Research findings often state that diverse teams produce new perspectives and better results. In this episode of Mastering Innovation on Sirius XM Channel 132, Business Radio Powered by The Wharton School, guest Malik Majeed, President and CEO of PRWT Services, explained how diversity within an organization cultivates innovation through what Majeed calls “diversity of thought.”
PRWT Services is one of the largest minority-owned companies in the country. The firm provides business process solutions, facilities management, and infrastructure services to clients ranging from small businesses to the federal government. Originally founded with the mission to bring women into the workforce, they continue to express a commitment to socially conscious and responsible practices.
When working with clients, PRWT Services looks for synergistic relationships: Majeed emphasized that partnerships must be complementary in order to be effective. In a similar fashion, he discussed balancing investments in leading edge and bleeding edge technology, and how the firm remains flexible according to the direction their clients need. Majeed believes that diverse representation within the company has encouraged employees to think differently and ask challenging questions – both important drivers of innovation.
An excerpt of the interview is transcribed below. Listen to more episodes here.
Saikat Chaudhuri: Clearly, diversity is very important to you in terms of impact on society, but also in your company. I was wondering: being a minority-owned business, have you faced any additional challenges that one may not have otherwise faced, and how do you deal with that?
Malik Majeed: At the end of the day, the answer is yes. At least from my vantage point and from my colleagues’ vantage points, the answer is yes, because we find ourselves having to always prove we can do it. We’ve been around 30-plus years now.
Chaudhuri: Your track record helps.
Majeed: Our track record helps, but even today, if I go into a meeting, I may find myself in a situation where people say, “You can do what, or you do what, or you’ve done what?” They really want to know and understand how are you able to do it, so the real answer is yes.
As a minority-owned company, you’re typically forced to deal with those kinds of things: “How have you been able to do this? Is what we’re reading on your website real?” As long as you can keep the dialogue going, they start to know and understand you have the subject matter expertise. It’s a small hurdle that you have to overcome. That’s just our reality.
“We find ourselves having to always prove we can do it. It’s a small hurdle that you have to overcome. That’s just our reality.” – Malik Majeed
Chaudhuri: We read and hear a lot about the problems and the issues, which you’ve also articulated, but getting to the solutions is the harder part. I like your attitude. You’re saying, “Look, I invest and demonstrate I’m knowledgeable. Then, we get over that hump. We wish we were in a world where that would not even be an issue, but if it is, here’s how to do it.” The good news is, the more we’re able to see success stories like these, the more those biases might go away at some point.
Chaudhuri: Now, coming to the solutions point as well: how exactly does diversity help within your company? What does it do?
Majeed: Well, it helps within our company, because you will find from a business perspective, whether it’s on the commercial side or the government side, there has been a push. Particularly, on the government side, it has existed a lot longer than on the commercial side, whether it was mandates by the government that said, “Thou shalt have a certain complement of staff,” or a complement of a contract has to go to minority vendors, if you will.
On the commercial side, it started to pick up momentum in the last 10 or 15 years, particularly with organizations like the National Minority Supplier Development Council and the Billion Dollar Roundtable. What happens for us is, a lot of times, because of our track record, we will get the call to say, “Hey, look. There’s this long-standing business process, outsourcing, facilities management, infrastructure support service provider headquartered in Philadelphia that probably can help you on a particular contract.” You get together with those companies, you talk about scope, you talk about your areas of expertise vis-à-vis their areas of expertise, you come together, and you create a viable workable solution. That’s really where the partnership comes in.
Chaudhuri: How do we promote more minority businesses, entrepreneurship and innovation by minorities, or appreciation for the value of having different kinds of people in an organization? How can we organizationally create a culture and an environment where we promote that?
Majeed: Well, I’ll tell you. There are organizations out there – National Minority Supplier Development Council, Eastern Minority Supplier Development Council. There are other businesses out there, but companies themselves can do it as well. What we do is, we pride ourselves on being mentors. An entrepreneur can feel free to give me a call, have coffee, lunch, dinner. We can talk about their aspirations, because they’re just an entrepreneur trying to make that next step. If they’re in business, what we typically try to do is put our money where our mouth is. We support each other by buying from their services or products.
“Having individuals from different backgrounds or different cultures, that’s how you get that diversity of thought which allows you to be even more innovative.” – Malik Majeed
Then lastly, as I mentioned at the start of our conversation, we will bring them in as subcontractors to become a part of our delivery model. There are several things we can do. The other thing, quite frankly, is you have to make sure you have a diverse workforce. To the extent that you have a diverse workforce, you’re talking the talk. You’re walking the walk. You have a culture that is diverse. People see that there are other people of different races, nationalities, and so forth that can deliver – gender included. Then, it becomes more of a momentum shift around how society looks at the issue of being a minority and what minorities bring to the table.
Chaudhuri: Are there certain advantages to having a workforce that is very varied and comes from different backgrounds and perspectives?
Majeed: I absolutely believe that to be the case. I’ve always said there’s diversity of race, gender, and ethnicity, but there’s also diversity of thought. Having individuals from different backgrounds or different cultures when you bring them into your organization, as long as there’s collaboration and communication, that’s how you get that diversity of thought which allows you to be even more innovative.
Chaudhuri: Yes, that’s really an important point. That’s really what the research suggests, too, that more diverse teams, along all those dimensions that you mentioned, give us many new perspectives, ideas, insights, and better outcomes. It’s something that we’ve demonstrated over time. It’s just very hard to remove these biases that people might have ex-ante, sometimes unknowingly. That’s part of the problem, until you make a concerted effort to actually go and promote those activities.
About Our Guest
Malik Majeed joined PRWT in September 2007 as SVP, Human Resources and Payroll, where he was charged with the responsibility of helping to lead the integration of Cherokee Pharmaceuticals into the PRWT family of companies. Since the divestiture of Cherokee Pharmaceuticals in 2010, Majeed assumed increasingly more responsibility, becoming its General Counsel, Chief Operating Officer, and President & CEO, in 2015, where he has been instrumental in shaping the company’s current strategic direction for its current family of companies which include PRWT Services, Inc., U.S. Facilities, Inc. and PRWT Services – Florida, LLC. In 2016, Smart CEO Magazine recognized Majeed as CEO of the Year in their diverse business category. Prior to joining PRWT, Majeed served as an attorney and Director of Human Resources and Payroll Operations for a Fortune 500 Company for more than a decade and spent several years in commercial banking. He is licensed to practice law in the States of New Jersey and Colorado as well as the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
Majeed earned his Juris Doctorate degree from Rutgers School of Law, his Master’s degree in business (MBA) from Rutgers Graduate School of Management, and his Bachelor’s degree (BA) from Rutgers University. Majeed is Secretary of the Boards of Directors of PRWT and U.S. Facilities, Inc., a member of the Executive Committee of the Board of the Urban League of Philadelphia, a member of the Finance Committee for the Board of Trustees at Neumann University in Aston, PA., and a member of both the Finance and Facilities Management Committees for the Board of Trustees at Virtua Hospital.
Mastering Innovation is live on Thursdays at 4:00 p.m. ET. Listen to more episodes here.