"A targeted but thoughtful approach"—Jamie Hechinger interviews Sampriti Ganguli, CEO at Arabella Advisors, on how to attract and retain diverse talent.
How does Arabella Advisors define diversity? How do you attract but also retain diverse talent? Is the approach for the different groups the same? What are the business impacts of a diverse workforce?
"The key to success for diversity and inclusion is space, board support and passionate individuals. But for it to thrive, it needs to have organizational support."
An interview with Sampriti Ganguli, chief executive officer, Arabella Advisors
Sampriti is CEO of Arabella Advisors, which provides foundations, philanthropists and investors who are serious about making a positive impact with strategic guidance to achieve the greatest good with their resources. Sampriti joined Arabella after 14 years at Corporate Executive Board (CEB) as executive director of CEB's Legal, Risk and Compliance practice. She also sits on the board of InsideNGO, an association dedicated to strengthening operations and leadership capabilities of international non-governmental organizations.
Sampriti is the recipient of the Corporate Trailblazer Award from the National Black MBA Association in recognition of her focus on increasing diversity in the workplace, and she received a 2016 Brava Award from SmartCEO magazine for her focus on women and leadership in the charitable sector.
Q: How does Arabella Advisors define diversity?
A: We want representation at the national average, so we ask ourselves: Does our populous look like the American population, and where are we over- or underrepresented? For us, diversity specifically refers to areas where we have underrepresentation in traditional equal employment opportunity (EEO) statistics, such as race, gender, LGBTQ, political representation, veteran status and age.
At Arabella, we have a high representation of LGBTQ, but as a sector, philanthropy is about 75% female, so we need more men in the field. Ultimately, it's about thoughtfully targeting certain areas so that we, as much as is possible, accurately represent the American population.
Q: And for the particular groups in which you may be underrepresented, how do you attract this talent?
A: Philanthropy is an industry in which there is a significantly limited talent pool—the industry has struggled because so many of the people who work in the field have come from a certain background, so we are trying to raise the profile of philanthropy for other groups. We partner with associations, such as the Hispanic MBA Network, where we're investing our time to build a strong pipeline of candidates. We also work with blind résumés to ensure that we're looking at the candidates themselves and not at their pedigree or educational backgrounds. This has brought in a very diverse group of candidates that we perhaps wouldn't have been in touch with otherwise.
Q: And, of course, attracting diverse talent is only the beginning. How do you ensure that you retain them?
A: The key to success for diversity and inclusion is space, board support and passionate individuals. But for it to thrive, it needs to have organizational support. One of our major strategic objectives is to focus on the inclusion aspect. Arabella has about 34% non-Caucasian employees, so we look to ensure that all people really feel that their voices are included. In our annual survey, we have a category called "My voice is included" and this has increased from a high of 60% agree to a high of 70% agree. I think that this success has come from a number of different initiatives.
For example, we have inclusion leaders at Arabella—these are leaders across different teams, regions and seniority levels who have received additional training in diversity topics such as unconscious bias and micro aggression. They are empowered to set up awareness activities such as conversational coffee chats or to bring in speakers for workshops. This is done at the local level because we find that these experiences take hold based on specific experiences related to the community. For example, crime is relevant to conversations in Chicago, and housing affordability is relevant to conversations in San Francisco.
We also had a real look at the promotion structures, looking at the data and asking the tough questions. We also stopped asking for prior salary information, and we created salary bands to remove compensation bias within the system.
Q: Is the approach different for the diverse groups?
A: No, but that said, you need to acknowledge the differences and help to find solutions. Age is also a good example: Historically, our average employee age is 25–32. We've worked really hard to check age bias and unpack concerns like "I worry someone won't fit into the culture." Our group is young—we hang out inside and outside of the office—but I like to bring in the perspective of someone who is in the twilight years with strong experience and sponsorship capabilities. We've been very thoughtful about bringing in individuals at different career stages. We recognize that inclusion manifests in different ways. Inclusion needs to be lived and not just preached, and therefore often the approach does need to be adapted to suit different groups of people.
Q: How do you see diversity and inclusion impacting Arabella?
A: In terms of transformation and business outcomes, the impact is still to be determined, but we've really enhanced our analytical capabilities because we bring such varied perspectives and approaches. Our clients are looking for an implicit connection to diversity and that makes us competitive.
In terms of impact within Arabella, we also have people who come from strong faith-based communities who bring an ethos and care to the workplace as well as outside of work, which impacts the way they approach and care for their colleagues. It creates a really nice collaborative environment. We talk a lot about being able to "bring your whole self to work."
Thank you, Sampriti.