Elizabeth Nieto Thinks Inclusion is Every Employee’s Job

“When I walk into a place, people may just think of me as a woman, as a Latina, as someone of ‘X’ age, (notice I said ‘X’ age!),” laughs Elizabeth Nieto, Global Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer at MetLife. “But for me, what really defines me and my purpose is being a working mother, and being a role model to other women.”

In the workplace, the way we define ourselves may be different than what other people perceive. Elizabeth Nieto sat down with us to discuss the importance of bringing your whole self to work each day, and how MetLife is working to sustain our Diversity and Inclusion impact through a time of transformation for our global company — and in an ever-changing world.

How do we define Diversity & Inclusion?

Elizabeth Nieto: Diversity is about the differences and similarities that affect you as an individual, as a consumer, as a shareholder and as an employee. Inclusion is an action — it is the commitment to ensure that everyone, as they walk into our offices, is valued, respected and truly recognized for their individuality.

As I mentioned before, there are many aspects of me, so it’s important to talk about each of us having an intersectionality of differences — you’re not just a woman, you’re not just a mother, you’re not just one ethnicity, or age, or ability — you are a confluence of each of them. And if you create an environment where each of those is being respected, that’s what really makes a [company] culture that is inclusive.

Why is Diversity and Inclusion so important for MetLife, and for any global company?

For us at MetLife, there are two reasons why diversity and inclusion are so important. Talent is one, and the other is commercial opportunities. We know that to better understand our customers, it’s easier to have people that represent those voices internally. Talent comes in all different sizes and shapes, and if you only select from one pool, you’re really diminishing the possibility of finding the best talent.

Research shows that organizations or teams that are diverse are more productive, they are more innovative — they are better at solving problems than a more homogeneous team. We always have to ask ourselves, “Are different people being included in the decision making process? Are we listening to those that are different from the majority as we come up with new ideas?” Those teams that are diverse are really working in a culture of inclusion and they can speak up, and everyone has a say.

What is our strategy, and ultimately our mission through Diversity and Inclusion at MetLife?

We have lots of initiatives year round dedicated to Cultural Fluency, development of women, people with disabilities, veterans, LGTBQ and families. We want to create an environment where people want to navigate their careers with us. We’re providing the conditions to help make that happen — this idea of, “what makes this a place where great talent wants to come, work and thrive?”

In partnership with business leaders and the HR community, the Diversity and Inclusion team ensures that we have policies, processes and practices in place so the best talent, no matter their gender identification, their ethnic background or sexual orientation, want to join us and contribute to the success of this company.  And it’s not just leaders who are responsible for being inclusive – every employee’s role is to behave inclusively.

We always say, “Inclusion is everybody’s job.”

If you feel included, if you feel you belong to the company, or you have that alignment to the company’s values, you’ll want to work harder. If you work in a place that doesn’t really care about you, well, you do the 9-5 and walk out saying, “I don’t really care.”

How can our Diversity and Inclusion goals make a larger impact – even outside of MetLife?

Even if you never leave your country, when you come to one of our offices, diversity is there. As a global company that attracts talent with very different backgrounds and experiences, we need to create environments where people can bring all their differences to work. Now more than ever, corporations have the opportunity and the responsibility to support their employees, and help them thrive at work.

Elizabeth Nieto has been named a Notable Woman in Finance for 2018 by Crain’s New York Business Custom Studio.

This interview has been condensed and edited.