On March 8th we celebrate International Women’s Day, a day to reflect on how far we have come and how far we still have to go in achieving gender equality. The 2019 theme is #BalanceforBetter and celebrates the idea that a balanced world is a better world.

Today on International Women’s Day we sit down with Laurie Shakur, Rakuten Marketing’s newly appointed Head of People to find out how Rakuten Marketing is striving for workplace diversity.

What excites you most about your new position?

I am truly inspired by Rakuten Marketing’s promise to deliver experiences people love.  I see a real opportunity to bring that mission to life for our own people – by creating experiences employees love. Having the opportunity to positively impact the entire employee lifecycle in a way that’s consistent with our values and beliefs is exciting.

My mission is to bring the human back to human resources. This means everything we do needs to be centered on one of four key principles – People, Process, Performance and Partnership. With People being the focus.

In practice, our HR team should be a proactive partner and a key influencer to the business. People are at the heart of everything we do, and our employees need a voice that will ask the right questions and get the right processes in place to create efficiency, eliminate chaos, break down silos and navigate competing goals. Employees need to feel safe in an environment that is belonging and inclusive where they can grow and develop themselves and their careers.

To assist with employee growth and development, I’m reintroducing individual development plans with an emphasis on understanding one’s strengths. This powerful tool will give associates insights into their strengths and unique value to the business. With a fundamental understanding of individual strengths, together we can determine the best path for continuous professional growth.

What does it mean to have a commitment to diversity and inclusion in the workplace?

What sets a truly successful business apart is not only having diversity but giving all diverse groups a voice – to create a culture of inclusion.

Having diversity is “table stakes,” by that I mean diversity is fundamental. Smart and healthy organizations have representation from all dimensions of diversity – gender, race and age to experience, ideas and beliefs. This should be true for the people we hire, and the customers we work with.

Enabling a culture of inclusion means more than having diversity, it means leveraging diversity as a tool across our business to make us stronger. It’s knowing that having diversity represented in our culture and our strategy positions us to be more innovative and disruptive in our industry and leads to employees being more motivated and passionate about our business.

What do you see as the most beneficial aspect of diversity and inclusion in Rakuten marketing?

As I shared earlier, having a culture of diversity and inclusion makes our business stronger. We are better armed to serve our clients because we can relate to and understand them and anticipate their needs. This depth comes from the diversity of voices we have influencing our strategy from all levels of the business. It is so imperative that we have a diverse employee base if we’re going to meet the diverse needs of our customers and partners.

Beyond the value it brings to our clients, diversity and inclusion is the foundation for employee engagement. Our employees are our best advocates, and, as a leadership team, if we get this right, we make them feel impassioned and empowered leading to increased productivity, high morale and low turnover.

How would you describe your current stance on diversity and inclusion and how has it developed overtime?

I’m learning more about nonvisible disabilities and the need to create an inclusive culture where everyone feels safe and that they belong. Challenges like anxiety, depression and other mental illness that aren’t apparent are making employees feel isolated and alone. I also hear more and more from both men and women who feel that they are unclear of the value they bring to the business. My role requires me to be held to the highest standards of inclusion, and my ambition is to make certain voices are heard and that our employees feel empowered and encouraged in their jobs.

Early in my career diversity was limited in scope as it was more about black and white, men and women. Now it’s much broader including religious affiliation, sexual orientation, economic status and country of origin to name a few. As a biracial woman I know first-hand what it feels like to be marginalized, made to feel invisible and silenced. It was quite difficult, but thankfully, I persevered and kept believing in myself. I’m in a leadership role and I have the opportunity to inspire a culture of inclusion by positively influencing the leaders I work alongside, the teams I lead and the people I mentor.

What initiatives are Rakuten Marketing employing to ensure diversity is present throughout the company at all levels?

Across all of Rakuten, we’re looking at the entire employee lifecycle. Recognizing everything starts with the hiring process and making sure we’re attracting a diverse pool of candidates for all parts of the business. We’re also highly invested in our employee’s development, and making sure diversity is a part of their employee education. We have programs dedicated to promoting education and sharing on topics of diversity, including our Network of Women and our Network of Diversity. We want all of our employees to understand and feel connected with these programs. In the future, we’re looking at adding programs that represent more diversity dimensions, including PRIDE and multi-generational initiatives.

Today on International Women’s Day, can you speak to how Rakuten Marketing is actively supporting women and diversity in the workforce and nurturing the career progression of employees? )paid parental leave, return to work plans, flexibility etc.)

We are dedicated to employing both industry and regional best practices across our programs that support the progression of women and other diverse groups in our business. This includes holding ourselves to high standards for paid parental leave, for both male and female employees, and providing flexible work hours for employees who need to balance family, health, religion or other personal needs. We have a CEO who is known for his commitment to wellness, making time for personal relationships, interests and affiliations is a central part of that. We believe that having a happy and healthy employee base, achieved through a strong work-life balance, is necessary for our business to thrive, and we are dedicated to helping employees find that balance.

We have a Network of Women (NOW) and a Network of Diversity (NOD), which have been established with the goal of sharing ideas and experiences, discussing topics of diversity, and hearing from leaders who are influencing diversity culture. It has been great to see how active these networks are across a diverse audience. Although about women, we’ve seen a lot of men attending our NOW events, and wanting to learn more about the unique experiences, challenges and strengths women encounter throughout their career path.

The level of participation and the positive feedback we get from these programs validates the need for conversations about diversity and the value of sharing stories that people can relate to and learn from. This is why we’re looking to expand our diversity programs in the coming year, with PRIDE topping our list. Above all, these networks are about recognizing the value of diversity and nurturing a culture of inclusion, and celebrating its role in the success and strength of our business

What are your views and associated plans in tackling diversity given Rakuten Marketing operates at such a global scale?

I’m still very new, so my first task is to perform due diligence – I want to understand where there are opportunities to improve and enhance our diversity. To kick this off, I’ve been visiting our offices to get an anecdotal view of our culture, and the next step is to collect some hard-fast data that will shed light on where we are strong and where there’s opportunity to improve. From there, we can create targeted, specific approaches to be sure we do so.

My experience in working with global businesses is that there are unique challenges that come up in every region, and in every department within that region. For example, I worked for a company that had an office in Amsterdam where 95% of the employee population was Dutch.  This made it difficult to achieve equivalent cultural levels of diversity we’d achieved in other parts of the world. A good diversity program needs to be customized for each region and each department to have realistic goals and to account for different aspects of diversity.

Understanding that gender and diversity views can vary region to region, how will the right approach be communicated in a way that is unique enough to empower employees in each region?

Globalization is an important aspect of diversity and inclusion – it can’t be a one-size-fits-all program. We need to create programs that respect and celebrate all the dimensions of diversity across our global business and gives everyone the opportunity to learn and grow from the breadth of diversity our global business offers. My goal as Head of People is to gain a strong understanding of our global diversity and create a strategy that lets us celebrate it and unify around it.