Diversity, equality and company culture: Interview with Gurdeep Grewal

This year June – traditionally celebrated as Pride Month – started with a horrific viral video of police violence in the US. The brutal incident that took George Floyd’s life has escalated tensions in the US and sparked massive #BlackLivesMatter demonstrations in North America and worldwide. Normally, at this time of year we’d be talking mainly about the LGBT+ community and protesting homophobia, but 2020 painfully reminds us that there are many more fights to be fought, not just in June – all year round.

Where do we stand, globally, when it comes to equality and racial prejudice?

 The recent events were a wake-up call for everyone, globally. I’ve certainly felt that here, in the UK, and in Europe. In the US, racism has been an underlying issue for many years. It doesn’t just go away – it has to be addressed on all levels. To educate people is a big job because some of this prejudice has been around for centuries and it’s built into the infrastructure, into language.

This whole divide between “them” and “us”, unfortunately, is something we still have to fight. 

I always say this: We’re all human. It’s really that simple.

I think that we must foster major education programs, internationally, at every level: In our homes, in our schools and companies like ours. There is still a lot to talk about. 

It may be hard to understand the importance of this ongoing fight for justice and equality if one is part of a majority. Have you ever experienced racial prejudice in your life?

I have. Being an immigrant into a country, I’ve suffered racism and I know how bad it is. Being threatened and chased around in school is something I’ve experienced. Of course, this can happen to anyone, regardless of skin color, but in my case that was the trigger. I was chased as a brown boy and I’ve seen it happen to other kids.

I have to say though, I’ve seen it happen the other way around, too. It’s always the minority that has it tough. It’s so disturbing. We’re all just human beings – one human race.

You have grandchildren. I’m sure you wish for a better, safer and racism-free future for them. Do you think that things are changing, that we’re moving forward in a better direction?

I think they have a chance of living in a much better environment than we have done. Education and awareness regarding these issues have improved a lot, along with social infrastructure. We’re seeing more diversity, and acceptance of that diversity around us. You get treated in hospitals, are taught in schools and universities by a mix of very different people – this in itself drives change in peoples’ minds. Plus, there are new leaders, politicians and company executives that form a more and more diverse group. 

If you look at the top IT companies, all the CEOs come from different backgrounds. You can imagine the benefit of that. This diversity will start to filter down in business. It takes time, naturally, but things are changing. 

The situation differs from country to country, but our world as a whole is becoming increasingly interconnected and societies – increasingly diverse. What does diversity boil down to and why is it so important to talk about it?

Diversity is a richness of experiences, dreams and ideas. If you put together this richness and see value in it, and multiply it by skills and capabilities that we have as professionals, you get organizations that are great workplaces and businesses that are capable of delivering solutions which are accessible and inclusive for all. 

How you create your proposition in the marketplace should be in line with how the world is. And it is just wonderfully diverse. 

What you’re saying is that diversity creates opportunity. Organizations that believe in diversity and execute it on all levels are able to respond to customer needs in a more balanced way. What was this balance like back in the days?

When I started my career, all the management were white, and they were all male. And then, step by step, you would start seeing more people of color joining in, more women, people of different sexual orientation. But you needed some positive discrimination, or affirmative action as it is known in the US, to achieve this. Diversity needed to be forced into the system. 

Gay Pride is about self-affirmation and equality. We celebrate it to commemorate some turning points in the LGBT+ history. In many parts of the world people’s sexual orientation is still considered a social stigma. How can companies contribute to creating a more open, inclusive environment? 

We need to be open and talk. We need to support our LGBT+ colleagues when they need it. We also need to keep in mind that diversity is not just going to happen – we need to make it happen. So, a logotype in rainbow colors says: “You’re welcome here. Everybody has something to add and we embrace it.”

Fortunately, we’re advancing towards a culture of openness and inclusion. We are seeing senior executives, politicians, celebrities coming out. “We’re here, we’re gay”. It's such a powerful and empowering message. Just imagine fighting your way through life, fighting each day for acceptance, for respect. What commitment it must take to stick to your beliefs, to say proudly: “This is who I am!”

Someone having that much tenacity in life brings an enormous value to the business: Amazing strength.

You’re saying that diversity doesn’t just happen – we make it happen. How did you make it happen throughout your long professional career?

Early in my career I was involved in a graduate recruitment program and back then we decided that we were going to hire more women than men. This way, we were enforcing more women into the system. As they filtered through the organization, you could see the value they were bringing. The balance has changed, and balance is, well, simply a more harmonious, diverse environment that benefits everyone. 

When you’re part of a minority, in any group, you need role models, you need examples. So, to build this harmonious, diverse culture, you have to start somewhere. I don’t think that quotas and targets are a bad thing. I’m open to ideas and especially those that bring about a positive, lasting effect.

Pride Month teaches us to be proud of who we are. How does pride translate into the professional domain? Is it important in our everyday life?

Being proud is important in life and in business. Be proud of yourself, be proud of what you do, be proud of your colleagues – such positive culture drives great projects and successful companies. It’s my ambition as a CEO to shape a good company culture, so that people don’t just come to work but actually enjoy working. That’s my goal. 

What are you proud of as a professional?

Fighting through adversity and through the challenges of my skin color. Another thing is mentoring. I’ve always mentored other people and tried to help them succeed in their careers. I’ve encouraged people to speak out or just be themselves.

I like to think about people’s growth: how they can grow and benefit from an organization. Sometimes it means saying: “Look, this is not the job for you. You need to change something.” Being honest with people is key. And giving a helpful hand. If you’re heading for success and you can’t bring your people and your community with you, you’re not a leader.

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