The Dynamics of Inclusion

On Wednesday of last week I was up early on a warm January morning in Atlanta. I was honored to be the moderator for a terrific panel of human resource leaders at the first SHRM-Atlanta Power Breakfast of 2017. Panel members (their bios are at the end of this post) were:

  • Rock Anderson, Executive Vice President and Chief People Officer, Cox Automotive
  • Joe Garcia, Ph.D., Senior Director of Talent Management, The Home Depot
  • Jo Anne Hill, Director of Diversity, Aflac

I’ve been personally thinking about workforce diversity since I was a child watching my mother, who got an MBA in the 1950s, struggle to navigate the world of work. We’ve all just seen the Catalyst announcement that women now hold 28 of the CEO positions in the S&P 500, but I hoped it would be far more by now. After introductions each panelist was asked the question, “What three practices or initiatives have been most powerful at moving the needle on diversity and inclusion in your organization?” Jo Anne Hill began with lessons from Aflac. Her top three were:

  1. The support and leadership of the CEO, Dan Amos. Jo Anne said that a number of years ago Dan looked around at company leadership and declared that there were too many people who looked like him. As he so eloquently says, “I already know how a 60-year-old white guy thinks.” He promotes the idea of diversity of thought, and shares the company values in every new employee orientation.
  2. There is a Diversity Council in every location. Aflac does not have Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), but their councils have racial, ethnic, age, gender, and tenure diversity, and are designed to include multiple perspectives. The Diversity Council serves as an advisory council in each location.
  3. “Publish and Promote!” Jo Anne said that Aflac publishes their numbers – making clear to everyone, for example, the proportion of women and minorities in the workforce and in leadership. (Aflac’s board of fourteen includes three women and two African-American men.) Aflac also intentionally promotes diversity as a cultural value.

From Joe Garcia of The Home Depot:

  1. Emphasizing and living The Home Depot Values – especially as leaders. Joe said that in the past leaders who “got things done” were rewarded. Now leaders are measured not just on hitting the numbers but also on adherence to values.
  2. Analytics that show how diversity connects to the bottom line. From the customer side, consumer insights show that people prefer to shop where they feel comfortable, and a big part of that comfort is a work force that looks like them. The Home Depot also has a powerful HR Analytics team, and they are able to make a direct link between a leader’s “Respect for All People” (one of the key values) and employee engagement. And units with the highest engagement scores – and the highest scores on respect – are the most profitable.
  3. Selection processes that reduce unconscious bias. Joe told us that The Home Depot has created rigorous success profiles with key skills and competencies needed by the position, and have designed assessment centers to assess those competencies prior to promotion. Leaders are trained as assessment center evaluators, and the reduction in bias has been measurable, with fewer “like me” selections.

Rock Anderson of Cox Automotive gave us his top three and added a fourth:

  1. Intentionality. Rock agreed with Jo Anne and Joe that accountability starts at the top, and said the organization must be intentional and forthright about the commitment to diversity and inclusion. Rock said that Cox as an enterprise is clear about supporting diversity and inclusion (Cox is number 18 on the Top 50), and said that the leader of Cox Automotive, Sandy Schwartz, is a strong and vocal supporter.
  2. Accountability. Leaders are measured by their ability to improve the diversity of their departments and leadership teams and are expected to have a diverse slate when selecting for promotion or hiring into the company.
  3. Visibility. Cox has a number of Employee Resource Groups, and Rock believes they make the diversity of the organization visible. He said that they recently launched a Pride ERG. He told us that the post announcing the group received more comments in a five day period than any other post.
  4. Role Modeling. If leaders are not modeling inclusion and hiring a diverse team around them the job for HR is impossible. People look to leaders, and behavior consistent with values is important at all levels.

There was a rich discussion, and I wish I could have captured it all. A few highlights:

  • Jo Ann is a part of training all new managers, and says, “If you don’t like people, you shouldn’t lead people.” When asked about challenges she has faces as a proponent of D&I she said, “we participate in community events, and when we have a table at an event, I think it should look like Aflac.” So now, she says, there are no all African-American tables at the MLK dinner or all white attendees at the Steeplechase. She is willing to question, and willing to push.
  • Rock said that open, honest, and direct conversation is critical for driving change, and Cox Automotive has used Crucial Conversations training to help people be more comfortable with challenging conversation. He reiterated that human resource leaders promoting diversity and inclusion need to be first business leaders, and need to know how D&I drives business results.
  • Joe Garcia said that the assessment center has opened the eyes of some leaders. In one case there was a slate of candidates being assessed for promotion, and that slate included two women. Before the assessment process was begun leaders (who were also assessors) were asked to rank the slate according to readiness for promotion. The two women were ranked dead last – not ready. After seeing their performance in the assessment center the opinion completely changed – and they were promoted.

I’ll end with two points I began the session with. First, I am hearing a new term that I think speaks to why diversity is so critical to business success now, and it’s cognitive diversity. We can’t innovate or problem solve if we all think alike. There’s a great discussion of the concept in The Power of Difference chapter in Team Genius. Second is my answer to why inclusion is key. If you are a human resources professional you know that Google has a world class people analytics team, and they were determined to find out why some Google teams were so much more productive and innovative than others. Dubbed “Project Aristotle,” the researchers found, after months of work, that the main thing differentiating the ordinary teams from the ones that were the most creative and productive was a concept (coined by researcher Amy Edmondson) termed “psychological safety” – measured by items like “It is completely safe to take a risk on this team” and “Members of this team value and respect each others contributions.” (For a great summary see Charles Duhigg’s article in the New York Times, which is excerpted from his book, Faster, Smarter, Better.) I am convinced that psychological safety is the key to inclusion, and also the key to productivity, innovation, and workplaces that work.


ROCK ANDERSON Executive Vice President and Chief People Officer Cox Automotive Rock Anderson Jr. is Executive Vice President and Chief People Officer at Cox Automotive. He leads the company’s people strategy, which emphasizes unlocking the potential of each of the 33,000 team members to drive business success now and in the future. He is also the inaugural co-chair of the Cox Automotive Diversity Council, which is tasked with formalizing the diversity and inclusion agenda for the company. Mr. Anderson graduated from Dillard University and earned his MSW from Tulane. He currently serves on the Board of Trustees of Dillard University, is a past board member of the United Way of Greater Atlanta, and chairs the benefits committee of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta. He has received numerous awards, including the National Association of African Americans in Human Resources 2016 Trail Blazer Award.

JOE GARCIA Sr. Director, Talent Management The Home Depot Dr. Joe Garcia is the Senior Director of Talent Management at The Home Depot. In this capacity, he is responsible for Organizational Effectiveness (selection, engagement, analytics), Talent Planning, Performance Management and Organizational Development. Dr. Garcia has over 26 years of business experience in retail, medical equipment, life science, and management consulting. He is a frequent presenter at national conferences speaking about his work in the areas of selection and talent development. Dr. Garcia has extensive international experience and has led major selection and organization development projects in Mexico, Venezuela, Argentina, and Brazil. Dr. Garcia holds a master’s degree in industrial/organizational psychology from the University of Miami. Doctoral studies were at the U. of Miami and Fielding Institute, where he received a Ph.D. in human and organizational development.

JO ANNE HILL Director of Diversity and Employee Engagement Aflac Jo Anne Hill is Director of Diversity and Employee Engagement at Aflac, the leading provider of voluntary insurance at the work site in the United States. As Director, Mrs. Hill is responsible for ensuring that Aflac’s employment strategies and actions are reflective of its diverse marketplace. She leads and manages the diversity and inclusion approach for the company, including the integration of diversity into core personnel and business processes, with a focus on developing, implementing and driving best practice programs, initiatives, and processes to foster Aflac’s corporate commitment to diversity. She joined Aflac in 1990, and her tenure has enabled her to gain a profound understanding of the company’s culture and to foster its award-winning reputation as an ethical company, preparing her for her current role as chief diversity officer.

LYN TURKNETT (Moderator) Co-Founder and President Turknett Leadership Group Carolyn (Lyn) Turknett is co-founder and President of Turknett Leadership Group, an Atlanta-based consulting firm founded in 1987 that provides leadership and organization development services to companies in a variety of industries. The focus of her work is character in leadership, individual and organization assessment, executive team development, succession, and women in leadership. Research interests include corporate culture and business outcomes and neuroscience and leadership. She is the creator, with her husband and business partner Bob Turknett, of the Leadership Character Model. Ms. Turknett has a B.S. in mathematics and an M.A. in Sociology from the University of Georgia. She is active in the community, and in 2015 received the Woman of Purpose Award from United Way of Greater Atlanta and a “Women Who Mean Business Award” from the Atlanta Business chief diversity officer.

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