Diversity in a workgroup allows employees from different backgrounds to provide new ideas, which helps drive the organization’s growth. This principle is used by many of the world’s most successful companies, one of which is the Orlando Magic.
We recently interviewed Esu Ma’at, Chief Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Officer (DE&I) at the Orlando Magic, and we wanted to share his feedback.
As Orlando Magic’s Chief Diversity. Equity and Inclusion Officer, Esu created the strategic and tactical framework for (DE&I) within the company. It focuses on increasing diversity within the workforce, inspiring discretionary effort through belonging and inclusion in the workplace, and formalizing supplier diversity.
What does diversity mean to you?
EM: In our organization, we use this definition: “Diversity is a business process where we leverage the mix of differences and similarities to achieve our business goals and objectives. That’s a little different from what happens in other organizations, focusing only on differences. There is much more beyond what, at first glance, we can see as differences. When we look underneath those characteristics, we find more similarities than we think. That’s why we need to work with the mix that is born out of all the differences and similarities.
Do you think inclusion should also be connected to diversity?
EM: Absolutely. We’re talking about people, so inclusion consists of people being authentic, being themselves, not having to change, and being able to contribute in a way that is meaningful to them.
That’s where inclusion starts to make sense.
In terms of our group, we must keep working to bring more people into the scene, and empowering more people to join the party. I love the saying: “That diversity is being invited to the party, but inclusion is being invited to dance.”
Why did you focus your career on equality and social justice integration within large companies?
EM: I didn’t choose it. In my first job at USTA, as a territory manager in New York City, my boss had some diverse responsibilities, and to support her, she made me the diversity liaison. That’s how I started learning about it. Even though it wasn’t formal in our organization, it was more transactional and activity-based.
When she left, management asked me what I wanted to do, and I said I wanted to start a formal diversity initiative, so I started the USTA diversity and inclusion program, and I did that for 10 years. Then I moved to Lake Nona to join the national diversity team and try to replicate some of the diversity initiatives I did in New York with some of our other regional offices around the country.
I finally made it to Orlando in 2018 and started working for the Orlando Magic in 2020.
But for me, this work is a labor of love. I really believe it’s my small contribution to making the world a better place. I’ve seen and experienced conversations that people have around diversity at work. If these conversations are brought home and shared with family, friends, and children, there’s a real multiplier effect.
I like to tell people that this isn’t about political correctness, it’s about emotional intelligence, so if you work to develop your own emotional intelligence and share it in other environments or on your social networks and get the message out beyond the office, we can help make the world a better place.
What is the most challenging thing you have had to deal with to enhance the visibility of minorities?
EM: The cynicism and microaggressions that are generated around this work. I’ve even been exposed to microaggressions myself. But I’ve learned three things:
- Changing people’s mentality is not an easy task. We bring our baggage of inherited ideas, and it takes time to get some of these things out of our system, so it is a road we must travel.
- I can’t take things or make things personal. If I get a microaggression, I’m not the person who’s going to insult you. I’m the person who’s going to help you.
- I learned that there is a way to have these conversations with people and build bridges, you have to create and expand positive thinking, especially in today’s society, so I choose to try to build.
What is the most satisfying thing or the greatest learning experience you have had during your professional career?
EM: The most satisfying experience for me is learning to understand and overcome my own unconscious biases and becoming an ally to other people. I once had a co-worker whose daughter was an LGBTQ teenager. We were at a Pride month parade, and we were the last ones to leave, so I made the mistake of saying, “Look, I’ve had them here all day, and I feel bad. So, if they don’t get us out at 8 pm, we’re just going to go and celebrate. We had a great time.” And this teenager said, “NO. I’m not going home. You don’t know what it’s like to grow up as a teenager in an Orthodox Jewish home and be gay. She told us that this was the first parade she was attending, and she wasn’t going home until she saw the parade.
Tears came to my eyes. I turned around, looked at everyone, and said we were going to parade. Her father told me that he had never seen her so happy, that he couldn’t believe it, that it was unbelievable. I turned to him and said, “Good for you, man, good for you, because even though you don’t understand or agree, you love your daughter, and you know it’s important to her” We were all touched to see it, and to see the satisfaction he felt at her happiness.
What impact would you like to generate within the community?
EM: My philosophy is that diversity is not equal to equality. We have to understand that there are people from all walks of life who can do business with us. We have to learn to create meaningful connections with others and build relationships that transform the vision we have.
The first objective is to build these relationships, without any bias, beyond talent or what people have or are willing to offer.
What would you like our members to know about you, maybe something no one else knows?
EM: My first presentation for the Orlando Magic was called “None of us are as good as we are together,” which means it’s not about black people or white people or Jews or Latinos. It’s about everyone.
We need to be able to celebrate the differences that currently exist, foster the spirit of collaboration, service what exists in this community, and do it together.
What is your definition of success?
EM: I’ll tell you what my definition of success is. Everyone else may have their own definition of success, but for me, it’s when the alarm clock goes off, and I’m excited to get up and go to work.
Esu holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics from Fairleigh Dickinson University and a Master of Science degree in Sports Management from Columbia University. He completed his DE&I training at Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations.
Esu’s role within the Orlando Magic is multidimensional, with a focus on integrating the DE&I strategy with the Magic’s business objectives, along with team values and key performance indicators; attracting, engaging, and retaining diverse talent; taking responsibility for driving equity and ownership; and enhancing organizational culture, brand reputation, and social impact.
HCCMO’s Supplier Diversity Program
Supplier Diversity is a program that encourages the hiring of diverse-owned businesses that are minority certified and historically underutilized business vendors as suppliers.
The purpose of this program is to educate business owners about different options and opportunities available to these diverse-owned businesses. These initiatives help start and develop relationships with buyers from major corporations.
If you would like more information our the Chamber’s Supplier Diversity Academy, please contact Nelia Castro, Program and Events Manager at firstname.lastname@example.org.