Janet Pope on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion: “Without a Strategy, Good Intentions Fall Apart”

Janet Pope leads the Corporate Social Responsibility team at Capgemini in the Americas. From her background in computer engineering, Janet explains how the development of technology to challenge biases is vital and Diversity and Inclusion is evolving at different rates across the world. Companies, she emphasizes, do not need to “lower the bar” to hire or promote diverse talent – Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion efforts are all about providing access to opportunities to as many people as possible

by Natascha Zeljko | 17 May, 2022
Janet Pope on Diversity Equity and Inclusion

Was there a key moment in your life when you realized that diversity is more than just a friendly attitude? That it is the key to real change, at all levels?

I started my career as a computer engineer in a technology transformation role, but when I first transitioned into the diversity, equity, and inclusion space, I focused pretty heavily on diversity of thought recognizing that how we build the competencies that enable us to work in a global company require different communication and leadership styles. As I grew in the space and learned more from long time diversity practitioners, I better understood that we won’t ever get to true diversity of thought without diversity of our workforce across teams. To truly move the needle, we must have tough conversations and decisions about workforce representation, processes, polices, and implicit bias. Active inclusion is important, however, without a strategy and accountability, good intentions fall apart. It’s more than just saying “diversity is important” but helping everyone to realize that they have a part to play, to be intentional about how we engage, and be held accountable for the way we engage across all levels of the organization.

Active inclusion is important, however, without a strategy and accountability, good intentions fall apart.

Why does the topic have to be hung strategically, whereas other topics are also successful as grassroots movements?

It has to be as much top-down as it is bottom-up. It cannot be just a grassroots movement. The top-down piece enables us to keep the right priority on it, because diversity is one of those topics that needs to be integrated into everything you do and not just sit as one siloed program. In every function of what we are doing, there should be an aspect of how we are thinking about diversity, equity, and inclusion.

The last two years have put some hyper focus on the topic; There is a clearer acceptance that it is not just a box-ticking exercise. There is an understanding of the tangible impact different perspectives can have on the business’s value and solution design.

There are different stakeholders in diversity and inclusion: the company and corporate part, society, and governmental or legal framework. Which part is most important?

Corporations can definitely lead in some cases, wearing my corporate social responsibility hat, I can confirm that we are seeing a lot of companies whose purpose is now anchored to not only what they do as a business in terms of product development, but also how their actions are improving society. Corporations are leading the way as corporations are simply a big body of people saying these things are important to us.

An interesting intersection for me is the conversation around inclusive design, specifically, how do we mitigate bias in artificial intelligence? This is technology, diversity, and inclusion coming together. It has been interesting to watch the focus that has been put on this across organizations, particularly the way we are starting to build checks into tech to help us and designers not build bias into our algorithms and software development. There are a number of technical tools that now have features looking at things like how using zip codes as an attribute can be an unintended proxy for race. These tools also provide helpful options to empower developers to revisit the intent and expected outcomes for their application to help us all make better design choices.

What different challenges do you see in the various markets or regions in terms of diversity and inclusion?

When you are looking at diversity and inclusion globally there are different things that we prioritize in different markets. We have some markets that are just joining the LGBTQ+ conversation for example, each country is on its own journey.

We, like many organizations, participate in the Bloomberg Gender Equality Index; Prior to Bloomberg, there was EDGE, the Economic Dividends for Gender Equality. What I love about EDGE is it takes a threefold approach to helping companies with not only gender, but also age, ethnicity and race, LGBTQ, disability, and nationality. It looks at these different dimensions and enables us to evaluate our policy and practices, gather our employees’ sentiments on the topic and better understand insights from our workforce data. Bringing those three things together, helps craft specific action plans for each country and enables leaders to prioritize what needs to be done for high impact.

When you consider the way that our chemistry works, that humans emotionally react to a feeling faster than you can formulate a thought, you better understand how bias creeps into your decision-making.

You write that your goal is "Reducing unconscious bias, investigating micro-inequity.” How does this work?

We started unconscious bias training in 2013, and one of the things that we talked about in that training class, was that we are feeling machines that think, a concept Brené Brown’s Atlas of the Heart mentions. That resonated with me because, coming from a technical background, we tend to think we always make rational, logical decisions. When you consider the way that our chemistry works, that humans emotionally react to a feeling faster than you can formulate a thought, you better understand how bias creeps into your decision-making. There are tools and processes that we can use to mitigate bias and change the conversation. Training and a better understanding of implicit bias shifts us from a moral discussion, such as are we good or bad people to we are all wired this way and here’s the process that will help us do something about it to improve talent management. At the end of our training, participants wrote action plans to mitigate our own bias in real ways over the next 30 – 60 – 90 days. Thousands of Capgemini employees have completed this training over the years.

What argument annoys you most when it comes to enforcing diversity? How do you answer critics?

I recognize that some people may not prioritize this topic, so for me, it’s more about engaging the people who want to be engaged on the topic and moving forward with them.

What I've found helps to bring people along is understanding how diversity is important for something that they value. I live in a world where our clients are very important stakeholders for us, so if I can help people understand how our client’s value diversity or how diversity helps us deliver for our clients, it helps the conversation with anyone who isn’t yet convinced of the priority.

Do you have a personal role model?

Angela Guy, Head of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion globally at L’Oréal is a role model for me. Angela introduced Capgemini to EDGE, when she presented at a diversity conference that I attended a number of years ago. The EDGE framework is a great tool for us, and other companies, to leverage to solve the global challenge: what should we prioritize, and what are the right combinations of actions for the greatest desired impact?

Oprah is another role model. The first time Oprah said, “luck is when opportunity meets preparation,” I realized my own career trajectory had played out this way. I understood how to develop a strategy and work with executive stakeholders across functions from my technology transformation experience and leveraged that knowledge to help me as I gained experience in the DE&I space.

We’ve spoken a lot about D&I, what can we expect in five to ten years? What should we then be discussing in the next five to ten years?

The evolution of how we are building existing knowledge into systems and technical systems will continue to evolve, as will how we do that. I also think there will be more training at a more junior level, for example high school or middle school, on cultural competency, because the world is shrinking, and we are more connected. It was there already, but the last two years amplified things. We need to understand cultures and different experiences across ethnicities. We need education at that level that goes beyond learning languages, but the differences in the way others may think about time, communicating feedback, or expect recognition to be expressed. Erin Meyer’s The Culture Map is a good place for our inclusive designers and thinkers of tomorrow to start.

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