Over the past few decades, ‘diversity and inclusion’ has evolved from its nascent “staying-out-of-trouble, affirmative action plan” phase, through a bumpy “I am right, you must be wrong” phase, to today’s growing understanding that diversity is a competitive advantage and strategic imperative. That’s our view at Fannie Mae. We’ve maintained a strong ODI program for over twenty years and we’re proud to be among the most diverse organizations in the financial services industry. We’re privileged to have a workforce that reflects the diversity of the communities we serve across America.
Inclusion is the way we do business. This means we execute on diversity and inclusion in all our business activities. All means all: the workforce, the workplace, and the marketplace; in our values and our behaviors; in the way we interact with others, including our external partners.
So how do we execute?
As we live our shared corporate values and behaviors, we do so in a diverse environment that comprises many races, creeds, and cultures. Our values and behaviors call us to do the right thing. One of our core values is “We are One Fannie Mae,” and a related behavior that supports that value is to step up to address difficult issues, invite diverse perspectives, and say what needs to be said.
Late last year, we knew it was time to step up in a different way. We did so through a new initiative called “Let’s Talk About It.”, a series of courageous conversations conducted across the organization as a forum for our employees to have dialogue about societal issues that impact them and their communities.
The tragedies and uptick of violence that plagued our country over the last couple of years left us perplexed and troubled. Tough topics such as hate crimes, violence by and against the police, harsh and divisive politics, and terrorism impacted our most valued asset – our employees.
As a diversity practitioner I struggled with, and discussed with others, how to best address some of these issues – and even whether work was the appropriate place to do so. I concluded that it was. After all, another Fannie Mae value is “We value our people and communities.” This means we teach and learn from others, commit to becoming more culturally competent and know the importance of leading and modeling desired behaviors. So I started a series of “Courageous Conversations” to carve out a safe space for employees to talk about these tough, troubling topics.
Fannie Mae’s first courageous conversation was entitled “Color Brave or Color Blind” based on a TED Talk delivered by Mellody Hobson. We have decided to be color brave and address the elephant in the room by learning the skills and techniques to lead and participate in effective conversations around topics that are outside of our comfort zone. We know that if you can have a courageous conversation – especially around race – you can address any business dilemma with an appreciation of various perspectives, which has been shown to be the key to innovation. Diverse teams that know how to leverage inclusion have been proven to consistently out-perform and out-innovate non-diverse teams (or diverse teams who aren’t inclusive of all voices).
We’ve laid the foundation and created the safe space for honest and respectful dialogue. We see it as a joint commitment, where every employee’s role is to be open, authentic, engaged, comfortable with being uncomfortable, non-judgmental, and understanding.
This joint commitment has enabled us to move beyond our individual comfort zones and have courageous conversations – not from a place of perfection, but of connection!
At Fannie Mae, we’re learning from our discomfort and becoming more authentic, less judgmental, and expanding our world views to embrace inclusion as our primary way of doing business!
Tujuanna Williams is the Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer for Fannie Mae.