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Developing Leaders: Somya Kouma on unleashing the true power of individual differences

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Our guest today is Somya Kouma, Senior Consultant, Talent Plus, Inc. In this role, Somya helps organisations to develop leaders by understanding their key talents, finding strategies to put the right people in the right role in their organization, and unleashing the true power of assessments. She holds M.Sc., Organizational Psychology, London School of Economics & Political Science, UK

Talent Plus is an internationally recognized global human resources consulting firm with over 400 clients in 20 countries, delivering interviews and assessments in more than 20 languages.

Somya, what does diversity recruitment mean to you? What do you associate it with?

Diversity is not just about having diverse demographics in an organization. The level of discourse around the subject has to rise beyond the obvious for organizations to not just simply fill a number of seats or meet a certain quota but to hire for diverse talents and bring in people that add value and perspectives that their existing workforce cannot. Because of this viewpoint, inclusion becomes as important, if not more, as diversity. To unleash the true power of individual differences, it is paramount to not just bring in people with varied experiences, values, and stories but to also provide them an environment where they feel appreciated and comfortable for who they are and are inspired to do their best work. Diversity hiring should not simply be a metric but a tool to create a real competitive advantage to drive an organization forward in a way that it never has before.

Talent Plus has clients in over 20 countries. Can you share some of your best D&I practices?

I take pride in where I work because it is a welcoming environment for all thoughts, beliefs, and backgrounds. What we place value on is talent and not demographic information. I am from India and within the first three months of employment, my manager quite sportingly sent me home for three weeks to be with my family and accommodated by many personal requirements because they believed that I can be as effective remotely as in the office. This trust and flexibility inspired me to do more than I otherwise would have in an organization that put me through a “process of approval” for wanting to go home. Because Talent Plus is individualized, we understand that fair is not equal. Given our cultural differences, expectations, and individual sensitivities, each employee gets approached in a way that is unique to them rather than following a faceless, standard template or a one-size-fits-all rulebook. Our ultimate D&I practice is that we do not think about D&I. We think about talent and bringing in people who deserve the job the most agnostic of where they come from, years of experience, schools they went to, or the people they know. We believe talent can be found in the most unexpected of places and if we discover it, we invest in it without being consumed with what it “should” look like.

I absolutely agree with you. Fair is not equal and there are people who need to be given a chance. Are there any D&I initiatives you are really proud of?

When you hire for talent and skills, and the assessments are blind to gender, age, ethnicity, etc., you are able to raise the bar for bringing in individuals who have the talent, aptitude and potential to do the role. We have a number of clients who have seen their capacity for bringing in a more diverse candidate and hiring pool when selecting for talent.

The ’’business case for diversity’’ was introduced in the late 60s. Almost 60 years later, there is still a lot more to be done. What are the challenges associated with diversity hiring?

Many companies misunderstand how to treat biases. 40% of Fortune 500 companies use unconscious bias trainings that, as research suggests, affects people’s prejudices adversely and provides more ideas to discriminate against people than mitigate them. Several companies have policies in place to simply avoid backlash and potential discrimination lawsuits based on race and ethnicities. The challenge is to move past this mentality and shift mindset to seeing value in diversity rather than safeguarding themselves from a legal perspective.

Many organizations provide lip service to diversity hiring but do not even have diversity in their recruitment teams or leadership to begin with. When a potential employee interviews with such companies, they can lose interest if they do not see enough role models or representation in the company. 64% of millennials are reported to consider diversity as an important metric when deciding to join a workplace. These numbers are only going to increase as more young people join the workforce. In order to stay relevant and meet expectations of the future workforce, diversity as well as inclusion practices will become a key consideration.

Bringing people in is just the beginning. A lot more is needed to build a strong diverse team. Do you use any diversity hiring tools or software?

Again, we know our highly scientific and validated talent assessment tools can serve as best practice for diversity hiring. When you hire purely for talent and potential, it is akin to doing a blind study and picking a candidate based solely on their merit and predicted success in a role. When we operate with a “may the best man (or woman) win” approach, we inherently create diversity in the workplace because you are bringing in people who bring a host of talent to the organization – some could be intellectually astute while others could be predisposed to intense interpersonal success. Placing the right people in the right roles for the right reasons will create both diversity and inclusion. We recommend organizations put their shortlisted candidates through an assessment as early as possible in the hiring lifecycle so they can avoid any potential bias and hire solely based on who has the most potential to succeed rather than who do they like the best.

Very often, workplaces do not offer a conducive environment for people to be who they are. For instance, providing new mothers a private room to pump or making a prayer room available for Muslim population to pray during daytime are some examples of having an inclusive environment.


About the author

Lilia Stoyanov is CEO and angel investor at Transformify. A fintech and digital transformation expert, she is also a professor at Zigurat Business School and expert evaluator Horizon 2020 at the European Commission.

About Transformify

Trusted by recruiters from 150+ countries, Transformify offers an integrated solution comprising of HR Software, freelance platform and billing & payments.