For Mary Edwards, “Each for Equal” is All About Leadership

  • March 02, 2020
NTT DATA Services IWD Mary Edwards Blog

Over the years, I have had opportunities to help forge a path for women in the workplace and to help organizations broadly address inclusion and diversity. I’ve learned a lot about what works in the pursuit of parity in the workplace.

First and foremost, it’s about leaders¬ — men and women alike — committing to understanding how their own unconscious bias influences their decisions on hiring, firing, promoting, and progressing the talent around them. That is hard work, and it requires holding themselves as leaders accountable for having dialogue that discovers, explores and exposes their own biases. There is plenty of research available to guide leaders in this pursuit.

Second, it’s about leadership teams incorporating into their governance a set of habits that neutralize bias. Habits such as regularly asking themselves (as part of their formal agenda) to share stories about the unconscious bias they have observed at work. Habits such as the review of institutional processes for evidence of the impact of unconscious bias. These habits need to be a formal part of the leadership agenda, using data to guide them. Like all new habits, it may be difficult. It can often be uncomfortable. And it requires lots of practice.

Third, encouraging and supporting inclusion and diversity is about leadership ensuring that all voices are heard from a group of diverse individuals — especially where diversity is below 30%. Research shows that below that level, those who are different from the majority will tend to be silent or “go with the group.” This is a human phenomenon steeped in our need for belonging. It is hard to be in the minority and to express a differing point of view. These expressions of difference further define those expressing them in the minority, as outsiders or others. As leaders, then, we need to work hard to make “others” comfortable. Let them know that their opinions matter. Leaders can use techniques that elicit all points of view, anonymize the source of that view, and model appreciation for (vs. tolerance/acceptance) of differences.

Fourth, it’s about creating diverse teams of LEADERSHIP to work on the issue of diversity. It’s a mistake to confuse interest groups, (defined as a group of similarly diverse team members), with a team explicitly chartered to make a significant change in an organization’s leadership culture and processes. For example, how could a group that is exclusively women (or exclusively anything) be tasked with changing the leadership norms, habits, and “institutional biases” of an organization? Like any other challenge to be overcome, it takes a diversity of thought as well as the authority to decide and drive change. The former is accomplished by selecting a team that represents all constituents, not selecting a team representing one constituency. The latter is accomplished by selecting leaders with the power to drive change and those who are architects and builders of the culture of the organization. This power to change lies with those with the authority to hire, fire, promote, or progress — they are the architects and builders of culture.

Finally, and most important, it’s about leaders acknowledging that they, like all humans have unconscious bias; that their position does not miraculously cure them of that human condition, and that they are looking for feedback from their team to notice and discuss that bias. We need to make it both expected and safe for our teams to do that. If, as leaders, we don’t invite and accept feedback, then we cannot expect our teams to provide it and we cannot expect that our teams will seek it themselves. It’s the responsibility of leadership to change the conversation, to include the self-reflection and team-reflection needed to notice the change needed in behaviors and norms, and to commit to change.

If you are a leader committed to inclusion and diversity and want to talk more about how what you do matters, I’m happy to help.

This thing matters. Your leadership makes the difference.


NTT DATA International Women’s Day 2020 Blog Series:

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Mary Edwards

Mary is the president of the Healthcare Provider business for NTT DATA Services. She brings more than 30 years of senior leadership experience in healthcare to her role, with a strong history of leading and nurturing high-performance teams and growing and transforming businesses. Mary’s early career was with Blue Cross Blue Shield serving in underwriting/actuarial and merger/integration initiatives, as well as leading strategic planning. Through a 20+ year consulting career, she has held various progressive senior leadership roles in the Health and Public Service sectors. Just prior to joining NTT, Mary led Commercial Markets for a healthcare BPAAS BPaaS provider, HM Heath Solutions. Mary holds an MBA from the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University.

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