While recognition of the importance of diversity, equality, and inclusion (DEI) is growing, transformation initiatives need to do more than just pay lip service to the idea.
For many organizations, diversity and inclusion can be defined narrowly and such initiatives fail to encompass the scope and scale of true inclusivity.
A truly inclusive approach embraces the many varied experiences and skills of a diverse workforce and customer base, and offers flexible employment practices that address different lifestyles, stages, and concerns, from parental leave to environmental sustainability activities.
The business process outsourcing industry has sought to tackle some of these issues, improving quality of life indicators to address retention rates and lower employee turnover, while also carving out better progression routes.
Organizations in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35% more likely to have above-average financial returns
Jacky Gibs started her journey in the BPO industry as an agent on the phones and worked her way up to VP of Contact Center Operations at Collective Solution. She knows better than most how difficult that journey is – although she benefited from management training programmes at American Express. “Once I did that programme, I felt like that was a step up towards hopefully moving on to a leadership role. But it wasn’t that easy.”
Gibs interviewed for a position eight times before being successful. She was undeterred, taking the feedback given and working to meet the criteria and prove that she had what it took to do the job. “Was it an easy road? No, not at all, but I never gave up. And that’s how I ended up where I am today,” she says.
Gibs was part of the global diversity and inclusion initiatives at American Express and went on to develop the diversity and inclusion programme at Veyo.
For companies that get diversity and inclusion right, there are real rewards: McKinsey’s report on why diversity matters noted that those organizations in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35% more likely to have above-average financial returns, and gender- inclusive companies are 15% more likely to enjoy greater revenue.
Employee satisfaction tends to improve in such companies too, with Deloitte noting that employees feel more included in companies that are committed to and supportive of diversity and this translates into an 83% rise in their ability to innovate. The BPO industry is working to address DEI.
Steps in the Right Direction
“I can see that the industry is headed towards the right direction,” says Luinell Florentin, Senior Vice President of Global Operations at Collective Solution. “There are a lot more companies with initiatives directed towards driving this, which is anything from improved recruitment processes, expanded awareness and mentorship programs, to a change in how we do rewards and recognition and the like.”
In her 24 years in the sector, Florentin has worked her way up the corporate ladder, starting out as an associate in a paging company and later moving into leadership roles such as Operations Supervisor, Program Manager, Country Manager, VP and now SVP.
However, she adds that as an industry, the BPO sector must recognize that it is not there yet. Not everybody is moving at the same pace.
The Mentor Mindset for Inclusion
“What’s most important to truly have diversity, equality and inclusion in any organization is the right mindset. There really needs to be a genuine understanding of the value it can bring in the work environment and how it also strengthens the partnership between the company and the employee,” she says.
Addressing DEI is about a process of transformation that builds on implementation of national laws that promote equality, while also developing internal accountability processes and engagement activities. Awareness campaigns can play an important part in educating employees and customers about inclusion and diversity and the ethos that is being developed.
Gender- inclusive companies are 15% more likely to enjoy greater revenue
Engaging those in leadership in such inclusivity is vital, according to Tamara Moulton, Director of Operations for an E-Commerce Client. “More than 40% of leaders in Jamaica are women. I’m a part of that,” she says, adding that women leaders need to play a part in mentoring and creating routes for greater inclusion of women in diverse roles.
Those who have carved a path in the industry can support others to follow and grow into new and emerging roles. That mentor mindset, she says, is vital to the creation of a true diverse culture in any BPO. “We have to ensure the leaders are willing to train and to develop. If we’re transparent, if we’re trustworthy, if we’re truthful, that mentor mindset can be developed,” she explains.
There is still work to be done. Florentin highlights unconscious bias as an area that companies – both BPO and customers – can work on addressing in people, processes, and systems. Gibs agrees, adding that recruitment interviews can be a place where bias has a significant impact. “We can see someone that replicates us – through their resume, or what they say – and you’re thinking that sounds like me when I was that age.”
She explains that you might decide that this individual should definitely be given an opportunity, but that is a biased approach. Gibs says that companies should look beyond skillsets in their recruitment strategies and consider other factors that may provide an opportunity to individuals who could develop those skillsets.
Moulton adds that the BPO sector associations are also playing a role in driving transformation in geographies and supporting broader initiatives to create a more inclusive sector beyond the work pursued by individual BPO companies. By working together, BPO companies, industry bodies, and customers can start to create a truly inclusive, diverse sector that benefits from the rich talent and experience and supports its employees to develop.