Is Your Company Inclusive About Career Growth and Leadership Advancement?

BY Susan Kelly | May 23, 2023

Corporate diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts that gained urgency after George Floyd’s murder three years ago are losing momentum. As mass layoffs sweep across the U.S., evidence is accumulating: More workers in DEI roles (33%) have been laid off since late 2020 than those in non-DEI positions (21%).

“Some of those are the very first roles to be cut,” said Meghan Pickett, leadership trainer at management training company LifeLabs Learning. The disproportionate rate at which DEI professionals are losing positions correlates with sharp declines in diverse hiring, according to Revelio Labs, which tracked attrition levels at more than 600 U.S. companies.

Pickett, a Ph.D. candidate in industrial and organizational psychology, shared the troubling statistics during a panel on inclusive career growth and leadership advancement at From Day One’s recent conference in Chicago.

Journalist Maudlyne Ihejirika, who moderated the event, said in the wake of Floyd’s murder, corporate America made many promises to embark on or expand DEI initiatives. “We subsequently saw an explosion of DEI officers across industries,” she said.

Ihejirika began the conversation by asking, have the efforts of the past three years been successful in achieving career advancement for employees of color and propelling more of those employees into leadership positions?

“The short answer, I think, is no,” said Pickett. After Floyd’s death, a lot of companies sought out LifeLabs’ “Behaviors of Inclusion” workshop, she said. Now, “that's starting to ebb a little bit,” Pickett said. “We're really having to push to say, ‘No, this is actually a core part of what we're teaching. It's embedded into what we teach in all of our content.’ So I'm seeing what used to be that commitment wane.”

Jamie Adasi, head of inclusion, diversity, equity and allyship (IDEA) for hiring software provider Greenhouse, said she’s hearing about layoffs hitting DEI teams from colleagues at networking events. “I’m seeing lots of cuts,” she said. Still, companies that have ingrained DEI into their businesses and consider these values a competitive advantage have seen excellent progress, said Adasi. “It really does depend on where you're at and the vision and mission of the company and your leaders,” she said.

Northern Trust's senior vice president, FaLisa Jones, said the 134-year-old bank’s commitment to DEI has produced measurable results. “Our hiring practices and our recruiting practices were scrubbed. We looked for biases. We ensured that career advancement, senior leadership positions, were more diverse,” said Jones.

The bank demonstrated accountability through performance appraisals and oversight at the global, regional and business unit levels, she said. “Those are the things that are going to curb the temptation to go back to business as usual. Those systems that hold you accountable had to be concrete and in place,” said Jones. “We had strong systems already, and this was a lightning rod to make us enhance everything that we were already doing well,” she said.

The key now is to make sure progress that has been achieved and sustained in career advancement for minorities and underrepresented groups, Jones told the panel. “We can't all of a sudden grow silent, just because we're comfortable now having a seat at the table. What are you doing with your seat to ensure that sustainability is happening and we're holding executive leadership accountable to what they said they were going to do?” she asked.

Representation Matters

Jones zeroed in on why diverse representation in senior management matters. She told the story of being the only woman of color, representing her organization, on a panel at Howard University. “I got to see this beautiful room of excellence, of people of color, who were hanging on my words, and waiting in line to talk to me afterwards, just to figure out how I got where I am,” she said. With her title, said Jones, comes a responsibility. “There is a generation of people that are coming behind me,” she said. “I realized that it is up to me to do something with it.”

Diverse teams are a business asset that adds different perspectives and prevents groupthink, said Mariana González, diversity, equity and inclusion leader for Schneider Electric’s North America operations. “There's ample research that shows that diverse teams are more innovative, they're more creative, they problem-solve in different ways,” she noted.

Avoid Blurry Feedback

The From Day One panel next tackled the problem of blurry language in performance evaluations. Panel moderator Ihejirika pointed out that a common complaint by employees of color is that their annual reviews or work evaluations typically leave them unsure of the assessments.

The expert panelists spoke during From Day One's Chicago conference (photo by Tim Hiatt for From Day One)

Use of so-called “blur words” that mean different things to different people can be problematic when providing feedback, said LifeLabs’ Pickett. She gave the example of her brother, who was told he was “not engaged” at his job. When pressed, the manager who made that assessment explained to Pickett’s brother that he was observed always doodling and fiddling with things. But her brother has ADHD, and fiddling is how he stays focused, she said.

Women tend to receive blurrier feedback than their male counterparts, Pickett noted, citing a Harvard Business Review article on the subject. “I don't think it's an extreme leap to say that other minority groups are experiencing the same thing,” she said. Without effective feedback, people can’t improve and advance. “So it’s really important that we’re training folks to spot their own blurry language, but also to spot it in others,” she said.

The panelists shared additional performance development tools used by their organizations: training on inclusive behaviors to emphasize meeting employees where they are in their life stages, requiring all employees to contribute ideas that support the company’s success, and asking people to provide anonymous upward feedback. The latter involves team members giving feedback to managers to help them develop their leadership skills.

Taylor Amerman, who leads global social impact at IT services supplier CDW, said she spends a day getting to know each new person who reports to her during week one of employment. The new employees discuss how they like to work, what motivates them, and how they like to communicate. Amerman recommends that managers proactively create the time for feedback rather than wait until an issue arises.

Addressing the Naysayers

How should companies go about setting goals to make sure that leadership grows more diverse and inclusive when people challenge goal-setting for DEI programs by comparing it to quotas or affirmative action? Ihejirika asked the panel.

DEI programs, said Greenhouse’s Adasi, must measure progress from a baseline and have a clear vision for where they aim to be in one, two, three or five years, just as every other function within the business measures data and establishes those goals. “We literally look at our data monthly, quarterly, yearly. We refresh them, we report back to staff, we report back to the industry at large, our clients. We make sure that the accountability doesn't stop just within the HR function. This is every department’s work, to make sure this is moved forward. …  What gets measured, gets improved,” she said. Without a “whole ecosystem” approach to goal-setting, “you’ll see what we have been seeing recently, which are the layoffs of those teams and really starting to de-prioritize DEI efforts,” Adasi cautioned.

Social impact metrics are important, agreed Schneider Electric’s González, but she advised focusing on what she called process goals for achieving a diverse team. That means examining diversity partnerships to support a strong pipeline of job candidates that enables hiring managers to make the best decision for the organization. “We want to be careful of not driving the wrong behaviors or the wrong impression, because ultimately, we want the best people in these roles,” González said.

Building a “pause” into employee development plans and training managers to have those conversations can help guide people to the next step in their career paths, said Pickett. Panelists also emphasized the importance of quality learning and coaching solutions for leadership over quick-hit, self-paced training modules, as well as rooting out the causes of measurable DEI gaps to be strategic about how to close them. Pickett said the mantra at LifeLabs is, “If you're not being intentionally inclusive, you're likely being unintentionally exclusive.”

Susan Kelly is a Chicago-based business journalist.


An Exploration Into How We Can Eradicate Unintentional Bias and Discrimination

Human judgment—and the prejudices and unconscious biases that it can give rise to—will always be with us.That’s why Jessica Nordell’s critically acclaimed book The End of Bias comes with the subtitle, “A Beginning.”One approach that can help reduce discrimination, Nordell found during her research, is to use objective criteria in making decisions about health care assessments and corporate promotions, among other examples.“It's not so much about changing hearts and minds as it is about changing the decision-making environment, changing the structure within which people make a decision, so that their own biases are less likely to play a role,” said Nordell, an award-winning author and science writer.In assessing the results of anti-bias and anti-discrimination interventions, Nordell focuses on examining data and looking for measurable change, she said during a session at a From Day One conference in May in Minneapolis, where she is based.“I tell stories about people and organizations and cultures that have actually changed in measurable ways and then try to explain and explore what allowed them to do that,” Nordell told moderator Stephanie Sisco, an assistant professor in the College of Education & Human Development at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities.Nordell cited a group of trauma surgeons at Johns Hopkins University as an example of the difference that objective criteria can make. After the surgeons began using a computerized checklist, instead of their clinical judgment to assess patients for blood clots, those patients began getting appropriate treatment at much higher rates. The gender disparity for women, who previously were almost 50 percent more likely to miss out on blood clot prevention, disappeared, even though the doctors had not set out to decrease the bias.Businesses have seen positive results from similar efforts. “One approach that decreases discrimination against women and underrepresented minorities in corporate environments in terms of their ability to be promoted into management is using consistent, objective, transparent criteria for making decisions,” Nordell said.Jessica Nordell, pictured, signed copies of The End of Bias for the From Day One Minneapolis attendees (photo by Cassandra Sajna for From Day One)Where many psychologists see two kinds of bias, prejudice based on deeply held beliefs and unconscious bias, Nordell believes another form also exists: unexamined bias.“That better captures the fact that there’s a kind of unknowable combination of conscious and unconscious things happening,” Nordell said. “If we’re holding beliefs that we haven’t examined and we’re acting on those” that requires “deep, personal introspection and deep grappling with our belief system, with our values.”Nordell told Sisco that she had written about bias and discrimination for years as a journalist but became impatient reporting on those issues and trying to persuade readers to care. She wanted to know what to do about bias and discrimination and wanted to read a book that offered “a thorough examination of what change’s people’s behavior, what changes organizations and what changes cultures to become more fair.When she couldn’t find that book, Nordell wrote it. She spent five years on The End of Bias, which she thought would be an 18-month project.While we may never reach the end that the title suggests, Nordell believes “that we can get a lot closer and we can do a lot better.”“We can relate to each other in much more humane ways than we have,” Nordell continued. “And that’s really my goal with the book, to, wherever we are, move us more in that right direction.”Todd Nelson is a Minnesota-based journalist who writes for newspapers in the Twin Cities.

Todd Nelson | June 02, 2023

Retaining and Motivating Employees by Showing Them Their Work Matters

Whether you’re a human resources professional in the private or public sector, motivating employees goes hand in hand with keeping them. And neither task is an easy one.A five-person panel recently went through the ups and downs of that process in a discussion titled “Retaining and Motivating Employees by Showing Them Their Work Matters” at From Day One's Minneapolis conference. It can be tricky to zero in on the intangible but important sense among employees that their work has meaning not only to the company but also the world at large. Part of that equation has to do with having employees buy in to your company’s mission, according to Laura Lorenz, vice president of human resources for 3M’s Transportation and Electronics Business Group.“The focus is aspirational,” Lorenz said. “We’re the world’s largest provider of N95 masks, and during COVID we kept our prices the same. That was a source of pride for our people.”In the public sector, keeping workers motivated and happy can be extra challenging. Toni Newborn, chief equity officer and director of human resources for the City of Saint Paul, said that tight budgets and the structure of the city government can be an obstacle.“We have 15 operating departments that are essentially their own businesses, with 3,000 employees,” Newborn said. “Our challenge was that during COVID, our budget wouldn’t allow people to work from home. So we set up a fund to create stipends for people to make working remotely a little easier–for Internet, for day care. It was a gesture that government employers usually don’t offer.”Ryan Faircloth, politics and government reporter at the Star Tribune, left, moderated the panel discussion (photo by Cassandra Sajna for From Day One)A natural outgrowth of retention effort is a benefits package, and as surveys have shown, the one most sought after among employees is one that provides help in having and caring for a family.“When people talk about work/life balance, what they usually mean is work/family balance,” said Jeni Mayorskaya, founder and CEO of Stork Club, a company that provides family and fertility-based benefits. “Twenty-five percent of women who give birth quit within a year. It will happen if they don’t get the support they need at work. They’ll put their family first.”Another obstacle in the way of attracting and keeping employees can come from above, according to Hannah Yardley, chief people and culture officer for Achievers, a Toronto provider of employee voice and recognition solutions.“I believe more than 40 percent of H.R. leaders don't think their leadership teams are ready to make change,” she said. “Leaders aren’t listening, and if you don’t take action, employees won’t trust you to make the changes they want.”One method for finding out what employees want is by, yes, asking them. Newborn said that when Saint Paul put together an employee engagement survey not long ago, a city employee of some 45 years said it was the first one he’d ever seen. “We didn’t know how important it was for employees to take ownership of city policies,” she said.One important thing to note is that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to attracting and keeping workers.“Like everything in H.R., there’s no one simple answer,” said Julie Kline, chief human resources officer for North Memorial Health. “There’s no, ‘Oh, just offer better benefits.’ With COVID, we needed to look at what would motivate our employees. And for them, it was providing a solid foundation. It doesn't sound exciting. But the reality for us was that we really had to look at how we could provide them with stability in their roles.”Dan Heilman is a Minneapolis-based journalist.

Dan Heilman | June 01, 2023

After Three Years of Crisis, What Will Keep Employees Engaged and Motivated?

Over the past three years, workers have had to learn how to adapt and build new skills in order to succeed in a constantly changing work environment. In the aftermath of the pandemic, this same workforce is now experiencing extensive burnout. Now, organizations are tasked with finding ways to help their employees exit survival mode, through means of building an inclusive culture that supports a sense of employee engagement.During a panel discussion at From Day One's Brooklyn conference, moderated by Lydia Dishman of Fast Company, a group of panelists offered their perspective on how their business is renewing a sense of meaning among its employees.Widespread Employee BurnoutAccording to Dale Cook, co-founder and CEO of Learn to Live, people often think in two ways when it comes to burnout.“There’s the external forces that we all experience, heavy deadlines, heavy workloads, life pressures. There’s [also] the internal side of how we manage those things on a day to day basis.”He said that when his organization works with partners, they tend to focus on the internal side: the things that are within their control, like reframing mental health, and providing the right tools at the right time. Cook cites his own experience struggling with mental health in college and his access to mental health services as a key influence on his company’s mode of helping others do the same to manage their burnout.And yet, Lydia points out that frontline managers are often the ones truly shouldering much of the burden as they watch their teams get burned out. The key to combating this and building stronger relationships with employees, Dale said, lies in a manager’s ability to be vulnerable with one’s own mental health journey.One of the biggest shifts that Liz Pittinger sees as head of customer success at Stork Club is in the transparency behind communicating any strategic decision-making for the sake of diversity, equity, and inclusion. She points to how fertility journeys and menopause are silent stressors that contribute to burnout. These are aspects of health care that Stork Club incorporated into its benefits portfolio.The critical aspect here is how these decisions are shared to the organization at large, so that people have an understanding as to why certain health care benefits are necessary.Engaging the WorkforceA simple change in scenery could be the key driver in building engagement among employees.At MasterCard, Charman Hayes highlights the value of in-person connection with colleagues. As EVP of people and capability, technology, Hayes helps underpin activities like volunteering, mentorship, game engagement, and learning and development to fulfill human connectivity.“It's been a great opportunity since we've come out of our basements and our bedrooms.”Noting MasterCard’s goal in using technology to bring people together, Charman indicated that human connection can be tastefully met in person where it matters, and they can also be met virtually.Giving employees a sense of purpose through social impact programs is a priority at NBCUniversal. Jessica Clancy, who serves as SVP of corporate social responsibility, said the media company’s Talent Lab allows employees to be “nominated for a learning experience that wraps around inclusive leadership, the principles and values we care about at NBC, and integrates it with social impact.”The full panel of speakers, pictured, discussed how they are focusing on engagement, inclusion, and motivation within their organizations (photo by Cassandra Sajna for From Day One)Clancy said that having employees “not just participating in community service, but actively working on leadership development alongside young people from that community” is an important differentiator.“It really helps employees to think about the skills around empathy, listening, inclusivity that they are practicing in the community, and that they’re going to bring back to the job,” she said.From a leadership perspective, ensuring employee engagement is often personal.“I feel a very deep sense of responsibility to ensure that we are positively impacting lives, whether it's other employees in the organization, fans, especially in the community more broadly,” said Jane Son, co-head of foundation and community engagement at the New York Mets.Encouraging Empathy and Inclusion in the OrganizationAccording to Dale, isolation is one of the leading issues for mental health. “As much as we’ve advanced our conversation together around destigmatizing mental health, it’s still the number one barrier for people in the workforce that often translates into fear of discrimination.”To combat potential discrimination, his organization offers programs and services that are completely private and confidential.For Stork Club, the path to effective inclusion in their mission is simple: reduce the cost of health care.“Every single day, we're dealing with people who are desperate to start a family or not, who don't know if they can financially afford it. When we promote empathy, we start with the member experience,” said Liz.“When our care navigations share member stories with us, we’re getting the celebrations, the picture of their newborns, and we convey that back to the customer and through the entire company to make sure everyone understands and feels connected to what our purposes are.”Discovering the Next Steps in Professional DevelopmentOften, a natural transition from volunteering in the workplace is finding an opportunity to utilize new skills and apply it to positions of leadership, development, and service. This makes internal initiatives like that of NBCUniversal and MasterCard useful for those in leadership to recognize when an individual wants to evolve to the next stage in skill building.“Leaders can talk about the skills they need for projects, and employees can share that they want to build on and develop those skills,” said Charman. “We add this into our talent review process which translates into human resources.”At Learn to Live, there is a strong belief that acts of service is an important part of a mental health journey.“What I'm intrigued about is that interconnection between best practices, community service, and skills building, coupled with how people are working on themselves at the same time. That intersection is something worth exploring for organizations,” said Dale.Tania Rahman is a native New Yorker who works at the intersection of digital marketing and tech. She enjoys writing both news stories and fiction, hot chocolate on cold days, reading, live music, and learning new things.

Tania Rahman | May 31, 2023