Tina Shah Paikeday of Russell Reynolds Associates: “Accountability Mechanisms ”

I see leaders as those who have a vision for the future, the values to guide them with principle and the courage to pursue change. This year as we navigate the impact of a global pandemic, I often find myself reflecting on the importance of purpose in leading organizations at a time of crisis with […]

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I see leaders as those who have a vision for the future, the values to guide them with principle and the courage to pursue change. This year as we navigate the impact of a global pandemic, I often find myself reflecting on the importance of purpose in leading organizations at a time of crisis with the light of hope guiding our way. When recalling world leaders such as Jesus Christ, Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, I think of visionaries who were able to bring together people around a collective mission in times of crisis for their people.

As part of our series about ‘5 Steps We Must Take To Truly Create An Inclusive, Representative, and Equitable Society’ I had the pleasure to interview Tina Shah Paikeday.

Tina Shah Paikeday leads the global Diversity, Equity & Inclusion advisory services at Russell Reynolds Associates. Her work has included the recruitment of Chief Diversity Officers, the development of inclusive leaders and inclusive culture transformation. She has advised global diversity, equity and inclusion councils and executive leadership teams on the development of operating models for the formation and governance of DE&I functions, data-informed approaches to developing impactful DE&I strategies and recommended action steps and programs to achieve DE&I goals.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to ‘get to know you’. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?

The daughter of Indian immigrants, I was born on the South Side of Chicago where my mother taught special education in the public schools and my father worked as an engineer for the sanitary district. We moved around a bit when I was in middle school for my father’s job transfers with Bechtel and Turner before settling in Wilmington, Delaware. My older sister and I graduated from Brandywine High School before heading onto college to study liberal arts. When I graduated from college, I moved to San Francisco and have mostly lived in the Bay Area ever since. In 1998, when my sister graduated from Wharton and I graduated from Stanford Business School, we helped to fulfill my parents’ dream of world-class education for their daughters — the reason they immigrated to this country.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

I found myself thinking back to the summer pre-reading that I had been assigned in preparation for starting as a first-year student university at the University of Virginia, known for its liberal arts education. In fact, I often recall the novel Siddhartha by Herman Hesse which tells the story of a wealthy Brahmin who left everything behind to seek the true meaning in life as an ascetic. He encounters many struggles and contemplates Eastern philosophy, Jungian archetypes, and Western individualism as he discovers that true knowledge is guided from within. This book continues to stay with me as I work to reconcile the different world views that we each bring to the workplace and how it informs our approach to everything we do. For example, in the east the “loud duck gets shot” and in the West “the squeaky wheel gets the grease.” I often coach leaders on the notion that we all may be trying to get to the same answer, but our approaches may be different and finding ways to embrace such differences leads to greater inclusion. In this work, unconscious bias training often helps us to identify the collective unconscious we bring to understanding situations based on cultural history. In order to make decisions with more consciousness and eliminate archetypal thinking based on unconscious bias, we need to achieve the full understanding Siddhartha achieved during his contemplative journey — which was clearly not an easy one.

Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?

“Be the change you want to see” by Mahatma Gandhi.

I am a daughter of immigrants who came to the United States with 8 dollars, nothing else, knowing not a single soul. My mother and father left their home country of India, their families, and everything they had to seek a better life for their children through education. My father grew up in a very modest home but managed to win full scholarships to attend boarding school at age 10 and found himself working hard to graduate at the top of his class and earn his way to attend graduate school in America. My mother was a pioneer in her time as the only woman to teach in an all-boys college in India before beginning a career in special education in the US. Together, they worked hard taking odd night jobs such as making lamps in factories and vacuuming office floors to build our lives. They are truly my inspiration as I watched them be the change they wanted to see for their family. I do believe that anything is possible, even that which has never been done before, and that I can be the change I want to see in this world.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

I see leaders as those who have a vision for the future, the values to guide them with principle and the courage to pursue change. This year as we navigate the impact of a global pandemic, I often find myself reflecting on the importance of purpose in leading organizations at a time of crisis with the light of hope guiding our way. When recalling world leaders such as Jesus Christ, Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, I think of visionaries who were able to bring together people around a collective mission in times of crisis for their people.

Transformational leaders are those who offer purpose beyond short-term goals as compared to transactional leaders who focus on exchange of resources. Transformational leadership can lead to better firm performance and has four components: charisma, inspirational motivation, intellectual stimulation, and individual consideration.

As so many people are working hard to protect the health and safety of our families and communities and to provide for those who have experienced loss, many are asking questions related to purpose. Those leaders who take into account the needs of various stakeholders at this time of great need may reap the longer-term benefits of leading with purpose. This is clearly a time when people are looking to leadership with hope.

In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?

Each and every day involves a myriad of high-stress meetings, decisions and presentations. I have practiced yoga for many years and find that it helps me to focus my thinking to achieve higher levels of presence and clarity in making difficult decisions. I also live in a tiny little town called Tiburon where most mornings I am able to start my day with a run or a bike ride along the waterfront with the sun rising over the Richardson Bay as the fog lifts and the birds find a sanctuary at the Audubon Center. I try my best to end each day with a family dinner to keep myself grounded in what really matters in life.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. The United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This is of course a huge topic. But briefly, can you share your view on how this crisis inexorably evolved to the boiling point that it’s at now?

On the heels of COVID-19 disproportionately affecting minorities in essential jobs, the tragic deaths of George Floyd and others this year woke up America to the existence of systemic racial bias, including corporations acknowledging the potential for inequity in talent management systems. In some ways it was a complete relief that welcome the opportunity to audit current processes, practices and procedures to redesign them in a way which offered a level playing field to all talent — regardless of what background they came from. At Russell Reynolds, we renamed our D&I practice to the DE&I practice, adding the “E” for equity and doubling down on our efforts to ensure that we bring equity into our search practices in order to deliver both diverse slates of candidates and inclusive leaders.

The boiling point is a result of the challenge that exists when we try to rectify past wrongs and unintentionally forget that everyone is suffering in some way at this very challenging moment, whether through loss of jobs, isolation, illness, loss of loved ones, or many other things the global pandemic has presented for us. We cannot forget to bring everyone along in this DE&I journey to seek greater understanding including white cisgender men, the families of police officers and those on both sides of the political fence. As leaders of DE&I work, it is our responsibility to find a way to do this work that enables everyone to be at the table and to be seen, heard, and feel like they belong.

Can you tell our readers a bit about your experience working with initiatives to promote Diversity and Inclusion? Can you share a story with us?

My journey with DE&I initiatives began when I started as a first-year student at the University of Virginia. I became involved in the Honor System, a student run governance system that seeks to create a self-governing system of honor by expelling students found guilty of lying, cheating or stealing. When I became involved in the system, I was shocked that Black students were expelled at a rate that was disproportionately higher than their representation in the University. Feeling a sense of injustice at the fact that a phenomenon called “spotlighting” in which students and faculty were turning in Black students to the Honor System at a much higher rate, I sought to be the change I wanted to see.

First, I embarked on partnering with the research center at UVA to conduct one of the university’s first diversity climate surveys in the early nineties. We found that a social divide existed between students of different racial and ethnic backgrounds. While they were effective in class together, social networks were for the most part very separate and the lack of informal relationships across difference led to lack of trust. The lack of trust was such an issue that even students involved in the Honor System were not willing to talk openly about the racial inequities it faced, so I used group decision software to facilitate an anonymous virtual discussion in one of my M.I.S. computer lab classes. We were able to have a productive discussion to surface some of the key issues and top priorities for change and started the Multicultural Advisory Group as a result.

Change was very slow, and at times the problem even got worse over time as I watched the situation evolve as an alum while I served on the Board of Trustees for the IDEA (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity & Access) Fund. More than 25 years after graduating, I am very proud to say that the disproportionality in the numbers has finally disappeared with patience and investment over time by countless students, faculty and administrators

This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?

Markets have globalized to a point where the customers and consumers of most companies are highlighting diversity no matter the part of the world in which they operate. In order to best serve those diverse consumers and customers, diverse employee populations must become an asset. While we all strive to empathize and truly understand the experiences of those who are different from us, no better understanding comes than from lived experience. Therefore, it is so obvious that diverse executive teams should reflect the diversity of both their workforce and their customer base.

Ok. Here is the main question of our discussion. You are an influential business leader. Can you please share your “5 Steps We Must Take To Truly Create An Inclusive, Representative, and Equitable Society”. Kindly share a story or example for each.

At Russell Reynolds we recently surveyed 150 large cap companies with an average of 50,000 employees, to identify those factors which fully mature DE&I functions had in place. These factors included:

  1. A Strategy — a data-informed strategy with a clearly articulated mandate and areas of focus
  2. Resourcing — a functional leader with a small team responsible for executing on that strategy
  3. Governance — a clear responsibility model that identifies roles for staff, leadership, councils and ERGs
  4. Accountability Mechanisms — metrics to measure progress and related mechanisms for accountability
  5. The fifth step I would add is “Tone from the Top” because without this support this work does not gain traction.

We are going through a rough period now. Are you optimistic that this issue can eventually be resolved? Can you explain?

I have hope because before calm there is usually a storm. In the development of teams, the model that is often referred to is forming, storming, norming and performing. In some ways until this recent crisis, the DE&I function was in the formative stages, perhaps without a strategy or resourcing, but now we are clearly in the storming phase of addressing intergroup conflict with the hope that we will come out on the other end much stronger and able to create effect norms that include everyone in order to achieve the optimal level of performance.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

The 14th Dalai Lama, Lhamo Thondup, as he is best positioned to help us achieve world peace.

How can our readers follow you online?


This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

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