An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

…Another reason is that inclusive culture businesses attract top-performing talent. Two-thirds (67 percent) of job seekers responding to a Glassdoor survey said that workforce diversity is important to them when evaluating employers and job offers.

As a part of our series about “How Diversity Can Increase a Company’s Bottom Line”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Nadja-Timea Scherrer.

Nadja-Timea Scherrer is a VP and Cultural Impact Strategist at the independent Social Impact Agency plus305 in Miami and Switzerland. Originally from Switzerland, she speaks 6 languages — some more some less fluently — and has traveled to and lived and worked in many countries around the world such as England, Vietnam, Egypt, Turkey, France and the US. She holds an Exec. MA in Intercultural Communication and consults businesses on how to integrate JEDI (Justice, Equity, Diversity, Inclusion) into their DNA and is in charge of drafting sustainability communication strategies at plus305.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive into the main part of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit more. Can you share a bit of your “backstory” with us?

I am an impact entrepreneur from multicultural Switzerland. I believe in building bridges through storytelling and emotional connections. Being an Inclusion and Equity enthusiast, I am especially fascinated by lifestyles and perspectives that are very different from mine because it helps me rethink my own views and values. That is why I studied Intercultural Communication and Linguistics and have lived in and traveled to many different countries, among them Turkey, France, and the UK. I learned the languages of all the places I have lived in because language is closely linked to identity and culture. I love how languages give you access to the way people see the world. People only create words for what is important to them in a culture. In my own language for instance, we have a word that you cannot directly translate to English: Fremdschämen. It describes the act of being embarrassed for somebody else who is behaving in an embarrassing way. The fact that we have a word like this tells you a lot about our culture.

I started my career as a translator at the biggest media monitoring company in Switzerland and ended up building and heading the Language department which, for many years to come, achieved one of the highest turnover growths of the company. I then built my own company, consulting global organizations and government institutions on Intercultural Communication as well as offering PR, Interpreting, and Copy Writing services. When I worked for Apple in Silicon Valley on the intercultural adaptation of communication assets to the Swiss market, I met Alberto, the founder and CEO of plus305 in Miami. We decided to join forces in life and business and developed plus305 from a traditional advertising agency into a Social Impact Boutique. It has been quite a ride leaving my career behind and venturing out into the world of entrepreneurship, but it has been totally worth it. I have now been a partner, VP, and Sustainability Communication Strategist with a focus on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at plus305 for six years. Since 2019, we are also based in Switzerland.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? Can you tell us the lesson or take away you took out of that story?

Ok, this is a sad and funny story at the same time. I had a Pakistani friend back when I was living in London right after 9/11. He always dressed in his traditional attire. One day, when we had coffee in central London he said to me: “You won’t believe what happened to me the other day! I was on a business trip. When I entered the plane and looked at my ticket to make out my seat, I looked up to see who will be sitting next to me. The man looked more or less just like me. Same traditional clothing, same beard, around my age. And you know what my first reaction was? I was fucking afraid, Nadja! Can you believe it?” We both laughed about it. But it also made me sad. It showed me how strong our unconscious biases are and that we even have them against ourselves. When I took the Harvard Implicit Association Test — which I would recommend to everyone, it is very insightful and free of charge — I was quite surprised at the results: as a woman not having children by choice and having built my career, I still have a bias towards associating men with career and women with family. I often wonder how this unconscious belief has held me back along the way. But it makes a lot of sense that I would have it: growing up, I had zero role models around me who would show me that women could be entrepreneurs or CEOs and if then they were so assimilated to the masculine business world that I did not relate to them. Understanding that we all have Unconscious Biases and even against ourselves was a very important insight that has shaped my JEDI programs to include what I call Mindful (Self) Leadership.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you tell us a story about how that was relevant in your own life?

Last year, I discovered that I have had a tendency in my life to take decisions without wanting to deal with the negative consequences. And let’s face it: absolutely every decision comes with positive and negative consequences. So last year, I (finally!) decided that I wanted to learn to deal with this better. I remembered an interview with the author Liz Gilbert where she said: “you just have to decide which version of shit sandwich you are willing to eat.” I realized that I had chosen my shit sandwich consciously and that I preferred it over all the other shit sandwiches out there so I would have to learn and accept the negative consequences that came with this decision rather than fighting them. This is when I took the decision that I would not suffer any longer about my own conscious decisions. And it worked. It has been life changing. It might sound trivial, but it brought me a lot of strength and empowerment. It kind of goes hand in hand with another one of my favorite quotes “The wound is the place where the light enters you” by Rumi, my favorite poet. There is no growth without pain…

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?

So, so many. I don’t even know where to start! In the last few years, it has definitely been my husband and business partner Alberto Jaen. He has a very calm and grounded personality despite his creative mind. He has taught me persistence and perseverance — in my personal relationships and in business. I don’t think I would have been a very successful entrepreneur without him for this very reason: without persistence there is no gain. Especially when you build your own business. I am a very flexible person but also very volatile. My life has not been short of adventures but getting older I was missing a routine and some consistency. He inspired me to find this balance.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

plus305 is an independent Social Impact Agency. We are a new model of communication agency connecting Purpose Branding and Value-based Communication with Culture Transformation and Social Sustainability. We are an interdisciplinary agency bringing together fields that have traditionally been separated. Many businesses are still working in silos. We believe that sustainability and JEDI cannot be implemented into the DNA of an organization unless you approach it as a corporate Culture topic. And Culture is always connected to Communication: internal and external. When we talk about purpose- and value-led communication, what we do is connect an organizations values and purpose to their sustainability journey, their communication, and culture building. Beyond supporting organizations walking the talk, we also do: we have a sustainable business model that is based on the Triple Bottom Line of People, Planet, and Prosperity.

Are you working on any new or exciting projects now? How do you think that might help people?

Our Social Impact Agency plus305 was selected to communicate Miami-Dade’s heat-related dangers due to climate change by developing a creative social sustainability campaign for the local county. Studies show that vulnerable populations are more at risk of being affected by heat-related illnesses and deaths. According to the Weather Channel, heat has been the leading cause of death in the US among weather-related fatalities for 30+ years and often happens on days with average rather than extreme heat. Per a 2018 study by a group of climate researchers, Miami experiences 133 high heat days every year — 27 more than it did in 1995. By 2075, the number is projected to hit 162. Yet, heat has failed to compete for media and government attention with Miami’s other major climate challenge: sea level rise.

We wanted to make sure that the campaign really speaks to everyone in an engaging way, so our Creative Director Alberto Jaen came up with the idea of involving local slam poet Eccentrich. Her poem connects the audience directly to culture, with a rhythm — like in a music video, creating an emotional connection. For the images, we scoured the streets together with Director Sergio Vizuete and filmed to align visuals with feelings, engaging the target like through a piece of art. The poet sets the tempo while reciting the words, with accompanying music emphasizing the crescendo towards the end.

The creation of this first ever heat campaign in Miami commissioned by Chief Heat Officer Jane Gilbert was made to protect everyone but especially those in lower-income neighborhoods inland where tree cover is 30% less than in upscale coastal areas, putting locals at risk during crises due to limited resources; waiting for buses on unshaded benches, no AC unit, and working outdoors on roofs. There is a strong correlation between equity and climate resilience, and the campaign works towards inclusion by targeting vulnerable zip codes. Miami-Dade County is drawing awareness to dangers in rising temperatures by declaring an annual “heat season” that will run from May 1 through Oct. 31 to increase extreme heat preparedness. As climate impacts mount, so does the urgency of resolving the equity challenge. Those least responsible for climate change are often the most vulnerable to changes in weather patterns and sea level rise, further exacerbating inequities.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I always felt that something was missing in my work. Having profitability as the only benchmark just didn’t feel right. At the same time, I was also disappointed by the NGO world with all their scandals back in the days. When I came across B Lab and first read Conscious Capitalism by the Whole Foods Market founders, I realized that we can create a new form of capitalism that made much more sense to me. I really believe in business as a force for good. After all, businesses are often a big part of the problem, so they also must be a part of the solution.

Supporting organizations in finding their purpose, their values, their voice in the world and accompanying them on their sustainability journey using creativity and strategy is beyond rewarding. You can of course not change companies from one day to the next, especially not if they are big international companies and you want to create long-term change. But we really believe that even small steps in the right direction can make a big difference. We are very adamant about not supporting green-, blue- or value-washing. And we tell our clients or prospective clients that, but we are equally adamant about not letting us stop because perfection can’t be achieved. Because perfect really is the enemy of good. Having the freedom to define our own values as entrepreneurs is one of the most important things to me. We integrated the Triple Bottom Line of benefiting People, the Planet, and Prosperity in equal measures into our companies’ bylaws. And we are also on a journey to become B Corp certified. I am also on the Board of the European Standards Committee of B Lab which certifies businesses which are a force for good. And I have just applied for a position at Solafrica to be a Board Member for the Marketing part of things. They are bringing solar technology to underdeveloped areas in Sub-Saharan Africa combining social and environmental sustainability with entrepreneurship and education. At the end of the day, trying to make a positive impact is more a way of life than something that is bound to a project: it is the way you talk to a waiter, treat your employees or clients, but also someone you don’t know and might need help and of course also your loved ones.

Ok. Thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main part of our interview. This may be obvious to you, but it is not intuitive to many people. Can you articulate to our readers five ways that increased diversity can help a company’s bottom line.

  1. Increased diversity per se does not necessarily boost the bottom line. Having a more diverse workforce is only the first step. Having said that, studies such as for instance this Wall Street Journal Study do show that diverse teams are more innovative and productive and manage risks better. However, what organizations really need to focus on is inclusion and equity within the organization. This is much harder to achieve. Just an example: even the most effective recruiting strategy for diversity won’t lead to long-term change if new talent isn’t supported to succeed.
  2. The same study concludes that diverse and inclusive cultures are providing companies with a competitive edge over their peers. The most important word in this sentence is Culture. In order to create an inclusive organization, you have to create an inclusive culture. The study says that “The 20 most diverse companies in the WSJ study had an average annual stock return of 10% over five years, versus 4.2% for the 20 least-diverse companies.”
  3. If Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI) is managed properly in an organizations, everyone within the company benefits. Because it creates a culture where everyone can bring their best selves to work. So when employees’ energy does not have to go into hiding their real identities anymore, this energy can go into creating value for the company. If workers feel like they belong, companies reap substantial bottom-line benefits. High belonging was linked to a whopping 56% increase in job performance, a 50% drop in turnover risk, and a 75% reduction in sick days. For a 10,000-person company, this would result in annual savings of more than $52M.
  4. Another reason is that inclusive culture businesses attract top-performing talent. Two-thirds (67 percent) of job seekers responding to a Glassdoor survey said that workforce diversity is important to them when evaluating employers and job offers.
  5. The more diverse the workforce, the better the understanding of the needs of diverse consumers. Imagine for instance a period-casre brand hiring a trans person that draws their attention to the fact that not everyone who menstruates necessarily identifies as a woman. That’s when inclusive ads like this are created which define the new normal and are so important to promote inclusion also on a societal level. Beyond that, they also help with the bottom line. Because consumers want to be able to see themselves in the world out there, in ads, the entertainment industry, see that there are role models that resonate with them, see that they are included, not excluded. This drives their purchasing decisions.

What advice would you give to other business leaders to help their employees to thrive?

Create an inclusive and equitable culture of belonging and address your culture transformation bottom-up and top-down. You will have to look at structural and systemic changes as well as at mindset changes equally and address all touchpoints with all stakeholders. Try to avoid working in silos. Culture is the invisible net that connects everything. It is what people say about you when you are not in the room. Connect your culture strategy to your brand strategy, your sustainability journey, your core business — the connecting force are your values, your WHY, your mission, and vision and then communicate and activate it internally and externally alike, including all stakeholders on the journey.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this 🙂

I would have wanted to meet Ruth Bader Ginsberg, but it’s unfortunately too late now. I would love to have a breakfast with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, I admire her energy, eloquence, her career, and her courage.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

You can find me on LinkedIn here. And you can find plus305 here: just sign up for the newsletter or get in touch if you are a change maker and would like to be portrayed in our Talks that Matter series.

Thank you for these excellent insights. We wish you continued success in your great work.

Thank you so much ☺!

Nadja-Timea Scherrer Of Social Impact Agency plus305 On Why Diversity Is Good For Business was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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