Thinkers50 Curated LinkedIn Live with Ruchika Tulshyan

 

Inclusion is Leadership

 

Diversity and equity have never been more commented on — or more important for organizations.  Known for her intersectional and data-driven approach, Ruchika Tulshyan is an award-winning inclusion strategist who is deeply passionate about designing equitable workplaces. Ruchika writes regularly for the New York Times and Harvard Business Review on workplace equity. In conversation with the Thinkers50 founders, Ruchika will map out the new realities, offer her latest insights and unique access to her current work.

Transcript:

Des Dearlove:
Hello, welcome to another Thinkers50 Curator Session I’m Des Dearlove.

Stuart Crainer:
And I’m Stuart Crainer, and we are the founders of Thinkers50, the world’s most reliable resource for identifying ranking and sharing leading management ideas of our age.

Des Dearlove:
Our belief in the power of ideas has been the foundation of our work, since we launched the first ever global ranking with management thinkers in 2001. And we’ve published a new Thinkers50 ranking every two years since. It remains, I’m pleased to say the premier ranking of its kind.

Stuart Crainer:
So, we are excited that 2021 a year in which fresh thinking and human ingenuity are more important than ever is also a thinkers50 year. Nominations are now open for both the ranking of management thinkers and the distinguished achievement awards, which the financial times no less calls the Oscars of management thinking.

Des Dearlove:
The awards short list will be announced on the 2nd of August and the years finale on the 15th and 16th of November will bring all the excitement of the new ranking and the naming of our Thinkers50 2021 award winners.

Stuart Crainer:
Our guest today is another brilliant member of the Thinkers50 Radar community of up and coming thinkers. Ruchika Tulshyan is an award winning inclusion strategist who is passionate about designing equitable workplaces through a company Candour. She advises companies on diversity, equity and inclusion strategy and communications

Des Dearlove:
Ruchika is a keynote speaker. It was addressed audiences as diverse as Microsoft Amazon, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and US Congress, and many more. Her book, The Diversity Advantage Fixing Gender Inequality In The Workplace focuses on leadership strategies to advance women at work. She’s currently working on her second book Inclusion On Purpose, which will be out in spring 2022.

Stuart Crainer:
Ruchika is a former journalist. She also writes regularly for the New York Times and Harvard Business Review on workplace equity. She’s also the inaugural distinguished professional in residence for Seattle University. In 2019 Ruchika was named to the Thinkers50 on the Radar list.

Des Dearlove:
So, we have 30 minutes with Ruchika. So, please send in your questions at any time and let us know where you are joining us from. Ruchika welcome.

Ruchika Tulshya:
Thank you so much. And both of you, can I be the one to correct you? My name is Ruchika with a chi but-

Des Dearlove:
I’m going to blame Stuart because he started it. [crosstalk]

Ruchika Tulshya:
Both of you and I’m-

Des Dearlove:
I’m Sorry.

Ruchika Tulshya:
Thank you. And [crosstalk] about it. So, it’s people-

Des Dearlove:
It’s not the first time that we’ve got the names wrong. So sorry, apologies.

Ruchika Tulshya:
Okay, thank you.

Stuart Crainer:
So, let’s start with [crosstalk], you had an article in the New York Times recently, which is a really good platform for management ideas about return to the office. Just give us a big taste of that article.

Ruchika Tulshya:
Yes, absolutely. So, I’ve been hearing from a lot of communities that are largely underrepresented in the workplace, that there’s quite a lot of fear about returning back to the office. We’ve been working remotely for those of us who have the privilege and ability to work from home, including myself, the last 18 months have been transformative in many ways. Definitely a lot of challenge, a lot of pain, a lot of trying to adjust to this new normal, whatever it is. And now to feel like that is going to be yanked away by leaders who will say, “Nope, you need to return back to the office.” On this state right at a time where there’s still a lot of uncertainty about this pandemic, about how it’s affecting people, the new variance. And so, when I pitched this article to my editor, I said, “I think the group that’s most impacted…”

There’s a lot of research on how women, as a larger group, have experienced this pandemic and in returning back to the office. We’ve had a great, unfortunate recession of women specifically leaving the US workplace here in the US. And so, when I pitched it to my editor, I said, “I really want to focus on what it’s like to have two underrepresented identities. And what’s the experience of being a woman of color throughout the pandemic working life. And then what it feels like to have to contend with this thought of going back.” Because a lot of employers here have actually announced exact return dates. Some have said, “You need to come back the whole time.” Some have said, Three days a week.” Some have said, “You can remain remote indefinitely.”

And what I’ve found in this article is that largely women of color are not ready to return back to the office. And apart from the usual transport and juggling sort of childcare and all of that, which we know isn’t a women’s issue, but really a societal you, but apart from all of that, there is also fear of having to return to the office and facing bias and facing microaggressions. One professor Dr. Courtney McCluney, I’m sure the Thinkers50 is very well aware of Dr. McCluney work, talked about how as a black woman, the last 18 months has been the first time in her career that she’s not had her hair touched and not felt that that sense of being physically othered in the workplace. I’m really glad I wrote the piece I heard from women really around the world, contending with similar issues and wondering, “Are employers going to listen to my voice? Are they going to hear my perspective? And can they consider this perspective as they make grand announcements about returning back to the office?”

Des Dearlove:
And was that, I mean, you said you talked to people all over the world, was the experience… Was it a universal experience or was it very different locations?

Ruchika Tulshya:
Yeah. So, for the article, I specifically talked to US based women, but yes, once the article was out, a lot of our reader feedback really comes from very global, from women and women of color around the world. And there was quite a commonality in that experience of feeling worried about returning back to the office, maybe hearing comments that you had to put up with for yours. And then for 18 months, you’ve kind of had respite from it. And then now the thought of going back again, was very worrisome to quite a few women. And this tells me a number of things. This tells me that… I think the most important thing is how do we create an office culture where everyone feels welcome, safe, secure, like they belong.

Where they feel psychological safety, homage to Dr. Amy Edmondson’s work, but where they feel that sense of I can surface ideas, I can challenge the status quo and I won’t face retaliation for it. And I wrote about Dr. Edmondson’s work as well for another New York Times article about how women specifically often lack psychological safety in the workplace, and often feel like they can’t take that risk and speak up, or even surface ideas even that are sort of half baked the way their male counterparts can. And so to me, writing this next follow up on how women of color are thinking about returning to the office, it did remind me that yes, indeed, for a lot of women of color, they lack that psychological safety. Many talked about… Some of the women I actually interviewed, talked about how the more virtual environment actually created a more equitable and level playing field.

You’re the same size and the squares, your name is there. Like sometimes in meetings, your name can be forgotten or whatnot, or you’re completely overlooked, but in this you can actually chime in, you can raise a virtual hand. So, there were opportunities created by the virtual environment that were actually lacking in the physical office space. So, especially when I’m looking into, again, I take a lot of guidance from Dr. Tsedal Neeley, but when we look at Dr Neeley’s work, there are opportunities here as we return to the office. So, that, to me tells me that let’s really think about what are those strategies as we get folks back into the office or expect them to, how can we create an environment that feels welcoming to all?

Stuart Crainer:
Yeah, I suppose the issues just because we’re at hiatus of 18 months, the issues that were there in the first place haven’t gone away, but what surprised you about the way it’s playing out?

Ruchika Tulshya:
Yeah, I think what surprised me, or actually I think just reinforced what I was sort of hearing anecdotally. So, Slack has a Think Tank called Future Forum, slack. Yes. Has become sort of everyone’s device of choice or a platform of choice to connect with coworkers, but they have a Think Tank called Future Forum and they surveyed workers and found that 97% of black workers do not want to return back to the office. And that number is significantly lower for white workers. And so, I think less surprised, but very, very glad that the data backs this up. And I think that was again, for a number of years, it wasn’t a conversation you could really have in polite company. It wasn’t something you could really surface to your boss. And now I think, again, linked to this pandemic, which I think has made a lot of us a lot more vulnerable with each other, when you have children and pets and whatnot running into your meetings, you’re bringing people into your home.

So there’s a level of familiarity and vulnerability you anyway create, which is very different from going into the office, putting on your armor, putting on all those layers when you go in your professional self, so, there’s that. I think the other thing, which I think has really allowed us to come to this moment where we can have these conversations more freely is the racial justice movement that was kicked off last year in the United States and continues to have ripple effects right now and really across the world as well. One thing I observe of which I was really surprised about is people around the world are talking about local incidents of racial injustice, of ability to create a more inclusive society. Very much inspired by what happened here in the United States, after the murder of George Floyd.

And I think that was very inspiring for me because for a number of years, what I was hearing is these movements are only rooted in the United States and I’m sure for the two of you in the United Kingdom and really around the world, what I was hearing is actually for the first time, in a while, there was a local application too. How did these issues impact? Does I’m from Singapore. I was hearing from my Singaporean friends that, “Hey, for the first time, we’re actually having really deep conversations about how inequity and racial inequity, and racism plays out in our own society.” And normally we don’t really talk about that at any sort of larger scale, but that was happening.

Des Dearlove:
So, we’ve got a couple of questions coming in. So, Rajneesh from New Delhi is asking, “So, I mean, people have got to go, we’ve got to manage this move back or this hybrid situation. So, what would be your recommendations for as they try to make the transition back?”

Ruchika Tulshya:
Yeah, I think that’s a great question. I think the first thing that I’m seeing innovative organizations and leaders do is actually survey their employees and actually find out how are people doing? Are they comfortable with this idea of coming back? If not, what would be the best way to work with them, to engage with them? And then actually take action on that. Because what we find with a lot of surveying and data gathering is people do it as a check the box we ran a and then the data comes back and no action is taken based on that. Now, of course, if people say I never want to come back to the office and that’s just not something your organization just cannot operate that way.

Although I think it’s important to also think about how the last 18 months were for the organization. And I think for a lot of companies, it was actually a blockbuster year in many ways, right. By reducing some of the friction to innovation, to productivity. So, I think that’s something to look at, but I think without surveying how your employees are feeling, I don’t think we’re really going to be able to plan an inclusive return to office. So again, gather the data, but also run the analysis and work towards incorporating what you read and what you see. So, I think that’s very important. I recommend anonymous surveys. So again, people who are historically underrepresented won’t stick out like the sore thumb, oh, this one woman on this one, male dominated team feels this way. And so, or you should just go face penalization and retaliation for that. So, I think that’s really important.

And then when planning this sort of return to office idea, I think it is important to look at what are the practices today that could be exclusionary our conference rooms, for example, are they friendly to people with disabilities? Are they accommodating to people with disabilities, things like that. Is there an opportunity to create a more hybrid environment? So not everyone’s rushing back at the same time, but there are people who can work remotely and are not going to get penalized for doing so. So I think there are ways that we can do that. I do recommend that employees get a chance to chime in and really be part of the workforce and part of those decisions, because I think for too long, they weren’t.

And I think that we’ve seen the tension simmering, I mean, most of the Thinkers and the folks on Thinkers50 that I’ve ever connected with have talked about this tension, this simmering feeling like we want more from our workplace. Looking at Dr. Megan Reitz’s work so much around corporate activism and the importance of the expectation that so many employees have for our employers to really take a stance on social justice issues to speak up on the various issues that we’re seeing. And I really think the return to office is one of those. I do think at its core, it is an issue of inclusion. It is an issue of social justice.

Stuart Crainer:
Yeah, Megan also talked about employees as activists. And I wonder if the last 18 months has confirmed to a lot of people that when they go back to work or whatever working environments they return to, that they have to behave like activists, did you get a sense of that?

Ruchika Tulshya:
Absolutely. And I think people are voting with their feet. I am hearing from a lot of actually managers and hiring managers that new hires are turning down really lucrative office because they don’t want to go back into the office. And this employee has made an announcement that you need to come back for X number of days a week, but I’m hearing that quite a lot actually. And I think for the first time ever people realize that they’re actually… We are really coming up with sort of a divided landscape right there. The employers that are allowing us to work from home and continue sort of this cadence that we’ve already built.

And for a lot of people this is a wonderful way of being, of living your life, where you have that choice, right. When you go in, do you go in at all? And I think the employers that are taking a much more heavy handed approach, “You have to return, need to come back these number of days a week. Otherwise you’re going to be penalized.” I think they are going to struggle. I think they’re going to struggle to hire. And I think they’re definitely going to struggle to retain.

Des Dearlove:
I mean, for those of us who’ve not worked in an office for a while, which I think certainly speak with Stuart and I, it always did seem so strange that people… that employers weren’t more open to people working from home and giving them flexibility. And if nothing else, the pandemic has accelerated that process, it would seem. But I mean, another interesting thing is how much of this stuff in terms of culture, but how many of these things are invisible? I think you wrote an article where even the temperature at which the air conditioning is set is a sort of white male default. People don’t even see things like that, they’re the invisible parts of culture. Hopefully this is an opportunity to reset.

Ruchika Tulshya:
Correct. Yes. And I think that it, it’s challenging sometimes to talk about. And it feels like these are the small, small things, right? Like what’s the temperature of the office. What’s a big deal put on a jacket or put on a cardigan or whatever it is, but those little, little, little issues they really compound to become a really big issue. Again, one of the things that I think I would love to see more research around is how much time women and then compound that if you’re a racial minority, but the amount that of time women have to spend getting ready. And buying professional clothes and looking a certain way when they come into the office. Again, a lot of these standards are much more challenging to women of color, black women talk about spending hours and hours every day on their hair to appear quote professional.
And these are white Eurocentric standards of beauty and professionalism. For example, the default has been male in the office. I’m really glad Des you brought up the temperature of the office, which again, seemingly seems like of very small minute thing, but if that’s your experience every day, you’re going into the office and you know you’re going to be uncomfortable. You know you’re going to have to bring in extra layers and armor to feel comfortable. That’s something that more employers need to think about. What’s interesting is a lot of research shows that by making tweaks to be more gender neutral, like the office temperature, a lot of times, men benefit to. I remember years ago I was working with a client which had a very meeting heavy culture and also a culture which was very sort of pound your fist, the louder you speak in a meeting, the more room you’re going to get.

And certainly when I spoke to women in the organization, they talk about how that was very challenging. And they felt like they had to put on an additional… they had to put on a performance to be heard. But what’s also really interesting is a lot of the men, a lot of white men talked about how as introverts, this culture never suited them. It never felt right to them. And they too felt uncomfortable like they had to perform. And what had happened is that, this organization, this team had centered the few people who are naturally extroverted, who spoke really loudly, who behaved in that way and made that the default, rather than taking a more neutral approach, sort of coming up to the midpoint, which I think is something that we’re all really trying to reach for.

And look, frankly, someone like me, I’d be more than happy to return to a office, but at my own time. And this is another thing Dr. Aliya Hamid Rao, who I interviewed for the article talked about one huge challenge was for a lot of women of color, we come from countries that have been really deeply impacted by especially the variants. We’ve seen a huge loss of life. I’ve unfortunately lost family members too, in other countries. And so for me, this idea of rushing back at a date that’s a month or two months from now really doesn’t feel comfortable in quite the same way. So, I think there are a lot of different factors that love employers to think about as they plan and return to the office.

Stuart Crainer:
It’s amazing when you think of it, how we’ve reached the situation. I mean, I don’t either, I would argue of anything you’ve said about the kind of picture you paint of how organizations behave with their terribly inefficient meetings, the lack of trust in the people who work there, the ongoing biases and prejudices and the issue discomfort. How did we get here? Is the big question to me, I mean, if you think about the pandemic what’s astonishing really, is that how well the economy is has done? Considering we’ve always been told that you can’t trust people and if they work at home, everything will fall to pieces. But in fact, we know that if people work at home, that they take pride in their work, they want to do a good job. So, it’s amazing that we got here really, isn’t it?

Ruchika Tulshya:
Not only that Stuart, but the fact is we’ve not really innovated past the 1950s in my opinion. And that’s what research has shown since the time where you were on an assembly line and you had a time sheet and all of that, but today’s workplace is completely different. I mean, let’s not even talk about the technology. Honestly, the technology exists that the vast majority of us don’t ever have to actually go back into the office and right now the conversations I think that are being had about, “Oh, but what about collaboration, but, oh, what about those serendipitous water cooler conversations? and things like that.” I think we’re really reaching. We’re really trying to reach for something that I don’t think really exists anymore. I think there are a lot of people who managed to connect with their coworkers, again, in really vulnerable and honest ways.

I certainly have with the various people I work with, I think in very honest and vulnerable ways, again, because of that armor, because of that feeling of like, “Where is the hierarchy? Oh, I’m here on the hierarchy, you’re there on the hierarchy.” All of that has flattened in many ways in this work from home environment. I’ve seen people who have always thought of like, “Oh I can’t really be myself with them. I need to be less authentic, or I need to put on again, that armor who’ve been really… They’ve invited me to their homes via their screens. I’ve seen their kids, I’ve seen their dogs, cetera, cetera.” So, I do think that there’s a real opportunity right now to innovate. And I think that’s going to be the difference. I cannot stress this enough.

I think that’s going to be the difference between the employers and leaders of tomorrow and the ones we’re going to leave behind sort of in the dust, honestly. I think the very last thing that I’ll say is I think when we kind of go to that intersection of, we trust our employees. And we also understand that they’re driven by purpose. They’re driven by social justice. I was really… I remember, I think I read a statistic that something like 65% of employees expect their employers to take some sort of social justice stance on an issue. And that’s quite large. And that’s regardless of their political leanings. I do think people, I think there was a little bit of sort of, there was a slight bump and if an employee identified as politically liberal, they expected them to take more of a stance.

But even then across the political spectrum, we see that employees are expecting employers to take a stance on issues. And so I think that purpose driven workplace, the idea that millennials will leave a workplace that doesn’t align with their values, or just not even go and work for an employer that doesn’t align with their values. I absolutely see that. I mean, I teach at Seattle University. It is remarkable to me year after year, how many of my students will say, “I would never work for this employer or that employer or that employer.” I remember being in university and if anyone is offering me a job, I am not turning it down. I am not turning it down because my values don’t align with that organization, but the times have changed.

Des Dearlove:
I mean, as you say, the working from home, it has been great, it level in some ways, once we all got over ourselves a bit and just relax a little bit and alow people to see it’s not [crosstalk] we should been kept firmly shut, but let’s turn, let’s flip this around a little bit. What is it about the office that we do need? I mean, I absolutely you of these can be replicated is anything for fundamentally… I mean, the other great thing is that what work approach has allows to, as you say, is to be, we really are global citizens now in the sense that we don’t have to work for the company down the road, we have more choice in terms of the values that we align with the organizations. So, we can afford to say no to the company that’s down because we can connect elsewhere. But is there something integral in the office environment that we do need, that we do crave as human beings in your view?

Ruchika Tulshya:
I think the answer is no, actually. I do think the answer is no. And I will say because so much of my work and so much of the research I’ve done has focused on people for whom the office was a really tough place to be. I’ve largely focused my research and the work I do on women, on people of color, on people with other marginalized identities and of place and know for a lot of people I’ve spoken to for years, for the better part of the last decade has been that, no they don’t want to, they don’t want to return to the office.

Des Dearlove:
I saw a blog where you actually wrote that you used to go in on a Monday morning with your stomach knots, that’s horrific situation, but…

Ruchika Tulshya:
Yes, indeed. And that was what it was like. So, and that is what it is still like for a lot of people, this idea, there’s a real dread. And I think for so long, we have centered the voices of again, people who are the leaders and the CEOs who’ve gone in and been excited because, Hey, it’s their team. And Hey, let’s create this team comradery and spirit, but I didn’t have that and a lot of people haven’t, and I’m so glad we’re in a place where we can surface these views because I remember back then thinking there was something wrong with me. And it’s only now that I have realized that, Nope, it wasn’t me and research backs this up. Now, I want to say that there are things that leaders and again, managers need to do.

And that is I think there are a lot of things we can take away from this time. And one of the key things is really check in with people. And I think we need to check in regularly with people as we did during the pandemic. I saw this with innovative leaders, inclusive leaders, doing this all the time. Let me check in with my folks, make sure they’re okay if they need a day off, if they need time off. Forcing them to take a vacation. I got an email from Harvard business Review this morning, and the subject line was, take a vacation. I thought to myself, wow this is not something I would’ve expected from a premier management journal telling me to take a vacation. It’s supposed to tell me how to work better.

But I think we’re all really realizing that the ways things were done was just not working. So, I think the check in is something that’s here to stay. And I think innovative leaders will do a really good job of making sure that people are comfortable. All of that. And listen, if this is the chance to rebuild the office back better, maybe you and I, or maybe the three of us are having this conversation five years from now. And I’ll say, huge innovation happened. Everyone came back to the office in a way that was very inclusive. And now I’m hearing how everyone loves being in the office. So, in some ways we’re talking about, I think, a future at this point or an environment that I haven’t personally seen yet.

Stuart Crainer:
There’s a question from Maina M’Poyo who’s in Brussels. “How do you rebuild an inclusive culture remotely in a innovative way?” I think what he is getting at there, is a bit of a paradox. Isn’t there, in that we’re working virtually you are physically distanced, but you want it to be an inclusive culture. It’s a difficult balancing act.

Ruchika Tulshya:
I think it is a difficult balancing. And yet I think that I have seen organizations do this. I’ve worked with teams that have done a good job of again, sharing again, it’s the accumulation of these small actions. This is why my next book is called Inclusion On Purpose. You take intentional on purpose actions to build an inclusive work environment. This means things like sharing meeting time. It means making sure that people who are historically who have not had a chance to speak at the big meeting or present the big data, whatever it is for your organized, they get an opportunity to step up. It’s talking about creating times during the day where people really have the opportunity to step away from their desk, take lunch. There’s this concept of leaders leaving visibly, which used to not happen in the office.
In an in office environment. I worked for an organization where it felt like a lot of the male leaders were in the office all the time. I’d come in at 7:0 AM or 8:0 AM they were there, when I was leaving at 6:00 or 7:00 PM, they were still there. And now in the virtual environment, I’m starting to see a lot of leaders actually say, “No, actually I have to leave. I’m going to take my daughter out for a bike ride right now. We’ve been hunkered in at home all day.” And it’s really refreshing. So, I think what we have learned from the last one year, the good parts of the last one year, plus I really hope we take back and rebuild in a very inclusive way.

Des Dearlove:
Are you optimistic about the future? I mean your work is obviously ongoing and seemingly never ending in some ways, but are you optimistic? Are we moving the needle as it moves at all?

Ruchika Tulshya:
I am. I’m extremely optimistic. Just being able to have this conversation in a forum like Thinkers50 to me tells me that we’re very much moving in the right direction. I think that, again, 10 years ago, there’s no way we’d be having this conversation, let’s be honest now. So, I love the fact that we can, I love the fact that as I look at the Radar list every year I get extremely excited. I see people who I have long looked up to on it. I’m been very optimistic.

Des Dearlove:
Good. I mean, we are very excited about the Radar list too. It gets more eclectical or interesting every time. So, it’s not very exciting kind aspect of our work, I think.

Stuart Crainer:
Here a nice comment from Keita Demming, “Liz Elam. I was listening to this and for about you.” There’s something poignant about that comment. I think. Thank you very much for that. And we’re out of time. Ruchika Tulshyan, thank you very much. Ruchika’s new book is called Inclusion On Purpose, published by MIT Press. It’ll be out in February next year, but watch out for her upcoming articles in New York Times, Havard Business Review and a number of other places. Her work is essential reading and she’s always a joy to talk to. So, Ruchika, thank you very much. And next week we’re joined by Lisa Bodell. So, thank you all for joining us. Thank you.

Ruchika Tulshya:
Thank you, Stuart and Des. Thank you all of you for tuning in.

Upcoming Events

Latest Books

Ideas@Work Membership

World-class content from world-class thinkers. Subscribe now for unlimited access to T50’s unique library of content.

BENEFITS INCLUDE ACCESS TO:

Podcasts
HEAR SAMPLE

Webinars
WATCH SAMPLE