Sunil Bhutani is Managing Director and Co-Head of Capital Markets at National Bank Financial. He shares his views on diversity and equality in the corporate world and explains why organizations need to do more starting now.
Last year, we witnessed an unprecedented groundswell of support for equity. From the race equality movements to a push for gender-pay equity, calls rang out across the globe. Companies responded by a groundswell of commitments to further integrate diversity into their objectives and brand image. Those are good first steps, but achieving true equality will take more than branding. We need to go beyond speeches and window dressing. What we need is a cultural transformation.
I am a member of the National Bank’s inclusion and diversity council, and we’ve seen the benefits of setting representation targets when it comes to diversity. As in so many aspects of business, setting targets and meeting them provides a benchmark, a metric by which to measure a policy’s success. Organizations can certainly set out to hire personnel according to the Employment Equity Act, and achieve diversity and implement sustainable ESG practices that way. But targets alone will not spark transformation. To do that, you need to follow up diversity initiatives with inclusion. To me, that’s the greater challenge. How do you treat your employees fairly and understand their needs, with the least unconscious bias possible? And how do you help them grow into your organization? By committing to, developing, and implementing a culture of care.
To bring about real change, to promote a culture of innovation and a true diversity of ideas, a company needs to be authentically motivated. We are doing this because we actually want to get it right: because it makes our organization, communities, and society better. And that desire has to start from the very top. It starts with a deep wish to build connections at every level of the company, starting from its leaders. Remember: diversity doesn’t mean just one thing. It can include gender, culture, expertise, strengths, and professional backgrounds. The stronger our connections across those categories, the more innovative and responsive our companies will be.
Talking can go a long way toward understanding—but it’s not effective on its own. The pathway to inclusivity requires empathy, humility, and consideration. Think about how you structure your meetings and teams. Think about what kind of additional support and accommodation can be offered to address your employees’ complex needs. To me, an employee’s success shouldn’t be measured strictly on hitting financial targets or their abilities as a team player. There should also be an emphasis on whether they a culture of care leader? And can we offer recognition and promotion for actually demonstrating those values?
Developing a culture of inclusivity also relies on concrete actions, which can be difficult to identify. Some, like unconscious bias training, are good steps. But in isolation, initiatives like those turn inclusion into a box you can tick off and forget about. I’d suggest a company look at its very roots. Where do you recruit? Blind CVs and diverse interview panels won’t be effective if you don’t have a diverse pool of candidates to choose from.
From there, we have to prioritize retaining and promoting the employees we’ve recruited with myriad backgrounds and skills. That means listening to our employees, and offering flexibility when and where we can, whether it’s childcare options or working from home. Mentorship is also critical to a business culture in which diversity can grow organically. One of my own mentees is a young Black woman, and we’ve had conversations that I believe have enlightened both of us. This culture of care, of being involved, isn’t about hitting a number. It’s about striving for equity, about opening up new windows and doors of opportunity to ignite creativity and innovation in unexpected ways.
Rethinking our approach to inclusion and diversity has benefits far beyond a company’s internal culture, too. An employee who’s invested in their workplace culture, who has an idea and is invested in improving products or services for a client, is going to not only work harder but better. And an entire staff working toward that same goal will allow us to respond to the different realities of our clients—nimbly and empathetically.
Tailoring an organization to be more inclusive will also allow us to identify needs and customize solutions to a more diverse customer base. And that’s what makes outreach so essential. Consider one example: India, where I have a lot of family, has recently been devastated by COVID-19, from a shortage of vaccines to an astronomical death toll. It is with a diverse employee base that we would be able to best respond to that crisis and those communities that are thousands of miles away. Those are the kinds of ideas that are going to drive an organization to grow. And those are the companies that people want to work for and clients want to connect with.
We’re all learning how to pave our way to a more equitable society, and I’m optimistic we can get there. I envision a future where we can leave targets behind, where inclusion and equity are more naturally ingrained into our mindset and business culture. I think about it at a granular level: Most of us spend a good portion of our waking day at work, and an unsatisfactory work environment can be a great stressor in life. I think many of us carry that stress home. I know I do, and I can tell that on days when I’m stressed at work, I’m not a great husband or a great father. But on days when I’m productive, when work is a fun and a deeply satisfying place to be, I bring those feelings home with me.
That’s why we need a radical shift, both internally in our organizations and externally, to help us better serve our customers and communities. If you have a great day, if you love the work that you do and feel appreciated when you do it, you’re going to be a better person. And now, imagine if every employee could experience that shift. The ripple effects in society could be transformative and make our world an infinitely better place—for everyone.
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