The Rise Of The Business Diplomat!

For over a decade, my work and passion has revolved around driving Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging (DEIB) initiatives and practices within workplaces. Recently, my curiosity in International Diplomacy was piqued and I began to wonder how and if the framework and skills used in traditional diplomacy can correlate to our business context? Can acknowledging and learning this framework equip practitioners like myself deal with increasing complexities around creating an equitable and ethical workplace?

It is with this lens that I introspect on my experiences and learnings in recognizing “Diplomacy In Action” in our workplaces today.

Policy & Politics: There have been numerous instances of tech organizations influencing or initiating policy changes not just in the US but all over the world. Diplomats (CEO or a representative) within these organizations meet with world leaders to advocate policy changes. They have an opinion and are seen on stages of Davos, political circles and visible avenues advocating their perspective.

“While in the past they were external interest group which aimed at maximizing their own corporate interests, now they are becoming actual policy-makers. They are no longer the group which knocked the door. Instead, they are increasingly recognized as relevant voices within decision’s rooms. “ — Real Instituto Elcano Royal Institute Blog, 2020

For instance, California voters overwhelmingly backed Proposition 22, a measure to treat app-based drivers as independent contractors, eligible for more limited benefits and protections than legislature provided last year in Assembly Bill 5. The proposition was sponsored by the app companies, setting a questionable precedent of companies writing their own employment laws and regulations through the ballot box. We are beginning to see power shift to the private sector — a future of diplomacy that Alan K. Henrikson, Professor of Diplomatic History Emeritus and founding Director of Diplomatic Studies at Tufts University, called “Disintermediation” in his famous paper on The Future Of Diplomacy.

Thematic Diplomacy: On an interesting note which perhaps will lead to a more positive outcome, I see forces combining together around the “Black Lives Matter” and “#MeToo” movements. Employees are staging walkouts, writing open letters and publicly holding their companies accountable for delivering a PR and staged version of support around issues of an -ism workplace (racism, sexism, ageism, colorism, casteism, ability, religion etc.). There is a conglomeration of different types of people coming together such as practitioners like myself, employees, policy makers, academics, non-profits, etc. to set standards, generate forward motion, and keep the sense of urgency active even when these themes gradually fade into oblivion in the news cycle and social media feeds.

Business Diplomat: In gaining an understanding what makes a good/bad diplomat, I can now recognize these traits in people that I have interacted with over the years. Typically, these are individuals who naturally attract a lot of influence, are listened to, are people who maintain communication and dialogue, treat all perspectives with respect, come up with creative solutions, and know when to back off.

While in the case of international diplomacy the stakes of a failed negotiation is very high and may lead to war, in a business case, the stakes traditionally focus on financial loss or loss of competitive advantage.

Going forward, it’s becoming imperative for businesses to consider the ethics of how they do business and treat their employees, if they hope to maintain their reputation and longevity. And, increasingly, business diplomats and the skills we bring to the table will be critical to ensure that the vision of creating a culture that is equitable and ethical becomes a reality!

This article was penned by Seema Gururaj, the Founder and CEO of Square Circle.

Belonging in the workplace can be achieved when an individual can bring their authentic self into a context where they are accepted, valued and can thrive.