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Executive Perspectives

EXECUTIVE PERSPECTIVE: Why diversity matters

As Global Head of Diversity & Inclusion and Corporate Responsibility at Thomson Reuters, Patsy Doerr is responsible for optimizing talent recruitment and performance across a workforce of approximately 60,000 employees, based in over 100 countries. She sees diversity as an increasingly important performance differentiator, and we sat down with her to explore this in more detail.

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Sustainability:  What is diversity?

Ms. Doerr:  At Thomson Reuters, we define diversity as diversity of thought, style, experience and approach as well as traditional identifiers such as race, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation.

Sustainability: Before getting into the role diversity plays in a modern corporation, I’d like to get your sense of the arc of history on this issue.  How would you characterize progress generally?

Ms. Doerr: My view is that we are at the beginning of the journey, but there is already reason for optimism.  Some organizations now understand the effect diversity has on performance, which is especially important given the complexity of global business models.  Historically, most organizations thought about diversity along the lines of gender and race, and still, to this day, most organizations do not have enough women, minority ethnic employees or out LGBT employees in leadership positions.  I think the good news is that we are heading in a direction where people see diversity not as a touchy-feely people exercise, but rather as a business imperative.  And it’s a business imperative because recruiting the best talent, the most diverse talent, drives innovation, and innovation drives business results.

Sustainability:  And just to clarify, when you talk about diversity in leadership, you mean that in the sense of optimizing talent pools across an organization and society, and not in the sense of achieving a certain number for a number’s sake?

Ms. Doerr:  When I say “enough”, I mean a level which reflects that an organization is consciously and systematically utilizing the full breadth of its talent, allowing it to thrive and perform better because it is drawing on its full creative and productive potential.  The actual numbers will vary as a reflection of the underlying diversity of an organization’s available talent pool.

Sustainability:  Where do you see the most hope in this picture?

Ms. Doerr: I think it’s around the business imperative I mentioned earlier.  This means that CEOs and senior leaders have to be committed to it.  Our customers care about it.  I think the globalization of business has also made this a requirement.  In a global organization, you have to work with people from different backgrounds and cultural norms, and the external factors which drive those norms in different regions.  So there are a variety of external and internal factors which are driving this issue, and which should give us rational hope for change.

Sustainability:  Is part of focusing on diversity being very conscious of not excluding certain classes of people because of their differences?

Ms. Doerr: Absolutely.  So if you look at diversity as a whole, it is primarily an exercise in inclusion.  Traditionally, this used to be about compliance, with a focus mostly on gender and race.  Now it’s about how we build an environment which allows all types of people with all types of experience to thrive and bring their whole selves to work.   And part of the strategy is to raise awareness of unconscious bias.

Sustainability:  Do you see U.S. and western European business culture as leading on this issue globally?

Ms. Doerr:  Not necessarily.  Part of the driver for inclusion is diversity, and the exposure to many different types of people and cultures, which tends to erode unconscious bias. The United States and western Europe do not necessarily have a natural advantage here.  Because the United States, for example, doesn’t enjoy same level of geographical diversity as some other parts of the world where many different national cultures and countries co-exist in close proximity, people can become comfortable with their own biases, sometimes unconsciously.   We shouldn’t assume that business cultures outside of our own can’t teach us a lot.  We can learn a lot, actually.

Sustainability:  Are there certain sectors of the economy where you see best practices on this issue?

Ms. Doerr:  Within information technology and the media, some of the sectors in which Thomson Reuters operates, we have seen some progressive thinking on this issue. Also, some “traditional” corporations have made enormous progress on this issue, more so than many organizations which focus primarily on professional services. I find that interesting because there is more focus on diversity and inclusion in professional services, but it’s taking longer to make an impact.

Sustainability:  Any sense for why that is?

Ms. Doerr: I think it’s because in the professional services world, the skill sets most associated with leadership are still stereotypically male.  Research tells us that skills around negotiation, self-promotion and achieving inclusion in privileged social networks is what drives access to leadership roles.  Diverse candidates for leadership roles have traditionally focused less on these skills and opportunities.  To optimize performance we need to change the way that diverse candidates think about their skills to include these aspects, and we also need to change the way those currently in senior leadership think about what kind of talent and skills drive peak performance.

Sustainability:  In terms of performance, could you talk a bit more about the mechanics.  How does diversity actually drive performance?

Ms. Doerr:  There is a lot of data out there which really helps to make this case.  We know that if people bring their whole selves to work, then they are much more likely to speak up with their ideas, so employee engagement goes up, and ultimately you see more productivity. There is also an emerging body of research which correlates diversity on corporate boards with better long term top and bottom line performance, and consequently higher analyst ratings.  Investors and clients are increasingly seeing diversity as an important component of risk management and ethical awareness within a corporation.  If an organization lags in its performance around diversity, it may become increasingly likely to be punished by investors and customers, in addition to suffering the effects of lower employee engagement, finding it increasingly difficult to recruit, and sub-optimal innovation.  The bottom line is that diversity matters for your bottom line.

Sustainability:  Could you talk a little about what Thomson Reuters is doing to promote diversity which has you most excited?

Ms. Doerr:  Sure.   First, we are focused on building an inclusive workplace supported by a culture which reinforces this.  Policies don’t matter if the culture won’t support inclusivity.  To do this, managers are trained and held accountable for contributing to this culture of inclusivity as part of their performance evaluation.  What is exciting is that we are seeing this cultural change happening organically now.   Managers are seeing the benefits themselves.   Second, we are focused on looking specifically at diverse pools of talent.  For positions at a certain leadership level a diverse slate of candidates is mandated, and we are putting extra focus on diverse candidate pools in succession planning.  Third, is external positioning.  We are spending more and more time telling our story externally at over 160 organizations, including universities, globally to make sure we have the best possible access to talent.  We are also telling our diversity story to our customers, and they are seeing opportunities to drive performance improvement in their own organizations.

Sustainability:  Finally, how does diversity relate to corporate responsibility?

Ms. Doerr: Leading on diversity and inclusion is an important part of our corporate responsibility story and strategy.  Corporate responsibility in this sense is not just about our philanthropy or our active employee volunteer program, to name just a couple of examples, but our program to drive ethical performance as an organic part of our business operations.  Just as we champion diversity and inclusion for its business benefits, we see the same benefits from being a responsible corporation. Whether it’s our focus on employee volunteering or philanthropy, or our commitment to the environment and the communities in which we serve, it’s a driver for employee development, brand loyalty and client engagement.

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This interview was conducted by Tim Nixon, managing editor at  Thomson Reuters Sustainability.  He can be contacted at timothy.nixon@thomsonreuters.com

 

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