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Overcoming 'unconscious bias' is just one way diversity benefits business, execs say at panel

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Panelists (from left) David L. Gonzales of Bristol-Myers Squibb, Wanda Bryant Hope of Johnson & Johnson and Carlos Medina of the Statewide Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey.
Panelists (from left) David L. Gonzales of Bristol-Myers Squibb, Wanda Bryant Hope of Johnson & Johnson and Carlos Medina of the Statewide Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey. - ()

The State Theatre of New Jersey hosted a free and educational Partner’s Breakfast this week on the topic of “Diversity and Inclusion in the Arts,” seeking insights and encouraging discussion of how to best partner across organizations in order to build a creative and more diverse workforce.

“Diversity and inclusion are no longer just buzzwords — they’ve become a major part of the core values for many organizations,” Tom Carto, CEO and president of the State Theatre, said at Tuesday’s event in New Brunswick. “The State Theatre, for example, has an ongoing commitment to making world-class arts programming affordable and accessible for individuals from all ages and backgrounds, working with our partners each year to provide nearly $700,000 in free and subsidized programming.”

Panelists included David L. Gonzales, head of global diversity and inclusion at Bristol-Myers Squibb; Wanda Bryant Hope, chief diversity and inclusion officer for Johnson & Johnson; and Carlos Medina, chair of the Statewide Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey.

Moderated by Dale G. Caldwell, author of “Intelligent Influence: The 4 Steps of Highly Successful Leaders and Organizations,” president of the board of the Educational Services Commission of New Jersey and vice president of the New Brunswick Board of Education, the discussion centered around the ideas of viewing diversity and inclusion primarily as a business initiative, how to connect with and better serve diverse audiences and consumers, and how to partner with other nonprofits and larger corporations to share data, experiences and practical insights on creating a workforce more reflective of rapidly changing demographics.

“We are all products of our influences, and our influences often can result in unconscious bias,” Caldwell said. “For example, the best music in the world is the music you heard between the ages of 10 and 20 — a person’s influences can dictate their perspectives.”

Gonzales said that Bristol-Myers Squibb has been using evidence-based research and data to address this issue.

“We’ve very conscious of the fact that anything that gets in the way of our ability to innovate and drive business performance is problematic, so, we are relentless in our notion around stamping out unconscious bias,” he said. “We think it’s a corporate disease, quite frankly, that gets in the way of us being empathetic as leaders and being able to look at what really are serious business issues.

“So, we’ve done a lot of original research to understand unconscious bias in terms of the medical implications, both psychological and physiological, and what that means in terms of driving innovation and the ability to collaborate.”

Panel moderator Dale G. Caldwell.
Panel moderator Dale G. Caldwell. - ()

Bryant Hope said Johnson & Johnson also has used data and employee insights in order to make evidential changes regarding diversity and inclusion within the company.

“It’s historically been about programming — it has not been about connecting diversity and inclusion to innovation, to business results, to (profit and loss), and, so, there hasn’t been this burning platform of why this is critically important to our business,” she said. “It was a nice thing to do and what we have to do in our world and it is a part of living our credo, but, now we know that this is how we impact the (success) of an organization.

“We recognize that this requires real behavioral and cultural changes, so it is not just about attending a program. It is about embedding this thinking and these concepts into our processes and our systems, into everything that we do.”

Medina said that the business case for seeking more diverse suppliers is not only the “right thing to do,” but also, “it is about dollars and cents.”

“For example, if you have 10, 15, 20 bidders for a professional service or product that you are purchasing, you are going to get better pricing than if you had five,” he said. “There are of course emotional reasons to (be more diverse), but, as a business chamber, we simply try to say, ‘Look, it’s going to add value to your bottom line.’

“Using diverse vendors and having a board of directors and a senior staff that looks more like your consumers will only (drive) loyalty.”

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