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CultureNov 16, 2020

Credera Listens: Respecting Differences and Embracing Diversity for a Thriving, Inclusive Workplace

Kyler Starks

On Thursday, August 20, Credera hosted the third panel in our “Credera Listens: Respecting Differences and Embracing Diversity for a Thriving, Inclusive Workplace” series that included five inspiring, diverse executive panelists.

Our goal was for Credera employees to listen, learn, and equip ourselves to be more inclusive leaders at work, at home, and in our communities. We asked our employees to come prepared to approach this topic with openness and empathy so we could all learn and do better.

As Credera continues our mission to make an extraordinary impact on our colleagues and the community, we cannot ignore the terrible injustices that many in our Black community are experiencing. This panel acted as a small step in what will be a long and welcomed journey to better care for and seek justice for our colleagues, neighbors, and friends.

We explored the topics of race, racism, anti-racism, allyship, intersectionality, microaggressions, and authenticity, among others, through the experiences and perspectives of Justin Thomas-Copeland, CEO of DDB North America; Shu-Ping Shen, partner at McDermott Will & Emery; Linda Mann, chief experience officer at MBO Partners; Gerald Jackson, senior principal at Microsoft; and Summer Wright Collins, associate vice president of design and innovation at Blue Cross Blue Shield.

We shared the video below and documented some key takeaways from the conversation here:

On getting to know our panelists and why they prioritized this conversation:

It’s been vital for many of our panelists to learn from other people’s experiences. They believe we all have a voice and we all need to be contributing to the dialog in our country today to truly influence change.

“This is not a problem that’s going to go away on its own, we need to solve it,” said Mann. You can feel the energy and the momentum in the air, especially in America, and we need to capitalize on it.

On what drives our panelists, Wright Collins shared she is “committed to living in the space we have to share perspectives and help connect the dots between us.” In addition, she believes she is helping build muscle memory around conversations like this, acknowledging that “part of why things are tough right now is we don’t have the practice, words, or an authentic way to talk about these things … so opportunities like this become very important opportunities for us to get those and grow together.”

Jackson then commented that he believes in the power of “breaking into the magic that occurs when true inclusion happens, and people of different backgrounds and experiences come together.”

Many of our panelists, including Thomas-Copeland and Shen, shared that they became aware of race and culture because it was a necessity while growing up. Now that they are in positions of power and influence, they are motivated to use their experiences to help elevate others.

They believe who we are and where we come from is not defined by what’s going on outside of us. They said our identity makes us stronger if it comes from within and helps us help others, specifically to strike moments of understanding with other people on their own journeys.

On the art of unlearning our biases and other previously developed perspectives:

“It’s very hard to hate up close,” our CEO Justin Bell said, sharing a quote that Andrew Warden, managing partner at Credera, was taught growing up. “If you take time to get to know other people, then it’s difficult to hate if you get to know them first. Listening and learning from other people and their experiences develops empathy, understanding, and appreciation.”

Thomas-Copeland explained he “started understanding the need to unload bias and preconceived ideas as you move from life stage to life stage.” He believes “the unlearning process is necessary to evolve.” We all use biases and previously developed perspectives as defense mechanisms and can becoming hindrances in new environments.

“Realize your perceptions are formed in a certain way based on who you are,” said Shen. People’s unique experiences are based on a variety of potential factors including: if they’re a first-generation citizen, their race, their sexual orientation, their gender, their cultural backgrounds, and many others. Shen recommended taking Harvard’s Implicit Association Test as one of the many ways you can pursue your desire to learn about others and assess your own biases on your ways to overcome them.

On the results seen in cultures that promote inclusion versus tolerance related to diversity:

When Jackson started being invited to diversity and inclusion (D&I) conversations early in his career, the conversation was more about tolerance versus inclusion.

“Tolerance brings a power dynamic between the tolerator and the tolerated,” he said. “There is a power imbalance if this is practiced, which is not actually empowering at all.” Alternatively, true inclusion happens as we’re recognizing and then celebrating differences.

Jackson’s perspective is that he’s not different because he’s Black. He explained his lived experiences have been different because he’s been treated differently because he’s Black.

“There is power in different lived experiences used to attack a problem, and the company or the community that recognizes this will greatly benefit from it,” Jackson said. “If you find a place where people don’t look the same, and people can bring their lived experiences in to work… people will want to work at that company. You should harness these experiences, and embrace them, to create a better company.”

On the power of leading authentically:

“[Diversity] brings an energy to problem solving, and usually in ways you can’t predict,” said Bell. He focuses on building teams and trust around this energy. “[Organizations] choose if authenticity is going to be the key fabric of your teams.” If you do this and champion it, your team members will have confidence they can genuinely show up as their whole selves to collaborate at work.

As a leader, Wright Collins has found “the more complex the problem, the more valuable it’s been to have diverse experiences, both professional and personal, on teams.”

“To reap the benefits of these experiences, you have to promote harmony among all of the diversity your team brings to the project,” Wright Collins said. In doing this, she has seen diversity and harmony take results to the next level.

On fostering an environment where employees are comfortable discussing D&I topics:

Shen has always made sure to create an environment “where there is support for people that are or may feel uncomfortable, which leads to more comfort for employees to share their voices.”

Jackson cares deeply about ensuring psychological safety for employees, making sure they understand they are working in a safe space where everyone will grow.

“A growth mindset is foundational, along with an environment of continuous improvement,” Jackson said. That mindset promotes a healthy dialog where everyone will get better over time. These elements seep into the overall culture of the organization.

On what leaders can do now to make a difference:

To wrap up, Bell asked two final questions.

“At Credera, the Greek proverb, ‘A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they shall never sit in,’ guides our leaders. How does this quote resonate with you and the work you’re doing to influence D&I at your company?”

Thomas-Copeland acknowledged he is in a position of power to lay the foundation for that to happen, which drives him daily.

“Be a good ancestor, today,” Wright Collins said. “We’re in an intergenerational relay race, and as a leader you need to do everything you can do while you’re here running the race. If you do your absolute best, that next person will get the baton right where they need to receive it, which will lead to the next generation being in a better place.”

“True inclusion won’t happen tomorrow, but we [as leaders] can all do our part to work toward it,” said Shen

On being the first step in change:

“We have a new momentum and social consciousness in America related to racism and its impact on our everyday lives,” said Bell in closing. “Every single person is affected by it, and every single person has a real opportunity to respond to recent events in a constructive way that can make a positive impact on racism in our country moving forward. Knowing this, how do we take the first step to be a part of the change we wish to see?”

“There is no silver bullet, so you just have to do something,” said Mann. “Every little thing contributes to the greater cause. In addition, you should do the right thing because it’s the right thing not because it’s what you’re told to do.”

Wright Collins is motivated to “do what I can from the seat that I’m in.” It can be hard to see impact we can have on systemic change that needs to happen, but you can “do your part as a human and a person.” Knowing it’s going to take the individual to drive change for change to happen at the systemic level, you can do your part to make the best impact you can.

A simple solution Bell shared was to take the time to help your network. For an hour every Sunday he reaches out to his network to see how he can help them, knowing as a leader it’s all about the next generation.

To conclude, Jackson shared a meaningful quote from someone he respects: “Be curious before you be furious.” It’s important to be curious and educate yourself by having a conversation or reading a book before you react to someone or something else you would benefit from learning about first.

Moving Forward

A sincere thank you to Justin Thomas-Copeland, Shu-Ping Shen, Gerald Jackson, and Summer Wright Collins for sharing their honest experiences and inspiring advice. We can’t thank you enough for sharing your stories and your heart.

We hope these insights bring healing, hope, and inspiration for action. We look forward to continuing this practice of listening and learning from other perspectives.

If you'd like to learn more about the Credera Listens initiative, please visit this page.

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