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.


How to Make Upskilling and Reskilling Part of a Corporate Culture of Learning

When there’s a problem at Fortive Corporation–maybe it’s a recurring operational hiccup, high employee turnover, or a slow production process, for instance–the company invites the best and brightest to put their heads together and come up with a solution. And by best and brightest, they mean anyone willing to come with an open mind and think creatively.“It’s good to have a few experts who know exactly what the process is and why, what the critical steps are, and things like that. But it is even more important to have people who know nothing about the process,” said Shannon Flynn, VP of corporate HR at the industrial technology holding company. Anyone is encouraged to participate in the problem solving, from individual contributors to the C-suite, but, to join one of these Kaizen sessions, “you park your title at the door.” This, Flynn says, is a culture-creator.How employers can create a culture of corporate learning was the topic of discussion among a panel of HR experts during From Day One’s May virtual conference. The events of the day addressed employee retention, coaching, and advancement.“Shifting a culture really is different than just implementing a program,” said Erica Ishida, the CEO of executive coaching firm Yellow Cedar Group. She participated in the panel along with Flynn and their long-tenured colleagues in human resources. “It requires a shift of minds and hearts across the organization. I suggest that you think about it organically, leading by example.”How to Lead by Example“The best advice I can give is to start at the very top,” said Yonata Rubin, head of talent at entertainment and hospitality company MGM Resorts International. “We are very fortunate that our CEO and board is incredibly invested in leadership development. They actually came to us, rather than us going to them,” she said, but not everyone will be able to start from that position. Make sure you have the agreement at the top of the organization that learning is a priority, then move on to strategy. “What is it that you are trying to build? Where is the biggest need? What do your employees want?” she said.Meredith Haberfeld, the founder and CEO of leadership development platform ThinkHuman, said it’s worthwhile to have executives talk candidly about what they’re learning, and what they’re grappling with. “Those with power and authority create influence,” she said. “We found it super useful to get CEOs to share learnings from the last quarter. It’s just a small action — what did they learn that they can share with the company?”The panelists discussed the topic, "How to Make Upskilling and Reskilling Part of a Corporate Culture of Learning" at From Day One's May virtual conference (photo by From Day One)When business leaders are forthcoming, lower-level employees are encouraged to do the same. “Leaders need to pay attention to the environment that their people are working in,” said Ishida of Yellow Cedar Group. “People can only learn in an environment where they feel psychologically safe–do they feel free to learn and try new things, and maybe fail?”Structured Learning or Free Exploration?What about the mode of delivery? Maybe your staff feels comfortable trying new things and making mistakes, but, practically, where and how are they learning those new skills?Will Campbell is the VP of learning and leadership development at commercial real estate firm JLL. He says that an exhaustive menu of new skills or training programs isn’t likely to generate much engagement. Instead, he recommended making it easier for employees to jump in by narrowing the options. For instance, perhaps frontline managers pick from one tailored list of courses, junior leaders pick from another, and senior leaders from a third list.This limits the number of choices, prevents analysis paralysis, and helps workers stay on track. “Structured doesn’t mean rigid,” said Campbell. “You have to have structure. Otherwise, it will be a free-for-all. But you can be flexible. You can make it fun, you can make it exciting.”Formal structures may facilitate long-term upskilling and reskilling across an organization, but small habits build a learning culture at the team level. For quick hits, Haberfeld recommended beginning meetings with five to ten minutes of “microlearning.” For instance, an individual contributor might bring back ideas from an industry conference and prepare a short lesson. “We rotate who is teaching so people from all different parts of the organization get to show their expertise, and the organization gets to learn,” she said.MGM International takes a similar tack. “We have ‘odd shifts’ or ‘pre-shifts,’ where you gather small groups of employees and do a quick huddle and then debrief,” said Rubin. She’s found this to be a time-efficient way to deliver upskilling to frontline workers, who don’t have the luxury of sitting down for a thirty-minute learning session.Getting Workers Excited About LearningSometimes being made to learn new skills can feel like punishment, said Campbell of JLL, especially when the training is for compliance purposes. But “people have an interest in things that aren’t their daily responsibilities,” he said. When people get to pursue new skills because they want to, “that fire has been lit, that groundswell now takes hold, and the whole thing takes a life of its own.”If workers don’t see the connection between what they’re being asked to learn and how it will benefit them personally, you’ll struggle to engage them, said Ishida of Yellow Cedar. Managers can be the ones to make that connection for their direct reports. “One of the key ingredients is having supportive relationships. Connect [the new skills] to the individual’s wishes and desires, and make sure they have people around them to support them in the change.”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 Economist, the BBC, The Washington Post, Quartz, Fast Company, and Digiday’s Worklife.

Emily McCrary-Ruiz-Esparza | June 03, 2024

The Three Pillars of Wellness: Physical, Mental, and Financial

The three pillars of wellness–physical, mental, and financial–are like three legs on a stool. Lose one, and the whole thing tips over. For example, if an employee needs an emergency medical procedure and has a high-deductible plan with little savings, not only will their physical health suffer, but they will soon feel mental and emotional stress as well. Ideally, employers will have plans in place to provide support in all areas.Rather than thinking in terms of siloes, the more effective approach for benefits leaders is to see how three pillars support an employee’s overall well-being. In a recent fireside chat at From Day One’s April virtual conference, Nate Nevas, head of benefits and health services at Pitney Bowes, provided an inside look at how to provide individualized care for a diverse workforce.The Current Moment in BenefitsThe current state of the workforce is both “the best of times, and the worst of times,” said Nevas. There are external forces making benefits challenging, including a nationwide lack of available primary care physicians and the rising costs of healthcare.But on the flip side, the current embrace of technology is having a positive impact on the HR world. “There are some things now that are available to provide as resources to our employees that are fantastic, that five, ten, 15 years ago just weren’t available,” Nevas said. This includes app-based resources like virtual healthcare appointments, online professional training courses, and even group fitness classes.Moderator Jeanhee Kim, an independent journalist, notes that the World Health Organization recently stated we are now going on year five of Covid. “Covid strained not just our physical health, but also strained our mental health and the economy,” Kim said. In order to embrace the current moment, employers need to be ready to address each of these concerns among their workforce.A Holistic Approach to Mental HealthNevas says that physical, mental, and financial wellness should all be approached with equal importance, and employers need to recognize how they are all interconnected. “We don't look at one as being more important than the other,” he said. “They’re all equally important to create someone who is going to come in and be fulfilled, be able to do their job, and feel good about themselves as an individual.”Journalist Jeanhee Kim interviewed Nate Nevas of Pitney Bowes at From Day One's April virtual conference (photo by From Day One)Prior to the pandemic, Nevas says, mental wellness tended to fall on the back burner. But throughout Covid, the need for mental health support became apparent, and his team began to put it on equal footing with physical and financial concerns. “We started a concerted effort to destigmatize mental wellness, using the phrase ‘it’s OK to not be OK,’” he said. Pitney Bowes began offering internal webinars “not just as a check-the-box effort, but as a consistent conversation and making it an acceptable conversation.”Since mental wellness statistics can be harder to track among employees than, say, 401(k) participation, leaders can gauge success by reviewing webinar statistics to see which topics are most important and touching base with senior leaders to see what employees are saying.Providing Individualized CareFor a global organization like Pitney Bowes, the workforce population is diverse, from high-powered salaried corporate executives to hourly workers for whom English might not be their first language. To keep things fair and consistent, Nevas says, Pitney Bowes doesn’t offer different benefits to different types of employees, but it may emphasize certain benefits to certain employees based on their interests and adjust how it communicates about them. For example, retirement planning options may be more attractive to employees who are salaried, even if the same benefits are offered to hourly workers too.Much of it comes down to knowing your audience and meeting them where they are. Hourly workers don’t have company email addresses or computers, he says. “We provide benefit guides that are in multiple languages. We know which languages are spoken the most at certain sites, and we’ll do hardcopy handouts there,” he said. He also knows there are huddle in-person meetings at the start of every shift, so he’ll give team leaders important messages to relay at those gatherings. Important messages will also appear on screens onsite, and each location has an employee experience champion available to explain benefits and encourage enrollment.Knowing that net cash flow is also important to the hourly population, Pitney Bowes provides advance pay options, low contribution health plans, and even major appliance purchase programs to help these employees make the most of their paychecks.Saving Money by Providing Better BenefitsPhysical, mental, and financial wellness benefits don’t have to break the bank for employers. Nevas says his organization has a benefits hub with discounts on car rentals, groceries, movie tickets, insurance, and more, plus a partnership to help with student loan refinancing. These benefits do not cost the organization any money, but can save the employee money and give them special access to certain perks.Pitney Bowes also emphasizes the importance and availability of free, preventative care so employees do not get hit as hard by future out-of-pocket costs. This is especially crucial among their immigrant employee population, which Nevas notes has more of a cultural resistance to medical check-ups.And of course, employee turnover can be a costly hit to an organization for a variety of reasons, so providing attractive benefits is also a boon to retention, particularly during this time of the great resignation. For Nevas and his team, this comes down to providing genuine, individualized care with an eye toward advancement and longevity. “Our employee value proposition is that ‘We do the right thing the right way,’” he said. They emphasize not only physical, mental, and financial wellness benefits, but also career development in terms of professional resources and a clear pathway to promotion. “We’re going to help you grow. Once we get someone in the door, it's about who we are as an organization, and what we're able to provide as a company from a cultural standpoint, not just benefits, but the whole picture and your professional development.”Katie Chambers is a freelance writer and award-winning communications executive with a lifelong commitment to supporting artists and advocating for inclusion. Her work has been seen in HuffPost and several printed essay collections, among others, and she has appeared on Cheddar News, iWomanTV, and CBS New York.

Katie Chambers | April 26, 2024

How a Leader Brings Clarity to Benefits Offerings

“Benefits, perks, compensation–they’re all taken into account when job offers are made. That’s how you remain competitive. We don’t have to offer every single benefit that’s out there. We just have to offer the right ones.” This is according to Lenka Sloman, the managing director, and head of total rewards at global advertising firm GroupM.Sloman joined the company in September 2023, taking over the company’s benefits offerings and finding ways for GroupM to remain competitive for top ad talent. During the closing fireside chat at From Day One’s April virtual conference, I interviewed the total rewards leader about her strategy for getting the best return on investment for GroupM’s total rewards.Sloman’s challenge will be to balance market demands with individual needs.Tracking the Most Popular BenefitsThere is no limit to the size of benefits packages today. Not only are there innumerable vendors and platforms, the breadth of options is ever-widening.Sloman has been watching the market for the most popular benefits and perks. Right now, it’s all about family planning. GroupM enhanced its family-building benefits recently, adding features like egg freezing, donor services, adoption, paid time off, and parental leave. The company even added milk-shipping services, “so if a birthing parent goes back to work and is traveling, they can pump their milk and have it sent to their homes, so the baby can continue feeding,” said Sloman. It can also be used for surrogacy arrangements.“This is critically important for our employees,” she said. “We want to make sure our employees don’t have to worry about taking time off because they have to take care of a child–or whatever the case may be. If we get it right, they can concentrate on bonding with their newborns or adopted children, and it balances with their professional lives.”And she didn’t forget about those workers who don’t have kids at home. GroupM even offers dog-walking and pet-sitting services. “Pets are part of the family too,” she said.Competing for Talent With Exceptional Benefits PackagesSo, how does Sloman stay abreast of what’s going on in the benefits market?The talent acquisition team gathers information from job seekers about what they’re being offered elsewhere–and this provides helpful intel. But Sloman puts more stock into the data gathered by benefits consultants. “Understanding the benchmarks and getting guidance from our consultants sometimes has a more accurate description as to what our peers are doing. That’s what we base our decisions on. Really, it’s an art, not a science.”Lenka Sloman, right, was interviewed by journalist Emily McCrary-Ruiz-Esparza during the virtual fireside chat (photo by From Day One)Keeping up with what’s happening in the benefits workplace, learning to distinguish between must-haves and nice-to-haves, and annually reviewing GroupM’s utilization plan are the three steps she follows to make the company an employer of choice.When benefits are regularly refreshed and augmented, new hires will be interested and current ones are more likely to stay. But the annual review isn’t necessarily spring cleaning. “We don’t have a policy that says, if no one’s using it, we’re going to get rid of it. We will generally put it on a watch list to revisit it once a year to make sure the return on investment is there.”To keep ROI high, employees have to know what’s available so they can use it. Sloman is persistent in her comms strategy. She holds a weekly call with new hires to review their benefits and answer questions. Existing employees get their own call focused on a specific benefit, often selected for timeliness. These calls are heavily attended, she said. “In February, for example, we wanted to make sure everyone got their receipts for their FSA, so we dedicated time to remind employees.”Sloman keeps an eye on the market, careful to not fall into the trap of fads. Yet she’s also keen on individualization. Work-life balance looks different for every employee, and the way they want to achieve it will vary just as widely. To this end, Sloman likes to keep some perks as flexible as possible.“I think people-first culture and work-life balance right now are top priorities for employees. That’s something we haven’t had before,” she said. But that means something different to everyone. To some, flexible work isn’t an interesting benefit; they would rather have more time off to spend with their families. Others will prefer remote work. The point is that employees could pick and choose their work and benefits arrangements in a way that best fits them. That’s something they’ll likely stick around for.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 Economist, the Washington Post, Quartz, Fast Company, and Digiday’s Worklife.

Emily McCrary-Ruiz-Esparza | April 24, 2024