Empowering Inclusive Career Growth and Leadership Advancement in Your Company

BY Kevyn Burger | May 26, 2023

The art of building an equitable workforce starts with the complicated and expensive process of recruiting, hiring and onboarding diverse candidates.

The next step is implementing DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) processes, policies, programs and procedures that build internal pathways for promotions and empower diverse workers to ascend to satisfying careers. That deft execution is key to retaining talent and reaping the benefits that accompany a truly diverse workforce; multiple studies find diverse workplaces are both more profitable and more productive.

But too often, businesses are not transparent about how they measure behaviors that determine whose career gets elevated. When the process is mysterious to employees, it can thwart their ability to advance, according to Rebecca Taylor, chief customer officer and co-founder of HR platform SkillCycle.

“It's being very clear about, these are the behaviors that we expect, these are the competencies for these roles, and really making it clear so that someone could always see themselves in that role,” Taylor said. “They can live those behaviors or find a way to embrace them if it's a skill that they have to learn.”

Panelists Rebecca Taylor of SkillCycle, left, and Joffrey Wilson of Mortenson, right (photos by Cassandra Sajna for From Day One)

At a From Day One conference in Minneapolis in May, Taylor was part of a panel of top HR and DEI leaders who spoke to an audience of HR professionals. They shared their strategies for building a pipeline to elevate the careers of diverse employees.

“The intentional DEI mindset makes sure we are removing barriers for talented individuals. We never want to leave talent on the table,” said Mahogany Ellis-Crutchfield, strategic diversity, equity & inclusion projects lead at Cargill.

Ellis-Crutchfield explained how Cargill, the nation’s largest private business, has adopted a range of steps to broaden inclusivity. It has expanded career prospects for its diverse workforce by giving employees a work equivalency option for a college degrees, adding apprenticeships and launching more opportunities for job shadowing.

“We revamped our HR system to allow employees to create a kind of internal LinkedIn profile [that's] browsable by certain leaders. It has your work experience, you also put in things like where you'd like to go,” she said. “There's a lot of mystery and kind of this black box around who gets chosen to move up. We want to empower our employees and say, you can take part in that. We've created opportunities for people to participate in their own career growth.”

Megan Thompson, Special Correspondent for PBS News Weekend, moderated the discussion.

One way Land O’Lakes has changed to achieve its DEI goals is to expand the colleges and universities it has traditionally recruited from, adding HBCUs. The agribusiness and food company has also helped employees burnish their resumes through a mentorship program that pairs talented diverse individuals in the early stages of their careers with top seasoned managers.

It’s a strategy that has created growth and empathy in both sides of the mentoring relationship.

“Employees are getting higher level access to leadership and leadership has a better understanding, what are some of those barriers (in the workplace)? What are some things that get in the way?” said Philomena Satre, director of diversity and inclusion and strategic partnerships at Land O’Lakes. “When leaders hear the voice of employees and some of the challenges that they face, that really makes the difference.”

New employees coming into an organization and existing employees who are leaving can each provide an internal window into where a company may be falling short in achieving success in diversifying its workforce.

“Think a lot about how candidates are going to perceive you through that interview experience,” suggested Dannette Hanson, head of talent acquisition for Nielsen.

Noting that diversity efforts include bringing women into nontraditional fields, Hanson went on to explain a problematic pattern identified by her previous employer.

“Time and time again, our recruiters would do the great work of going after female engineers, getting them excited to come and interview,” she said. “But we discovered through feedback that they offered was, ‘every person that I met was a white male in their 50s, and that's not really a team that I want to be part of.’”

Joffrey Wilson, vice president of diversity, equity & inclusion at Mortenson, said his team learned surprising lessons through exit interviews. Wilson said that Mortenson, a construction and real estate development company based in Minneapolis, created problems for itself by not clearly communicating career plans for top talent who had been internally identified as high potential.

“Team members that we wanted to retain that we lost, we'd have conversations with folks, there'd be a consistent theme that the organization saw that person in a certain light and that person didn't know it,” he said.

Wilson said Mortenson has taken steps to become “very intentional” with high-performing, diverse employees. Leaders have taken steps to routinely intersect with them, customize their career planning and ready them for moving up.

“We can communicate to them, no promises, but communicate where we see them going and how we potentially can get them there,” he said. “This may include  Mortensen leadership development opportunities, it may be external opportunities. It could be a coach, it could be a sponsor.”

But initiatives to open doors for career growth and leadership advancement have been made more difficult coming out of the pandemic in a changed work place, warned Rebecca Taylor of SkillCycle.

“It's been a lot harder for companies who've been adjusting to a hybrid work model or remote work model because all the norms that we knew before have changed,” she said.

“It's about always being open to revisiting and revising how you identify high potential in your organization to make sure that you are being inclusive across the gamut with every single role.”

Kevyn Burger is an award winning broadcaster and freelance writer based in Minneapolis.


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