Making the Employer-Value Proposition More Inclusive to the Diversity of Working Families

BY Angelica Frey | May 22, 2023

Jessica Kim has cared for her mother during her battle with cancer, has three kids, and is now caring for her 84-year-old father. “I am living for the need of caregiving support for all ages, all stages,” she told journalist Megan Ulu-lani Boyanton during a panel at a From Day One virtual conference. Kim’s personal story led her to establish ianacare, a platform that helps navigate care in the home for caregivers. ‘iana’ stands for “I am not alone,” and, while unique in its unfolding, her life experience is mirrored in the situations more and more workers are facing as they are navigating employment, caring for their offspring, and caring for their aging and/or ailing parents.

“I had my grandmother living with me until she passed at 92, my mother-in-law lives with me, and my son has ADHD and came out as part of the LGBTQ+ population,” replied Singleton Beato, global EVP and chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer at the global advertising communication company McCann Worldgroup. “I am living in the middle of ages, stages, and life experiences.”

Inequities affect the caregiving population, but organizations are striving to create benefit packages that meet and address their needs. Caregiving populations are part of workplace demographics that, while not faced with outward hostility, have suffered from neglect. “Many issues are cultural,” said Kim. “When we think about how we respond to neglect, we have to see how we approach it: not just data or checkboxes.” 

Mental Health as a Springboard

“In the last few years, the common element was wellbeing and mental health,” said Livia Konkel, global diversity, equity, inclusion and corporate citizenship leader at the pharmaceutical company Charles River Laboratories. “Everything we do is centered on belonging and mental wellbeing. We have 5 pillars we work around: career, financial, physical, social, emotional. In all of that, we try to focus on benefits that will serve the whole person: one of the things we excel at is the emotional space.” On a related note, Charles River Laboratories eliminated the four-year degree requirements and added a tuition reimbursement for up to $20,000 “to make workplace easier to access,” said Konkel, herself a first-generation college graduate.

The full panel of speakers, from top left, moderator Megan Ulu-Lani Boyanton, Singleton Beato, Shalin Kothari, Kristen Carlisle, Jessica Kim, and Livia Konkel (photo by From Day One)

“Financial health is mental health is physical health,” said Kristen Carlisle, VP and general manager of the financial wellness benefits platform Betterment. “You’re not gonna be able to address every single thing, but you need to take time to step back: what’s working, what’s not working. 70% of people say their finances stress them. And when you are the employer, you say you do benchmarking, but in my own experience, I was making okay money but was also a caregiver and I was barely getting by.”

Taking a Holistic Approach

“What comes to mind when it comes to neglected demographics,” said Kim, “[is that] you don’t solve for what you don’t see: they don’t raise their hands and go to HR.”

It’s not an easy issue to address. “There is a lot of work to do: assessing the places in the world where the organization has facilities to understand what the underserved communities are, then building policies from there,” said Beato. “You need to make sure you understand what your folks need.” One example is making sure that one’s workplace and office building are, indeed, accessible to everyone on the spectrum of ability and disability. It’s also important to add policies and consideration for people going through menopause and to create gender-neutral facilities. “You need both the written policies and the physical conditions, [including] space to pray, and spaces where people like my son, who has ADHD, can collect themselves.”

The most obvious hurdle, in this instance, is funding. “Since the pandemic, people are more careful in how they spend their money. One of the things we need to improve is to make a business case showing how these implementations decrease healthcare costs, increase retention, and drive down attrition,” explained Shalin Kothari, vice president of people and DEI strategy at the digital automation company Schneider Electric. “We understate the cost of a new hire. There are a lot of hidden costs we don’t take into consideration.”

The Leading Role of Middle Managers

In order for these implementations to be successful and lasting, involvement has to go beyond executive leadership. “You have to ensure that your leaders are invested and also that they communicate and cascade their expectations down the chain to people’s managers, so that when these initiatives are pushed forward, the managers are going to help make the conditions and employees can take advantage of them,” said Beato. “A lot of executives are proponents of an inclusive culture,” said Kothari, backing up Beato. “Middle managers are often overwhelmed. Many of them today have a more diverse, multigenerational workforce, and the expectation is not just to manage their team, but to deliver as well.”

Given the way managing people has drastically changed in the last fifteen years, and will most likely continue to do so (compare managing six months into the pandemic to managing three years into it), “We decided to retain career coaching,” said Carlisle. This solution has been a way to help her own company’s middle managers. “We’re a benefits provider, and we provide our own: a whole lot of feedback!”

Angelica Frey is a writer and a translator based in Boston and Milan.


Providing Learning & Growth Opportunities for Employees, Even in Austere Times

Finding low-cost learning opportunities can be the difference between keeping an employee and losing them. According to an international poll by McKinsey, 41% of workers who quit their jobs in recent years did so because of a lack of career development opportunities, the most commonly cited reason for voluntary departure.“It’s important that we’re retaining our employees because we need that knowledge internally,” said Nicole Underwood, VP of HR business partners at visual media company Getty Images. The company’s workers are highly specialized, and it can be tough to find replacements. If they’re not able to backfill a vacated position, Getty offers others the chance to volunteer for the responsibilities on the table, opening up reach projects and promotable work. Underwood sees it as an investment “not only in the individual who gets the opportunity, but in the others who are surrounding them and see this as an opportunity to look for their own.” Watching colleagues grow can spark the motivation to do the same.During From Day One’s May virtual conference, Underwood and four other leaders in people operations and learning and development participated in a panel discussion, which I moderated, on how to provide career development opportunities for employees even in austere times.Fellow panelist Madhukar Govindaraju, the CEO at coaching and networking software company Numly, said that in the past he’s been in the unfortunate position of choosing who gets access to opportunities like coaches and mentoring. It’s a choice he’s not willing to accept anymore.“Even in a public company, I could afford executive coaching for only the top 4% of my organization. What do you do with the bottom 96%? Do you tell them to wait until they get promoted? You have to do something about it,” he said.“We do find ways to be scrappy,” said Jennifer Muszik, the head of worldwide field learning at biotech company Biogen. For instance, if you’re forced to roll back a third-party coaching app, replace it with an internal program. “Not everybody can get a coach, but who can get a mentor?” Biogen pays for some of its leaders to train as certified coaches with the expectation that they pass that knowledge along. “They’re going out into the organization and coaching others, then others get the benefit of that skill, and then can apply that within their own teams,” she said.“Internal talent is an amazing resource, and I’m always surprised at how interested people are to hear from one another,” said Greg Hill, the chief people officer at corporate wellness and fitness center operator Exos. He calls it “relatable learning.”The panelists from top left, moderator Emily McCrary-Ruiz-Esparza, Madhukar Govindaraju of Numly, Nicole Underwood of Getty Images, Jennifer Muszik of Biogen, Gina Larson of Teneo, and Greg Hill of Exos (photo by From Day One)Internal programs have their limits, and not everyone who wants a shot will get one, so panelists recommended selecting workers who already have specific goals in mind. “A lot of people say ‘I want to grow,’ and then when we talk to them about how they want to grow, they’re not really sure,” Hill noted.Gina Larsen, the senior director of talent development at PR advisory and executive consulting firm Teneo, said she likes to identify an employee with leadership potential, someone on the succession plan, but with some obstacle in their way, like a missing or underdeveloped skill.If you’re in a position where you do have to roll back a development program or be more selective with participants, speak frankly, but don’t spook the staff, said Hill. “Personal professional development and career growth is a non-starter, if you don’t offer it in this day and age,” he said. So rather than telling employees, “we’re not doing it right now,” tell them, “we’re going to do it differently for a while.” Some employers are designing elaborate development programs inside their organizations. At Getty Images, cohorts of about 25 employees go through a nine-month intensive where they learn how the business works and receive mentorship from senior leaders. At the end, they’re expected to document and pitch a new business idea.Not all proposals are chosen, but some are. Underwood said that one of the first cohorts came up with a mentoring program for members of underrepresented demographics. “It’s been wildly successful, and all of our senior leadership team has been tapped,” said Underwood. “We’ve seen over 75% of these employees have been promoted into the next role.”If you don’t have the HR budget for learning and development, check the sofa cushions, panelists said. Sales teams have learning and development budgets, and so do employee resource groups, said Govindaraju. “We have had very good success working with companies that have ERGs that are already chartered to drive engagement because now we’re bringing learning and engagement into one bucket.”If budget isn’t the problem, then it’s time, Govindaraju added. The HR department is overloaded, as are people managers, and there’s often little time left for running skill development programs. “Managers [are] already burdened with various things. Now you’re adding an element of learning how to code, and now suddenly you are responsible for the development of your team members,” he said. Teneo’s Larsen argued that austerity doesn’t require sacrificing ambition. When time is a luxury, she chooses fewer but bigger projects. Teneo recently flew in 25 senior leaders from around the world with the remit to collaborate and grow the business plan. It was a huge financial investment–but she was confident in the returns. If they put in $150,000 and just one of those leaders produces a $500,000 increase in revenue, the investment would be worth it.“It goes back to rigor and discipline,” said Larsen. “I think a really important part is not overburdening the learning team, because this takes a lot of time. So if we do an ambitious program that makes a big impact, you say goodbye to another program or two that’s less impactful so that you have the bandwidth and opportunity to make something that [requires more money], but is super impactful.”Emily McCrary-Ruiz-Esparza is a freelance journalist and From Day One contributing editor who writes about work, the job market, and women's experiences in the workplace. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, Quartz at Work, Fast Company, Digiday’s Worklife, and Food Technology, among others. 

Emily McCrary-Ruiz-Esparza | May 30, 2023

Equipping Workers With the Skills to Thrive in Times of Constant Change

Alicia Lopez is a true embodiment of Cisco's core belief in “One Company, Many Careers” and the principle that “An Individual Owns Their Career.” Lopez holds the position of head of learning and careers at Cisco, but her journey within the company began in 1996 as an operations manager. Over the years, she has taken on various roles, including chief of staff, manager of business operation and director of operations leadership and intelligence.The software development company has a four pronged approach in its learning and development efforts, all focused on how people’s personal brands, networks, expertise, and experience apply to a career mindset. “Your career shouldn’t just be something when you’re looking for a new job, but it should be something intentional and nurturing,” Lopez told journalist Kelly Bourdet during the closing fireside chat at From Day One’s April Virtual conference.Personal brand is the first line of action. When one thinks about personal brands, it’s easy to associate it with something outwardly facing, such as LinkedIn and Twitter. But it’s more than that.“It’s important that you’re known in your team, but it’s also your legacy: what do you want to create, what do you want people to know you did?” said Lopez.Journalist Kelly Bourdet, left, interviewed Alicia Lopez, right, during the virtual fireside chat (photo by From Day One)Learning and development also places a lot of emphasis on career exploration. The exploratory phase is one of the five mindsets that Lopez discussed during the fireside chat. “We always want to make sure you’re running towards something, not running away,” she said. To that, internal mobility is highly promoted: for the first 60 to 90 days, open positions are solely advertised internally. After exploration comes the establishing phase. “For the best role, you shouldn’t go to the role where you have 100% the skill,” Lopez said. “You always have to move and learn something different.”Once someone establishes themselves, the next mindset is achievement mode. This one is focused on upskilling opportunities. The following step focuses on giving back, and after that, there is reinvention, especially in light of recent technological developments like Chat GPT. “Reinventing is an important space. How do you want to show up and create a different soundtrack?” said Lopez. “How do you want to ensure [that your skills] stay relevant?”This approach also actively helps people interview and optimize their resume “We give a lot of support, which is sometimes met with resistance—part of the pushback was ‘you’re gonna train them to leave us,’” said Lopez. But, “it’s our job to nurture them.” Lopez said.“What we need to acknowledge is that there’s a war on talent, especially in skillsets that haven’t been created,” said Lopez. “One of the things we’re testing is how we can do some reskilling. A lot of places can do upskilling, but how can we help you reinvent yourself when we know what leaders are going to say you need”For now, they utilize something that Lopez calls self-driven reskilling. “We’re offering a variety of learning opportunities, similar to a master’s program,” she explains. “From a cost perspective it’s a break even, but we get loyalty and following, and that’s priceless.”At Cisco, learning is at the forefront and reskilling is rapid. Recently, Cisco started Cisco Illuminate, a quarterly event for all employees. The company takes employees offline for these events. Past speakers include Oprah Winfrey, Michelle Obama, Robin Arzon. The last Illuminate event attracted 45% of the workforce. “What we found is that employees are canceling meetings and saying we’re going. Leaders are moving meetings,” said Lopez. The next Illuminate event will focus on teams in a hybrid workforce. “What we’re finding is that we still need connection when it’s relevant. We’re starting to see studies where career is impacted,” said Lopez. “We’re just paying attention, we don’t want to pull people together to have coffee together, we want it to be purposeful.”Angelica Frey is a writer and a translator based in Boston and Milan.

Angelica Frey | May 25, 2023

How Career Growth Can Be a Part of Employee Experience From the Start

For all the cultural discourse about employees today demanding greater respect and appreciation, a better work-life balance, and other intangibles like a sense of purpose, make no mistake: money still talks. “We’ve all heard that people don’t leave jobs, they leave their bad bosses,” said Lydia Dishman, senior editor for growth and engagement at Fast Company, moderating a panel for From Day One’s April virtual conference. However, Dishman was also quick to point out Pew Research data that revealed that the number-one reason workers quit is low pay. And what was tied for the top spot? A lack of opportunities for advancement, which Dishman noted is also tied to earnings. The further they move up at a job, the more money they make.Certainly, good company leaders who are dedicated to employee well-being should treat workers better and mindfully develop ways to do so–if only for the sake of productivity, higher retention rates, and a stronger bottom line. But they still need to fairly compensate team members and supply them with the promise of enhanced pay through career growth. This commitment is a win-win for the employee and the employer, but how can organizations make it a reality for their team members? That’s what Dishman’s five panel guests discussed, and here are their key insights:Establish a Learning Culture“Creating an environment that values learning and encourages employees to experiment, share their knowledge and take on new challenges is really critical,” said Angie Maizlish, senior enterprise account executive at Coursera, the online learning platform that focuses on job skills. That’s not only something Coursera advocates for, but lives by. Maizlish says the company recently launched a “Make-AI-athon,” which encouraged team members to engage with the burgeoning AI technology that’s made so many headlines of late and use it to build out email campaigns and other content. “It’s really important again to, right from the start, develop that culture of learning [by creating] learning opportunities,” Maizlish continued. “Secondly, really developing a growth mindset in: ‘How do we learn from our mistakes?’”Maizlish says that in sales, for example–the playground Maizlish operates in everyday—workers experience robust rejection. But persistence and resilience allow employees, based in sales or any other area, to grow from their “failures.”Third, Maizlish says leaders must communicate expectations to establish a foundational understanding of what an employee can do to help a company and improve their chances of advancing within it. Employers should also establish mentorship programming, while providing feedback and recognition for learning accomplishments, too.Take Learning to the “Micro” LevelOftentimes, when a worker starts a new job and is onboarded, they feel overwhelmed by the glut of information projected at them. It’s unpleasant and, really, an enthusiastic employee—like the one you believe you just hired—just wants to be productive. Elizabeth Fiting, chief learning officer at Studio 5, a creative agency that specializes in people development, says that workers are reaching out to learn things as part of their everyday jobs, but generally when it's immediately useful.So, “rather than having content firehosed at them during onboarding,” Fiting explained, where about the highest expectation is that the worker will vaguely remember something being said about a given topic, “and maybe if they’re lucky they’ll remember where to find that information when they need it,” Fiting suggested people managers set up “microlearning” opportunities. Microlearning isn’t just a small chunk of information that a worker can process and take with them. It’s “targeted” and “flexible,” Fiting said, and gives the employee the chance to utilize the information right away, as it is needed.“They solve their problem, and then they move on, which makes a ton of sense when you think about the way that most of us are solving our problems in our everyday lives,” Fiting said. “If you have a leak in your kitchen sink, you’re not going online and Googling, ‘How do I get a plumbing certification?’ You are finding a video that a plumber has created showing you how to fix that leak, you’re fixing your leak, and then you’re moving on with your life.”The panelists discussed the importance of career growth opportunities during From Day One's April virtual conference (photo by From Day One)What does microlearning look like in onboarding—which is programming that Studio 5 not only has in-house but helps other companies develop? Fiting says that, at Studio 5, there’s a practice of communicating what resources are available to employees. When employees get to a given “point of need,” they’re provided a short instructional video or easy access to a job aid that helps them complete a task. This approach, Fiting said, “honors an individual’s experience” and the knowledge they already bring to the job, “while also providing them the support that they need when they need it.”Make Learning a Daily PracticeKelly Woltornist, head of global learning at Takeda, a Japanese multinational pharmaceutical company, says that her company’s people managers use onboarding as an opportunity to teach employees about the company’s history—which actually goes back 240 years—as well as its values, to create a sense of belonging and purpose. But the learning doesn’t end there for workers. In fact, it happens everyday. “We do work in growth mindset,” Woltornist said. “We enable them to be curious, and we teach them how to learn.”Much of this approach is founded upon layers of mindfulness and intentionality. Woltornist said employees are asked to consider, “How do you think about what you’re doing that day?” and “What can you extract from it?” They also identify a skill they can practice in their day-to-day duties, “but do it from a very deliberate perspective,” Woltornist said.Takeda has also recently launched a learning experience platform that boasts high adoption rates and helps establish the company-wide culture of daily learning through a variety of content and interactive features. “​​When people join the workforce, they’ve put their academic career behind them; they don’t like to think of themselves as students anymore,” observed Dishman. “I know that I railed against that the first couple of years after I graduated and entered the workforce.” She says she had a sense of “I got my paper,” proving that she’d already learned everything she needed to know. Since then, Dishman’s realized the value of new knowledge and continuing on through life with “a student mindset.” For her, “Everyday is a school day.”Identify Key SkillsEmployers can make growth a little easier for workers to wrap their head around if they first identify key skills the company will need its employees to develop over time. Not only does this future-proof the operation, it keeps workers engaged through learning.Shveta Miglani, head of global learning and development at Micron Technology, a medical memory and storage solutions company, says this is a vital approach given the quick pace at which external markets evolve. To decipher the areas in which workers may need to upskill, Miglani advises people leaders and other executives to first conclude what their business goals for the next three to five years may be. “Don’t think about moving fast,” Miglani told leaders listening in. “Think about scaling and starting with your function first.”Encourage Employees to Identify Their Goals and Communicate Them to ManagersNarrowing down what employees should learn and how they can grow in ways that best serve their company and their own careers can be achieved through a “down-up” approach, too. Lauren Mendoza, director of organizational development at ABM Industries, a facilities management provider, says that, in addition to company executives figuring out business goals and targeting skills they want workers to develop, the process can also be inverted. Employees should identify their career goals, communicate them to managers and then collaborate on a potential pathway.“If you are an employee, you are trying to think: ‘Where do I want to go?’ ‘How do I want to get there?’” Mendoza said. But employees should first consider, Mendoza noted: “What are you trying to achieve?” Furthermore, employees should identify whether or not they are happy in their current role, or even if they need more time, experience, and education to determine their level of contentment. From there, they can think about vertical or lateral movements, Mendoza said. “Maybe you are in the HR department, trying to become that subject-matter expert of any field within HR, and you want exposure to recruitment benefits, L&D, talent management–so many different areas,” Mendoza said. “Reach out, find a network, create an area where you can find mentors, and know your HR business partner.”An employee’s direct people manager, Mendoza continued, is the person who can talk through available options for career paths and learning opportunities. “‘Are there certain courses that are allocated at different levels?’ ‘Certain courses that are offered to high performers?’ ‘What is the high performer here?’” Mendoza said. “I think that those are all really good questions to ask your HR business partner.”Michael Stahl is a New York City-based freelance journalist, writer, and editor. You can read more of his work at, follow him on Twitter @MichaelRStahl, and order his first book, the autobiography of Major League Baseball pitcher Bartolo Colón, at Abrams Books.

Michael Stahl | May 17, 2023