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Plano leaders talk diversity in the workplace at Toyota

On a warm Texas Tuesday, employees from businesses across America gather at the Toyota Motor North America Headquarters in Plano to discuss the importance of diversity in the workplace.
diversity in action
Diversity in action

On a warm Texas Tuesday, employees from businesses across America gather at the Toyota Motor North America Headquarters in Plano to discuss the importance of diversity in the workplace. “When you think about the way we live our lives, the truth of it is [that] we go home at night, and most of the people in our neighborhoods are like us. When we are in our houses of worship, most of the people are like us. And when we’re out on Saturday night, our friends and the people in that restaurant are probably just like us,” Stephen Lewis, General Manager of Diversity and Inclusion at Toyota Financial Services says. “When you think about it, it’s really in the workplace that we get to enjoy the company of people that are different from us.”

Incorporating diversity in the workplace is one of the few surefire ways that, as Americans, we can open ourselves up to the different types of people in our country. “I think it’s a really important thing that we’re doing for our society as a whole,” Stephen says.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 24.4 percent of the U.S. population is not white. When we look at that in numbers, that’s 79.5 million people. in our country that come from a background that’s not European.

Let’s look at the nation’s LGBTQ+ population. We often assume that the LGBT population is much smaller than it is. Right now, 3.8 percent of Texas residents identify as being gay while 4.3 percent of United States citizens identify as being part of the LGBT spectrum. Ultimately, there are 10.7 million LGBT individuals across the nation. That’s higher than the population of 43 of the U.S. states.

What about individuals with disabilities? As of 2015, 12.6 percent of the U.S. population had an intellectual or developmental disability (IDD). That’s 41 million individuals. Autism, for example, is extremely prevalent. “People underestimate how many people in the country are immediately connected to somebody with disabilities,” says Michael Thomas, Executive Director at My Possibilities, a nonprofit that gives adults with IDD the chance to further their education. “We all know somebody with autism. A lot of people have family members [with autism]. That may be siblings, aunts, uncles, kids, cousins. When you start thinking about it, it’s four percent of the population.”

And, of course, women constitute 50.8 percent of the U.S. population.

When we talk about “minorities”, the populations aren’t exactly small. We’re talking about millions of people that benefit from having these open conversations about diversity at work. But it’s not just minorities that benefit from a diverse work environment; we all do.

Read more: Beyond diversity: Creating inclusion in the workplace

The Case for Diversity

“I think that the biggest danger for any big company is groupthink,” Stephen Lewis says. “[With groupthink], there’s a consensus in bad decisions, and everybody goes off a cliff together. That’s what diversity prevents.”

One common misunderstanding is that “diversity” only includes race, sexual orientation, or gender. In reality, businesses are looking for diversity of thought. “When you think about thought diversity, having all kinds of ideas in the room, you get that from diversity of background, whether that’s family situations, socioeconomic status, etc. If you can get all those people on a team hashing out business decisions, that’s how you [get better results].”

“When you [bring] together a team of people that are similarly competent but come from [different backgrounds], you’re going to get better ideas,” Charles Zambori, Global Strategic Recruiter at Ericsson says. “Someone’s going to ask, ‘Well, why can’t we do it this way?’, and it would never occur to me, as a white man, to do that, but maybe to you, it seems perfectly natural to do it that way. And wow, it’s eye-opening!”

Why do diverse businesses make better decisions? “[Diverse companies] can better serve the general population because the general population is diverse,” says Michael Thomas. It sounds simple but makes so much sense.

Hiring individuals with IDD adds another layer to the business case.

“Up until this point, hiring people with disabilities really has been thought of more from a charitable perspective than a valuable perspective,” Michael Thomas says. “The economic case for hiring people with disabilities [is that] when a company is actively supporting and hiring people that have disabilities, they’re also gathering the people in that individual’s support network, and they become a more attractive company to do business with.”

Individuals with IDD are also incredibly job loyal. “[With] some of these entry-level jobs in the workforce that HR people are constantly having to search for, [it’s] almost like they start looking as soon as they place somebody because they know that person’s gone in nine months,” Michael says. “But our guys are going to sit around for 10 to 25 years doing whatever you ask them to do because they’re thankful to have an opportunity to work.”

Read more: Meet Catherine Benavidez, Founder and President/CEO of IMO

Implicit bias

In most cases in Corporate America, the primary obstacle for diverse individuals is not outright prejudice. Rather, it’s implicit bias. The ADL defines implicit bias as “the unconscious attitudes, stereotypes, and unintentional actions, positive or negative, towards members of a group merely because of their membership in that group”.

Everyone is biased, and these biases are constantly shifting based on our experiences and the environments that we find ourselves in. An implicit bias, or implicit association, develops as we do, and can cause us to act in ways in that often go against what we actually believe.

Here’s one simple example of implicit association that has nothing to do with people: when I say peanut butter, you think jelly. This stems from us growing up with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, buying them in the lunch lines at schools, and watching our favorite characters eat in them in TV shows. Every time we see a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, this association is enforced.

Totally harmless. Except when it comes to the snap judgements we make about people upon meeting them.

Let’s play a game. I’ll say a word, and you actively make a note of the association that your mind makes. Black? Muslim? Gay? Old white man? You don’t have to tell anybody what the associations you made were. But think about it. Is this association in line with your actual views?

“It took me a while to have to realize that when I walk into a room, like this, where I’m the only person of color, I’m acutely aware that I’m probably the only woman or maybe the only person of color, definitely the only person that identifies as LGBT,” Janet*, one of the ladies present at the 2018 Annual Business Equality Conference, says. “I walk in with this assumption that everybody already feels a certain way about me. Even if you don’t know that I’m in a same-sex marriage, you do know that I’m African-American.”

Read more: NMSDC's Adrienne Trimble shares winning strategies for diversity, inclusion and success

This mistrust goes both ways.

“So I walk in with this defense,” Janet continues, “and I didn’t realize until several years ago that I’m assuming someone already has this preconceived notion about me, not realizing that I’m already having preconceived notions about everyone else. More often than not, I realize that I’m wrong, that we have more in common than we don’t have in common.”

Another obstacle in hiring diversity is that while businesses are seeking diverse individuals, they don’t have a large talent pool to choose from. As is unsurprising, since this is just the beginning of a tremendous philosophical shift in Corporate America.

“Every company [right now] is talking about their commitment to diversity. It’s an extremely competitive marketplace,” Charles Zambori says. “The big irony is that we have trouble finding candidates with the technical skills [we need]. But if they had those skills, the companies are going to have bidding wars over them.”

The Solution

As an employer, what can you do?

  1. Put effort into your Diversity and Inclusion initiatives.

“I think that one of the things that Toyota does well is the concept of process,” says Stephen Lewis. “We’re very methodical about where our opportunities are. Diversity and Inclusion is not just a fad. It’s ongoing and it’s long-term.”

2. Set concrete goals for your company in regards to Diversity and Inclusion.

Ericsson aims to have 30 percent of their workforce be women by 2020. “We’ve got another year and a half [to reach our goal],” says Charles Zambori. “And last I saw, we were somewhere around 24 percent. So, getting 6 percent more doesn’t seem like a large number, but when you’re talking about a company with 95,000 people around the globe, that’s 6,000 additional females to be brought on board.” With such large numbers to shift around, Ericsson is taking some creative approaches to recruiting.

Read more: Soraya Mangal talks diversity, inclusion, and life as a Georgia peach

3. Recruit differently.

“We are trying to rewrite our job descriptions so that they’re more attractive to females. Statistics show that a male will apply to a posting if he meets 60% of the requirements, while females will apply when they meet 100%,” says Charles. “What that means is we need to do a better job of writing our job descriptions so that a female will look at it and be like ‘okay, I want to apply’. We have a tool called Textio that we use. It evaluates the text to see whether it will attract more male or female candidates. For example, the word ‘rockstar’ is going to apply to males, where we might say ‘exceptional performer’ or ‘enthusiastic’ to [attract all candidates].”

“We also strip down our job requirements. You look at some of our job descriptions now, and it’s a laundry list of things. There are fifteen requirements listed but also ten more things that are nice to have. In reality, nobody has all that, and a female’s going to look at the list and think ‘well, I don’t have half of that, so I’m not going to apply’. Our [new] goal is to have our job descriptions be four or five sentences, focused on things that are actually important to the job. Keep it short, keep it simple, and make it more attractive to everybody.”

4. Partner with organizations that support the talent you’re looking for. Encourage talent development from a young age to ensure that in the near future, the diverse talent you’re looking for will exist.

Ericsson has partnered with Girl Scouts of Northeast Texas to spark young girls’ interest in STEM. “We do anything we can for the Girl Scouts,” says Laura Ramirez, Director of Diversity and Inclusion. “And it’s not just here in Plano. We have different locations where we’re supporting the Girl Scouts throughout the US.” Ericsson employees have hosted job-shadowing days for the Girl Scouts, sent girls to the annual Grace Hopper Women in Computing conference, and even laid fiber in the Girl Scouts STEM Center of Excellence.

They also recently brought in 160 students from a local girl’s high school. The girls spent a day at Ericsson’s Market Area North America (MANA) Headquarters in Plano. They attended panels and toured the Experience Center, Ericsson’s interactive display of upcoming technology. “We’re inspiring the girls to want to get into STEM,” says Laura. “Some of the panel members were diverse women and it showed the girls that if they can see someone like them [working in STEM], they can work in STEM too.”

Read more: Meet Dr. Alicia Makaya, Co-Owner and Co-Founder of GXA IT

5. Encourage human capital

Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) are an excellent way to support internal Diversity and Inclusion efforts. ERGs are groups where people of similar backgrounds come together to support each other.

At Ericsson, the process starts with one person pitching the idea to the D&I team. A potential ERG just needs to have enough people interested in joining, as well as an executive sponsor, and an HR professional to support the group.

“On the second day [of my internship], we went to this meeting for the LGBTQ ERG,” says Trisha, Ericsson’s Summer 2018 D&I Intern, “and it was so different from what I expected. All of these people came together, and they celebrated this one thing that meant something to them.”

At Toyota, 30 percent of the company is part of an ERG. “There’s a group for African Americans, Hispanics, Asians, LGBT [people], people with disabilities, women. There’s even one for environmentalists!” says Stephen Lewis.

“These are volunteers. No one told them to do this,” says Laura Ramirez. “They’re doing it because they’re passionate, and they want to give back. That’s human capital.”

6. Tackle your implicit biases.

“I feel the best way to heal the world and to help the world is to teach, to instruct, to open minds, and to change them,” says Valerie Klein, Director of Education at Adat Chaverim.

The only way to get rid of an implicit bias is to realize that it’s there and then become aware of the thoughts you have anytime that you’re fueling it. Yes, it feels icky to uncover these thoughts, but how else can we combat them? One fantastic tool to uncovering your implicit bias is the Implicit Association Test (

Read more: Meet Dr. Pratiksha Rigley, Franchise Owner & President of Primrose Schools of Plano

7. Take pride in the fact that your efforts are making a difference. In your business’s success, yes, but also in the lives of the millions of people diversity in the workplace directly affects.

“We’ve got a young man named Justin who, after going through My Possibilities, works at the Westin Galleria’s second floor bistro,” says Michael Thomas. “He’s a full-time Westin employee with benefits. He’s not rolling silverware. He’s in the kitchen making food and prepping. [But] when he came to us, it was ‘I want to go get a job’. We would’ve never said early on ‘Cool, let’s go for that full-time salary and benefits’. But now he has his own apartment, he has paid time off, 401k, all the stuff everybody else has, and at this last community fundraising ball, he attended, but he attended as a donor because he bought his own ticket. Rather than three years ago when he was at a table with all the HIPsters and in that kind of world, this year he was dancing on the dance floor, having a drink with everybody else, and [attending as] a supporter of the organization.”

Work is a huge part of our lives, so let’s make it worthwhile. For everybody.