“We need to use analytics to help people understand why diversity, inclusion, and belonging is important but there are practical systemic realities that inhibit it, and why we need to re-code the system with first principles and new frameworks to make a difference!” said Shujaat Ahmad, WG’17.

Shujaat Ahmad, WG’17, is passionate about the people side of business.

He explained, “I wanted to work in people analytics to influence business leaders in investing in their people as a way to drive financial, innovation, and social impact value in tandem. In the process, I wanted to empower those who are marginalized because of their backgrounds. We can use analytics to help drive discussions and build frameworks around diversity, inclusion, and belonging (DIBs as we call it at LinkedIn).”

In Shujaat’s work at LinkedIn, he is known as a global champion of DIBs. “Back in 2017, in early days of our DIBs journey, I put my hand up to get involved in quantifying what we aspire to solve, what we need to get there, and how to set measurable goals and get leadership buy-in — all while leveraging people analytics. Those projects quickly grew, and my people analytics portfolio expanded to become the advisor on DIBs as well.”

At the same time, in addition to his day job, he was selected to serve as a regional and then global co-chair of the company’s Embrace Employee Resource Group (ERG), which works to drive belonging for underrepresented races, cultures, and nationalities. The group focuses on a global context, embracing differences across geographies.

Shujaat with the ERG group at LinkedIn.

He said, “My day job was in people analytics, and I also worked on the ERG, but both of these roles took on completely different dimensions when the pandemic hit. Our company’s top priorities came under the purview of these roles — amplifying DIBs efforts at a time when people were working remotely under the stress of a pandemic and civic unrest that was happening globally, and designing the long-term strategy for our future of work that met talent needs for flexibility while delivering innovation and productivity.”

The Embrace ERG’s work, co-led by Shujaat, in building global connective tissue during the height of the pandemic lockdown was also featured in Fast Company. “That’s when these roles completely blended because we had to ensure the future of work strategy focused on both being flexible and equitable. It became imperative why leaders in general need to use analytics to help people understand why DIBs is important as a business priority and put together frameworks for it. The world of work needs to embrace this amazing opportunity to redesign the systems that hold us back, and address unintended bias systemically,” added Shujaat, who was recognized by LinkedIn’s CEO for his DIBs work with a first-of-its-kind global award in this space.

Learning about DIBs at Wharton

Shujaat credits Wharton’s EMBA program, particularly the Global Modular Course on Leadership and Conflict Resolution in Rwanda, for his success in this area.

“I went to Rwanda for Prof. Katherine Klein’s course as I started thinking about how to combine diversity, analytics, and business strategy. In Rwanda, I saw how you can take emotional and logical levers to make a difference simultaneously to economic and social development — particularly post-genocide. The learnings from the course will always stay with me,” he said. “The course gave me a real understanding of how an entire country can make behavioral changes to reconcile biases of the past, drive belonging, and be more inclusive. It gave me a different perspective that leadership isn’t about just being transformative for one group that you represent because it fuels an ‘us vs. them’ mentality — it’s about being transformative and inclusive equally to drive growth for all.”

Since graduation, Shujaat has continued engaging with Wharton faculty on diversity, inclusion, and belonging. “Prof. Stephanie Creary teaches a diversity class in the full-time MBA program and invited me to participate in research workshops with academic and industry, as well as teach the MBA class on how to enable meaningful DIBs in the corporate world.”

Those workshops, he noted, highlighted a key finding: “Belonging is broken at the manager level. If your team leader is not enabling you, the DIBs initiative will not work. We talked about how to break the old ways of doing things and what needs to change.”

He added, “I went back to LinkedIn and merged my experiences as an ERG leader with the insights from Wharton and then blended that with people analytics and strategy, it was a moment that mattered.”

Shujaat at a summit with his LinkedIn colleagues and then CEO Jeff Weiner, W’92.

Last fall, Shujaat joined two sessions of Prof. Creary’s Diversity class to share his insights on forming effective diverse teams and sit on a panel discussion about enabling DIBs in companies. He focused the session for the students to take away several pieces of advice:

  • “Look at your organization’s DIBs landscape. Where are you and what needs to change?”
  • “Be clear about why your company needs to make changes. It could be because diversity is good for business and/or because diversity is the right thing to do. But you can’t just hire diverse people without driving belonging because those hires will likely still feel like outsiders.”
  • “Understand that diverse teams win, but it’s not just about a diverse-looking team. Understand the elements that help a diverse team be successful, which includes things like inclusion, belonging, and sharing decision rights.”
  • “People Analytics can enable all of the above if you use reliable, accurate data to understand the problem better, ensure that people analyzing and interpreting DEI data are highly-skilled in these tasks, and meet potential changemakers where they are by having data-driven conversations and providing insights on ways to advance DIBs”

Today, Shujaat is helping LinkedIn build a post-pandemic world focused on flexibility and equity. He said, “My goal at Wharton was to work in people analytics to help business leaders to make decisions in a way that talent becomes a strategic lever — and that is good for people and business. When you are good to your people, your people can become social change agents. You can bring together different groups of people to create real belonging and form effective teams. I wouldn’t be in this role at LinkedIn if I hadn’t gone to Wharton.”

Shujaat pointed to Wharton’s EMBA program as a great way to learn more about DIBs. “You can test yourself, and become comfortable with being uncomfortable (and not be afraid to make a fool out of yourself at times) in a safe environment with people from all kinds of different backgrounds. You can learn about leadership here and what it means to be inclusive and consider diverse perspectives at both a macro and micro level.”

Click here to read more about Shujaat’s transition from consulting to people analytics.

By Meghan Laska

Posted: April 4, 2022

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