Maria Morukian, Founder and President	, MSM Global ConsultingMaria Morukian, Founder and President
A quote by Vernā Myers, a renowned inclusion strategist, cultural innovator, and social commentator, has been making rounds in social media for the last couple of years, highlighting the way businesses should view D&I initiatives: “Diversity is being invited to the party; Inclusion is being asked to dance.” Simply put, this means diversity is about representation, and inclusion is about involvement. D&I must be embodied and encouraged continuously within an organization, and connected to vision, mission, and strategy. That’s precisely what MSM Global Consulting has been guiding organizations to achieve.

In an exclusive interview with Manage HR, Maria Morukian, founder and president of MSM Global Consulting, shares insights on her company’s role in helping organizations unleash the true potential of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives. She also sheds light on MSM Global’s unique organizational dynamics and customized systems-based approach to developing fail-proof DEI plans.

1. Could you give us an overview of your company?

Founded in 2014, MSM Global Consulting is a small woman-owned business. We are dedicated to building thriving organizations and communities that are strengthened by their diversity, and to fostering inclusive and equitable practices and policies for everyone. Making this possible is our team of consultants with decades of experience in organizational development, culture change, and leadership training, all with a lens on DEI and intercultural competence.

Our team’s shared philosophy around compassion for others and determination to institute true change is what differentiates us in the space. Everybody in our team is willing to share their own story and showcase a deep sense of curiosity to learn from others. We see ourselves as endless learners rather than experts, and prioritize exploring our clients’ unique organizational stories. This gives us valuable data to help them remediate their DEI challenges, and it also builds true partnership between us and those we serve.

2. In your interactions with leading companies, what sense do you get of the challenges they face today?

Whether it’s industries of different sizes or organizations of varying types, it always comes down to three key pain points.

The first is accountability. Organizations are increasingly being held to account for more than just compliance with federal laws. With employees increasingly wanting more visible inclusive cultures in their workplaces, organizations are finding themselves in a tough spot to change their status quo—from their existing state of compliance to one of deep commitment. A shift so vast demands time, effort, and energy, something that a lot of organizations are now trying to wrap their heads around.

The second challenge is advocacy. Organizations cannot commit to social change without tackling the issues of social injustice. But, more often than not, it is a serious challenge for organizational leaders because they are not equipped with the necessary tools or expertise to steer such conversations. If wrongly done, it can even re-traumatize people that have experienced significant injustices and inequalities in their lives.

The third piece is antipathy. As people are increasingly becoming entrenched in their echo chambers, they are losing the ability or the willingness to seek connections and find common ground. The COVID-19 pandemic has only accentuated this issue and made the situation more overwhelming. Consequently, this is causing leaders immense stress to effectively navigate the ideological polarization that is continuing to grow around the globe and to bring about sustainable progress.
3. What is your step-by-step approach to understanding a client’s demands and delivering a transformational strategy?

We really consider ourselves a partner to our clients, helping them build their internal capacity in all areas of identity, including race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religion, disability, and more. We seek long-term cultural transformation. Once the internal systems and leadership are set in motion, we step back and become a trusted guide and advisor.

We center our work in three critical phases. The first is always assessment to determine the existing organizational culture and where it is in its transformation journey. It gives us a broad baseline for understanding the strengths and the pain points, as well as the needs and expectations of various stakeholders.

The second phase is learning. While we provide knowledge and skills, we also offer our client partners the opportunity to engage with one another in bold conversations with an intention to learn and grow. This is important because no amount of learning can change people’s behavior unless they feel committed to that change. So, in terms of learning, we focus on two key pieces of training: perspective taking and a call to action. While the former allows people to really listen to one another’s beliefs and behaviors to understand the ‘why’ factor, a call to action helps in goal-setting and driving real progress.

The last phase, and closely associated with the call-to-action level of learning, is strategy building. Alongside training, we also need to focus on strategies with measurable, observable outcomes that organizations strive for; that’s where you see resources put toward DEI-focused activities, and that’s where performance is evaluated, ensuring equitable practices.

4. Is there a particular case study where you helped one of the clients in attaining outstanding DEI outcomes?

We have been associated in a multi-year initiative with one particular company. When we first started out with our initial assessment, we discovered a lack of diversity across various departments and, in particular, in leadership and management positions. Moreover, the company had a conflict avoidant culture. Employees did not feel comfortable or safe sharing their concerns or feedback with management.

There were incidents of what we call subtle acts of exclusion or micro-aggressions, where people in leadership positions were engaging in behaviors that led to employees—especially the ones part from historically marginalized groups—feeling less valued.

Based on this assessment, we first focused on offering a learning series across the organization, starting with the leadership team. Our monthly training sessions specifically focused on making leaders aware of their actions to equip them with a new way of leading and managing their teams by navigating conflict, accepting feedback, and inviting divergent perspectives to shift them from the conflict-avoidant culture. We conducted frequent training for managers and employees on DEI as well, providing opportunities for collective learning and skill building to establish baseline expectations for inclusive behaviors on their teams. We developed a guide for hiring managers to address biases in recruitment and retention, and connected human resource leaders to a network of DEI-focused student and professional organizations to diversify the pool of candidates for new positions. We also helped them build a DEI Council to create a sense of shared ownership among employees and ensure that they had a voice at the decision making table and could serve as a conduit between the workforce and the leadership team.

Fast forward to today; two years later, the company has seen a 30 percent increase in the racial and ethnic diversity among their new hires. Even the DEI council has doubled in size, regularly leading organization dialogs around DEI. Members of the leadership team now have DEI competencies embedded into their annual performance evaluations, and the company is scheduled to conduct a follow up assessment to determine growth over the last two years.

5. What’s the next big step that your company would be taking?

One area where we are most focused now is upskilling the next generation of DEI practitioners. There’s a huge demand for this kind of work, but unfortunately, skilled DEI facilitators in the organizational change consultant arena are limited. It leaves a gap not only in terms of lack of expertise but also in terms of the right expertise, and having the proper tools to drive positive change.

I recently published a book, Diversity, Equity & Inclusion for Trainers with ATD Press that serves as a comprehensive guide for seasoned trainers as well as accidental trainers— those who want to be a part of DEI efforts but don’t necessarily have a formal training or facilitation background.
  • We Are Dedicated To Building Thriving Organizations And Communities That Are Strengthened By Their Diversity, Fostering A Sense Of Inclusion And Equitable Practices And Policies For Everyone

We’re also looking to build a comprehensive program where we can train people that are deeply committed to instituting organization-wide change. While a lot of certificate programs exist for DEI practitioners, they are often short and focused on a particular kind of corporate environment and mindset, which does not always work for other fields like non-profit, government, or education. We hope to build a global community of DEI professionals and advocates who can learn with and from one another.