AMEX's CDO: Maintaining Inclusion & Allyship on a Global Scale

Chief Colleague Inclusion and Diversity Officer, Sonia Cargan, joined us from the UK to share a global perspective on diversity and meaningful insights into how American Express fosters inclusion. Sonia is a long-time advocate of the business results that can be achieved through the development of a diverse and inclusive organization. 

We kicked off this Next Practices Monthly call a little differently with Jacqui Robertson and Sonia Cargan walking the audience through a brief Myers Briggs exercise, reminding everyone of the different personality types that show up in the workspace, a timely consideration for the many organizations navigating different levels of hybrid work. This group share around the Myers Briggs personality types was inspired by Sonia’s selected quote: “Everyone shines given the right lighting,” by Susan Cain, author of Quit: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.

Call Highlights & Discussion:

  • American Express is taking a thoughtful approach to bringing its global workforce back to the office. Every action is taken in line with the values that they have as an organization - health and safety being front and center. American Express has engaged in an active listening strategy over the past eighteen months and will continue to do so as their culture evolves to ensure they are delivering the best they can to their customers, business, communities, and colleagues.
  • Sonia Cargan stands out as a true global citizen, having spent 35% of her work life living in countries outside of her home. Sonia moved to the UK as a first generation immigrant from the Caribbean. Since then, she has led HR functions in Singapore, Asia, and New York, before returning to the UK a few years ago. This experience has been essential in developing an understanding of how to interact with different people and different perspectives. Sonia applies this in her role as Chief Colleague Inclusion & Diversity Officer by ensuring they have a broad range of perspectives among colleagues all around the world.
  • Diversity looks different around the world; how things are measured varies, the perspectives of individuals range, and how governments approach it varies by country. What is similar is inclusion – the sense of inclusion as a colleague, having your voice heard, and the desire to belong. Regardless of location, all colleagues want to know that their development and progression is being approached with a growth mindset.
  • Measuring diversity and progress at American Express is again different because it is a global organization and regulatory frameworks affect how they are able to measure different demographics. American Express has recently introduced Self ID at a number of locations around the world, allowing colleagues to share more about themselves depending on the regulatory environment. This includes sharing race, ethnicity, sexual identify, gender orientation, etc. This creates the opportunity for colleagues to share more about who they are and ask questions of others where appropriate. Please watch this video from American Express which showcases how inclusion and diversity are celebrated at American Express. 

Questions from the Audience

  • What does allyship look like on the job, and how do we recognize and celebrate those behaviors?
    • American Express deeply stands for diversity and inclusion, talks openly and consistently, and imbeds allyship in the organization's values, leadership behaviors, and performance management. They are bringing in global sponsors who are allies both in and outside of the organization. One example is the LGBTQ+ Community, a global sponsor who reports directly to the CEO and is an ally to the community. Another example is the Disability Amex group. Each of these groups has an executive sponsor, who is an ally to the community and models this leadership behavior beyond the individual group.
  • What might allyship behaviors look like on an individual level?    
    • Give diverse voices the opportunity to be heard. If someone isn't heard the first time, an ally may ask, “Do you want to say that again?”
    • Allyship is not about grand gestures, but standing by every day and supporting your colleagues.
    • Show up and be visibly present and supportive for events that may not directly represent you.
    • Don'y overshadow other groups and voices, but show up to listen, lean in, and support.
  • How does American Express measure inclusion at the performance management level?
    • American Express has always measured performance on two dimensions - what they do and how they do it.
    • Inclusion and diversity are included in the leadership behaviors measured, and the company values are very clear on standing for inclusion and embracing diversity.
    • As Sonia Cargan heads into her mid-year conversation with her boss tomorrow, she will explain how she has demonstrated those behaviors. Her boss will also reflect on opportunities to strengthen those behaviors, lean into existing strengths, and discuss those in context of the overall balance scorecard American Express uses.
    • The balance scorecard includes measures relative to colleagues, such as talent, diversity, equity, inclusion, culture, engagement, and more. The scorecard is reflective of the organization broadly and aligns the group performance.
    • This scorecard shapes how the organization is rewarded and determines whether there are consequences.
  • Do you have any advice for stepping up when it’s necessary to advocate, and how to find the balance between standing up for others and not overstepping those boundaries?
    • Always start with respect and look for the chance to leverage a situation as a learning opportunity. 
    • Sometimes, the best time to have the conversation is to wait until the meeting ends and approach the individual: “In that meeting, there was this interaction and I don’t know if you’re aware. Here is how you responded and reacted, and here is how it could have been received.”
    • When it comes to being a savior, just remember that the situation is not about you. Are you taking the time to understand the needs of the group and educating yourself to be a supportive ally? 

Jacqui Robertson closed the call with an important reminder that inclusion is not a zero sum game. Remember: A win for one does not a mean a loss for another.

About the DE&I Next Practices Monthly Series

The DE&I Next Practices Monthly series provides a forum for the DE&I leadership community to come together to discover and advance next practices. Each month, you’ll hear from Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Leaders from some of the largest and most respected organizations in the world, learn about the latest i4cp research, and share and receive ideas from your peers.

Based on the latest thinking from i4cp’s Chief Diversity Officer Board, these monthly calls are not webinars – they are open meetings – and are designed to help you navigate the next normal.

Read here