On March 29, the Saint Mary's College School of Economics and Business Administration (SEBA)'s Center for the Regional Economy in conjunction with Saint Mary's College Human Resources hosted "The Value of Diversity & Inclusion” panel discussion.  The panel featured two industry experts Monica Poindexter,  Director of Diversity & Inclusion at Genentech and Gustavo de la Torre,  Director of Global Diversity and Inclusion at Applied Materials. Both executives are responsible for the design, development and implementation of workforce and workplace diversity and inclusion strategies.

Moderated by Saint Mary’s Director of Human Resources, Eduardo Salaz, the goal of this event was to facilitate a conversation on how inclusion creates value for companies, both in terms of attraction and retention of talent, and the innovation that different perspectives enable, creating a competitive advantage that goes way beyond regulatory compliance.

The panel first began by generally discussing companies’ biggest challenges around diversity and inclusion.  Pointdexter and de la Torre highlighted the following key obstacles:

  • recording data or metrics that support the ROI or value of diversity
  • creating a workplace culture where employees can bring their authentic selves to work
  • staying relevant and effectively managing difference/diversity

Tomas Gomez, Professor and Director of the Center for Regional Economy comments, “When you think about diversity it goes beyond representations: physical, gender, ethnicity, age.  Today it also includes more about social economic and educational background. Organizations have to challenge themselves to reach beyond only hiring leaders from one set of management institutions because there are few things as boring as talking to yourself in a mirror.”

The panelist agreed that one phrase that illustrates these challenges most accurately is “creating a mindset shift.”  To be specific it is the mindset of senior and middle management.  Organizational leaders set the tone by working on an initiative that can be a role model to others or not.

Associate Dean of Graduate Business and Global Programs, Shyam Kamath then asked, “How do you get people to make that mindset shift?”

Poindexter responded by saying, “The first step in any process if self-awareness.  Being open and recognizing that as a leader, as an individual, as a peer, or as a colleague, my DNA and who I am and how I process information is true for me. My realities and my background and my experiences have shaped who I am as an individual, personally & professionally; and recognizing that when we come to work every day we have our perspectives that our inherent and we also have filters that create our mindsets that then drive our actions and behaviors. Self-awareness is one way.”  She added “The second step is communication, and that takes a reflection process.”  It takes education and training creating an environment where managers can be vulnerable and transparent together. Communication, self-awareness and listening are key.

MBA alumna and audience member, Annie Ingles added “For too long we have been focused on asking leaders, what are they bringing to the table as opposed to what are they facilitating, and what conversations are they creating around them. I think that self-awareness in allows [managers] to say I have a perspective but it is not the only one, that then takes them to a point of curiosity that says, so how much do I not know… about the world around me, about the person I am working, about a culture, about whatever.” This framework fosters an environment of curiosity, engagement, creativity, and innovation rather than the need to broadcast personal bias or opinions.

In all, the event facilitated a place for open and honest communication about the topic of diversity and the value of inclusion.  And as it was pointed out many times throughout the night, education and awareness are key.

About Saint Mary’s College Center for Regional Economy

The Center for the Regional Economy (CRE) brings together faculty, students and alumni at Saint Mary’s College with business, governmental  and non-profit groups in the San  Francisco East Bay, the Greater San Francisco Bay Area and the Asia-Pacific Region in support of an economy that is economically, socially and environmentally sustainable.  For more information visit, www.stmarys-ca.edu/CRE.

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