A quick background on D&I
One of the biggest challenges People Ops and HR leaders face today is: how do I create a culture that improves the employee experience and is inclusive of employees from diverse backgrounds? Meanwhile, HR leaders must also ask themselves: how do I live up to my own integrity and build the kinds of teams that make me proud? These two questions go hand in hand. After all, the most forward-thinking People Operations, D&I, and HR Leaders are balancing how to create organizations, recruit and retain the best people, and establish the mission, vision, and values that inspire themselves and their workforce to build the most successful companies.
Yet, 2020 has not brought us the structural change many of us were hoping for. While it seems like we’ve been discussing how to increase diversity, inclusion, and belonging in the workforce for decades, there are currently no Black women or Latina CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. What does that mean for people leaders in fields dominated by women, but where most executives are not women and do not come from diverse backgrounds?
Highlighting just how much work needs to be done in regards to D&I, leading tech companies have shown little progress in their yearly D&I reports. Tech’s diversity problem, however, is not unique. It mirrors corporate America’s diversity problem. Too often, we see too few people of color, women, and members of the LGBTQ community in leadership positions, or in roles capable of making institutional change.
A commitment to increasing diversity at organizations requires more than one-off D&I initiatives. Instead, HR leaders must think of hiring, culture, education, and career mapping holistically, so that D&I is not siloed and becomes woven into the very foundation of the company.
What is one of the biggest challenges people leaders face in terms of getting their organization to take D&I seriously?
Jay: It’s a real challenge if it originates from the People Ops function. If you are saying: I don’t think we have enough women engineers or we’re not attracting enough people of color to our workplace —if saying that originates from the people team— I think it’s harder to champion because then it looks like an initiative that HR is pushing. And just like any people or talent program, it’s similar if HR wants to revamp any system, the catalyst needs to be organic and coming from either the employees or an outside event.
So ideally, there has been a catalytic event like a new leader coming in or a moment where an executive felt flat-footed at a press conference, or an exposé of a competitor. These events are frequent, and they expose to the executive team important issues that they feel they need to focus on, but they’re not sure how or where to start. That’s when they ask for help from the People Ops team.
Those are the best set of conditions. Something sparks a discussion around D&I and members of the executive team champion it. If it’s not like that, it’s a very hard change to implement and your timelines shift in regards to how quickly change is going to happen.
What should HR and People Operations leaders keep in mind when it comes to improving D&I at their company and trying to create organizational change?
Jay: I think it starts with this: stop thinking of D&I as a program or an initiative disconnected from your hiring process. The most successful programs are integrated in your existing talent and processes. One of the things I’ve often said to HR teams is: let's make sure our other initiatives live up to our D&I values, whether it’s culture, training, or mentorship programs.
I have led D&I at multiple companies and some of them are global and multinational companies. One of the things that comes up as a starting point is: how do you make the case for D&I and get executives to buy-in? And what you do there really helps start its own journey. Each journey is unique and you’re dealing with different barriers and work-arounds depending on how and where the need to create a more inclusive workplace is originating.
In D&I, companies often take a “numbers-first” approach, as in, we need to have X number of “diverse candidates.” Meanwhile, there isn’t support for people from different backgrounds at their organization, or new hires can feel tokenized when they get there. How can HR leaders avoid this and improve their recruiting efforts to attract people from a variety of different ethnicities, cultures, genders, and backgrounds?
Jay: Start with your people data, and how you measure it. When it comes to the talent lifecycle, you shouldn't just measure D&I at one point, like recruiting or attrition rates. You should be reviewing your people data at every stage of the employee lifecycle. For example: how many women are staying past their first performance review? Do employee tenures improve with compensation or title changes? What has been the impact of high potential learning and development programs on employees of color? When employees are involved in special projects, does this affect their duration at your company?
If you don’t have data, you need to find a way to start tracking your employee data, and that’s what the people team needs to focus on. Is the issue with your recruiting? For example, you're not sourcing diverse candidates or diverse candidates aren’t getting past a certain phase. If so, what is your organization doing wrong? Maybe we can do something different with onboarding or our buddy system, or perhaps we need to change our exit interview process.
In order to set D&I and organizational change up for success, HR leaders must act like data analysts. You make your case with people data. Data is your currency to make business decisions.
What types of programs, support, or resources need to exist in order to launch a D&I initiative that reflects both the needs of your organization and the needs of your people?
Jay: It’s helpful if you define the problem at your company specifically, like you don’t have enough Latinx leaders or your attrition rate of Black marketers is much higher than average at your organization. The more defined the problem, the more measurable it is, and you don’t have to debate the key metrics. There’s an old saying: what gets measured gets done. So, the more you can get clear metrics around this, the better you can diagnose what’s going on, and then implement processes to prevent it.
For example, let’s say it’s women on your sales team, and you have an organization where 85% of your sales team are men. Your head of sales isn’t sure what to do. One of the conditions that’s really helpful in changing this is if any of your female sales team members have some kind of seniority. If not, the problem is that women will rarely survive the hiring process because they look around and don’t see role models or people like them succeeding.
So if you can have one person to put on interview panels and mentor and build around a nucleus, you can have a virtuous cycle and convince women managers to come in, and then the two women members of the sales team have more bandwidth to mentor more women. The reason it’s called diversity and inclusion is diversity is the numbers demographics, and inclusion makes sure those peoples’ voices are heard and they’ll stay, that way you can unlock and utilize that diversity.
What are other organic methods to improve D&I at your organization?
Jay: Forming Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) is a great tactic. Getting people with similar backgrounds to spend time together is an important part of fostering belonging. Most of these groups pass through three developmental phases.
First, they get together because they feel comfortable and they get together regularly and consistently. Over time, having a social connection is not enough, and that’s when they transition into their second phase, and the group seeks a platform for development. Maybe the ERG wants to host a speakers series or receive training, and these types of initiatives are great for the development and education of the entire company.
The third phase is when the ERG becomes large and influential and they start to influence strategy. The CEO will meet with employees who are a part of the ERG regularly to get their input. I’ve seen groups like this have a lot of success at some of the bigger banks and at companies like Nike and they have the power to change how products are marketed.
For example, at Minted, we have an LGBTQ group. And we kept getting questions from our customers about why our product didn’t reflect gay couples. So we started brainstorming about what sort of diversity mix should be reflected across our entire assortment of cards. That’s the kind of thing that’s a natural developmental phase to leverage that sense of belonging to make meaningful change at a strategy level at your company.
Any last words of advice?
Jay: It’s important to understand that when it comes to D&I, this isn’t something you just start and finish, it’s a never ending journey for People Ops or HR teams. When you decide to make a change, it’s often harder and slower than people expect. It’s something you have to sustain, you can never take the pressure off the pedal.