Insight & Analysis

India Gary-Martin on representation, DEI and racial equity

Published: Mar 2023

India Gary-Martin, Founder and CEO of Leadership for Execs discusses the nuances surrounding celebrations such as International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month as well as other types of celebrations like Black History Month. This is the second part of our special coverage on this topic, delivered in our signature 60 Seconds Interview style. India is a close friend of the Treasury Today Group and a strong inspiration around leadership, governance, and equity in particular!

India, tell us a little about your background?

I was a senior executive in financial services and throughout my corporate career, I spent almost 20 years there. In my last job, I was the global COO for IB Tech and Ops for J.P. Morgan. It was a big, wonderful job. My whole career was in financial services, except a couple of years in pharma. In financial services, I was a bit of a unicorn. I held roles in the front, middle and back-office, so I understand the entire landscape from experience. I worked in investment banking, corporate banking, mortgages and asset management.

When I left my corporate banking job, I thought I was finished with the financial services sector, but I now sit on the board of C. Hoare and Co., the oldest private bank in the UK. We just celebrated the bank’s 350-year anniversary, so I still have my hands in that world to some extent. I also sit on some other boards and am a senior advisor to two multinationals, Weber Shandwick and an amazing tech offshoring company called Qintess, which is based in Brazil. I’m still on the coaching faculty at Georgetown for the Executive Master’s in Leadership programme and an instructor at Howard’s School of Business Corporate Education division.

What’s new at Leadership for Execs?

Since 2020, my team and I have been doing DEI capacity building sessions for senior executives all over the word. Most leaders understand what DEI is and why it’s important but are challenged when it comes to meaningful implementation for lots of reasons. That’s our sweet spot. As we were meeting with CEO’s and their leadership teams, they would say, “This is amazing. Can you facilitate these sessions for the rest of our staff?” It posed an interesting dilemma. In addition to implementation being an issue, so is scale and bringing all staff along the DEI journey. Common terminology, alignment of corporate cultural values, making sure that we are all hearing and talking about the same thing at the same time is elusive for large multinational organisations.

So, 18 months ago, we formed a new division called Relucent that focuses on producing exceptional quality DEI content for learning management platforms to solve the scale issue. It’s the same content we were doing with the senior leaders, developed into modules that can be taken on an individualised basis, in one’s own time. We also have live discussion groups on the platform so after someone has taken a course, they can sign up to talk about it in a facilitated forum with other participants.

We’re also fully accredited. Lots of professions require continuing education credits. As it stands, lots of organisations pay for those credits regardless of what the content is. This solves the elective credits issue for the participant but also solves an issue for the organisation.

We have both a consumer and enterprise offering and now Relucent is about 60% of our business. It’s become a big shift for us. We still develop and facilitate leadership development training programmes and have a healthy executive coaching practice, but a lot of our work is around platform – how you digitise and scale.

What is the significance of celebrations such as Black History Month and International Women’s Day and/or Women’s History Month? What are some of the pitfalls of having a dedicated time of year to focus on certain issues of representation?

There is an argument that, to some extent, we’ve gone overboard on dedicated months that can be a shortcut for the real issues.

There’s an amazing interview – I don’t agree with all of it, but a lot of it – that Morgan Freeman did, several years ago. He’s talking to this interviewer, and the interviewer says, “You say, Black History Month is ridiculous.” And he said, “It is.” And the guy says, “Well, why?” And he said, “Because you’ve relegated my history to a month. It should be all year.”

And he [Freeman] said, “When’s White History Month?” And the guy was like, “I’m Jewish.” And he said, “Well, when’s Jewish History Month?” And they guy says, “There isn’t one.” Then Freeman says, “Well, do you want one?” and the other guys says, “No.”

While celebrating the history of underrepresented groups is a great thing, relegating the history to a single month isn’t always. Celebrating history and awareness is step one but ultimately the goal is systemic change. DEI work is cultural transformation work and it’s not fast. It’s a multi-year effort. I don’t believe the various celebration months shouldn’t exist; I just don’t believe 30 days per year is adequate focus.

When you are approached to speak at these kind of moments – what is some of the advice that you offer individuals and organisations to make sure they’re not just paying lip service?

I’ll give you an example. We all have varied lenses and experiences. What I think is action may not feel like action to somebody else, or vice versa. The judgement we place on each other based upon our respective lenses means we get stuck in this vortex of fear, loathing, and hopelessness. We really have to “hear each other” and that means we have to stop talking so much and listen.

We have to establish a common baseline. We don’t all have to agree with everything, but we have to agree the starting point. We all make assumptions about what people know, and what they don’t. Expectations without agreement are simply expectations. You have to get to an agreement about what you’re trying to solve and where we’re going otherwise, just as we’re experiencing right now, outcomes are going to be all over the place.

What were your IWD plans?

This year I was back at (Women of the World festival) in London. I had the pleasure of chairing a panel around kinder business models with Mary Portas and Jane Shepherdson (Jane is the former CEO of Topshop and Whistles in the UK), I sat on a panel about gender bias and stereotypes and interviewed my mother, just the two of us. My social justice tilt and activism comes directly from her. It is always fascinating to talk to her because I learn something new every time. She’s been doing social justice work for 50 years and is such a role model to me and many others.

This year’s IWD theme is embracing equity which is something you champion for gender and for race. What progress do you see the conversation around racial equity in the US?

My team and I have taken nearly 30,000 people through our DEI capacity building workshops so, we have a lot of data. When George Floyd happened – Black people and people of colour were like, “Finally. People see the impact of what is happening to Black people at the hands of the police.” That’s not what happened at all. What happened was White people saw the brutality of policing in certain cities. They didn’t immediately make the connection to how Black or Brown people are mostly affected by it. It was the brutality of policing that they woke up to, not the impact on certain communities.

That’s because White people have a different lens of experience. There is no judgment about that because if you never really had to think about the kinds of things Black and Brown people think about everyday…why would you? These kinds of gaps allow racial inequity to persist. Everyone assumes that they know what everyone else should be thinking and feeling and its frankly a zero-sum game.

I don’t think no progress has happened, but people are still caught in the vortex and don’t know what to say or what to do. Our research shows us that one of the biggest barriers to the implementation of equity – and/or anything related – is sentiment – how people feel. The reality is that we’re all smart business people. We can do billion-dollar projects, but we can’t figure out how to be inclusive?

The old, “What does that mean for me?” is a human emotion that comes out when people are rooted in believing that ensuring equity is taking something away. I’d probably be thinking that as well if I was in a similar position. I think that it’s a human thing. It’s very easy to say what you would or wouldn’t do in any situation until you live it.

DEI is about humanity. If you think about what we have permitted to occur in our societies, and what we’ve allowed societal norms to become – we are moving swiftly away from centring humanity.

What are you working on and how can our audience get more involved?

We are launching the third cohort of a programme called Aspire! It’s a phenomenal programme with global participants. Most of our participants have 15 years of professional experience on average but that’s not a hard rule. Aspire is six-months of intensive leadership transformation (non DEI focused but does include a DEI module). We accept individual and group sign-ups. Aspire kicks off again in April. We have also soft launched the enterprise version of Relucent. Please tell your readers to tell their diversity teams and learning and development teams to sign up for a demo! This is game changing! They don’t want to miss it! Relucent is what everyone has been looking for!

Please contact, Head of Business Development for more information.

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