Values to Virtues and the Human Equity Advantage

In this episode, Toby has an epic conversation with Peter Wilson an internationally established thought leader, author, speaker and CEO in the field of diversity and inclusion.

I was genuinely excited to connect with my guest on this show because when I first got involved in diversity and inclusion, I read his book and it was incredibly informative in my approach to my work in diversity and inclusion. I must admit, I’ve also got a bit of a man crush too, so it is great to be welcoming Peter Trevor Wilson.

Peter is an accomplished author, speaker, and thought leader in the field of diversity, equity, and inclusion. He’s the founder and Chief Executive of Human Equity Incorporated, a consultancy firm specialising in helping organisations develop and implement effective diversity and inclusion strategies. Peter is also the author of a highly acclaimed book that I mentioned called, ‘The Human Equity Advantage, Beyond Diversity to Talent Optimization’ which presents a unique approach to building more equitable and inclusive workplaces.

Over the course of his career, Peter’s worked with a wide range of clients across multiple industries, including Fortune 500 companies, government agencies, and not-for-profit organisations. He’s also known for his ability to translate complex diversity and inclusion concepts into actionable strategies that drive real business results. As a speaker, Peter is a really engaging, insightful and passionate about his work. He’s delivered keynote addresses and presentations at numerous conferences and events. His TEDx talk on the power of human equity has been viewed by thousands of people around the world.

Overall, Peter is a leading voice in the diversity, equity, and inclusion space. His work has helped countless organisations build more equitable and inclusive workplaces that foster innovation, growth, and success.

It’s such a privilege to be sitting down with Peter today because his book was so instrumental when I first started out on my diversity and inclusion career whilst working at the BBC. It reframed diversity and inclusion for me and helped make it a lot more accessible.

The book is split into three parts. Part one is called ‘Beyond Diversity to Human Equity, the Required Shift’. One of the things that Peter talks about is diversity fatigue and the unfulfilled promise of diversity. I wanted to start there because it’s something that resonates with me and many business leaders I talk to where I’ve seen eyes roll when I start to talk about diversity. I asked Peter if he could start our conversation by sharing a bit more about his thinking behind this.

‘Ok, but I’ll just say, when you write a book you don’t know if anybody will read it. Your mom’s going to read it and my mom read it, but other than that, I have no idea, so I very much appreciate Toby’s kind words. Thank you.

But to the question, let me apologise upfront. I tell stories. Okay. And sometimes the stories actually have something to do with the question. Years ago, at least in the ’90s, LGBT issues were just starting to heat up. In Canada, employment equity only usually covered four groups, women, visible minorities or people of colour, people with disabilities and indigenous people. We used to call them Aboriginal people in those days. But LGBT issues were rising. So, this CEO of a major, major corporation global decides, “We’re going to update the diversity program. We’re going to add LGBT.” And he also says, “Hey, why don’t we do this too? Why don’t we take the next three groups? Okay? Because there’ll be another group right after this. People with big toes or single fathers or whatever. I don’t want to waste more time on this. Let’s just take the three groups. We’ll do LGBT, but we’ll take the other three and then we don’t have to come back here for two years.”
I was saying “Well, we could do that, but it doesn’t work that way.” It was weird because this guy was one of the most committed CEOs I had ever seen. And it seemed as if he was tired of it. So sure enough, I had started to see it before the first book I ever wrote, which was in 1994 and 1995, a long time ago.

And the fatigue continues. It wasn’t until I met Dr. Janice Smith that I understood, you can’t get there from here. You can’t go down the group road and get to what we eventually called human equity.’

The other thing that Peter talked about was the evolution of the equity continuum. This was something that stood out for me. There’s a model in the book which shows there are organisations that are unaware, then they start to focus on diversity and then they focus on inclusion. But where we want to get organisations to is focusing on human equity.

I use a similar continuum in the work that I do, where I get clients to think about inclusive growth and how a more diverse or representative and inclusive culture can help them grow as a business. That way they are not treating it as a box ticking exercise and it’s embedded in the business strategy. I asked Peter to explain about the thinking behind the continuum and I how organisations go on that journey.

‘It is simple stuff. It’s not necessarily easy to do, but it’s very, very simple. You can rate organisations on the scale of zero to five. Organisations that are zero already think that they’re fives. So they’re going to say, “Well, we don’t have to talk to you because we’ve already arrived. We’re United Nations. Everybody loves each other here. Kumbaya at lunchtime. We don’t do a lot of business with zeros. The ones are doing it in the UK would be called equal opportunity. In my country it’s called employment equity. In the States it’s called affirmative action. There’s a law. In the first book I ever wrote, I called it legislated equity. In the second book, I called it legislated and litigated equity. People may remember the Texaco class action suit, or the Coca-Cola class action. These were multi-billion-dollar class action suits, where very, very big companies were required to do lots of stuff.

So, companies do it because they’re forced to do it. Those rated two on the continuum moved a little bit beyond that, I think. They do it because of corporate social responsibility. They do it because it’s the right thing to do. And I have nothing against that. The problem is when things like COVID or a recession hits, that’s the stuff that’s going to go first because it’s kind of a nice to have.

The first book I ever wrote a hundred years ago called Diversity at Work. The subtitle was The Business Case for Equity. The Business Case, if you could link it to a business outcome, if you could link it to profit, if you could link it to productivity, if you could link it to best talent, if you could link it to improved customer satisfaction, then it’s more likely to stick around than you doing it because you really like those people in wheelchairs. Right?

My world changed when I met Janet Smith. She’s a legend. We know her in my country as one of the first female deputy ministers in the history of our country. Deputy ministers are powerful, they’re not politicians and they serve the minister. Janet retired around 1998.

Anyway, someone said, Hey Janet, you want a little project before you retire? We want you to look at the state of diversity in the federal government. Just do a little report on it.” Janet said, “what do you need to look at it for? You can walk through this place and see diversity all over the place. Just walk through the cafeteria, you’ll see diversity. You don’t have a problem with diversity. You have a problem with inclusion.” This is the first time I ever heard the word inclusion by the way. Janet said “Yes people are not being included. So, if you change the name of your task force, I’ll do it.”

They changed the name to the Task Force on an Inclusive Public Service. It’s kind of hard to find, even on the internet because it was the early days. So if you can’t find it, let me know and I’ll send you a secret copy. There’s only a paper copy. But Janet Smith changed my life because in the first paragraph, she said, in an inclusive environment, each person is valued because of their difference.

Now, before I met her, I started with a thing called employment equity. It was four groups and then we became five. I wrote a book on diversity. I added 10 groups. So, there were 15 groups. I added gay men, I added pregnant women, I added people with all of this stuff. And then that would’ve been 15 groups. And then Janet Smith is talking about 7.25 billion groups.

I thought, she’s crazy. For example, I’d ask who is the group Toby? She’d say, “I think he is in a wheelchair, I think he lives in England, Mildon or something. I think he has a company in the area of diversity. He does a podcast. That’s all I know about him. Okay, go on LinkedIn.” So, we go on LinkedIn and you’ve got an impressive LinkedIn and I can read all about you and stuff, but Janet would say but that’s really not Toby, that’s one-thousandth of Toby. To really know Toby, you have to actually talk to Toby and you have to talk to his mom and dad. You must talk to him. You can’t talk to him just about his disability.

What I’m saying is that Janet moved it to 7.25 billion groups, and my world became so much more interesting than the diversity world, which was about how many people in wheelchairs do you have? How many brown people do you have? How many gay lesbians do you have? That’s what I did for many, many years. Meanwhile, Janet is talking about if you’ve got 300 people in your company, how do you maximise on the talent of all 300 people? Then she would also say, but you can’t do it just for women. You can’t do that just for people of colour. You can’t do that just for Toby and people in wheelchairs, you’ve got to do it for all 300 people.

And that was what, in high school, we used to call a mind fuck.’

This points to the main thing that I took away from Peter’s book. It’s about the individual. When Peter was talking, I was remembering a client of mine, a huge global business. I think they employ around about 30,000 people. I asked the head of diversity in a workshop I was doing with him, “Why do you get up in the morning and do the work that you do?” And he said, “I will give you 30,000 reasons why I get up in the morning and do the work that I do.” And that was probably the best answer I’ve ever heard from a head of diversity and inclusion.

‘Listen, first of all, give that guy a copy of my book. He would understand that. I live in a world where I’m dealing with so-called champions of diversity. Vice presidents and managers of diversity, roles that didn’t exist 20 years ago, but do today. Now most of them are either from minorities or women. I’m not very popular with them to tell the truth because I would say the same thing as that gentleman.
“Look, I’m dealing with everybody including white men.”
And they ask, “Oh, well why do you include white men in that?”
I reply, “Well, why wouldn’t I?”
Then the answer might be along the lines of “Well, white men have already had their chance. I would say, look, you had your chance and now it’s my chance.”

That’s what they did in Rwanda with the Hutu and the Tutsi. It didn’t work there and it won’t work in your company. You can’t say, “Oh, the white guys had their chance, so now we’re going to give it to the ones that didn’t have their chance.” It won’t work. You have to create systems that are fair and equitable for everybody that works there. All 30,000 people, including the SWAMs: the straight white, able-bodied males.

Some people don’t like that. I have fought so many times to include straight, white, able-bodied males. And most diversity subject matter experts would disagree with me.’

I absolutely agree with Peter here. I think it’s important because, if we look at power and privilege, it’s that the people that are holding power and the people that have the privilege that we have to get onside. And they have to be part of creating a fair and equitable society and culture within the organisation. So, it’s really important that we engage them.

‘Exactly and I don’t want you to stereotype people whether they be Black people or Hawaiian people or people sitting in wheelchairs. I don’t want to stereotype white men either. I mean, some of my best friends are straight, white, able-bodied males. Some of them are incredible advocates of this stuff, a lot of them because they’re married or they have girls as children. If you have a girl, there’s a thing, the CEO of IBM used to call it the Sunshine Law. He would talk about, let’s say, sexual harassment or gender harassment. And he asked, “How many of you have daughters? And what would you say, if these things happened to your daughter?” And, all of a sudden, they get it.

They get it because they get it through the eyes of their daughter and then some people will get it because they’ve had a kid with a disability. I, as you may know, have a seasonal disorder, SAD we call it. I’ve had it for 35 years. Every Christmas and every summer I go into my bedroom and I spend 30 days in bed, 16 hours a day… I go through what’s called depression. It happens every year, so they might include that in their diversity programme.

Then lots of us faced death in COVID. I spent three years taking care of an uncle who wasn’t that old. He wasn’t even in his 80s, but he was very sick. He had diabetes and heart and lung issues. When I moved in with this guy, he was still quite mobile, but then he had a stroke. After that, he was different. He was a big guy, 250 pounds, and I learned about what is it like to take care of an adult. I took care of him for three years. He went in and out of the hospital maybe ten times over the three years and every time he came back, he was different and my job as a caregiver was different. When I had to buy his food, I had to read all of the ingredients because if there was too much sugar or salt, or too much oil, he can’t have it, so my sensitivity around that type of stuff grew. Anyway, what I’m suggesting to you is that’s the level two organisation. And the level threes still do that, but then they add the business outcome, and then the level fours have really made this split from the group conversation to the individual. They’re looking at the long-term sustainable benefit of maximising all of their people.

Then there’s human equity, the level five, which a lot of people say, ” Well, when you created the continuum, you never expected people to be level five.” And I say, “Yeah, but I still had to put it down.” It’s like Martin Luther King when he said, “There’ll be a day when our kids will not be judged based on their skin colour, or their gender, or their religion, or their sexual orientation. They’ll be judged by the content of their character.” Now, it was a dream, Toby, it was a dream. The guy didn’t just say it off the top of his head, but it was a dream.

My level five, is human equity, where we maximise the talent of everybody in an organisation is a dream. But if I don’t put that dream out there… it’s like they say if you reach for sun, you might get to the moon, or something like that. You’ve got to go high. There’s a great line here, so when people say, “Oh, your level five is impossible,” the reply is “the difficult takes a long time, the impossible just a little bit longer”.’

I agree with Peter, that you have to aim big. I’ve been running my business for a few years and I’m working with a business coach. He was asking me what my business will look like in ten years’ time. I did a simple, sort of back of a beer mat calculation and I said, “If I doubled my revenue in 10 years’ time, I would be close to being a billion-pound revenue business.” I was like, “There’s no way on earth that’s going to happen.” But what was interesting about that experiment, was that it radically shifted my thinking to, “Okay, in order to be a billion-pound business, I’m not going to be doing what I’m doing today. I’m going to have to be doing things very differently.” I think that’s a bit like Peter’s continuum. If you’re aiming for the stars, to be level five and you’re focusing on that human equity, then that means that as an organisation, you’re going to have to shift your mindset and do things differently.

It’s a perfect segue into the second part of Peter’s book, which is really about implementing human equity. I asked him, ‘What is the shape of talent that you talk about in your book?’

‘It really is the engine. I think it’s chapter five or chapter six and SHAPEV is what it’s called. It comes out of an older book called “A Purpose Driven Life.” I wouldn’t call it religious, but I would call it spiritual. My spiritual search started when I was in my twenties and somehow I got a copy of that book and I read it and SHAPEV came out of that. He talks about shape. His name is Rick Warren. He talks about the shape of talent or human beings. And for him the S stands for spirituality. The H stands for heart. The A stands for abilities. P stands for personality and E stands for experiences. Okay. Now, I used Shape but I added a V and then I changed the acronym. I said an S will stand for strengths.

By the way, check out StrengthsFinder by Marcus Buckingham, it’s a brilliant tool where you find out your strengths. I have a strength called connectedness. I didn’t even know what it was until I did my StrengthsFinder and I’m like, “Oh, I have that. Yeah, I have that. I don’t know where it came from, but yes, I do have that strength.”

Then H stands for heart or passion, what you love. There’s a guy named Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a great psychologist, one of the parents of positive psychology which is where my work is based, in positive psychology. Csikszentmihalyi talks about a thing called Flow where you go into a state and you so love what you’re doing. Let’s say you’re a motorcycle guy and you just love fixing your motorcycle or playing with your motorcycle. And all of a sudden, five hours goes by and your girlfriend or wife or boyfriend says, what the hell are you doing out there, Toby? Come on in here.

That’s called Flow and what Csikszentmihalyi will tell you is if you so love a thing that you would do it, even if nobody paid you to do it and time seems to pass that’s probably what’s called a Canadian guy calls your unique ability. And if I know what your unique ability is and you have passion for something I don’t care where you went to school. I don’t care if you went to Oxford or Harvard or whatever, because I know that what your real quote-unquote “gift” is fixing motorcycles.

The A in SHAPEV is attitude. Over the years, we have figured out there are three attitudes people have when they are in the world of work. It could be they really just want a job and they want a job with good benefits, a good salary and blah, blah, blah. Great. Most people are like that. Then there are some people who have an attitude that is I want to build a career, so I’m going to come to like this Ernst & Young and I’m going to build my career because I want to move up in accounting, or whatever it is. And then there are people that have a calling.

Those people have a calling like, “I always wanted to be a teacher”. I had a wife like this actually, my first wife always knew she wanted to be a teacher. I say, “how the hell at 17 could you know what you want?” She said “Oh, I know. I just want to be a teacher.” and I’m like, “Okay, well try but you’re going to change your mind.”

She never changed her mind to this day. She was a teacher, a great teacher. They asked her, “Do you want to become a vice-principal?” She goes, “Nope. I just want to be a teacher” yet they want to make her a this and a that. She’s now retired and she still goes and teaches.

She was born a teacher, that’s her gift and so that is where you get into the attitude if I know that you have a calling for something. There are 25,000 personality tests. Most people think Myers-Briggs is the good one. Okay, I’m biased. I declare my bias. I don’t think there’s much science in Myers-Briggs I like it. It’s a lot of fun, nice to have at a party. But the real one in my opinion is Kathy Kolbe for those who want to check out, Kathy Kolbe’s test which has been around for a while, and I knew about them 30 years ago, this will tell you exactly how much a mis-hire will cost you. So, in the old days, we used to say well, if you raw hire the wrong person it’s going to cost you about twice their salary. Today post-COVID with shortages in talent if you hire the wrong person, it’s three and a half times the salary. So, you don’t want to do it.

Now the third E is life experience but not in the sense of tell me what your career path has been. This is experience in the sense that you know exactly what it’s like to be the only person in the room sitting in a wheelchair.’

I would definitely say that I’m the only person in the room who knows what it’s like for me to be in a wheelchair because every wheelchair user will be different. I do quite a lot of writing for LinkedIn and they asked me to write a post about LGBT history and I’ve been preparing something saying that my unique perspective on it is looking at the intersectionality between being an openly gay disabled man and having to face both disability discrimination and feeling a lot of shame around my sexuality as part of my coming out journey but that’s a very unique story to me. What I like about the E in Peter’s SHAPEV model is that it’s about those lived experiences. We’ve done podcast recordings with other people where we found that empathy is one of those crucial skills of an inclusive leader. And one way of building up empathy is by getting to understand people’s different lived experiences within the workplace.

Peter agreed adding, ‘That’s why I’m a big fan of what the diversity folks sometimes call reverse mentoring. This is where it’s like, “Okay I’ve never met a gay person in a wheelchair before, so okay, Toby here wants to become a manager here and you are Vice President. You can help him on that and he’s going teach you about what it’s like to be a gay man in a wheelchair, right?”

In the book, I talk about epiphany moments and one of my epiphany moments in this area was Obama. I declare my bias, he’s a hero to me I think he’s one of the best presidents the United States ever had, I don’t think that they’ll start talking about that for another fifty years long after he is dead but I admire Barack Obama.

Before he was president he did a speech on race, which you can get online. It’s when he was running for office and certain people were wondering, “Are you really American?” Remember Donald Trump was saying, “I don’t even think he has a birth certificate,” And it got pretty hot.

I was at Disney World and my kids were getting ready and I had never heard of this guy, Obama. I heard there was a Black guy running for president but I wasn’t impressed. Black people have run for president before, I flew to America when Jesse Jackson ran for president, worked on the campaign. So I was like, okay, so a Black guy’s running for president. Big, big whoop. And so, Obama starts the speech like a regular politician and then he goes, “Hey, listen if you think that what you’re looking at over here is a Black guy around 40 who is married with two kids that was educated at Harvard, born in Hawaii and has a funny Muslim name, and he lays out all these things.” He goes, “If that’s who you think I am, you’re kind of missing it. You’re kind of missing it because I’m a little bit more than that.”

Then he says something that changed my life. He said, “All of those things could inform who I am, but none of them can define me.”

What wisdom! It’s like people say to me, “Oh, well, you’re kind of old to be CEO of that company, okay? And by the way, you’re Black and they’re still not quite ready… It will come. They did it with women. You’ll be ready and we can do it, but I don’t really think it’s your time,”

So, Toby, you’re a smart dude. You’re making half a billion dollars a year, we’d love to hire you. We just don’t have a washroom where your wheelchair can fit, right? Or in the old days, we used to say, well, he’s Black so he probably can dance. I’ve got to tell you if you want to laugh, talk to my kids about dad dancing!

Oh, it’s an embarrassment. I don’t dance. Well, he likes fried chicken. Now that is true, I like fried chicken but for you to say you’re Black, therefore you can’t be CEO or you can’t be president of the United States, maybe, maybe not and that’s all Obama was saying.

Now the V in SHAPEV is for virtue. You won’t know this guy, but he’s in your country. Trent Henry is his name and he used to be the CEO of Ernst & Young Canada, I think he’s Vice Chair of Ernst & Young globally. He’s a big deal. I mean, there’s nobody bigger than Trent Henry.

Anyways, Trent Henry, when he became CEO of Ernst & Young Canada, he’s like a little guy. I mean, when I say that, I mean, I’m a little guy and he is about the same height as me, 5’7. He, with respect, has a little bit of a speech impediment. Not much. And he is so humble he does not look like a CEO.

Now I remember the guy that recruited Trent Henry a thousand years ago. I said, “How the heck does Trent Henry become CEO of Canada?” And he laughs. He says, “Go ask him.”

So, I set up a meeting with Trent and Trent goes, “Well, if they were hiring today, they would never hire me.” I said, “What do you mean?” He says, “This firm Ernst & Young would never hire me.” I said, “Why?” He goes, “I come from the University of Prince Edward Island.”

Now, in my country, most people don’t even know where the province of Prince Edward Island is. It’s a small, small province on the eastern side of our country. I didn’t even know there was a university. He went to that university, and I guess he did okay. He graduated. Yeah, I think he played hockey. Anyway, long story short, the recruiter said, “If you’re willing to leave Prince Edward Island and go to Calgary and do this really impossible assignment you might have a future here.” And he says, “Sure.” And he did it. He did the work, miracle work. And then he was finished and they go, “Wow, that’s really good. Would you move to New York and do the same thing?” He goes, “Sure.”

So he goes, and he does the same thing again. Now I’m not advocating for that because I don’t think at the time Trent Henry was married or had kids and whatever, but the truth is he was willing to do it and then he did it, and he never took credit for it. It’s so weird talking to a humble person because they never talk about themselves. It’s strange.

Anyway, I go back to the guy that recruited him and he said, “What did you think?” I said, “Well, he told me the story, et cetera, but what I really think is that it was his humility.” And the recruiter goes, “Yeah, you’re right.” He said, “Most of us in our profession are know-it-alls. We have to be, we’re Ernst & Young. We’re almost like McKinsey. You pay them to know it all.”

But Trent is a I don’t know it all. He’ll come in and he knows that that client has already gone on Google. That client already knows about whatever the problem is and has thought about it every night. And so he’s coming in to listen to the client and say, “Let’s figure it out together because I don’t know. You don’t know. We’ll figure it out together.” That’s why Trent Henry became CEO of Ernst & Young Canada and is now Vice Chair at Ernst & Young. He will never tell you that. Why? Because he is humble.

So, V is for virtues, virtues like humility. Now, go to or just put in VIA Character in Google and you will come to a free test. It’ll take 20 minutes to do the test and then you’ll get your top five virtues. A value in action is a virtue. If I go into a company and I see the values are respect over here and teamwork over here and all that other BS, that’s the corporate values. Now, somebody that’s respecting people, that’s the virtue.

A value in action is a virtue. So, the V is for virtues, there’s 23 virtues you will get out of the VIA and your top five are hardwired. You were born with them and you will never lose them. Once I know somebody’s virtues, their V, I don’t care where they went to school. I don’t care what career path they took because I know that that guy’s number one virtue is humility.’

The other thing that Peter talks about when implementing human equity is the eight core competencies of an equitable leader. Now, I’d encourage anyone reading this to go and get Peter’s book in order to read the eight competencies, but I know that Peter has got another trick up his sleeve!

‘Yes, the book was written in 2014 and all of our tools have continued to evolve and it’s grown from eight competencies to nine. Google Equitable Leader Assessment or Google, Dr. Julie Carswell. She is brilliant. I mean, she’s a genius. I first met her in the ’90s. Anything I talk about, Julie originally created the research behind it. We lost her for a while and she came back about five years ago.

I remember she said, “Look, I’m doing this work. It’s great, but I’m bored. And, you know, the stuff we were doing back in the ’90s, I want to do more of that.” So, she is the expert on the ELA or the Equitable Leader assessment.’

I asked Peter which was his favourite competency of the nine.

‘Oh, God. What a great question. I don’t know if it’s my favourite but I love ethics and integrity because of how it was created. Now, Julie tells this story a lot better than me. She had come and started with seven competencies, and she thought, oh, okay, good. We’ll build the tool. Then she’s sitting down one day and she’s watching the CEO of Enron. He’s talking to the new employees about the ethics and integrity of Enron. The dude did not have any notes. He’s just talking, and he talked for half an hour about the ethics and integrity of Enron.

Julie said it was probably the best presentation she had ever seen on ethics and integrity. So she was kind of perturbed when a month later, the same guy stole $20 billion from the employee pension fund or something like that. And she goes, “I think we missed a competency”. And she added ethics and integrity.’

In the final part of his book, in part three, Peter writes about measuring human equity. I love this part because I talk to a lot of clients who want evidence for building a more inclusive workplace. I mean, I love working with clients who are like, “It’s the right thing to do,” because it is but you have to be congruent with your values. It’s funny. I went to go and do a training course once with a company, a well-known company. I went into reception and they had a list of their values stuck behind the reception desk. Inclusion was number one on the list. Then I delivered the training course, and everybody on the course was grumpy, miserable, and pissed off.

I asked, “What the hell is going on here?” And they were saying, “Oh, this diversity and inclusion is a load of bullshit because our senior leadership team just don’t give a crap about it. They’re not walking the talk.” There was incongruence between what they stated on the wall, behind the reception desk, and what was actually happening in the business and the behaviours moment to moment. So one of the things I talk to my clients about is “How are we actually going to measure the culture of your organisation? How do we assess the behaviours of your leaders and your managers? How do we know that any intervention that we design to create a better culture is actually going to have the desired impact?” Given that, I asked Peter for his thoughts on measuring human equity.

‘In one chapter there is a concept called the equity index. People might remember, like a thousand years ago, HR decided to move to what was called a balanced scorecard to not just use one metric. The human equity index is similar. We say, okay, well, most people want to use the representation metric and that’s fine, but it’s not the full story. If you’re doing employee engagement, that is as important through a diversity lens, which asks is the engagement more for men than women? Is it more for gay people than straight people? Is it more for baby boomers than millennials? Looking at that might be a better metric than the representation metric. I’ve said this for 30 years. It’s important and some people think I’m saying representation doesn’t matter. I am not saying that. I am saying that there are other metrics that are as important, if not more important, than representation. One of them would be employee engagement under a diversity lens. But the other metric we just talked about is leadership behaviour.

You know this, you go into companies and you go all around and you will never in any of those companies see a room with a nameplate that says ‘Culture’. The culture is the day-to-day behaviour, primarily what we call opinion leaders in an organisation. So definitely the CEO and the whole group, yes. But others, the guy that runs the union and the woman that runs the outreach department – they could be key opinion leaders.

It’s about the way that key opinion leaders treat people. Their virtues. When I’m hiring people, I look at their CV for two minutes and throw it down, and then I do a reference check on them. And so I might do a reference check on you and say, I’m doing a reference check on Toby. And sometimes I get, when it’s a junior organisation, they’ll say, “Well, this person’s only like a supervisor, and are you the CEO of your company?” I say, “Yes” and they’ll say, “You shouldn’t be doing this call. The HR person should be doing the call.” I say, “No, no I’m looking for something.” And they’ll go, “Well, what? What are you looking for?”

Now, I have studied the great talent leaders of all time, including a guy named Jack Welsh who would ask questions. He would say, “Well, I’m looking for something.” Someone would ask, “Oh, okay. What are you looking for?” He would say, “I can’t tell you. I can’t put it into words. I know it when I see it.”

So, I’d ask the question, “How does Toby treat the cafeteria staff?” It’s like when Obama visited the United Kingdom for the first time. He’s walking into Downing Street where the PM lives and there’s a Black police officer standing outside the front door of number 10. Obama’s walking straight to the door, and then he sticks out his hand to shake hands with this Black police officer and it’s become a famous picture. The police officer is like what the WTF, this is the president of the United States.

Obama could have just done a speech on diversity. There’s an old, old quote, I think it’s 1800 and something, maybe 1815, by Ralph Waldo Emerson. What he said is, “What you do speaks so loudly. I can’t hear what you’re saying.” Obama could do a speech on diversity, but if he treats the police officer like shit, there would be an inconsistency.

So what Julie figured out is how do you measure now? Now, I apologise upfront because I didn’t create the name of this book called ‘The No Asshole Rule’ . It was written, I don’t know, 20 years ago by a guy named Sutton. I think he’s an Ivy guy. It’s a funny book, but it’s very, very poignant. What he says is that we have got lots of leaders out there and 10% of them, only 10%,when they leave the room, people feel devalued, demotivated, and disrespected. And ultimately somebody says, what an asshole.

The publishers asked if the author could change the name? He goes, “I will not change the name,” because people don’t say, what a jerk, they say, what an asshole.” We all know these people. I’ve worked for them. Now we call them boss holes, I know the boss holes I’ve worked for and one of the things that Julie’s tool does is identify boss holes. Part of our job is to let them know, “Hey, you might not be as good as you think you are because you’ve marked yourself perfect in all nine competencies and your people haven’t even marched you closer to the norm. So, you might not be a five, you might be a 0.5 because 35 people or 8 people that work with you say you’re a 0.5, so who’s right?”

I remember one CEO once saying to me, he had me do it three times. He did the Equity Leadership Assessment three times, and finally I said, “What do you think?” And he said, “If it walks like a duck and it talks like a duck, it’s a duck.” I said, “Okay, so what do you think?” He said, “I think I’m a duck.”

I said, “Okay, cool. This will either be a very short meeting or a very long meeting. I have one question for you, sir which is are you coachable?” He’s thinking about it and he replies, “I don’t know.” And I said, “Oh God, that’s a great answer because in 45 minutes we will know, and if you’re not coachable, you’ll never see me again.” It turned out he wasn’t and I never saw the guy again. But the thing is there was nothing in it for him. He was king. He was CEO and chairman of the board.

Now you take somebody like Annette Verschuren who is the smartest CEO I have met in 40 years. We did a big programme for Home Depot, and 300 of their top leaders and went through that. Annette Verschuren is so smart, they made her CEO of Home Depot, Canada and CEO of Home Depot, Asia. Asia, the whole continent.

She said, “Guys, you’ve got three years. If you are a boss hole in year one, just you and the consultants will know. But I want you to do something about it. If you’re still a boss hole in year 2, if you’re still in that lowest 10%, I will ask for your name. I don’t need your report. I will ask for your name and I will help you do something about it. And in year three, if you’re still a boss hole you won’t be here.”

I met one guy and I said, “She gave you three years.” He said, “First of all, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. I’m almost 50 years old. But to tell the truth. I didn’t think she was serious.” If you saw what that guy was doing, this is 20 – 30 years ago. Today under LGBT, under Black Lives Matter, what that guy was doing would be a class action suit for Home Depot. Just what that one guy is doing, so these boss holes punch above their weight class today. They don’t get that their behaviour actually has a multiplier effect and if you’re not measuring their behaviour, you can’t hold them accountable. The ELA tool measures their behaviour.’

My next question to Peter was ‘What does inclusive growth mean for you?’

‘Well, it’s your term, I’m interested in it and I want to read more about it. My first thought when I saw your book was that you can’t do this with just one group. If I want to grow my company and I only take Black guys over the age of 60, then that probably isn’t going to grow it. If it’s an inclusive company, I bring people in from all sorts of different backgrounds and whatnot, and we build the company together, that would be my guess. But what is it exactly?’

I explained that for me, it was my attempt at trying to reframe diversity, inclusion, and equity for businesses. When I was talking to business leaders that were treating diversity and inclusion as a bit of a box-ticking exercise or something that they feel that they should be doing because the competitor is doing it. Or they were feeling the pressure to do something because employees were self-organising and creating resource groups and organising events and things like that. And so I was thinking to myself when I was plotting the book, I was thinking, what is it that leaders of a business want and how can I help them with that through a diversity and inclusion lens? I settled on growth because I knew that for us to make an impact in the work that we do, we must start with the senior leaders of an organisation.

I asked myself what do they care about? I realised it is growing the business. I’ve stress-tested it with commercial businesses. I’ve stress-tested it with police forces. Every organisation wants to grow. So, like the police force wants to better represent the community that they serve, they want better policing outcomes and they want to have better statistics that they report back to central government, I’ve worked with fintechs. They want to ship their product and they want more users using their product globally and that’s growth for them. So my question to the leaders then became ‘What would happen if a more representative workforce and a more inclusive culture would help you do a better job at growing your business?’ And that’s where it came from.

Peter replied, ‘I love it. Brilliant. Congratulations. You know it’s very much the way I described the level three and the level four that if it’s not linked to a business outcome like growth then it’s not going to stay on the leadership agenda. I think that’s been the problem with what I call the Pedestrian Diversity programmes. And the 3000 diversity consultants out there when I was out there, the reason they say I’m a pioneer is only because there weren’t a lot of people around. In fact, there’s a magazine in the States called ‘Profiles in Diversity’ .It’s a credible magazine and it’s been out there for a long time. I know the editor, he’s an amazing guy. He’s probably in his 80s right now. Jim is his name. They were talking about the pioneers, this is in 2007 so how many years ago is that? That’s a long time ago. And they and they wanted to have the pioneers of diversity, actually the global pioneers of diversity. They called me up and they said. “Oh you know you’re one of the guys that’s a pioneer?” I said, “What’s a pioneer?” And they said, “If you were there at the start of the industry which is 1989, when the Hudson’s Institute report came out, then you’re a pioneer.” I said, ‘Okay how many are there?” And they go, “There’s about 40.”

I asked, “And it’s a global list right?” which they confirmed. So, I said, “Okay so I’m not American. I’m Canadian but how many Americans are on there?” The answer was 39.

He said, “Do you want to be on the list or not?” I said, “Yeah I want to be on the list but I can tell you there are people in South Africa that I’ve met, they should be on your list. There are people in England that should be on your list. There are people in Europe. Anyway, in the end, I was the only non-American and all forty of us were asked to write a 500 word on the topic ‘Where did diversity come from, where is it now and where is it going?’

Now, we all said it has stalled from diversity fatigue right now, that was in 2007 but there were 40 different answers to where is it going? That was when I first talked about human equity. Some people were like forget it, it didn’t work get rid of it. Some people said, go back to equal opportunity, go back to the law. Some people said go down the spiritual route and put God in it. All I said was let’s do what Janet Smith said which is, to move it beyond the group into the individual, let’s talk about maximising human capital and human equity. That was the first time that it came out and we didn’t know it was a thing. When I went to get it trademarked my lawyer said, you can’t trademark this, human equity. It doesn’t mean anything. Thank God I had written an article about it, and then when we got the trademark because of the article. But to tell the truth Toby I still didn’t know what it was. I didn’t know what it was until I wrote the book in 2012.

Anyway, I’ve lost the point I was making. I can’t remember. What the question again?

Sorry. This is what happens when you turn 65. It’s not a senior’s moment. You live in the seniors lab. I want people to understand this age thing is it’s real. Like I didn’t know it was real. I thought you’d just lived forever and it doesn’t matter. I have a great doctor. Her name is Dr Pearl, warning, she has no bedside manner. None zero but she will always tell you the truth. She’s been my doctor for 30 years. So, when I was 50-ish, I went to see her and I said there’s something going on with my hand. I’m feeling this pain here and in and here and maybe it’s carpal tunnel or something like that. And she asked, “How old are you?” I said “50. I just turned 50.” And she said, “You’re dying.”

I said, “What?” She replied, “You’re 50, your body is dying. What you have is called arthritis. And then your knees are going to start to ache and then your hips are going to and you won’t be able to see the way that you saw 20 years ago. You are getting old and your body is dying.” And I thought, “Oh okay” and now I’m 65.

I can tell you what my body looks like at 65 is not what my body was at 50. What my mind is like at 65 is not the same either. Now, I’m just talking about a sample of one but I have two mentors both of them are in their 80s, Alvin and Gordy. One day I dropped my son James off at hockey practice, and I went to what we call a Tim Horton’s Coffee Shop. Literally, it was five minutes’ drive away. It was 6 o’clock in the morning. Instead of turning left, I turned to the right and I got so lost. I know the arena is five minutes away. And I started to panic because I was lost. And I called Alvin my mentor.

I said to him, “Listen, I don’t know what’s going on, but I’m lost and I’m five minutes away from the arena.” He said, “Look, I don’t wish this on you. I hope it doesn’t happen. But I go upstairs and it’s like, what did I come up here for? It happens to everybody. There’s no shame in it.”

Now I’m not suggesting to you that I’m too old to do whatever I do, but there were things I never did and I can’t do them now. I never knew how to play basketball. I’m just worse at basketball now. It’s not because I’m 65. I just have no ability for sports. Anyways, don’t edit this out. Leave it in because it happens. It happens.’

Peter’s made a good case in point in that we also need to be thinking about age inclusion because we are an ageing population. People are living longer, pensionable ages are going up and people are going to be working for longer. It just goes to show that actually we have to be inclusive of all age brackets. Everybody’s got value within the workplace.

Peter also added, ‘If you buy the book, please don’t read it from chapter one. Go to the afterword of the book. Most people don’t. The afterword of the book was not supposed to be in the book. I wrote it out of frustration because I like to talk, but I don’t like to write. So that one year of writing that book was pure hell. Every day was hell and people would say to me, “Well, why are you doing it then? If you don’t like it, why are you doing it?”

I didn’t really have a good answer but I had 1000 people send me Simon Sinek’s Ted Talk on Start With The Why? They were telling me, “I know you don’t know why you’re writing the book but listen to this talk, it will help”. Anyways, one day, Toby, I sat at the computer, it wasn’t coming from my mind, it came from my gut to my fingers. I did this for like three hours at the computer. And then these pages show up and I’m like, “Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God. I can’t put this in a book. You can’t put this in.” It was like stream of consciousness.

I had a brilliant editor, now publisher, Karen Milner, from Milner and Associates. Karen was the associate editor on my very first book, way the hell back in the ’90s. She was the executive editor on my last book. So, I called Karen up. I said, “Listen, I wrote these 20 pages. I don’t think they go in the book, but you’re the editor. If you tell me it goes in the book, I’ll put in the book. But if you say it’s got to go in the book, you got to tell me where it goes because I don’t know where it fits. Not section one, not section two, not section three.”

She said, “Okay, you can send it to me, but you don’t really need to. I know where it goes.”
I said, “Where does it go?” and she said “It’s an afterword”. I said, “You mean a foreword?” She goes, “No, no, no. An afterword.” I said, “I’ve never heard of an afterword.” She goes, “You don’t see them very much. They’re sometimes they call them Epilogues, but the good news is nobody ever reads them so if you have a secret and you don’t want anybody ever to know then put it in an afterword. Nobody will ever read it.”

I swear to God, the day I pressed send on the manuscript, I was like, “Shit, I hope Karen’s not wrong. I hope nobody ever sees the afterword because in the afterword I was coming out of the closet on spirituality.”

I’m not a religious guy, but I believe there’s a power beyond myself and I was coming out of the closet on that.

I was afraid that if people knew, my reputation, whatever it was, would be killed. Anyways, so send it out. Fast forward five months later, we were doing the first book signing and you know these book signings, people just line up and you just sign the book and whatever. So this dude comes up with this book and he goes, he says, “Sir, I think you have to write another book.” And I said, “Hey, I’m not going to bore you with the details, but I can tell you I will never write another book again.” I said, “This book almost killed me and I will never write another book again”. He said, “No, no, you don’t understand. I read your afterword. The afterword is your book. You don’t realize if you read the 20 pages, you don’t have to read the 245 pages. You get it in 20 pages, now it’s the 20 pages from the right side of your brain, and the 245 are from the left.”

So now I say to people, “Okay, buy the book, but don’t read it and my publisher hates when I say this, but I’m just telling you, you don’t have to read the whole thing.” It’s a business book. You use it as a reference book. But read the 20 pages of the afterword. If you can get the 20 pages, it’s the essence of it.’

I think my conversation with Peter was gold dust and I’m really glad if you are still reading that you came on this journey. Hopefully, there’s been something to take away from Peter’s words of wisdom that can be applied in your organisation. Click the hyperlink to buy your copy of ‘The Human Equity Advantage, Beyond Diversity to Talent Optimization’ by Peter Wilson. Or to learn more about the work that Peter does, or to dig a little bit deeper into human equity visit the website

Values to Virtues and the Human Equity Advantage - Mildon