Developing Leaders for a New Era of Workforce Flexibility and Inclusion
Despite a fairly stable job market over the last several months and relatively low unemployment, 2023 ushered in a deluge of white collar layoffs. AI and automation are sending shockwaves through the economic landscape with many workers feeling uncertain about their future. And companies that hire for these positions are slow-walking their hiring process to really vet candidates. “We are still seeing a tough market. It’s still scarce for certain talents and certain capabilities as we came through Covid,” said Christina Schelling, Verizon's chief diversity officer.Schelling says the problem is that many companies are hiring for similar types of roles, which is unprecedented. “Every company needs data scientists now. Every company needs digital or cloud engineers now. I think for the types of skills that are needed to meet the needs of the different business strategies, it's still a really tough market,” Schelling added.Schelling, who has more than two decades in leadership roles, talent acquisition, and DEI training, and a job history that includes Estée Lauder, Prudential, and American Express, sat down with The Wall Street Journal's business editor, Jamie Heller, for a From Day One fireside chat in Brooklyn. On the agenda were hiring woes, the advent of ChatGPT and AI automation, hybrid work, and DEI.I submitted my résumé to a robotOnline hiring is now the default and many applicants can't be blamed for feeling like robots are the new, indifferent gatekeepers. ChatGPT and Open AI, two immensely powerful and disruptive technologies, have made it easier for companies to sift through massive quantities of résumés quickly. Submitting an application online can feel no different than tossing your résumé and cover letter into the void.Schelling sees the new landscape of AI differently and says Verizon has been “leveraging that thinking and...muscle to care for employees.” But is the algorithm providing care to Verizon’s employees and those seeking employment there? They get 800,000 résumés and conduct at least 100,000 interviews a year.“We can't possibly get to the human piece of that without help from technology. When I think about our employees, and when they need benefits, or when they need help at different points in their lives, a lot of that help can be provided faster, and [with] better quality, in real time, with the help of chatbots.”Schelling says that “machine learning” speeds up the process of “getting to the right conversation with humans faster.” She assures that every résumé at least gets a look by their scanning equipment. And, most likely a human. “We do keep a human element to it…There are other organizations that take the human out more often than we do.”Jamie Heller, left, interviewed Christina Schelling, right, in the opening fireside chat session at the Brooklyn museum (photo by Cassandra Sajna for From Day One)Schelling offers some advice for candidates feeling the woe of the hiring process: Understand the importance of the words and the experiences matching the job requirements and the posting. Applicants can learn to game the system – i.e. play by the algorithm’s rules. “It's not super complicated how it works…the more prepared and the more connected a candidate makes [their résumé and cover letter] the easier it is to kind of get to the right conversation.”The right conversations are ultimately taken on by Verizon’s “fairly large in-house recruiting team,” according to Schelling. Not all those interviews are the perfect fit for a job opening, but many lead to “informational conversations” that allows interviewers to get to know someone. Perhaps an applicant’s skills aren't an exact match but they have more to offer. “We want to hire for careers, not just jobs. So we probably talk to people more than other organizations.”The New Normal: Hybrid WorkOnce an applicant gets in the door, depending on their role in the company, they can expect the new normal of hybrid work. Many of these workers are no longer willing to spend a traditional work week in the office. As the pandemic continues receding in the rearview, working remotely – a special privilege in the past – is here to stay. Recognizing this trend, Verizon hasn’t established any “mandates” about coming back into the office.Heller raised the issue of many companies mandating employees returning to work. In fact, a lot of companies are now pushing employees back to work via the "stick" not the "carrot," threatening pay, bonuses, and other performance measures. Yet, the more "punitive" measures are having consequences in talent acquisition. Multitudes of quality workers prefer a hybrid schedule.Here, Schelling takes a philosophical approach to the question. “I think the world is still figuring it out. And what we did at the beginning of last year will be different from what we have learned and evolved to in the beginning of this year.” She says that if people want to come in to work more, “no one's going to tell [them] not to come in.”“We've described hybrid at this point to be at least one day in the office monthly,” Schelling said, but they encourage their leaders to figure out what works and create reasons for people to come in. “Whether it's a learning experience, whether it's a team event, whether it's a volunteering event, whether it's just, you know, we've got a lot of work, quarterly close, let's come in and just be together.”Schelling sees the hybrid setup as offering the best in terms of personal and professional success. “Our whole mantra is we don't want to be a mandate, we want to be a magnet.” A New Millennium of DEITouching on the three year anniversary of the killing of George Floyd, Schelling delved into corporate America’s navigation of these issues and said she’s “optimistic how [those] crises and social and civil experiences pushed for more accountability within the corporate space,” but said that corporate America wasn't “done.”DEI – diversity, equity, and inclusion (umbrella of another acronym, ESG – environmental impact, social responsibility, and corporate governance), is 21st century standard in company culture. Having leaders who understand “why diversity and equity [are] important to the workplace” is a key part of training. It's “not a stand alone course” employees can opt into anymore, ”it's part of the setup and the expectation,” and according to Schelling it's what Verizon believes “is the right model for...leadership.”“DEI, the idea of human rights…has now rolled into ESG [and] has been around in different shapes and forms in most of the bigger organizations for many years. So now it's part of the ecosystem and the expectation, and then there's the public accountability, which I quite like.”Just a few years ago, questions of inclusion practices were not part of corporate and customer vernacular, Schelling pointed out, but now they are. “I think that with the economic pressures with the challenges and workforce availability, we recognize now that diverse talent is a significant unlock. And it's not something that falls by the wayside. It's something that is even more prioritized.”Matthew Koheler is a freelance journalist and licensed real estate agent based in Washington, DC. His work has appeared in Greater Greater Washington, The Washington Post, The Southwester, and Walking Cinema, among others.