Talent & Tech Asia Summit 2024
We shouldn’t just 'hope' leadership teams will become more diverse, says Isabel Naidoo, Inclusion & Talent Lead, FIS

We shouldn’t just 'hope' leadership teams will become more diverse, says Isabel Naidoo, Inclusion & Talent Lead, FIS


Data shows us that change will not happen naturally. Diversifying teams at all levels requires concerted and deliberate action, says this leader as she sets out to clarify the DEI misconception.

Armed with a team of 250 across the globe, and a mission to create an environment where the world's top talent can do the most fulfilling work of their career, Isabel Naidoo, Inclusion & Talent Lead at FIS, leads the talent centres of excellence (COEs) across FIS globally with direct oversight in Asia.

Some of the COEs range from people strategy, career mobility to diversity and inclusion, amongst many other areas of expertise. Naidoo helps to drive inclusion and diversity within FIS through various foundational and strategic priorities such as learning and awareness programmes and deploying employee resource groups. 

With extensive experience, Naidoo has led the development and implementation of people strategies across the globe.

In this interview with Aditi Sharma Kalra and Arina Sofiah, Isabel Naidoo shares more about:

  • FIS' comprehensive strategy that focuses on three critical stakeholders: colleagues, clients, and communities,
  • One practice that leaders should do away with for better DEI,
  • How its People Strategy and Analytics Centre of Excellence highlight the strategic nature of FIS' transformational change.

Q How has the conversation around diversity and inclusion evolved in the HR space - from when you first entered the space to current times?

When I entered the workforce many years ago, there was barely any conversation around inclusion and diversity (I&D). In one of my earlier jobs, women in the office were given flowers on International Women’s Day. I remember wondering how many senior women were in leadership and whether we could perhaps be given opportunities to progress instead of flowers.

Since then, there have been two significant shifts in the conversation around I&D. The first has been the plethora of support and leadership from the top of most companies, which has provided a platform for discussions around inclusion and resulted in increased funding and sponsorship for driving change. This top-down sponsorship has coincided with a growing outpouring of support and expectations from present and potential employees as well as market investors. This has accelerated the ability of HR departments to build out a much more formalised approach in this space

The second big evolution has been in the data space. HR has improved its ability to use data to inform decision making across the board. To address any potential or unintended bias in organisational processes or systems, both leading market research as well internal data that is continuously tracked and measured, are used. This is especially crucial in helping companies in taking targeted actions to address issues.

Q What is the DEI philosophy that you are implementing at FIS, and how are you bringing that to life?

As we all know, diversity makes business sense. It enhances employee engagement through improved collaboration, enabling more accurate decisions, better innovation, and greater business growth.

In fact, McKinsey’s 2020 Diversity Wins report shows diverse companies are more likely to financially outperform their peers. It found that executive teams with more than 30% women are more likely to outperform those with fewer or no women. Simply put, organisations with diverse teams perform better and therefore diversity is such an important component of FIS’ philosophy.

At FIS, we have a comprehensive strategy that focuses on three critical stakeholders: our colleagues, clients, and communities, and addresses five key areas – education & awareness; giving & partnerships; visibility & sponsorship; sourcing and developing; and engaging clients and partners. To ensure we are consistently improving in this sector, we’ve set specific commitments tied to these priority areas that are constantly renewed once met.

We identified these areas of focus based on not just our business objectives, but also ideas from colleagues across the world. While our I&D strategy has been in place for four years, 2020 marked a milestone for us as we began making public pledges. The need for a holistic approach became more apparent than ever, allowing us to drive company-, client- and community-wide impact. Since formalising our programme, we have launched nine global inclusion networks, formed 20 global partnerships with diversity organisations, held unconscious bias training sessions, and developed comprehensive metrics and reporting.

Through the nine inclusion networks, we organised events to build allyship and engagement across the company. Last year, we organised the CEO Day of Understanding, with the goal of engaging colleagues in discussions around inclusion.

We use a variety of communication methods to share progress across our business. More importantly, FIS' organisational values reflect a spirit of I&D, since we believe that all of our employees are responsible for nurturing and cultivating an inclusive and diverse place to work.

Q How would you describe your leadership style? With a team of 250 across the globe, how do you ensure that your leadership style reaches out to all your team members? What is the first step towards building a strong interpersonal relationship within the team, especially one where you’ve geographically dispersed?

In my current role at FIS I am so excited about the positive impact I am able to drive through my work as head of inclusion and talent. We have been driving positive change for our colleagues, but of course also our clients and communities. I have the good fortune to do this within the environment of a company who has impact at its core in their mission statement (changing the way the world pays, banks and invests), in our three core company values (win as one team, lead with integrity and be the change), as well as with a committed executive team to driving positive impact and an incredible team of colleagues across the globe who are committed to the vision.

I am very transparent about who I am as a leader – I blog, vlog and speak both internally and publicly on the topic of leadership on a regular basis. I have a style my team describe as committed, transparent and caring.

Communication and individualisation are two of my top strengths in Clifton StrengthsFinder which we use throughout our organisation, and I try and think about the experience of each of the people in my team as well as the broader colleague base. I think impact starts with understanding the context and experience people are coming from, so I make a point of understanding geo-political context, cultural nuances as well as company impacts before connecting with people.

As a global company we have employees all over the world, hence navigating timezones and creating personal connections can be tougher but we are lucky at FIS to be enabled through great technology and use a plethora of tools and techniques to drive connections including all hands calls, asynchronistic meetings, collaboration tools like Miro, skip levels, and pulse surveys.

Q One of the key implementations you've led at FIS is the People Strategy and Analytics Centre of Excellence. Tell us about this CoE. What was a key driver behind this idea, and what challenges did you face in conceptualising and bringing it to life?

At that time, FIS was embarking on a digitisation journey and we wanted to mimic the simplicity with which people engage with technology in the real world with the workplace. We narrowed it down to three core concepts: direct access to HR services so that we could scale; open discussions with our colleagues to tap into their experience; and data to ensure that were using analytics to make informed and predictive decisions. The establishment of the COE was intended to highlight the strategic nature of the transformational change that we were driving, and to demonstrate how we were bringing analytics front and centre across all our talent offerings to drive a change in how HR operates.

When conceptualising this idea, we were faced with the following key challenges:

  • Because not all data is created equal, we needed to ensure data integrity was our top priority.
  • As with all new implementations, you need to gather support from the management at the beginning of a new project. Our team made a point of presenting significant insight to the executives to build confidence in the work we were driving.
  • It was also critical for us to equip the HR organisation with the required business acumen and context so that they could have the necessary conversations with finance as well as the other teams around the collected data. To do this, we developed a strategy to train our HR teams in three key areas, as: change agents, coaches and data analysts.

Q How do you #BreakTheBias in the financial tech sector?

I believe the first step in breaking the bias in the financial technology sector is to understand what your company is doing and what is happening in the market in order to champion initiatives and participate in driving change. To overcome the bias, integrate I&D metrics into core business dashboards and view them as a critical enabler of the company’s success. Consider what your core business is, figure out how I&D might help, and work towards maximising the impact you can have beyond your own organisation.

Q What is one practice that leaders should do away with for better DEI? What should they do instead to achieve results?

To improve DEI, leaders should avoid making decisions based on their gut feelings. Everyone has unconscious bias, and that processing and filtering of information through a set of rules created over time is part of human nature. These biases are visible everyday – both at work and in our personal lives.

Fortunately, data can help overcome bias and enable better decision-making. At FIS, we use I&D measurement and tracking as a core component of all our business dashboards. We run statistical analyses and track progress by examining the entire life-cycle, from application to exit, as well as everything in between like hires, promotions, engagement, succession, compensation, development, among other things. We also create aspirational goals and benchmark our success both internally and externally to help drive progress and accountability.

To accelerate success in this space, leaders should stay focused and align their goals to the specific actions the organisation should be taking.

Q In all the programmes that you’ve been working to implement for better DEI, what is your biggest myth or misconception that you’d like to bust?

The misconception I'd like to debunk is that I&D will happen naturally over time. As previously said, many organisations acknowledge the benefits that diversity can bring to businesses and the economy. Gender diverse businesses can generate greater company growth, according to studies.

Even though more women are graduating from college and joining workforces across the globe than males, men still make up the majority of leaders in companies today. This emphasises the need for organisations to leverage succession planning and other deliberate actions to help diversify leadership teams. We shouldn’t just 'hope' that leadership teams will become more diverse, because data shows us that change will not happen naturally. Diversifying teams at all levels requires concerted and deliberate action.

Photo / Provided

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