The Disruptive Force of Diversity: confessions and personal notes from a first-time Corporate Diversity Officer

Amy MacLeod
Corporate Diversity Officer, Mitel

I have a confession to make: I like business. Big, meaty, profitable business. I like the adrenaline of high-risk, high-reward environments. I like the analytical exercise of digging through research and data. I like the intellectual challenge of getting smart and successful leaders to see things my way. As you can see, there are not a whole lot of human adjectives in that list. Nor are those really the kind of attributes that I would have ever thought qualified me to join a human resources team. So how on earth does someone like that end up as a Corporate Diversity Officer (CDO)?

I have another confession to make. Last summer, when I was approached to take on this newly-created role of Mitel CDO — the first in our 45-year-old legendary and traditional tech company — I didn’t even know what D&I was (the apparently not-so-common acronym for diversity and inclusion). I had never worked in HR. I honestly thought it was an accounting term! Naturally, I did what anyone in that situation who wanted to sound intelligent would do: I googled it, and immediately discovered my own biased and narrow-minded thinking. Inclusion and diversity is not about HR. It’s about business. (Note to self: remember to blow open your mind every once in awhile and dust for cobwebs.)

Disruption drives business. Diversity is disruption.

For me, one of the most interesting aspects of corporate life is the constant change and evolution of the business environment. Just when you think you’ve figured it all out and everything is working seamlessly, there is a shift — sometimes small, sometimes seismic — that requires a business to diversify. To survive long term requires a hefty amount of resilience, comfort with relentless change, and a culture of constant reinvention. You simply cannot stay relevant by staying the same. (Note to self: this equally applies to your career.)

Those shifts keep things interesting, but when they happen, it can feel a bit Darwinian, like a primal adapt-or-die forcing function caused by change. And the catalytic change that shifts you into motion can come from any direction: a new competitor, a new technology, a new business model.

So, with my analytical and strategic brain fully engaged, I asked a key question that had been drilled into my psyche: what is the problem we are trying to solve? Answer: if we are to remain relevant for the next 45 years, we need to bring new skills, new talents and new perspectives into our company. Nice and clear. Relevance and perspective. I now knew what the goalposts for success in my new job were.

Diverse perspective drives competitive advantage.

Whatever the cause, the effect of disruption is that companies must rethink how they compete, not just for obvious things like customers or market share, but, increasingly, for talent. Mitel has survived for four and a half decades by diversifying and pivoting at the right time. Reinvention is in our DNA. This latest shift to advance inclusion and diversity would be an easy peasy walk in the park. (Note to self: you’re old enough to know better.)

But unlike previous shifts where our goal was about technical disruption — like our move from hardware to software or from on premises to the cloud — our goal this time required us to disrupt our own thinking. We needed to understand how advancing diversity in our workforce — broadening the range of people we seek out, hire and promote — would advance our business. We needed data that showed diversity could be a competitive advantage and that a lack of it would be a competitive disadvantage. We needed to believe that diversity was not just “what we should do,” but something we must do.

My intellectual, analytical and theoretical understanding of the issue (i.e., how to remain relevant), the opportunity (i.e., remaining relevant) and the reward (i.e., relevance), was complete. But how was I ever going to get us from where we were to where we needed to be? I had no idea. (Note to self: you’re not as smart as you think you are.)

Arranging pieces of glass

For established companies like Mitel, building inclusion and diversity into business operations can feel daunting. Where would I even start? I was hugely relieved and grateful to discover a virtual army of people and organizations travelling the same journey who reached out with invites and opportunities to learn by following their lead. I discovered an ecosystem oriented to open sharing on inclusion and diversity and an instant and collaborative community to draw on. But I couldn’t understand why. Sharing is definitely not part of a competitive strategic development process!

And then I realized that this business disruption was not just about business. It is about advancement — business, human, social, professional and personal all mixed in. And I also realized we were not alone. Many companies are at the beginning of their journey and everyone is trying to do better than they have in the past.

If we are to remain relevant for the next 45 years, we need to bring new skills, new talents and new perspectives into our company.

Progress comes in small steps. Every step is progress.

Our journey at Mitel has just begun, and there are as many obstacles as opportunities ahead of us. However, it is a rare business shift when competitors and partners, customers and suppliers, managers and employees come together as people, and we are fully harnessing that human momentum as a change agent. And as my Mitel Yoda reminds me: ploughing new ground is hard. So, I am measuring our progress not just by the numbers, but also by the steps that move us forward.

As for my personal journey of discovery, I am learning that business leadership is not just about adrenaline and market share and numbers. Sometimes business success comes from disrupting the status quo and harnessing the full power of diverse human perspective and experience that drive those things. (Note to self: that includes disrupting yourself.)

Glass pieces forming mosaic art

Additional notes and observations for other first timers:

  • See inclusion and diversity not as a special initiative, but as part of your natural business evolution and corporate journey.
  • Begin with a conversation. Conversation builds awareness; awareness drives action.
  • Make senior leaders and managers the champions of inclusion and diversity. Then, follow their lead.
  • Find and share your facts whatever they are, and let the facts determine your strategy.
  • Get people in and outside of your company involved. There is a big community ready to share.
  • It’s OK to start small. Just start. The steps that move you forward add up quickly.

Mitel’s journey … so far

March 2018: First Mitel Board Diversity Policy established.

August 2018: First Corporate Diversity Officer appointed.

October 2018: First diversity event with Mitel customers and partners.

November 2018: First all-employee conversation about inclusion and diversity at global town hall.

January 2019: Inclusion and diversity formalized as a corporate business objective and value.

Amy MacLeod, Corporate Diversity Officer, Mitel

Amy MacLeod

Corporate Diversity Officer, Mitel

Amy MacLeod is a seasoned business leader with 25 years’ experience as a senior communications executive and spokesperson for political and private sector organizations. She specializes in shaping complex business, financial, and technical developments into global strategic communications and corporate programs. A member of the Mitel executive team since 2011, Amy was appointed in 2018 to her current role as the company’s first Corporate Diversity Officer.

She is currently Chair of the Board of Directors of the Kanata North Business Association, home to Canada’s largest tech park. She is a proud University of Waterloo political science graduate.

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