Last updated: Innovator at Work: Dr. Jonathan Ashong-Lamptey, Director, The Resource Groups Company

Innovator at Work: Dr. Jonathan Ashong-Lamptey, Director, The Resource Groups Company

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#InnovatorAtWork is a series of interviews focusing on the people who are at the cutting edge of customer engagement and commerce. What inspires them? And what insights can they share that might change the way you look at things? 

Tell us about yourself

My name is Jonathan Ashong-Lamptey. I like to think of myself as a diversity & inclusion protagonist.

And what are you up to now?

I help organizations reach their potential and drive performance through inclusive practices. I’m also the host of the The Resource Groups Podcast.

Can you tell us a little more about what “inclusive practices” means and what they look like?

Sure, the terms diversity and inclusion get used and abused to the point that they are almost meaningless. I think of inclusion as an approach to business – a systematic approach that ensures everyone in an organisation shares the same advantages and benefits.

Inclusive organizations are committed to their employees growing to their reach their full potential; this also means the organization can reach its potential, too. Inclusive practices are the habits and behaviours that remove obstacles from our way and accelerate our progress on this journey.

Three people who inspire you?

My mother

She’s my inspiration for so many reasons: her strength, her faith, and because raising two boys alone in the 80’s wasn’t easy.

Barack Obama

I was in awe of what his election represented in terms of progress for African Americans, and went to his first Inauguration in 2009. His election as the first African American President of United States certainly didn’t mean that the US was suddenly a fair society, but to me it was a symbol of progress and hope.

Muhammad Ali

He stood for what he believed in, though it came at a great personal cost. He transcended sports and politics, and even after everything he experienced, still came back to be the Champion of the World.

Two of my favorite quotes are from him: “I know where I’m going and I know the truth” and “I don’t have to be what you want me to be. I’m free to be what I want.”

Why, when, and how did you get started?

Funnily enough, it started just after the Obama inauguration. I’m a chartered accountant and I picked up an edition of Accountancy magazine because it had a special feature on Obama. The article discussed the apparent lack of qualified black accountants in the UK.

At that time, some of my employers and clients included The Walt Disney Company, Channel Four, and News International; I also used to be an auditor, so I spent a lot of time in finance departments of my clients. I realized that despite my broad experience, I had only met one black chartered accountant.

My PhD was initially concerned with investigating this phenomenon. It became clear that this was part of a much larger issue in the workplace, and so my research evolved accordingly. I learned so much from my research that I wanted to make sure that others could benefit.

Academics sit on SO much information that can help solve real world problems. I decided that I wanted to be different.

I didn’t have an influential network, I didn’t have a list of clients, and I didn’t have any money. But what I did have was some powerful insights that were relevant, practical and pragmatic. I decided to share them: I wrote articles, spoke on panels, attended events, but in order to scale, I needed my own platform, so I launched a podcast as a way of sharing useful nuggets of information.

This has helped establish me as an authority in the field, and since then I’ve been working with some of the largest companies on the FTSE 100.

What was your first job like?

I took lots of jobs to learn about the environment and the marketplace in the UK and the US. This mainly consisted of giving talks, speaking at conferences, and delivering lunch and learn seminars. I was comfortable doing this because I had a lot of experience speaking to different audiences: teaching students, lecturing MBA’s, and delivering executive training in everything from accounting to basic negotiation skills. This has provided a strong foundation for me to develop my own content and provide useful support.

Looking back, what’s your favorite thing that you’ve done?

That’s easy. The podcast. It focuses on people, potential, and performance through the lens of inclusion and diversity, and it’s by far one of the most enjoyable and productive things I’ve ever done.

The reason I enjoy it so much is because people have told me that it has made a positive difference to them and their teams. One of my largest clients approached me after listening to the podcast and asked me to work with them to implement part of their Inclusion Strategy.

What do you love most about what you do now?

I feel a strong sense of purpose. My core belief is that everyone should be allowed to reach their potential within the workplace, and I know that the work that I do directly contributes to that.

I think you can tell when a person’s day to day work is aligned with their values; my experience is that it takes a while to get there, but it’s certainly possible.

Looking back, how do you think consumers and customers have changed?

I think the diversity and inclusion agenda has gained a lot of momentum. This is a massive change, and it didn’t happen by accident. It’s been driven by a global shift towards promoting a more inclusive workplace.

A few years ago this wasn’t taken very seriously, but attitudes have changed since governments all over the world began to push for greater gender equality.

In the UK, we are being ‘encouraged’ to change, however countries like France, Norway, and Japan have introduced legislation or targets for gender representation on boards of large companies.

Business leaders take regulation seriously, so behaviors have somewhat changed, even if attitudes haven’t.

What are the big challenges you face?

The biggest challenge I observe is when people talk about the business case for diversity in a lazy way. A lot of people have read the 2015 McKinsey Report called Diversity Matters and think that the business case for diversity has been proven, but the report actually doesn’t say that. The body of research in this field shows that there is no evidence of a business case in all firms, in all contexts, at all times.

As a chartered accountant, I truly understand the importance of a business case for everything! That said, the silver bullet that many companies are looking for doesn’t exist. This is going to be challenging for those looking for a quick win so they can move on. These issues are more sophisticated, and it’s going to require a continuous effort.

What do you think clever marketers should be looking at?

In general, I think clever marketers should be looking at demographic micro niches that traditional marketing ignores. It seems to me that there are some lucrative opportunities hiding in plain sight. I think a more inclusive approach is going to make someone a lot of money.

Can you point to companies who you think already have excellent inclusive practices?

Last year Aviva offered equal parental leave (paid and unpaid time off) to all of their employees regardless of gender, sexual orientation, or how they became a parent (birth, adoption, or surrogacy). This was groundbreaking, and others are taking interest.

An employee resource group is a voluntary group of employees within an organisation whose members share a common social identity, values, or interests. (Common examples: Women’s ER, LGBT, or Culture). At General Motors, their employee resource groups are aligned with the commercial functions, and these groups helped to identify potential revenue streams of $50 billion for the business. That’s an impressive business development approach.

How can you help businesses engage with and understand their customers?

First, by being more inclusive, organizations naturally become more diverse.

This is important to global companies that want to serve global markets. Being diverse and inclusive gives them access and legitimacy to these markets.

This is why Google, Facebook, Apple and the like are so keen to share their demographic data, even when it reflects badly on them: because they are on a journey.

They have clear goals requiring them to connect with as many human beings as possible, but know that a workforce that does not reflect the world it seeks to serve undermines their ability to access, or be accepted, as legitimate in these markets.

The statement that accompanied Twitter’s first diversity report acknowledged that their goal to reach every person on the planet was “more attainable with a team that understands and represents different cultures and backgrounds.”

Part of what I do is to help organizations develop their employee resource groups. These groups can help increase revenues like in General Motors example, but they can also help cut costs. Novartis Pharmaceuticals saved $2M in market research fees in a single year by integrating their employee resource groups into their cross-cultural marketing function; thus existing staff members provided consumer insights for which the business normally would have paid.

One top tip for companies trying to stay relevant and engage in your arena?

Great question! Organizations should actively try and understand their specific business case for diversity, not just mimic other companies. In order to make a meaningful and sustainable change, they should become more inclusive in a way that is appropriate to them.

If an organization doesn’t want to find a business case for diversity, it’s likely one will be found for them – it’s a business imperative that their suppliers, customers, and other stakeholders are likely to be addressing urgently.

We should remember that we live in a time where we’ve had devastating examples of what happens when organizations don’t want to change their thinking and move with the times: think the music industry, Blockbuster Video, and Kodak.

My tip therefore is to stay on the right side of history and recognise the changing climate.

Modern business, meet revenue:
– End-to-end connected data
– Engage quickly with a great CX
– Sell anytime, anywhere

Get going TODAY.

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