You have recently started your own company TalentED, what made you take that step?
A few years ago, I had a strong desire to take my experience in academia into the corporate sector. It is really about being at the right place, in my case Copenhagen, and at the right time, with Danish companies really embracing global and diverse talent. TalentED was founded to provide inspiring and effective Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) training programs and consultancy services for organisations who are committed to creating true mindset shift to nurture inclusive workplaces for their diverse talent. Through the training sessions, I really encourage my audience to challenge themselves and their organisations to think differently about how we look at diversity and inclusion. I strongly believe that a shift in mindset is needed towards looking more holistically at diversity towards focusing on cognitive diversity, to be able to truly create inclusive workplaces for all.
I focus on cultural and generational diversity with the hope of expanding the areas of diversity organisations look beyond gender diversity. The risk of focusing on any one area of diversity is first that we stop looking at diversity holistically, and secondly we end up alienating other groups. The key to creating inclusive workplaces is to have EVERYONE on board – every single person needs to be an ALLY to creating inclusive workplaces. For that to happen, we need to focus on a holistic view of diversity, challenge out unconscious biases and encourage everyone to become an ally of inclusion – this is the focus of TalentED.
You have been teaching at Copenhagen Business School for a long time, what is the reason for your desire to teach, and what benefits do you gain from it?
I have been in academia for the past 13 years, beginning as a teaching assistant during my PhD program in 2007. My first teaching role after completing my PhD was at the Singapore Management University where I taught for 7 years before moving to Copenhagen and started teaching at Copenhagen Business School. But my journey in education began well and truly before that – I am an educator at heart. As a 8 year old child, my Mom tells me that I would line my teddy bears and my sister (when she would oblige) and I would teach – teach anything I knew how to – math, the alphabets, and even made up content. I always knew that I wanted to be an educator. I was fortunate to have my Dad, who was a University Professor, as a role model. I watched him inspire hundreds of students every year and that really sparked my desire to be an educator.
Being an educator is about opening your students minds to look at things from different perspectives and to help them connect the dots of experiences in the world around them. I believe that my role as an educator is really to help my students develop a love for continuous learning and Alvin Toffler’s quote best describes this: “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read or write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn”. Students today have access to information and knowledge at their fingertips, which makes it so important for us as educators to really think about the value that we add to their educational experience. If through my passion for the topics I teach, I am able to inspire my students to want to know more about these areas, then my job is done. Thanks to LinkedIn, I am in touch with many of my students from even 10 years ago. They get in touch with me sharing their life experiences, seeking advice and remembering a lesson from my course and making connections – it is these moments that I truly relish and know that I have made a difference in my students lives. I see every lecture as an opportunity to light the candle of curiosity in every student.
What has created and increased your interest in areas such as diversity and inclusion compared to other areas in HR? How do you think diversity and inclusion benefit the workplace? What challenges with diversity do you see in the business world?
Managing talent involves so many facets, and many of these are critical to being able to attract and retain an engaged and motivated talent pool throughout the organization. Diversity and inclusion (D&I) is one of those critical areas, and one that has only more recently received the kind of attention that it should. The business case for embracing diverse talent and nurturing inclusive workplaces is tremendous and should in no way be underestimated. In terms of financial performance, it’s been well documented that organizations that are more diverse both in terms of gender and ethnicity perform significantly better that non-diverse ones. What is more interesting are the many non-financial benefits including having a richness of innovative ideas and creativity, improved talent engagement and productivity, being able to attract and retain talent and having a much better understanding of diverse customer groups.
While most companies will acknowledge the need for D&I and numerous potential benefits to gain, it continues to be a challenging area for most organizations – to work towards more equal representation of gender at all levels especially senior levels, to embrace a truly ethnically diverse talent pool from the various age groups that best represent the organizations customers and society, to be inclusive to many other aspects of diversity including neuro-diversity, different sexual orientations, disabilities, etc. What is more important is to ensure that this diverse talent feel like they belong in the organization, that their ideas and efforts are heard and valued, that they are engaged contributors and that they can bring their whole selves to work – that is the inclusion piece. This quote by Verna Myers really explains what is needed best: “Diversity is being invited to the party; Inclusion is being asked to dance”. It goes well and truly beyond counting the number of women or nationalities in the organization. One of the biggest challenges that needs to be addressed is making people in organizations aware of the unconscious biases as well as micro-aggressions.
Our unconscious biases lead us to engage in micro-aggressive behaviors, and these are often brushed off as being a joke or a casual comment. While most people are conscious about certain faux-pas when it comes to communicating about minority groups, you will be surprised how often we engage in micro-aggressions – and these really contribute towards a non-inclusive environment.
What I find really encouraging is that the younger cohorts of Millennials and Generation Z are demanding this from the organizations that they want to work for. I am often told by hiring managers that questions on the company’s D&I strategy is often brought up nowadays by younger talent. This gives me hope that the pressure to remain attractive and relevant as an employer of choice for new talent will force organizations to push D&I further and in more concrete ways.
One of the things I very much believe in is that we need to take a more holistic approach to the idea of diversity. When we focus on one group, we end up marginalizing others and this has been a real obstacle to inclusion. For us to create truly diverse and inclusive organizations, we need buy in from everyone, and this requires each and every person to be an ally. This is not easy as it requires everyone in the organization from the senior leadership to the new entrant to be on board, be trained to be aware of the unconscious biases and micro-aggressions, and requires organizations to have the processes and systems in place to ensure that D&I is institutionalized across all aspects of organizational life.
D&I has always been an area that I have been interested in professionally, and it is an area that is also deeply personal. I am a woman of colour, and in many contexts, I am often either the oldest person (when I am teaching at university) or youngest person (in corporate settings) in the room. This gives me a unique voice to help others to uncover their unconscious biases and to truly become allies of inclusion.
Dr. Poornima Luthra is the founder and Chief Consultant of TalentED Consultancy ApS and a member of the teaching Faculty at the Copenhagen Business School. Poornima is also a corporate trainer, keynote and Tedx speaker, and has written articles for World Economic Forum and UNESCO. She has spent the last decade researching generational and cultural diversity across Asia and Europe and has written a number of cases with large multinational companies on their journey through managing generational diversity in their cross-cultural workplaces.