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Open, Honest Communication Key to Increasing Diversity

By Mike Alva, KPMG

Diversity Panel

(L-R) FWSF President and KPMG Managing Director Paige Venable, moderator Holly Neber, AEI CEO, panelist Bobbie Wilson, Perkins Coie partner, panelist Homa Bahrami, senior lecturer at Haas School of Business, UC Berkeley, panelist Dinyar Mistry, PG&E SVP of HR and Chief Diversity Officer, panelist Nicole Sanchez, Vaya Consulting CEO and founder.


A recent KPMG and Financial Women of San Francisco (FWSF) sponsored panel of business leaders delivered a clear message about how to boost inclusion and diversity in business: open, honest communication. Conversations, even if difficult, must happen more often to make significant progress in inclusion and diversity across Corporate America, said the panel.

“We need to make sure that we have conversations about increasing diversity,” said panelist Dinyar Mistry, PG&E Senior VP of HR and Chief Diversity Officer, adding a call to action to “do something that benefits someone who doesn't look like you."

The panel – Fostering innovation through diversity – highlighted how diverse perspectives contribute to innovation, which is top of mind for every business in the country.

“The most innovative teams are also the most diverse,” said panelist Dr. Homa Bahrami, a Senior Lecturer at the Haas School of Business, University of California, Berkeley. “Diversity is a big enabler because it allows us to see problems in a different perspective.”

Panelist Nicole Sanchez, CEO and founder of Vaya Consulting, emphasized that diversity without inclusion can hurt innovation. “If you don’t know when someone is being marginalized then you’re behind the curve.”

Yet, despite diversity’s benefits, progress remains slow, panelists pointed out, emphasizing that it’s more than a numbers game.

“Meeting numbers is not enough. We need to showcase success stories at all levels to create role models for everyone and be honest about what is getting in the way,” said the panel’s moderator, Holly Neber, CEO of AEI.

The panel also touched on the fact women are more likely to be mentored than sponsored – even though sponsoring a promising young businesswoman can be a more effective way to help her advance.

“Most people take the parent role when interacting with others so it’s more of a mentor telling you what to do than a sponsor asking how they can help,” said Dr. Bahrami.

Dr. Bahrami offered three ways to engage as a sponsor:

  • Ask what is on the individual’s wish list
  • Repeatedly advocate as the person moves up
  • Follow up with the sponsored person and monitor how they’re doing

Dr. Bahrami also noted that young professionals should be very deliberate and persistent in seeking sponsors. “Know what your goals are and what you are looking for from your sponsor,” she said. “Guide the conversation yourself.”

Panelist Bobbie Wilson, a partner at the law firm Perkins Coie, emphasized that not only is it important for sponsors to identify opportunities for the person, but sponsors should also troubleshoot to identify potential problems holding back a person, and eradicate the issue.

Speaking about diversity overall, Wilson challenged each person at the forum to identify what they have done to help increase diversity.

By end of the session, the panel had provided a set of ways to boost diversity: have open, honest conversations, even if difficult; showcase success stories to highlight role models; place more emphasis on sponsoring women in their careers; and continue to promote the value of a diverse organization, one benefit being that the most diverse teams are the most innovative.

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