Level the Playing Field With Diversity and Inclusion

Anthony Griggs, president of AG Squared Networks, began his colorful career of success building by playing professional football. Even as a player, he began to see the virtues of drawing talent and leadership from uncommon sources. When he left the field for the office and took on more managerial roles, diversity and inclusion stuck with him as a powerful tool for accomplishing group goals. His varied experiences seem to prove that diverse talent is a key aspect of any winning team.

What first interested you about D&I?
I became very interested in D&I because of what I was able to observe in pro football. It was noticeable that more leadership positions were being filled by diverse and talented people. I also noticed that there was a stronger acceptance in some NFL organizations who truly embraced the concepts of D&I. When I worked for the Steelers as their director of player development, I was very proud to be associated with the Rooney Rule, [which] was established to ensure that minority coaches — especially African-Americans — were interviewed and considered for high-level coaching positions. Dan Rooney was instrumental in the development of this rule as he was the NFL’s Diversity Committee chairman.

What special experiences or qualifications do you feel you bring to the D&I picture?
While playing for the Philadelphia Eagles and the Cleveland Browns, not only were the teams diverse, but the communities in these cities were more so. As the director of player development for the Pittsburgh Steelers and now owner of my company, I contrast most of my experiences today with the big picture of “the team coming first” philosophy. What this philosophy embraces is that the whole team is more important than the individual, but the individual helps navigate the vision of the big picture. While working with the Steelers, I was able to witness how different individuals were able to be impactful on the team, but most importantly as team players in their contributions to the team’s success.

What are the biggest misconceptions people have about D&I?
Most of the misconceptions that I believe people have revolve around the unaligned opinion that diversity is a minority issue and an antiquated work topic from the past. This viewpoint is what leads people to not recognize its value to an organization or feel threatened about the conversation. D&I is “big picture” thinking for the team goal of winning. D&I perceptions will continue to be interpreted differently on many fronts depending on an individual’s perception, but one can alter their perceptions by challenging their own current views and thinking routine. Leaders could be more open with their conversations about D&I with other leaders and with employees.

Are there any D&I topics you think need to be discussed or addressed more often?
I think topics that could be discussed or addressed more often would be those covering ethnicity. Because of the heightened security in our country some employees have tendencies to believe that being different may not be a good fit organizationally. Some organizations that I have worked with during my tenure of owning my own company have been slow to commit to and embrace diversity and inclusion. For those organizations that have not wavered in their commitment to make positive changes, I have noticed a higher sense of employee engagement.

What area of D&I do you place special emphasis on? Why?
When keynoting with an organization or coaching an individual regarding D&I, I query organizational history and strongly encourage the use of an assessment tool that measures team attributes and challenges along with employee engagement. This is usually a good starting point for growth and development towards their objective. When an organization or individual moves past their own boundaries, they have an easier time accepting differences from anyone. Leaders that are more embracing of D&I will take a contemplative approach. Leaders must see everyone as a contributor and integral part to the bigger objective.

What opportunities in the sports industry can help leaders better embrace D&I?
In the sports field, there is the given thought that everyone is looking for that “edge” — an edge that will give them an advantage. The teams that have been at the forefront of success have also been the teams that have led the charge with D&I — including the Boston Celtics [being] early leaders in the signing of black players, the Pittsburgh Steelers hiring the first female Asian trainer, L.A. Dodgers hiring Jackie Robinson, and the Oakland Raiders signing the first NFL African-American head coach. Leaders in sports will continue to develop diversity and inclusion and embrace it. Sport team leaders will continue to scout environments that have been uncommon to look for talent.

How do you gauge the success of future diversity goals/initiatives in sports? What metrics do you use?
The metrics for success are generally statistics, but in reality those stellar statistics are achieved by a diverse team who has talent and knows how to work together. This includes everyone from the front office personnel to coaches and players. The NFL is graded yearly by the Institute of Diversity and Ethics in Sports. These annual report cards often serve as baselines for improvement for the following year and they are very comprehensive. However, most organizations are not evaluated yearly by an outside resource, so it can be challenging to determine what may and may not be a successful movement towards a more diverse and inclusive workforce.

What role does senior leadership play in D&I efforts at the organizations that you work with?
Senior leadership plays the biggest role of all in the organizations that are implementing or considering initiatives with D&I. Their vision of the organization is always being adjusted and tested. It is the leader who will make or break the thought of going forward in the uncharted territories of D&I. Senior leadership is entrusted with acting on the vision and moving forward. Staying focused on the vision in the midst of a changing world is not easy. This is why leaders must rise to and be held accountable to higher standards when considering improvement of what works for their organization. They must listen, they must consult, they must reflect … but most of all they must have conviction to change.

Mohini Kundu is an editorial intern at Diversity Executive magazine. She can be reached at editor@diversity-executive.com.