Dentsu Aegis Diversity Leader: D&I is a Business Imperative

DK Bartley discusses Diversity and Inclusion

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In today’s economic and talent climates, HR leaders are looking for the differentiator that sets them apart from the competition, but also makes them standout to those job candidates looking for work.

Diversity and inclusion is that differentiator.

During an interview at the CHRO Exchange in Austin, Texas with HR Exchange Network editor Mason Stevenson, Dentsu Aegis SVP of HR and Head of Diversity and Inclusion DK Bartley says not only is it a differentiator, but a business imperative.

Mason Stevenson: So DK, thanks for hanging out with me. Let's kick this off with the first question; if you could address one challenge, just one, within diversity inclusion, and you had the power to fix it, what would it be, and what would the solution look like? 

DK Bartley: That one challenge would definitely be to eliminate global, universal, unconscious bias. Because I truly believe that unconscious bias is what most people are not aware of. It speaks to your environment, how you think, how you interpret information, people, etc. So I believe that if I was able to take away that, probably 70%-75% of diversity and inclusion issues would go away. Then you’d only deal with the intentional biases, which I just don't believe most people intentionally want to be non-inclusive.

Mason Stevenson: Right. Let's dive deeper into that. What are some of those solutions that you think would help remove that unconscious bias? 

DK Bartley: I think training definitely would be the number one thing. But if I had a magic wand, it would just be experiences of exposure and understanding, as people grow up. The beauty of the world is that we are all different, but I also believe that the beauty of the world is we’re also all alike. If it is intentional that you see how the other half live or live in someone else's shoes, as you're growing up, as you're developing, as you begin your career, as you're defining who you are, I think it would make the world of a difference.

Mason Stevenson:  I think you're definitely right on that. How do you measure the impact of diversity inclusion in an organization?

DK Bartley: There's so many, that's a loaded question. There's so many ways to measure, so let's look at it. Every organization from a D&I perspective is different. That's inevitably the kind of metaphoric way of considering diversity and inclusion. It's not a one size fits all, it's not a formula, etc. Depending on the size of your company, the makeup of your company, the location of your company, your operating model, your leadership style, etc., all of those things really help you define who you are as an organization.

So measuring it is not just saying, okay, I did this program, what's the result? Measuring is, what is my long term goal? What is my short term goal? Who are my stakeholders? Are we defining diversity and inclusion based on revenue? I'm key believer in that no matter who you are, what you are as an organization, because you are corporate organizational entity, should definitely be a part of that. So there's a whole bunch of factors that go into measuring it.

So the key thing is to first understand how you characterize your DNI strategy, does it get a DNI at the logging? There's so many ways to do it. Then once you do that, you can have a quantitative approach, which speaks to numbers, demographics, revenue, and margins. All of those things are key ways to tie that in. That's the science piece of it.

But the number one thing you need to do, when you're going to talk about measuring D&I is just to understand where you are now in the organization, and where you want to go, and all the tools, all of the resources, all of the things that will allow you to focus on scalability, return on investment, people in human capital management, will then fall into place. But you really need to know where you are now and where you want to go. 

Mason Stevenson: That’s critical, especially as I’ve spoken to different HR professionals, and we talked about this particular topic. Whether it's hiring more women, whether it's finding way to bring in folks with intellectual and developmental disabilities, or hiring the formerly incarcerated or whatever, you’re figuring out what your goal is, and how to incorporate those folks into it.

So having said that, obviously, it's a top to bottom strategy. 65% of senior executives believe it is HR’s responsibility. So what's the business case that needs to be made, to get buy-in from the CEO or executive leadership, when it comes to DNI? 

DK Bartley: I think most organizations thought of diversity and inclusion as another program, or something that focused on hiring X people that we don't have, or making X disenfranchised person in the organization feel better. That's what D&I used to be.

What D&I is now, and actually what it always was, but just never recognized as, is innovation, is a revenue generator, is a business imperative. Because now you have to think of it in that way, it really shouldn't be in HR, it really should be, if you want to look at it from the best practices approach, and entity on its own, that really helps with the overall business, works with HR, as well as depending on what your business model, your structure is, other parts of the business.

That's important, because that sets up D&I for success. It sets up the component of your living with a high level of transparency, about how it affects your business. You're focused on, just like in any other business unit; do we need to train people? How do we need to train people? What are the results? Etc.

Whereas, when it's in HR, a lot of times in my experience, and I come at this from both running and a consulting organization, where I used to go into companies, and provide them with the good and the bad related to the D&I, and then doing on a local level, that you have a level of transparency about what the real problems are, and what needs to be fixed.

So it's not just about making people feel better, or checking the box, it's about how the organization needs to move forward in a way that you are looking at everything that you don't have, as well as providing opportunities for what you have.

Biggest issue when people think it's HR, a lot of my fellow colleagues in HR, they're not necessarily trained in D&I, so everyone thinks it's having a potluck, or it's Black History Month or having a program, there's nothing wrong with that. But that's not what D&I is about. There are so many other things. Then, particularly with us, as a US-centric American, kind of Western society, very often we're defining it as ethnicity and gender, and it's so many more things that is out of the HR space. It's about accessibility, equity and opportunity.

Mason Stevenson: Would you agree that there needs to be, or maybe there has been, or we're in the process of an intervention with HR or with companies to let them know to look, this is what it used to be, but that is not what it is now, and you need to wake up, and you need to realize that?

DK Bartley: So funny you say that, because I'm getting a lot of calls now from either previous clients or our colleagues, kind of only pick your brain or this is going on etc., people that I’ve worked with, that have moved on to other organizations, etc. That's the conversation, because what's happening is, now everyone's realizing that there is either something that they are not doing as an organization, that they should be doing, to kind of say, Well, this is where we need to go, and this is what we need to do, or there is this disconnect about what the results are, and they're looking at, well, we've done this, but we don't really have data. We've done this, and we really haven't seen the needle loop. They kind of open the door, let them in, and then they going off the back door.

The problem was that it was just as kind of like aha reactive moment to, I have D&I, but not really, how is D&I going to impact the business, God forbid everything else. That's how when we implement a program, it's about what's the business imperative, and how is it going to make us a better or more enlightened enhance organization.

So this is the conversation I'm having that, ‘’DK, we have a scorecard, and we just don't see the numbers moving. Or, we think we were looking for X type of people, and we just can't find where they exist anymore.’’ It's like, ‘’What you’ve been looking? When did you start to look?’’ Once again, number one, when it comes to D&I, it's about a commitment. D&I is just like anything else. It is an investment. There's an ROI because it is an investment. So you cannot do all programs, or have Women's History Month, and then think because you did that, you fix D&I, and you're done, it doesn't work like that.

It's great that you feel good, it's also great that your employees, maybe have got little jokes, and are empowered from that, whatever the program is. But the idea of D&I is about being inclusive, and by being inclusive, you have to do it all the time, and you got to have some sort of systematic approach to it, that focuses on resources, process and scalability. Once again, just like how you run the rest of your business.

So when you start to look at it that way, it's no longer just this kind of, well, it's not working, and I need to fix it. It's more so of, this is the process, and this is our commitment, and as a best practice, because tons of companies have done it this way, you start to see the incremental gains of what the successes are, and how its impacted your business, whether you're small, or you are a broader organization, and you start to do things like do your needs analysis, and you do your what are the key takeaways.

There's a whole list of processes that go with very effective and successful D&I, but it's kind of mapped out. So you're doing your QA in real time, and you’re understanding, these are my formal programs, this is my pillar, this is my strategy, these are my KPIs, etc., this is the feedback, etc. There are a lot of things that go into it, and you're able to assess, just like you do anything else, what's working, what's not working, and improve it, as you go along the way.

Mason Stevenson: So once you spark that flame, you got to keep it burning, you can't just let it extinguish, and then come back and do it again in a few months or whatever.

DK Bartley: Not only do you have to keep it burning, I love that analogy, but you got to find ways that to have it burn brightly, you could go ignite a bullet on it. But if you wanted to change colors, if you wanted to burn so brightly that next wherever you are, other people see these ways to do that, that's what DNI is all about. So you don't just want to have a fire, you want to have wildfires, if that makes sense.

Mason Stevenson: I thank you for taking the time to sit down with me. I really appreciate it. A lot of big points here, and it really unpacked a lot of this. 

DK Bartley: Thank you so much.

DK Bartley is the SVP of HR and Head of Diversity and Inclusion for Dentsu Aegis.  He was also a panelist at the CHRO Exchange.  For more information, click here.