Hiring a Diverse Team Is One Thing. Retaining It Is Another

BY Emily McCrary-Ruiz-Esparza | June 02, 2021

To appreciate the strength of a company’s diversity initiatives, it helps to look at employee retention, which is often a reflection of culture. Many companies face the “leaky-bucket problem.” They can recruit and hire diverse talent, but their attrition rate betrays an internal culture that doesn’t entice employees to stay. In one door, out the other.

So how do companies create “sticky” workplaces? How can structural bias and personal bias be mitigated to foster an inclusive space for all–one that makes talent not just want to stay, but able to thrive too?

To explore answers to those questions, Emily Nordquist, senior program manager at the Baumhart Center for Social Enterprise & Responsibility at Loyola University Chicagomoderated a conversation among experts in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) at From Day One’s recent virtual conference, “Diversity: How Employers Can Match Words With Deeds.”

Some companies, like Schneider Electric, a multinational with more than 135,000 employees, are years into thinking about inclusion and belonging at work. Sonali Satpathy, Schneider’s VP of DEI and well-being, said inclusion has long been a part of her company’s mission and internal work. The core, she said, is about asking, “How do we hardwire this? How do you hardwire processes, programs, systems for inclusion? And how do you build equity into the system?”

Others, like the data-management company NetApp, founded in 1992, acknowledge being in the beginning stages of their DEI plans. “We’re early in our journey now,” said Gerri Mason Hall, a NetApp VP. “I’m leading diversity, inclusion, and belonging. We’re very intentional in this choice of title,” she said. “It’s a reflection of our strategy. We’re relatively new, so it’s a multi-year plan. My year-one plan is talent first, and it is absolutely doubling and tripling down on the increased representation of Black and Latinx [employees], especially because we are a cloud-led, data-centric software company and our strategy is informed by our data, and our data tells us what we have to do better.”

Inclusion Should Be Consistent

No matter the company size and history, the panelists agreed that inclusion practices must be applied consistently. Satpathy shared the example of establishing universal minimum standards. She noticed that among Schneider’s global workforce, parental-leave policy varied widely by country, compliant with local laws, “at best,” she said. “We wanted to go above and beyond that.” The company put in place a global family-leave policy, so caregivers of all kinds–not just parents–can take the time they need. “As a global company, we have to put in minimum standards. We say that if you work for Schneider Electric, no matter where in the world, you have access to X, Y, and  Z.” The company is applying the same idea of global minimum standards to address the problem of pay equity, she said.

Make It a Multi-level Mandate

To make inclusion happen, there needs to be organizational-level work and individual-level work, panelists said. Both have to exist and the two must work together. Organizational-level work occurs when companies institute policies and programs to support and advance marginalized communities. Examples: pay-equity rules, clear criteria for promotions and advancement, and Schneider’s global-minimum family leave.

Speaking on employee retention, top row from left: Sonali Satpathy of Schneider Electric, Emily Nordquist of the Loyola University Chicago, and Desiree Booker of ColorVizion Lab. Bottom row, from left: Jonathan Mayes of Albertsons Companies, Larry Baker of LCW, and Gerri Mason Hall of NetApp (Image by From Day One)

Individual contributions, on the other hand, begin with the question, What can you contribute to inclusion? Jonathan Mayes, SVP and chief diversity officer at the food-and-drug retailer Albertsons Companies, said his team has developed content they call Leading with Inclusion. “It’s an opportunity for different voices not heard from enough in Corporate America to talk about a day in the life.” Having established awareness of their lived experience, they prompt action from individuals. “What are you going to do?” they ask. “How can you be an ally? For folks who have experienced discrimination time and time again, what are you doing to do about it?”

Larry Baker, a consultant at LCW, a firm that offers training and expertise in cultural competence and organizational effectiveness, encourages individual managers to come up with accountability structures or “diversity action plans” to make this happen. This is how companies can influence individual work with organizational work. “What gets rewarded gets repeated,” he said. “So if there aren’t strategies in place that are rewarding these managers and leaders that are leading us to the new normal, if you will, they’re going to revert back to what got them the rewards prior to this initiative.”

Adding EQ to the Equation

Desiree Booker, founder and CEO of the diversity recruiting and coaching firm ColorVizion Lab, said emotional intelligence is a core competency that leaders must have in order for individual work to be effective. This is how individual contributions can influence organizational work. “I think having high emotional intelligence could really mitigate some of the pitfalls that we see happening when it comes to leadership,” she said, adding that EQ helps leaders “to leverage the strengths of different people on your teams.”

Booker recalled missteps that could have been avoided with some emotional intelligence. For example, she was coaching an employee at a company where management asked him to serve on a panel to talk about his Black-at-work experience, Booker said. “But he’s very uncomfortable being thrust into the spotlight and saying, ‘Hey, I’m Black and this is what it feels like to work in Corporate America as a Black individual.’ And the way it was phrased to him was, ‘We would really love for you to do this. It would be great to have you participate in this.’ However, there just wasn’t the awareness there to give him the choice.”

Bring on the Data Too

Evaluating the effectiveness of inclusion work should be both quantitative and qualitative, the panelists asserted. “First and foremost,” NetApp’s Hall said, “we’re committed to being continuous learners. So we’ll try something, we’ll measure it and look at the data and what it tells us, and then we’ll tweak it if we need to.” She said employers should approach it like any other key performance indicator (KPI), “reviewing your data on a regular basis and changing course as needed.”

“Make strategic organizational decisions based on data,” said Booker. “Use the data to develop a North Star and to track your progress. And then I would also say to get feedback continuously from your employees.” Quantitative measures might include change in employee attrition, change in promotion rates, or asking employees to rate their sense of belonging.

But even with data to support your initiatives, inclusion work requires continuous tending to bring about those soft changes that are harder to quantify, changes that individual employees are experiencing, like whether they feel comfortable raising their hand for new opportunities, talking about their mental health, or reporting discrimination.

Can managers be trained to be inclusive? To some degree, but it’s not a fix-it-and-forget-it solution. Instead, it requires a daily commitment to change, said Hall. “Training is important. You have new leaders coming in, they don’t know how to lead inclusively. Sometimes they’re early in career and they need to build that muscle,” she said. “That’s the continuing work, that’s the day-to-day, that’s the ongoing conversations and the interventions.”

Nordquist, the moderator, observed that this work is nuanced and will naturally create tension. “When you have a diversity of perspective in that room, it’s naturally going to be more tense,” she said. “People are going to say, ‘Hey, Jonathan, you know I think you’re great, but I actually see it this way.’ Or ‘Sonali, I actually want to challenge you on that, given my lived experiences.’ There is this real need to be able to navigate that tension and lean into the fact that not everyone’s going to be on the same page with this work, and that’s OK, and to get comfortable with that feeling.” Satpathy concurred with that idea: “Progress over perfection,” she said.

Emily McCrary-Ruiz-Esparza is a writer, editor, and content strategist based in Richmond, Va.


Taking the Long View Toward Progress in Workplace Diversity

“Things get hard when they’re working, but that doesn’t mean we let up,” said Loren Hudson, senior vice president and chief diversity officer of Comcast Cable. “Right now is our time to remain committed to supporting our teammates and communities because we have all learned that DEI is a key part of how we win talent, business space, and how we make an impact in the communities where we live and work.” DEI initiatives across the country are being politically scrutinized, resulting in bans and rollbacks in colleges and companies. Yet in the midst of it all, Hudson remains steadfast in her stance in supporting DEI.In a fireside chat at From Day One’s February virtual conference, with Sharon Epperson, senior personal finance correspondent at CNBC, NBCUniversal, Hudson discussed the current world of DEI and how companies can maintain their progress in driving change.Placing DEI at the CoreA CNBC survey found that nearly 80% of survey respondents wanted to work for a company that valued DEI issues, showing the importance of DEI to employees and job seekers alike.DEI initiatives extend far beyond just the workplace, Hudson said. “[DEI] touches so many aspects of our lives, from personal to professional, to our business to our community,” Hudson said. “At the heart of what is important, DEI practices, initiatives, mindset and focus are good for the business, people leadership, employee experience, and community activism.”Leaders can often assess the success of DEI initiatives and programs against business value and employee experience, Hudson says. However, leaders who lead DEI initiatives with intentionality can be more fruitful in the long term.“When I look at businesses who are focusing intentionally on this space, their most senior leaders have said, “This is important to us as leaders, as a business and as a community partner,” Hudson said. “Many organizations that can say that they were successful in this space are because it connects back to what the organization stands for.”Driving Equity Beyond the WorkplaceDuring the pandemic, Hudson realized there was a sudden need for internet access by community members who traditionally did not have regular access.Sharon Epperson, right, interviewed Loren Hudson, left, at From Day One's February virtual conference on the topic of Getting to the Next Stage of Diversity and Belonging (photo by From Day One)As a leader of a telecommunications company, Hudson knew her role was more than just driving change and equity in the workplace, it also meant driving change in the communities they served.By partnering with community organizations, Hudson and her team at Comcast were able to provide free Wi-Fi centers and resources for the communities. “We provided broadband while other partners provided the site and lunch or breakfast,” Hudson said.The success of these sites wouldn’t have come together if community members hadn’t raised their concerns, Hudson says.“Without partners telling us what the people are whispering or loudly saying, we wouldn't necessarily know all of the things we may know,” Hudson said. “So, talking to partners who are closest to the community members is key because they provide us perspective and provide insights to what their community or their members are saying.”Embracing Outside PerspectivesBy encouraging a growth mindset for employees, leaders can help cultivate a more inclusive work environment. This can aid the progress of DEI as team members are more committed to learning and growing. To help foster a growth mindset in teams, Hudson recommends actively looking for outside perspectives.“I bring other CEOs and their teams in, and we share what we’re doing, what keeps us up at night, and what’s going well. We can play off each other and do joint things to have greater impact, and that’s important across whatever line of business we’re doing,” Hudson said. “It’s creating this space for new fresh perspectives by inviting people from different backgrounds to come in and share those perspectives. That’s how we learn and grow and innovate.”Wanly Chen is a writer and poet based in New York City.

Wanly Chen | February 29, 2024

Responding to Pushback and Creating More Inclusive Environments That Value Diversity

Even though diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace leads to better financial outcomes, greater social impact, and more satisfied employees, DEI efforts are “being used as part of the culture wars right now,” said Malia Lazu. Lazu, CEO of the Urban Labs at MIT and author of the book From Intention to Impact: A Practical Guide to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion spoke in a fireside chat during From Day One’s February Virtual Conference. “It’s important for us to remember that DEI is not against the wall because it’s a failing endeavor. It’s against the wall because people are scared of losing what they think they have now,” Lazu told moderator Jeanhee Kim. “When you’re privileged, fairness feels like a step down.”Corporate leaders and managers must truly believe that “DEI is the platform of the future” if they are going to have the will to fight the inevitable pushback, Lazu said. Although political pressure can be intimidating, organizations can gain the courage to continue their DEI endeavors from realizing the pushback is coming from less than 25% of the U.S. population, says Lazu. “This isn’t about politics for you, this is about competing in a global economy. And in 20 years, this country is going to look very different.”Acknowledging the ProblemOrganizations first need to find their gaps in DEI before they can resolve them, says Lazu. And that realization can cause discomfort.Journalist Jeanhee Kim interviewed author Malia Lazu in a fireside chat titled “How to Respond to the Pushback to Create More Inclusive Environments That Honor and Value Diversity” (photo by From Day One)“I often tell my clients if we’re not uncomfortable, we haven’t started working yet,” Lazu said. It’s important to understand that racism isn’t just an interpersonal problem but systemic one, said Lazu. “It exists whether you’re a nice person or not,” she said, noting that in American school’s, children are taught about Manifest Destiny rather than other philosophies that don’t center the white European perspective. Once people understand that institutional racism exists and what causes it, “then we can start deconstructing it,” Lazu said. The Role of Middle Management and HR A top-down approach to DEI won’t make the changes that are needed in the company, according to Lazu. “Where the change gets lost is in middle management,” she said. Middle managers and HR officers can do a lot to create a positive environment for DEI within their companies because “modeling behavior is critically important,” Lazu said. If these individuals aren’t fully invested in DEI and are worried that the company will be getting less qualified employees by hiring more women, for example, they need to learn more about what DEI really means and become more confident with it, says Lazu. Middle managers and HR leaders also need to recognize their power to make changes, whether it’s making sure they are selecting a diverse slate of candidates or even just deciding where to buy coffee from, Lazu says.It’s OK to Make Mistakes While LearningEven those with the best of intentions can make mistakes when it comes to DEI efforts. Lazu says she learned this first-hand when she was helping to organize the first disability fashion show in New England. “It became front and center how ableist I was because I had never been blessed enough to organize with people with disabilities,” she said. “And I couldn’t just walk away from it and say, ‘Oh, well.’”Instead, Lazu asked the disability community, “How do I come back from using the word ‘normal’ when I meant ‘able-bodied’?”“It’s about understanding that if you’re going to do this authentically, like any other relationship, you’re going to step on toes,” she said. “Anyone who has life partners knows, even they will get it wrong sometimes.”That’s why it’s important that companies have a culture of “generosity of interpretation. It’s important to understand that someone tried and missed the mark, and have a reparative practice.” Mary Pieper is a freelancer reporter based in Mason City, Iowa.

Mary Pieper | February 26, 2024

Small, Consistent Interventions for Employee Mental Health

“Our employee population is changing,” said Marielaine Yepes, the VP of human resources at NBCUniversal. “Post-pandemic, job candidates are asking about mental health benefits. Whereas in 2019, it was ‘Do I get health care? Do I get vision, dental, and a 401k?’ Now their questions are, ‘What about my flexibility? What about parental leave? What about mental breaks?’” No longer the taboo it used to be, mental health, for many, is becoming part of their standard measure of health care. “I used to pride myself on being sick but still coming to work, but it’s kind of embarrassing to say that in a post-Covid world,” said Andrea Cooper, chief people officer at virtual mental healthcare company Talkspace. During From Day One’s January virtual conference on making a fresh commitment to a culture of well-being, Yepes and Cooper shared their thoughts on the shifting view of mental health in the workplace as part of an expert panel titled, “Enhancing Employee Mental Health and Wellness Benefits.” I moderated the discussion in which panelists shared their outlooks for workplace mental health in the coming year, and their best advice on caring for a changing workforce.“There was this notion that being a workaholic was a good thing,” Cooper pointed out. “Now it’s about acknowledging that we should take care of ourselves–not just our physical selves, but also our mental and emotional selves.”Building Engagement WithinDespite the new-found freedom many people have with talking about mental health, it doesn’t mean that mental health issues or that seeking care are entirely without stigma, or that everyone is comfortable talking publicly about their wellbeing, especially at work.Business process management firm eClerx experienced this reluctance first-hand. The company’s early mental health and wellness programs were greatly lacking in engagement, yet employee surveys showed that its workforce wanted wellness initiatives. In response, rather than administering initiatives only from HR, the company recruited its own employees to be wellness ambassadors, people who want to play an active role in the well-being of their colleagues. “We hope [the wellness ambassadors] reach out to engage and talk about the programs that we have, because sometimes resources can just be resources in your intranet or in your HR platform. So how do we get the word out? By engaging with our employees,” said Alvarine Syiem, the company’s head of total rewards and HR operations.The panelists spoke to the topic “Enhancing Employee Mental Health and Wellness Benefits” at From Day One's January virtual conference (photo by From Day One)Aware that some employees might be unwilling to approach their manager or HR about their needs, Syiem hopes that training up ambassadors among management and the rank-and-file can open more avenues for people to seek the help and resources they need.“You might not have huge programs, you might not have a ton of resources, you might not even have a lot of engagement—but what is important is to get that conversation going,” said Syiem.Interventions for Workers Exposed to ViolenceAt NBCUniversal, Yepes is in the unique position of caring for journalists whose jobs take them to war zones, violent environments, and tragedies. Supporting workers who have been in highly stressful or traumatic work environments requires structured and predetermined touch-points, said Yepes. When they return, the company has mental health checkpoints already installed so no one goes unnoticed. Workers receive outreach at seven days, two weeks, and one month post-return, plus a suite of resources at their disposal. Among them, access to on-site mental healthcare—a talk therapist in the company offices available for sessions during the workday.Yepes said her best advice is to establish processes that are as flexible as the employee needs them to be. “It’s always good to have discipline, but understand that people are unique, so having a portfolio and being flexible on how you offer your resources is best.”Mental Health Support for Working ParentsEveryone is susceptible to mental health problems following the birth or addition of a child to the family, said Corrinne Hobbs, the general manager and VP of employer market at reproductive healthcare provider Ovia Health. Both men and women can experience depression and anxiety, sometimes called perinatal mood and anxiety disorder (PMAD), up to a year after the birth of a child. This can make up a significant part of the workforce: In 2022 in the US, in more than 91% of families with children under age 18, at least one parent was employed, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.“Many [parents] may not know that they have it,” Hobbs said. People who experience PMAD are  “already dealing with the difficulties of being parents, but they also struggle with attention to detail, being present in the moment, and remembering all the steps required in their daily work. Enabling mental health supports that address this are really important.”To care for the parents in your workplace, Hobbs recommended employers take three steps. First, increase the number of screenings available to encourage prevention and early intervention for mental health issues. Second, train managers to get comfortable talking about postpartum needs. And third, invest in digital tools that give workers access to 24/7 care. “Provide an end-to-end women’s health solution,” she said.Small Interventions Along the WayGood mental health encourages productivity. “Leaving conditions untreated can really result in costly emergency room visits, urgent care visits, time away from work,” said Cooper of Talkspace. “We as employers want our employees to be healthy, but also do a good job at work, and all those things work together.”The panelists agreed that incremental, personal interventions early on make a difference in the health of a workforce. “I encourage leaders, managers, employees, to think of the small, everyday thing that you can impact,” said eClerx’s Syiem. If she senses that a member of her team is having a rough day, Syiem encourages them to step away from work for a few hours. If she notices an employee hasn’t taken a vacation day recently, she tells them to. “Even if you don't have plans for a vacation with family, take a day off and just go get your nails done, spend time at the library, or just go catch up with a friend.”Keeping close tabs on the temperature of the team can help prevent burnout and mental health problems. “My aim is prevention,” Syiem said. “Imagine if not just one manager did that, but the entire team. Imagine the impact of it all as an organization.”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 BBC, The Washington Post, Quartz, Fast Company, and Digiday’s Worklife.

Emily McCrary-Ruiz-Esparza | January 29, 2024