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“Diversity is a given, inclusion is a choice, equity is a goal. Belonging is our ultimate end point.”

For as long as Keyla Cabret can remember, diversity has been a priority at Aflac. Years before companies started boasting equity and inclusion initiatives, the insurance giant was creating diverse pipelines, recruiting Black high school students in Columbus, Georgia, for its internship program. That’s how Cabret got her start at the company: In 1995, the then high school sophomore worked two hours a day as a part-time human resources intern. Some 26 years later, she’s come full circle as Aflac’s director of diversity, equity and inclusion. “It’s been a life-building investment. That was an investment in me and the program the company had. I’m really proud of the foresight we had,” she says. “For young professionals like myself, there has always been an opportunity here. I’ve never had an issue of seeing myself in a lead role. I’ve had plenty of examples of success.” Those examples still exist today. At the end of 2020, Aflac reported that 46% of its U.S. employees are from underrepresented communities, while 65% are women. And roughly 64% of the company’s board is made up of individuals from both of these groups.  This commitment to equity earned the insurance company No. 9 on our fourth annuallist of America’s Best Employers For Diversity. Forbes partnered with market research company Statista to survey 50,000 Americans working for businesses with at least 1,000 employees and pinpoint the companies they identified as most dedicated to diversity, equity and inclusion. When compiling the list, the diversity of corporations’ boards and executive ranks were taken into account, as were DEI initiatives and recent allegations or unresolved lawsuits related to workplace diversity.

“Diversity is a given, inclusion is a choice, equity is a goal. Belonging is our ultimate end point.” Camille Chang Gilmore, Boston Scientific’s global chief diversity officer

Since the last iteration of this list, a global pandemic and numerous social justice movements have rocked the U.S. Of the thousands of companies considered for the ranking, 60% are proactively sharing on their websites what they’re doing to promote diversity, up from 46% this time last year. Additionally, 28% now have a senior leader whose sole responsibility is DEI, up from 18% in 2020. Employers in the education and insurance industries have the greatest presence in the top 50, accounting for 34% of the upper echelon. But the No. 1 spot on the list goes to commercial real estate firm JLL.  Ingrid Jacobs, JLL’s head of diversity and inclusion, attributes this to the company’s top-down focus on creating an inclusive workplace. At the board level, for example, the company says 75% of directors represent gender or racial diversity. “I do feel very proud about that,” Jacobs says. “That’s a differentiator not just in the industry, but in general.”  And in the Americas, more than 8,000 of JLL’s workers participate in 80-plus local chapters of 9 employee-led business resource groups, including ones called Empower–Black Professionals Network, the Asian Business Professionals Network and the Women’s Business Network. Boston Scientific, ranked No. 8 on the list, also offers employees nine diverse employee resource groups, whose number of chapters globally has seen a 151% increase since 2015, says Camille Chang Gilmore, vice president of human resources and global chief diversity officer. “You hear the cliché that [diversity programs] drive business results,” she says. “For us it has and continues to do so.” In 2018, the medical device manufacturing company pledged to increase the number of people of color and women in supervisory and managerial roles to 20% (in the U.S. and Puerto Rico) and 40% (globally), respectively, by 2020. Since meeting these goals last year, Chang Gilmore says she and her colleagues have “put our foot on the gas,” with aims to increase representation among both of these groups an additional 3% by 2023. “Diversity is about three things: Diversity is a given, inclusion is a choice, equity is a goal. Belonging is our ultimate end point,” Chang Gilmore says. “When you recognize those three things, you create a culture that is on fire.”

For the full list of America’s Best Employers For Diversity, click here.

Methodology

To determine the list, Statista surveyed 50,000 Americans working for businesses with at least 1,000 employees. All the surveys were anonymous, allowing participants to openly share their opinions. Respondents were first asked to rate their organizations on criteria such as age, gender, ethnicity, disability and sexual orientation equality, as well as that of general diversity. These responses were reviewed for potential diversity gaps. So if workers from underrepresented groups, for example, rated an organization poorly on diversity, but their counterparts rated it highly, Statista would take that into account and adjust the company’s score accordingly. Statista then asked respondents belonging to underrepresented groups to nominate organizations other than their own. The final list ranks the 500 employers that not only received the most recommendations, but also boast the most diverse boards and executive ranks and the most proactive diversity and inclusion initiatives. Companies facing ongoing allegations or unresolved lawsuits related to diversity were excluded from the list.

September 2021, CICO writer  Staff Reporter Kristin Stoller

‘Businesses are sleepwalking into a mental health crisis’: COVID is pushing workers to the brink, new study shows

 

As the pandemic rages outside, feelings of anxiety, depression, loneliness, burnout, and stress continue to grow inside an increasing number of workers. In the U.K., a quarter of employees feel as if they have hit a psychological breaking point. According to a new study by health insurance company Lime Group, over half of those surveyed feel a pressure to disguise to their colleagues the sinking feeling that accompanies their difficulty in coping with both the stresses of the job and the stresses of the pandemic. Lime calls the phenomenon “pleasanteeism,” which translates to putting on a brave face and presenting the very best versions of ourselves when returning to the workplace. Apparently, they are not even doing a very good job of fully masking the anxiety. Almost one in five copped to feelings that colleagues knew they were hiding something deeper. The study finds “pleasanteeism” can be corrosive in a workplace. At its worst, such denialism masks deep-rooted workplace issues, and it undermines efforts to promote an open dialogue about mental health in a work setting. To wit, roughly one in six (16%) of workers felt their mental health needs were being supported at work. Furthermore, over a third believe their employers don’t provide them with enough general support. Unsurprisingly, 40% say they will look for a new job if their employers don’t do more. That figure jibes with other studies showing employers could be seeing the great exodus once offices reopen in the coming weeks and months. “Businesses are sleepwalking into a mental health crisis,” the Lime study concludes. The situation is likely to get worse as the pandemic continues; four in 10 feel less resilient now than they did before the pandemic began. Findings from the report found that simple initiatives, such as employers being mindful about workload and work/life balance, having greater flexibility in working hours, and providing time off to deal with personal commitments and for overall mental health, would go a long way toward improving the well-being of employees. There is no “one size fits all” approach to creating an open culture of mental health, says Emma Mamo, head of workplace well-being at Mind, a U.K.-based mental health charity, “but regularly communicating and providing opportunities for staff to talk about any issues they’re facing” are vital. She adds that employers should also survey staff to understand the causes behind poor mental health and try to mitigate them. “It’s only by drawing attention to and prioritizing mental health in the workplace that we can support one another to be as healthy, resilient, happy, and productive as possible,” notes Shaun Williams, founder and CEO of Lime, in the study.

Mental health awakening

If any silver lining can be drawn from the COVID crisis, it’s that more and people—from Naomi Osaka and Simone Biles to Goldman Sachs junior bankers—are making the tough decision to choose mental well-being over the rigors of career-building. In a 2020 study of 1,000 American workers, 80% said they would consider quitting their current position for a job that focused more on employees’ mental health. This was followed by the highest “quit rates” ever recorded in April and May of 2021, what some social scientists called the “Great Resignation.” More recently, a McKinsey survey found that roughly one in three workers said the return-to-office shift negatively impacted their mental health with pervasive workplace stigma surrounding mental or substance-use disorders exacerbating the decline. There is also a heavy economic toll. Depression and anxiety have a significant economic impact with an estimated cost of $1 trillion a year to the global economy in lost productivity, according to a report conducted by the World Health Organization. The WHO finds that for every dollar invested in scaled-up treatment for common mental disorders, there is a return of $4 in improved health and productivity. In the Lime Group study, 44% of workers in the U.K. noted low personal resilience impacted their ability to do their job effectively, admitting poor mental health had resulted in unproductive days, lost concentration, mistakes, and calling in sick.But some big companies are navigating the problem in the old-fashioned way: using money. Credit Suisse was reported to be handing out one-off $20,000 “lifestyle” bonuses to maintain morale among staff feeling the strain from heavy workloads and remote work, while the investment bank Jefferies gave away Peloton bikes worth around $2,000.

August 2021, CICO writer  Staff Reporter Sophie Mellor 

Finding Fintech Opportunities Where Others Don’t

The United States is a nation of immigrants. What was true over 200 years ago, remains the case to this day.

According to the Migration Policy Institute, almost 45 million immigrants lived in the United States in 2019. According to the Pew Research Center, this number is by far the highest in the world, representing almost ⅕ of the world’s migrants. Notably, although certain media outlets may have you believing otherwise, the vast majority (almost 77%) are categorized as legal immigrants. Waves of immigrants from different countries have defined centuries of cultural and industrial advancement. In the last quarter century, immigrants from Latin America have dominated these migration flows in the U.S. However, in spite of the fact that immigrants continue to comprise a large part of the population, they remain woefully underrepresented in the types of financial products and services being offered and developed. Latinos accounted for more than half of the United States’ population growth between 2010 – 2019, and are among the youngest racial or ethnic groups in the country. Although this group has tremendous buying power,they continue to face obstacles to financial inclusion. Almost half of Latino households are unbanked or underbanked. This means that they tend to turn to alternative financial services, which are often associated with nefarious interest rates. They also tend to be overlooked and underserved by large banks, exacerbating the problem. “Companies have done a poor job of building access to this consumer, which is the start of the waterfall as to why you don’t see investment into this consumer market,” he explained. Recognizing this untapped potential, Hemmat decided to launch a startup dedicated to reaching this community. Hemmat himself is the son of immigrants, and observed first-hand the obstacles his parents faced in navigating the U.S. financial system. He harnessed this personal experience to build Welcome Technologies (Welcome Tech for short), a digital platform focusing on improving access to banking services for immigrant communities. Fresh off a $35m fundraising round, the company recently announced that it will be offering a monthly subscription service providing users with access to a variety of discount insurance resources.

“As a company, we think about the opportunity to build a better system for immigrants. That is our north star. We think the starting point around that is a digital wallet that helps to influence transactional decisions more effectively,” he shared in a recent interview. If this consumer base possesses so much potential, then why haven’t large financial institutions succeeded in addressing their needs? “It’s not rocket science – if you treat a consumer poorly, they won’t transact with you long-term,” reasoned Hemmat. “Companies have launched services and built teams and time and time again hit the acquisition ceiling and either fizzle out of cash or…bury this consumer in multiple layers of debt.” Hemmat believes that Welcome Tech will be different. “Where we have focused our energy is building our trust with this consumer and leveraging the data. Among the categories of needs, by far financial services represent the biggest opportunity to make an impact.”

Welcome Tech isn’t the only startup to identify opportunities in this consumer segment. Crediverso, a personal finance platform aiming to be the “Credit Karma” for the Latino community in the United States, recently closed a $3.1 million seed round. That the round included VC powerhouses such as Bessemer and Clocktower speaks to the conviction that investors are beginning to cultivate in this demographic. “What is still astonishing is that we are focused on the largest under-banked population in the US and the fastest-growing population in the country and sadly it is a very lonely space,” observed Hemmat.

As long as companies like Welcome Tech and Crediverso continue emerging from the woodwork, that space may not be lonely for much longer.

July 2021, CICO writer  Staff Reporter Ilona Limonta-Volkova

3 Ways Innovation in Asia is Different

There’s no doubt that plenty of innovation investment is taking place in Asia. Over the last decade, half of all global investment dollars were spent in Asia, and the region has given rise to 43% of the world’s 5000 largest companies. Yet we often hear our Asian clients ask: “My people aren’t innovating. How can I teach them to innovate?”“We want our leaders to innovate like Silicon Valley. How can we be a 20,000 people startup?” “We talk about design thinking but no one is applying it. How do we change?” Over the last 18 months, the Board of Innovation team in Singapore has doubled in size and partnered with some of the largest companies in Asia, while in a pandemic. This experience has taught us that innovation in Asia requires a different approach to Silicon Valley. It’s often tempting for Asian leaders to mimic the methods of Silicon Valley companies, but simply copying giants like Facebook or Google doesn’t work. We need to understand how Asian cultures differ and adapt to its norms and mindsets. And while there’s no one-size-fits-all approach, there tends to be common themes.  So here are three ways innovation is different in Asia, and three ways to address them.

Three tips to encourage innovation in Asia

Culture doesn’t change overnight, and no magic bullet can shatter perceptions of power distance or failure. However, we can start by facing the reality of our culture and designing intentional workarounds.  While we often work with clients to assess their innovation readiness, there are simple litmus tests you can try as well. Here are some tell-tale signs to look out for:

  • Is the most senior person in a meeting usually speaking the most? Do other team members mostly stay silent?
  • Do people play down mistakes to avoid seeming weak? Do managers react to mistakes harshly?

If you’ve noticed these signs, here are some ways to address them:

EMBRACE CONFLICT

Instead of avoiding conflict, intentionally embrace it to create world-class ideas. Task specific members of your team to act as the devil’s advocate to find potential flaws in any idea or decision, and assign other team members to counter-propose how it can be improved to fix those flaws. Frequently rotate roles and set the expectation that feedback is provided for the idea, not the person. One way to do this is to use our ‘Build it, Break it, Fix it’ tool to help steer the discussion.  This gives your team an institutional mandate for conflict. You empower those in lower levels of power to challenge ideas from the top, and in doing so, make them better.  

CREATE A SAFE SPACE FOR IDEAS

Leaders need to create a welcoming environment for ideas. One option is an idea management system where anyone can submit ideas and be incentivised for successful ones — this frees the employee from fear of judgement or ‘repercussions’. For example, global semiconductor industry leader Micron rewards employees in Singapore for experimenting with new ways of doing things, such as through incentive programs that reach all the way to frontline factory workers. This empowers new improvements in safety and productivity without relying on top-down instructions.  In addition to merely soliciting ideas, companies can take it one step further by establishing internal platforms to incubate innovation. One such example is Singapore Airlines. Staff can submit ideas for evaluation through their KrisLab platform, and once an idea has been approved, the digital innovation lab team provides seed funding and expertise to develop the idea into a proof of concept.  Creating space to innovate doesn’t require a company-wide initiative. You can start in your own team. Try a ‘no judgement’ rule, where saying things like “that’s a bad idea” or “that won’t work” is disallowed. Invite experimentation by sharing your past mistakes and what you learnt from them. This sets the tone that mistakes are accepted, and welcomes learning from failure.

THE CUSTOMER IS ALWAYS RIGHT

Instead of relying on the boss for the final say, rely on the customer instead. Embed constant customer feedback in the development of any new idea, and use it to strengthen ideas regardless of their source.  One prime example comes from DBS’s user experience and design team. In response to a surge in log-ins near the end of the month, the DBS team introduced the ‘peek balance’ feature, where users were able to check that their salaries had been deposited without the hassle of logging in. While the team admitted that their stakeholders didn’t like it at first, the feature has since been used 17 million times per month in 2021. While internal stakeholder management is important, it is also important to recognise that your boss may not always be right.

Unlock great innovation in Asia

The key to unlocking great innovation in Asia is understanding the unique opportunities and challenges Asian cultures offer. While organizational change doesn’t happen overnight, any of us can try these tips within our teams today to start seeing results tomorrow.

June 2021, CICO writer  Staff Reporter