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Fueling Success Through Inclusivity and Diversity with Dr. Ivan Joseph

Joining us for our latest Virtual Speakers Session, Dr. Ivan Joseph spoke on the powerful positive impact that diversity has on teams and organizations, and how we can make sure our inclusive strategies work. Ivan has a proven track record of bringing meaningful culture change to the various educational institutes he’s been part of, and he shared his experiences, both as a leader trying to make change and as a person of colour encountering challenges himself.

To start us off, Ivan provided a bit of background on his youth growing up in and around the Toronto area. A dedicated athlete, he eagerly tried practically every sport available to him while in school—all except golf, which never held much appeal for him. That was, until he saw Tiger Woods win his first Masters tournament in 1997. Watching a black man excel at the sport immediate drew Ivan in, and he pointed to this moment as a simple story that actually provides a microcosm example of the power of real representation. The rise of Tiger Woods saw the sport of golf similarly rise in popularity and profitability, all while the players and the audience became more diverse.

Even with examples like that, showing us the empirical success of diversity across many industries and fields, Ivan said we still tend towards homogenous teams (i.e. teams that are made up of mostly alike people, whether that’s in terms of gender, race, etc.). It’s a natural instinct, he said, because homogenous groups often appear to be “easier” to manage, whether that’s actually true or not. It’s a natural instinct for us to be drawn towards this kind of work environment, but we need to push against it and actively try to diversify our talent. Ivan illustrated his point by talking about a study where groups of frat and sorority members were challenged to solve problems. Some groups were made up of only people from their fellow frat/sorority, while some had an outsider added to the mix. The groups without an outsider reported a markedly easier time working together, yet the groups with an outsider as part of the team were more than twice as likely to find correct solutions to the problem. This study showed that while diversity can create some tension, it’s often less disruptive than what we might inherently think and bringing in outside perspectives always pays off.

After walking through several other studies and anecdotes about the power of diverse groups, Ivan moved on to strategies we can use to attract more diverse talent, help bring them into the team, and make sure there is an inclusive environment where they can thrive. Ivan noted it’s important to investigate our biases, both personal and structural, when trying to improve diversity in an organization. He said a first step to bringing more diverse talent on board is to make changes to qualifications and hiring practices. As an example, Ivan told the story of taking over as the Director of Athletics at Ryerson University. Hoping to bring on a person of colour to coach the school’s basketball team, he realized he needed to change the qualifications for the position because at the time it called for several years of experience coaching university-level basketball. The issue was that at the time there wasn’t a single black coach or assistant coach across Canada at the university level. This seemingly standard qualification meant that Ivan was limited in this hiring pool. So, he changed the qualifications, and found a new coach who went on to great success—first at Ryerson and now with the NBA.

Ivan had a few tips to help improve diversity when hiring and generally move away from homogenous teams. He suggested trying to combat biases in the application review process by using application numbers instead of applicant names (we tend to have a bias against people with culturally traditional names, for example), and also developing a rubric for scoring applicants (offers a more neutral assessment of a person’s skills/qualities). Another suggestion was moving away from referral hiring, because that once again leads us to often fill our teams with people who are within our communities, within our social groups, and who are most like us. By attracting a wider range of applicants, we can develop a more diverse talent pool and ultimately improve diversity among our teams.

Hiring is only part of the process though, and the next step is inclusion. Ivan said this is a key part of helping talent to succeed and stay long-term. So, what can we do to make sure new talent is included? A common move Ivan pointed to is mandatory diversity training, which he is actually not in favour of. In his experience, mandatory diversity training leads to resistance among existing team members which can lead to a negative attitude towards new hires. Voluntary programs are more effective, allowing for an organic shift in the organization culture.

Another key component in helping new talent succeed is mentorship. Try to find seasoned team members who are willing to help and pair them with new hires, both to speed up the training process but also to advocate and support their integration into the organization. To be a person from an underrepresented group entering an organization where there are few (if any people) like you can be very intimidating, and that has to go hand in hand with working in a new environment and learning new skills. It’s easy for people to quickly walk away if they’re not supported. In a similar vein, Ivan suggested trying to hire clusters of diverse candidates at the same time—a single hire can easily feel isolated, while a pair creates a competitive.

Wrapping up, Ivan reiterated that this is work we all need to do and that we should be willing to admit our flaws. It can be tough at times and there will be uncertainty. A final key point he said we should always remember: to make effective cultural change, you need to offer a clear and enticing vision. Don’t try to do anything too broad or ambiguous. Set achievable goals, make your intentions clear, and you can create a spark within your organization that will catch fire and grow.

Dr. Ivan Joseph inspires people and teams to achieve more than they dreamed. An award-winning coach, educator, and leader, Joseph has spent his career leading cultural transformation, helping people believe in themselves, and creating cohesive teams. He speaks about self-confidence, embracing the “grit” to persevere in spite of setbacks, and leading teams to success, drawing from the lessons he’s learned from a life in sport. Dynamic and engaging, Joseph always leaves audience with a memorable experience that adds value long after the presentation ends.

Speakers’ Spotlight has been offering virtual presentations since 2009. We work with a range of speakers who are comfortable with presenting virtually on a variety of topics. If interested, contact us for more information.