If I can ask you Thais for one advice that you would give to a CEO about inclusion and diversity what would come to your mind as the most important thing?

Thais Compoint: If you want your organisation to progress on this journey you have to really show that you are sponsoring this topic at all levels. You have to make inclusion and diversity part of the agenda all the time, at meetings or leadership conventions. Make diversity and inclusion part of your conversations so that you can show to everyone that it is important to you personally. This is how you can signal to the rest of the organisation that this should be important for them as well. And this is a really powerful way to first drive interest around this topic and then change as well as action.