Addressing the ‘Elephants in the Room’ Seven Qualities of an Inclusive Leader

by LP Green, II

I grew up in Honduras, a country enamored with American culture, which remains enamored by it. When I was 17 years old, I immigrated to this country with a desire to seek and experience the much idolized “American Dream.” Upon arriving in the States, I observed the stark difference that existed between people of different races. Though I never overtly experienced racism, I was very aware and conscious of the subconscious behaviors that others exhibited towards me and people who looked like me. It was because of these experiences that I began to ask, “Why is it that people of different colors have to be judged by these external characteristics rather than the content of their character?” My life’s mission became to answer this question and identify solutions to remedy the underlying issues.

In my current role as Chief Diversity Officer at State Street, I have the opportunity to ensure that all people – regardless of race, religion, gender and other demographics – are afforded the opportunity to thrive. State Street as an organization is continuously challenged by me and my team to ask the hard questions when it comes to talent, and challenged to recognize that talent is not myopic – it comes in many shapes.

This work is critical. Many studies have shown that the more inclusive and diverse organizations are, the more successful the business. business. The February 2015 McKinsey & Company study “Why Diversity Matters” indicated that ethnically diverse companies are 35% more likely to outperform the industry median.

Recently, our CEO signed the CEO Diversity Action Pledge. Signers of the Pledge have committed to the following three critical tenets: (1) further education of unconscious bias; (2) make workplaces safe spaces where difficult conversations can occur; and (3) share the “best” and “not-so-best” practices.

One way we plan to fulfill these commitments at State Street is by developing better, more inclusive leaders. By focusing on this, we can address the practices that – for years – have kept organizations from engaging all of their people, all of the time. Many managers do not empower people to feel comfortable to talk about the “elephants in the room”. The elephants I am referring to are topics regarding race, culture, religion, sexual orientation and disabilities – not to mention the plethora of other sometimes uncomfortable conversations that need to be had in order to further inclusion, and effect change.

It is our belief at State Street that it is our leaders that are in the best position to influence these conversations, and it is for this reason we ask our leaders the very important question, “Are you creating an inclusive environment?” The following seven characteristics have been identified to help guide us as an organization in answering this question:

  • Respect and value differences
  • Promote debate and constructive challenge
  • Provide an environment where it is safe to propose new ideas and questions
  • Ensure everyone gets heard
  • Empower team members to make decisions
  • Solicit transparent feedback and act on it
  • Actively work to break down silos.

Unfortunately, building a culture of inclusion is not something that can be created overnight. Successful results will be dependent on how much each of us as leaders dedicate to this effort. I have been fortunate enough to attain the American Dream that I dreamt of as a boy, and that many children in Honduras continue to think of, as well as many children right here in the States. It is only through a culture of empathy and inclusion that the American Dream can be realized by all. State Street is fully committed to creating a world where our differences are not just recognized but also acknowledged, respected, welcomed and celebrated.

I encourage and challenge you to think of ways you can effect change within your own organizations. Together we can begin to change the perceptions, misconceptions and the biases that are so very pervasive in our society.

Contributor: Paul Francisco, Chief Diversity Officer, State Street. The views expressed in this article are the views of Paul Francisco through the period ended February 28, 2019. 

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