There are two valuable lessons I’ve learnt on my journey through Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI). Firstly, once you start down the path towards wanting to create a more inclusive workplace, there is no going back. The second is that my journey started much earlier than I thought.
Immigrant, to Outcast to Earthling
I immigrated to the UK from Kenya with my mum and two brothers after our father was tragically killed in a car accident. In fact, I ended up in a school with many like me – first-generation sons and daughters of immigrants. All of us with one foot in our heritage, and the other in the new set of values and culture we were becoming a part of.
We brought all these cultures into the classroom and with them our own barriers and challenges. Some went to language school because their English was not as advanced as it was deemed it should be. Others, like me, picked it up more easily and were able to progress quicker.
But in the rush to integrate and become a Brit, I was not exactly the good Hindu son my mum was hoping for. Not least because I loved hamburgers! This divergent nature might also explain why I didn't take the career path many in my family, and families like mine, would follow.
Where they often became engineers, lawyers, doctors or accountants, I was the outcast drawn to a career in communications. The aspect of comms that appealed to me was representation. Not just the idea of brands being represented amongst their audiences but the voices of the audience being represented within the brand.
The journey that led me to work at Edelman. My career has largely been the tech communications space. When I started, I never imagined writing about smartphones would lead me to the world of DEI and the opportunity to champion our agenda at Edelman UK.
Walking the path of DEI for human beings, has eventually led me to support DEI for all earthlings. Let’s just say my mum is now proud of her good non-hamburger-loving son.
Stepping Up to the Line
Surprisingly, one of the challenging sides to championing DEI is not having to convince people of its value and importance. More often than not, it’s why this is relevant to them.
One compelling route has been an exercise that I conduct in our DEI awareness training called 'Step to the Line'. I read out a series of statements related to a colleague's lived experience: From whether they consider themselves a Baby Boomer or have ever received income support to needing to take personal holiday to practice their religion. In silence they are asked to step to the line if the statement is relevant to them and reflect on how they feel. Those that don't step forward must do the same.
It’s an emotionally charged experience but one that seems cut-through. The main reason I think is that these are experiences that people will rarely, if ever, share in the workplace. In doing so there is an instant, and deeply personal entry-point into the relevance of DEI to them. One made even more profound because it’s discovered by connecting with others.
For me, stepping up to the line is a collective expression of values that can tear down the barriers to inclusivity. If I could bottle that moment and mass produce it, our DEI goals might be met in a flash. But I can't (I've tried). And that's why our long-term commitments are so important.
We do, however, have some common language embedded in our Edelman values that can help accelerate our DEI ambitions. And while these are our company-wide values, it doesn't mean we cannot also find a personal entry-point into them. For example, the Relentless Pursuit of Excellence speaks to my personal values of trust and hope; how these relationships should be respected,
The Freedom to Be Constantly Curious for me is about responsibility and comitment. Something that as a communications specialist I am duty-bound to pursue. Courage to do the right thing is related to purpose and a cause - striving for something bigger. And finally, the Commitment to Positively Impact Society appeals to my sense of social justice and the need for balance and equality.
These connected and common values give me a sense of belonging at Edelman. They matter because by living them, I can step up to create a sense of belonging for all others in our firm and beyond - from immigrants to outcasts and hamburger-loving-earthlings.
Satyen Dayal is Executive Director in the London Technology team.