John Iino talked with The HR Digest about the various Diversity & Inclusion programs which have put Reed Smith on the global map as one of the top diversity employers.
The HR Digest: Why is equity, diversity, inclusion, so important to you?
John Iino: I think we need to separate why equity and inclusion are important to me from why diversity is personally important. On the equity and inclusion side, like so many people of color (I am Japanese-American), I’ve faced and had to overcome challenges in my pursuit of excellence in my career. Having those lived experiences, I have made it my purpose to do what I can to create a culture where everyone can feel welcome and supported no matter how they identify, and are able to succeed without fear or pressures of being their own unique selves. As far as diversity is concerned, when I started down my path as a lawyer, there were very few people who represented the Asian-American Pacific Islander (AAPI) community in big firms. By the time I left my first firm, I was the most senior AAPI in the entire firm. Our organizations can collectively be so much stronger, richer if we can embrace our diversity.
The HR Digest: Given your proven track record, what would you say does and doesn’t work when it comes to implementing Diversity &Inclusion strategies?
First and foremost, it is critically imperative to align with and get buy in from leadership. I never want to be the person on a soap box screaming into a microphone and no one listens. At the same time, I do tell our leaders that I am here to speak up and say things they may not always want to hear. I just have to know the appropriate forum or venues to share thoughts and uncomfortable truths that may be viewed as disruptive. That said, in order to progress in our mission, we have to be unifying and not divisive. I’m very aware that there are detractors, skeptics and others who don’t fully support our mission. So I have to walk the fine line of advocating for DEI but not alienating a portion – and in some cases a significant portion – of the organization. The firm isn’t paying me to be divisive and creating factions within the organization.
The HR Digest: How do you ensure that every member of your staff across all geographies is wedded to the company culture?
It’s important to remember that a commitment to DEI doesn’t have to be a zero sum game. Convincing all staff that supporting one person doesn’t mean that another person has to lose is important. While I appreciate that some men, some white employees may feel threatened by DEI efforts, it doesn’t have to be that way. It’s imperative that we demonstrate that helping members of the majority see that by supporting our efforts, they also can advance, and the organization profits, both financially and culturally. We can expand the pie if we all collectively work together for stronger results.
The HR Digest: What are the biggest challenges executives supporting pay equity for women and minorities currently face?
Unfortunately, despite progress, support for pay equity requires overcoming the stigma within some corners that an increase in pay for women and underprivileged groups is only because of their identity rather than merit. It’s the “the only reason she got the promotion was because she’s a woman, etc.” corollary. When we equitably provide opportunities to succeed, then people’s successes will be self-evident, and the stigma loses power. Creating equitable opportunities for all is where we are spending a lot of our attention, energy, and resources. If we are able to ensure that everyone has equal access to and is able to pursue opportunities to advance, there will be fewer challenges to support pay equity. If we are able to provide equitable opportunities, equitable pay will be a lot easier. I often use the analogy of fielding a successful professional baseball team. If you look at the same statistics to evaluate success, you won’t have a great team. You need some players to hit home runs, some to steal bases and some to play great defense. Their statistics won’t be the same but they each bring unique skills and talents to the organization that is needed to win.
The HR Digest: How can companies commit to truer diversity and make progress without disenfranchising men and women who come from a privileged section of society?
Raising awareness is key. We all have some form of privilege. If we are able to all recognize our source of privilege and share it rather than hoarding it, we can make truer progress. When we can demonstrate that our successes will come collectively, working together, then there will be less resentment. In this increasingly diverse and global economy we live in, we can’t think we’ll be more successful as businesses by catering to a smaller group and operating in silos. Companies should promote and reward, through accountability and incentives, efforts by those who support DEI efforts. If those can see that collectively and working together we will be more successful, then those that might be inclined to hoard their privilege will be more inclined to share it.
The HR Digest: What’s next for Reed Smith?
We’re spending a lot of time building out our DEI program to reach new heights – serving as the gold standard for our industry and creating a template for success for other organizations – across five key areas: diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging, innovation and leadership, and data analytics that provide metrics we can use to evaluate our progress against our goals. To the latter point, I see many organizations trying to develop and refine what are the key performance indicators for DEI that will have the most impact. There’s so much data out there, frankly too much data, but it’s knowing which metrics are the most important levers to push on which will have the most success in driving progress.