PeopleFirst! with Morag Barrett

Whether you’re a leader, HR practitioner, sponsor of a D&I initiative, or an employee who wants to see your organization benefit from more inclusivity, Kay explains the strategic case for diversity and can share practical steps for locking in diversity gains and closing key performance gaps.

Show Notes

Kay is founder and CEO of KAY Diversity & Performance B.V., a global company committed to embedding diversity of talent into the transformational purpose of companies so as to unleash more creativity, more innovation, more growth, more engagement and better financial outcomes. 

Kay's roots are in South Africa where she worked with companies to transform their business hand-in-hand with the transformation that was occurring politically and socially during the post-apartheid period. Kay was Executive Director and Partner in Accenture for 25 years, leading the Health and Life Sciences Industry Line in Europe and Africa and Latin America. Within Accenture, Kay was for many years responsible for the Diversity and Inclusion Practice in The Netherlands, and assumed multiple leadership development roles within Accenture, including being one of the Sponsoring Partners for the Global Leadership Development Program, Chairing the Diversity Forum, Participating in the Unconscious Bias Task Force and acting as mentor and coach and sponsor for rising talent. 

Kay's new book, Leading Diversity with Purpose and Inclusion, provides powerful insights into D&I. D&I is not about legal compliance or HR box-ticking, in fact every organization needs a diversity and inclusion strategy to achieve peak performance and sustainability. #MeToo, #BlackLivesMatter and the ballooning consequences of Covid-19 to minorities have made it even more necessary to plan a concrete D&I agenda. 

Whether you’re a leader, HR practitioner, sponsor of a D&I initiative, or an employee who wants to see your organization benefit from more inclusivity, Kay explains the strategic case for diversity and can share practical steps for locking in diversity gains and closing key performance gaps.

What is PeopleFirst! with Morag Barrett?

Welcome to SkyeTeam's People First! In this series, we explore the people side of successful business and careers. We all have a story to share, a leadership journey that we are experiencing.

We'll be interviewing authors, business leaders, thought leaders, and people like you to uncover the latest ideas, resources, and tools to help you become more effective at work - and in life. As it turns out, the secret is cultivating winning relationships. Business is personal, and relationships matter!


welcome to Sky teams people first with

Morag Barrett

welcome to this week's episode of people

first and I'm excited to introduce to

you my friend and colleague K former

Nick K is a global speaker on diversity

and inclusion she's a visiting lecturer

at leading Business Schools and founder

of diversity and performance which is

committed to unleashing the power of

diversity performance within profit and

not-for-profit organizations around the


within this role K offers advisory and

research services including coaching for

inclusive and strategic diversity


she's worked for leading Global

Professional Services organizations for

more than 20 years as both partner and

managing director actively supporting

their D and I strategy realization

her proven approach to Leading diversity

strategically draws on extensive

research and advisory work with more

than 50 organizations and I'm excited to

share some of those insights with you

all today so Kay welcome to people first

well thank you very much Morag for

giving me this platform to talk about

diversity and inclusion and Equity thank

you so I am just so excited for this

conversation and it's interesting

because the d e and IB that's the

acronym of choice at the moment

diversity Equity inclusion and belonging

it is so easy for it to be a buzzword

because for me personally I look at the

world the world is diverse there is only

one more egg there are seven billion

other people on the planet there's

diversity And yet when we look at the

corporate landscape in which I get to


it feels less diverse so help me

understand k

where is the breakdown in dnib diversity

and inclusion why aren't we seeing that

translate into every aspect of Our Lives

so there is a a large reason and uh and

in fact a number which I'll be talking

about you know for the last 60 years

ever since we've defined diversity in

the Constitutions of various countries

that has been focused on diversity and

inclusion and yet despite all this time

and all the investment when one really

takes a step back and looks at so what

has been delivered until now you can see

that we're still on Shaky Ground

the first reason why all this focus and

the intention and the investment isn't

delivering really the benefits of the


is I see that organizations are not

looking at it in a very strategic way

so easy for organizations to be

pressured through what they're reading

looking at what others are doing versus

taking the step back and saying so what

is my mandate and why is diversity

inclusion equity and belonging important

for delivering that mandate so reason

number one a lack of a strategic


is reason number two is interestingly


we don't have a shared vocabulary within

the organization what we mean by

diversity and diversity should mean

different things for different


so if I'm in an organization and what is

important for me is a consumer group

that is Young and globally placed

what is going to be important for me is

to really put a focus on the dimension

of diversity which is about age and a

multicultural background which allows me

to better understand my consumers

but on the other hand if I am for

example a central bank where I need to

mitigate risk on behalf of my citizens

then the diversity that I need is to

allow me to have a good perspective of

This Global world and it is about

specializations and focus so the second

reason we're not defining the dimensions

of diversity in light of our environment

and third thing is we tend to push it to

another function to lead it and in fact

it needs to be embraced by leadership

but it can't be driven top-down because

it has to be embraced also by people

within the organization because they've

got a role to play so those are really

the three key reasons that I see

it's interesting you talk there about it

can't be a top-down initiative I've seen

that too many times where it's delegated

sometimes to human resources or ergs and

Affinity groups congratulations go solve

the problem yourselves and you know we

as leadership have done our bit but to

your point it's a two-way conversation

throughout that whole process so tell me

more about the the role of leadership in

understanding the elements that need to

be in place to even start an effective

conversation let alone an effective


because diversity

um has had such a rocky road many people

have become cynical about diversity

inclusion equity

one of the reasons is that they don't

actually believe in the authenticity of

what leaders are saying about diversity

and they're cynical because in fact they

don't see leaders walking the talk of


so you're asking about the role of

leadership first of all a leader should

know why it is critical to be navigating

diversity for the organization

secondly they need to be displaying the

behavior of inclusiveness you know if

they're calling about we want to be more

diverse but there are someone that

demonstrates lots of microaggressions

are biased or not tolerant are not

leading in their own behavior to an

inclusive environment people really

become quite cynical

and leaders need to invite people to

actually belong through creating

interventions for example when they're

chairing a meeting being on the lookout

in terms of those people who are not

having a sense of belonging who are not

contributing because they might be


providing the sponsorship so all these

very important roles and one other thing

that I'd like to say

there isn't a possibility

for diversity Dimensions to deliver


without inclusion

and what research and my work has also

shown is that the behaviors and

day-to-day actions of leaders have a 70

impact on whether an environment

inclusive or not

so diversity plus leadership then

actually gives this inclusiveness that

gives the benefits

so we've talked to you touched on

unconscious bias and some of the habits

and processes and systems that have

built up over Millennia in the workplace

that we adopt probably without being

thoughtful that in of themselves

prevent a sense of inclusion so could

you give us some examples of behaviors

that I or others may be demonstrating on

a day-to-day basis without the intent to

be exclusionary but that's the impact

that they may be having

it's a lovely question let me be very

practical by giving examples

so the leader who sets up a meeting and

invites candidates without giving a

topic of what the meeting is what is the

objective and the topic line items and

does not send out some pre-reading is in

fact unwittingly going to exclude those

people who identify in the group of

introverts because introverts actually

like to know and about what are we going

to be talking about how can I inform

myself because introverts by Nature like

to be thoughtful and reflective versus

just calling something uh from the roof

extroverts find that less difficult so

if you're inclusive you're saying I wish

to take all personality types within my


uh there are some leaders who

immediately go to the order of the day

they effectively say we're having a

meeting and this is what we're going to

do and they jump into it what we've seen

is the ritual of checking of a chair of

a meeting which is simply saying a very

good day before we start our business at

hand let's simply have a round where we

do a check-in how are you feeling today

um sometimes the question is what

prevents you from being present because

maybe you're waiting for a call from a

secret or something you know that's once

again sets the third quality of an

inclusive leader is someone if they see

that someone is being excluded for

example they're trying to say something

uh or they have said something but but

they're not listened to becomes like a

conductor you know group I I hear that

Morag wishes to say something she's got

an amazing background it's worth

listening carefully and piggybacking on

her ideas you know these are the uh

interventions it would be someone who if

they see a sexist or racist remark or

even a stereotypical remark

is able to have the courageous

discussion not as a parent to a child

which is you know you bad bad person

what have you done but rather

you know something has been said and I'm

feeling somewhat uncomfortable mayor

highlight why it is you know it's that

person who's able in a seamless

non-hostile way interact when there is a

hostility uh that has been made

I know for myself that that last example

in terms of Having the courage to step

in and Signal my own discomfort or

signal the possibility of anyone's

discomfort is something that I wrestle

with internally and sometimes so long

that them I feel like the moment has

passed and so as individuals looking for

those practicing rehearsing in our heads

just getting comfortable with the

uncomfortableness so we can make it

better for everyone

so I know in your book beyond dni you

talk about the five elements that need

to be in place uh for to even embark on

this and you describe it as the virtuous

circle so tell us about the virtuous


so the virtuous circle is indeed talking

about the five elements that need to be

present to indeed facilitate the

objectives or the goals around diversity

programs coming to be

and what I need to say first is they're

very various reasons that organizations

pursue diversity in inclusion you know

some simply don't want to have a

compliance issue that weakness

organizations there are others who say

you know I don't want to be penalized by

my stakeholders internal or external so

I'm going to at least do what they're

expecting you know uh stage three

organizations are saying I really am

going to pursue this because I believe

I'm going to have the performance of

better decision making and creativity

and Innovation and engagement stage four

organizations are saying I need to

pursue this because without that I'm not

going to survive in this complex world

and stage five organizations are saying

my delivery of diversity equity and

inclusion is to support a more

sustainable Society now independent of

what are your goals there are five

elements that need to be be in place and

I'm going to start with them step number

one is what I call the purpose the

clarity of why this important

strategically to your mandate we've

talked about that already

step two is when that is clear

you start having the basis to identify

the dimensions of diversity the D that

need to be you know is it are we talking

about specialization or age or gender

are we talking about organizational

experience you know what dimensions of

diversity are required to satisfy that


then we need the conditions of inclusion

the third element which is about how do

you create a safe and brave environment

for people to really contribute so it's

not just being welcome to the table but

welcomed to speak and share your your


the next one is leadership

uh in fact what we have seen is the

ingredients for inclusion cannot be

present without the leadership behaviors

and actions which we've just been

talking about and last but not least is

equity you know many people think that

once you've invited people to the table

created the Dynamics that there is some

inclusion there is that leadership and

the purpose that voila you've got


actually we do have systemic bias within

our organizations and society and we

need to understand that not everyone

feels equally equal you know you have to

actually Foster that equity for people

from all different dimensions and

understanding that there is bias

what I love about the virtuous circle is

it feels Universal

I'm curious though I mean you grew up in

South Africa you're living in the

Netherlands you've worked with

organizations around the world when it

comes to applying

this Common Thread the skeleton for dni

as you present it how does the

conversation Flex what have you observed

as you work globally to help resolve

these challenges

you're very much uh correct Marek what I

love about the model it is global so

independent of nation country or

independent of the industrial

organization what you see is that these

elements need to be present in varying

degrees and focus so often what I do is

I come to an organization and I talk

about this concept you know in order to

get your performance you need these

elements and we start exploring where's

the biggest Gap in that virtuous circle

there will be some people who say it's

inclusive and this we've had an

inclusiveness index we see that people

are not feeling safe they're not willing

to or they could say actually we've got

these Dimensions but it's really about

Equity we are seeing that there is a big

bias that we're having and we need to

mitigate it so the virtuous circle is

almost that first discussion that you

can have when you're looking at you know

a top-down basis what are the things

that are present or not present and you

can start uh discussing it

what you will see is that sometimes

you've got environments and even Nations

which are quite hierarchical as a result

usually that will immediately mean that

in the virtual circle in terms of

leadership and the role of leader one

really needs to spend some time because

that leader is responsible for as

creating this inclusive environment and

yes there is often a fear attached to

that hierarchy uh in other places where

for example you've had a lot of racism

so for the work that I'm doing in the

United States but in a country like

South Africa

um clearly the equity condition is not

being met and so you really have to be

looking at what type of microaggressions

do we have what are the stereotypes how

do we de-bias our processes so uh

certainly you would understand depending

on your context which of these elements

of the virtuous circle do you really

have to spend time and effort on

I love that it kind of influences where

you enter into the virtuous circle and

therefore the priority that you move

them it's not a linear process it's not

a silver bullet a one-size-fits all it

goes back to your very first comment

around understanding the unique context

for that organization what are we trying

to achieve and why

exactly which makes me also think often

I see dni being positioned with the

business case the business case for dni

and then I look at it and I think

but this isn't about dollars this is a

human case

isn't this what we should the right

thing to do so how does that help or

hinder again in your ability to

influence change when some may always be

looking at the bottom line and just the

dollar impact yes

there was an initiative it was called

The Bold initiative that was uh started

about 1970s and they were trying to

understand how could they get leaders

paying attention to diversity and that's

where you really had the origin of the

business case because they said at the

moment that you can say it's linked to

return on equity and revenues and

Innovation and better decision making

their people start paying attention

and indeed I think it was important

going from the 1970s 80s 90s what is

interesting to your point is when you

look at Generation Z or Generation Z

however you call it thank you

is really

diverse most Diversified flavor

and they are holding organizations

responsible to pursue diversity not

because of the business case but because

of the moral or ethical or societal case

so this generation if you go to them and

say now we are pursuing diversity

because of the business case you're

going to have a cynical audience to

start so to your point more and more

organizations are recognizing that their

strategic narrative for diversity by all

means is customer congruence and

understanding and satisfaction but they

need to be putting within their

narrative that this is the right thing

to do this is the thing that one needs

to do so that people are treated with

respect they have the opportunity to

display their talents

etc etc so absolute good point

so as we come towards the end of our

time together for the people listening

who get it who say yes this is the right

thing to do and it may lead to business

better if it's but it's the right thing

to do

what advice do you have for somebody who

is not the CEO or not the head of HR or

not the head of any

how did they advance that conversation

in a way that draws others in

there you go I'll stop there how do we

all individually start to advance that

conversation in a way that can draw

others in

one of the things that I really have

developed is a certification to address

this point you know often we start over

talking about diversity and we talk

about what Society can do or what the

organization can do

and I'm actually starting what can each

person do what I call the self and the

self and the team

and part and part of a process of having

an impact

is starting the dialogue and it's

talking about the me you know diversity

and inclusion is important to me because

I believe it's important and I believe

it's the right thing to do

and if I am a team leader I talk about

what are the things that I can do to

invite you in uh what can I do to allow

us in terms of all our diversity of

background and thought to be able to you

know put it together for benefits so I

think it is having this conversation and

getting the dialogue and you and I

talked about also those courageous


the moment the person

steps in and saying you know I've just

heard this and I'm sure it's not you

know deliberate it might be unwitting

but I want to raise my hand because I

think if we don't say anything it just

perpetuates something

people are really given so much courage

to step in themselves so what I say to

people don't wait for the organization

and Society to be doing things

by having your own Narrative of why this

is important and stepping in you give

other people wings uh and and you create

an environment for something to happen

I get goosebumps because you're talking

my language there okay and uh my new

book you me we why we all need a friend

at work and how to show up as one that

is the premise that my co-authors and I

have which is don't wait for others to

be a friend for you it's how can you

show up as a friend for others how can

you show up for as a friend to yourself

because if you are sitting in a meeting


um that your opinion isn't being heard

or that you can't speak up because dot

dot dot then find a way to find your

voice because every team in every

organization your community needs you so

it's that you me we one conversation at

a time and we can influence it at all

levels if we choose to step up and in my

case if I choose to step into that

slightly discomfort conversation that

helps everybody to recalibrate how we're

showing up for each other

here here absolutely and you know uh if

I could just build on it I often uh for

the work that I do on the Neuroscience

of unconscious bias I say you know what

is even more damaging than the

unconscious bias that someone has about


is the unconscious bias that you have

about yourself in terms of what am I

allowed to do or what should be the

ideal uh leader which makes us often try

to be Superwoman versus the authentic

person working day to day in a

collaborative way so you know I think

when we we go to the work environment

and also in our life

and we are very Resolute about who am I

and what impact would I like to have by

being very close to myself

um I I think we've got the ingredients

for change

so picking on that phrase then the

impact I would like to have I'm going to

ask you that then K as you look to the


whether it's a year from now or 10 years

from now but what is the impact that

you're hoping to have the Legacy that

you're hoping to leave as a result of

Beyond dni and the work that you're

doing every single day

I would love to create strands of


you know having been a partner in a big

Professional Services organization and

all this focus on achieving and doing


what I realize actually through my



what is impactful is what you've talked

about the daily conversations putting

someone in their light

uh creating a sense of belonging uh you

know I think we've grown up to kind of

think that we have to be the president

of something to be successful and I

think the success is the daily human

conversations which allows other people

to succeed

it's time for us to be the president of

me the president of US

and take ownership for it oh I could

keep going okay I have so enjoyed this

conversation thank you for sharing all

well just some I was going to say all of

your insights sharing the insights that

you shared but I know that there is so

much more richness behind it so on that

note for people who are listening how

can they learn more about you or how can

they learn more about how they're

showing up in the world and take those

first steps of ownership in creating an

inclusive environment wherever they are


the first one is that I really try to

create this one-to-one relationship so

you know I invite people to Simply reach

out to me uh k at diversity and uh it's written full

diversity and performance

um obviously the both uh the author of

Beyond dni leading diversity with uh

purpose and inclusiveness there's a book

site which is called Beyond D and I

beyond diversity and perform uh

inclusion and I'm on LinkedIn there's a

YouTube channel on each of uh the

chapters of the book so these are all

the ways uh that people can reach out

and I really do try to give an answer

and respond okay well you heard it here

we'll make sure all of that information

is put into the show notes okay I truly

appreciate your time today thank you for

joining me on people first

thank you Marek and also thank you for

your excellent book and uh for this

podcast thank you

thank you so much for joining Morag

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