Diversity: Heart of innovation

Gender diversity and attracting female talent have become a topic of conversation lately. Major companies are gearing their attention towards diversity and inclusion. During an exclusive interview with HRM Asia, Donna Johnson shares her experiences as the Chief Diversity Officer at Mastercard.

Female participation remains conspicuously low in the workforce including Silicon Valley companies. Only 30% of the workforce at Google is made up of women. The number is rather constant across majore tech companies: 30% at Apple, 39% at Linkedin and 37% at Yahoo.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella recently made a push case for workplace equality after a public gaffe about women's pay.

Earlier this month at a conference focused on women and tech, he suggested women shouldn't ask for a raise and instead believe the system will take care of them. Two weeks ago, Nadella sent out a memo to staff saying the company is launching a diversity initiative to increase training in making the workplace more inclusive.

Can diversity and workplace equality serve as an impetus for employee productivity and engagement?

Donna Johnson, Chief Diversity Officer at Mastercard, focuses on creating and executing programmes that leverage diversity to create an environment that fosters inclusion and innovation.

Emphasising on diversity and female participation develops an organisation’s talent pipeline and enhances work productivity.

Q&A with Donna Johnson:

Why is workplace diversity critical in driving the business forward, especially at MasterCard?

Everything we do is rooted in diversity and inclusion because we know that’s what drives innovation and keeps us moving forward. We see diversity and inclusion as key to achieving the MasterCard vision of A World Beyond Cash.

Diversity of thought is the heart of innovation, the more varied the life experiences, the better the ideas. As our CEO Ajay Banga has expressed, “when you have people who are too alike in background and thinking, you also have people with the same blind spots”. 

What role does a diversity officer play? Why is it important?

The role of a diversity officer is very important for any company that wants to make diversity and inclusion a priority. 

As the Chief Diversity Officer for MasterCard, I work with executive leadership (our Global Diversity & Inclusion Council, or GDIC) to set the diversity and inclusion strategy and then manage the day to day implementation of that strategy. 

I also provide oversight to the ongoing initiatives and tactics that make our diversity and inclusion efforts a success. 

You don't have an HR background. Did you face any challenges in crafting policies because of this?

There have not been any challenges for me in this area. Ron Garrow, our Chief HR Officer, and his team have embraced me and the Global Diversity Office team as partners. 

They’ve provided us with insights and access to information that was limited to human resources professionals in the past. Combining our efforts with our HR team has only helped move the initiative forward.

In the course of your career, have you ever faced the glass ceiling and what steps did you take to overcome it?

Absolutely. And when I did, I took action – I found another job or demanded equal pay. I hired an executive coach to help me understand if there were barriers that I was putting in my own way. 

Because I’m a woman and African American, there are times when I encounter glass ceilings and I’m not sure which of those aspects is driving the resistance.

MasterCard has been ranked sixth in the diversity INC Top 50. What have been some of MasterCard’s programmes and policies to achieve this rank?

Diversity Inc bases its rankings on an objective methodology that calculates factors such as talent pipeline, equitable talent development (including commitments to mentorship and philanthropy), CEO/leadership commitment and supplier diversity. 

Specific programmes that contribute to our success include our Women’s Leadership Network coaching circles, Executive Leadership Programme which prepares a pipeline of leadership talent for advancement, a robust supplier diversity programme, and even reverse mentoring by our YoPros (Young Professionals) Business Resource Group (BRG).  

When it comes to gender diversity, the focus often falls on enabling women. What about mobilising male employees?

Our initiative is not limited to enabling women. We also engage male leaders in the organisation to support the efforts and their female colleagues across the company. Our initiative is focused on engaging as many employees as possible – it’s the full force of the diversity of backgrounds and experience that make our company a success.

Men are an important part of that success and membership in any business resource group is open to any employee regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, background.

In addition to our Women’s Leadership Network, we also have BRGs for military veterans and their families (SALUTE), for workers with advanced experience in the workplace (WWAVE), and for young professionals (YoPros).

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