The Dynamics of Inclusion

This panel discussion from 2017 is still extremely relevant. Panel members at that time were:

Rock Anderson: Cox Automotive (currently SVP HR Auto Nation)

Joe Garcia: Home Depot Senior Director, Talent Management and Organizational Effectiveness

Jo Anne Hill: AFLAC (currently Executive Director of Diversity and Inclusion at Piedmont Healthcare)

Facilitated by Lyn Turknett

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 (Note: As of 6/15/20, that number is 29), 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 DiversityInc. 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 faced 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 other’s 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.

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