August/September 2023

Building Global Payroll Teams With Intentionality—Diversity, Equity, Inclusion

By Crystal Farmer

As an African-American woman and executive in the financial services industry, I have made it my mission to build global payroll teams with intentionality and to create teams of varied backgrounds, perspectives, and skills. Building these diverse teams instills confidence and encourages everyone to bring their authentic selves to the table.

Diverse teams create an environment that fosters innovation, vision, belonging, and fresh perspectives. Being part of corporate communities that focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) has not always been my experience. Prior to joining my current firm, my journey had been filled with many challenging moments when DEI was not a primary focus.

The Dynamics of DEI

The DEI movement in the United States has roots that date back to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Since then, DEI has evolved to include gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, and other identities. And today, more than ever, DEI continues to play a vital role in attracting, retaining, and advancing a successful and dynamic team regardless of the industry.

The global payroll space has evolved over the years, and the level of complexity has grown, which has forced leaders to modify skill set requirements. There has been a greater level of focus on talent with more analytical and strategic abilities and less transactional skills. Studies have shown that diverse teams are more likely to outperform less diverse teams. For example, one study by Gartner, revealed that a highly diverse environment can improve team performance by up to 30%. Additionally, diverse teams are prone to bring a professional perspective as well as family and personal experiences that produce well-rounded plans and initiatives. Skill set assessments should also be done to determine how responsibilities can be assigned, based on the specific talent within the department. This could help improve moral, performance, productivity, and create an overall positive work environment that encourages team members to be successful.

Of course, the global adoption of DEI can also be very complex. This depends on the region where the organization resides. Issues such as culture, politics, and economics must be considered when teams are working with colleagues around the world. Again, intentionality is key to creating an inclusive environment. Inclusivity is universally important, and there is no-one-size-fits-all approach.

Aligning your DEI approach with your organization’s core values is essential. I’m fortunate to work for a firm whose CEO is committed to diversity and inclusion and has incorporated this ethos into everything we do. This concept fits perfectly with our other core values: “Do the Right Thing, Put Clients First, Lead with Exceptional Ideas, and Give Back,” which can only be accomplished with a diverse organization.

A DEI Perspective

My entry into corporate America was not a smooth one. I had my first real interview in the late 80s with a rather large and prominent firm. During that interview, the recruiter asked me how I would feel, if I were offered the job, to be the only person of color in the department. I was shocked by the question, and I didn’t expect a positive outcome. To my surprise, I was hired. Nonetheless, I was extremely concerned about what my working environment would be like. But I was fortunate to have a boss who acknowledged the importance of cultural differences in the workplace. That was a long time ago and, to this day, that boss and I are still in touch. He embodied DEI before the rest of corporate America embraced it. I attribute his leadership and unbiased view to the start of my successful career journey. He provided me with opportunities despite my uniqueness.

I wish I could say that all my career experiences were positive and inclusive, or that I always felt like I belonged. There were certainly moments in my career where I encountered challenges. There were times where I was the only woman of color on the management team and felt challenged. I wanted to ensure my voice was heard when I felt the culture lacked a sense of inclusion and belonging. I was committed to creating opportunities for those who were excluded because of bias. Thankfully, there have been more positive encounters than negative, which is testament to leaders like my current CEO and former boss’s commitment to making a difference and welcoming diverse viewpoints.

The Success of DEI

So, what does DEI success look like? Success is the ability to ensure that every employee, of any background, has a voice and the ability to contribute. Success is a diverse and dynamic workforce supported by a deeply embedded culture of inclusion and belonging that enhances not just the employee experience within an organization, but also how that same organization supports its clients and the communities where they live and work. 

Ensure that your departments are embracing differences, in gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, and disabilities. Take the time to assess how you can join with others to make changes that will have a positive impact on productivity and long-lasting benefits.

Accountability is key for goals to be successful. Partner with someone you can trust to render unbiased and constructive feedback on a consistent basis. Be open to feeling uncomfortable as you work towards a new way of viewing and managing groups.

My late mother always said, “Treat others the way you want to be treated and we will all be better for it.” I’m proud to be a part of a global community that challenges the status quo and represents diversity!

Crystal Farmer is a Managing Director at Morgan Stanley. She has more than 20 years of hands-on experience in planning, system, and operational strategies, and expertise in successfully analyzing an organization’s critical business requirements.
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