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How to Be Advocates and Enlighten Leaders on DE&I

HR leaders discuss the steps to take in the executive suite to bring more progress

A group of people sitting on chairs on a stage.

AUSTIN, TEXAS — HR professionals have power to make an even bigger difference in their companies' policies that promote diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) following the social justice movements that started a year ago.

A group of HR leaders spoke Tuesday at SHRM INCLUSION 2021 in Austin, Texas, and virtually to explain how they must be not only advocates, but even activists as they push forward with their intentions.

Sean T. Sullivan, SHRM-SCP, chief HR officer for SHRM, moderated the discussion, and panelists included Greg R. Flores, founder and owner of Sculpted Leaders; Byna Elliott, head of Advancing Black Pathways at JPMorgan Chase & Co.; and Joya Hayes, director of HR and director of civil service for the city of Austin, Texas.

Flores offered candid and, at times, blunt commentary about meeting with company leadership to discuss DE&I.

"For everyone, a time comes in your life when you say, 'What the f,' and for me, that came early," Flores said. "I've been that 'one' in the room. When you are that person, you can either assimilate or you can drive forward. For me, assimilate just won't work. You are at a table with the C-suite and you realize that they aren't as enlightened as you thought they were. I'm not calling them racist, just not totally enlightened."

Flores said that for CEOs, their solutions are usually based on "Let's make it easy. Let's find people who fit.' That is, fit—as long as it's with others who are just like you."

But don't think they can't change their minds, Flores said. "If you can get that face-to-face with the C-suite and win them over about DE&I, then things can change really quickly. The CEOs are much about profits and getting things done. That's what got them there. That's what made them successful. But that's their 'flat' spot. You need to convince them that DE&I doesn't come from taking one course and then it's done.

"You have to have the courage to have that one-on-one conversation and explain to them what needs to be done," he said. "HR is the expert. That's what we do. Sure, you can tell them that it's good for profits and show them the numbers, but it's good for society. Hit them with that and you might get them to buy in."

He suggested that the HR department also can try to find someone within the company "who is not afraid to go to the C-suite and tell them, 'This is how I feel as a (fill in the blank of their gender or race) working at your company.' When an executive hears that, they don't want to be the one who doesn't listen and does something."

When looking at DE&I data for a workforce, he said, "make sure you separate the data analysis for the line workers from the management. That will tell you the real story." Don't use averages, he added. "That will beat you every day in your effort to create change."

Flores said HR needs to find and show the causality.

"You have to call out warts in the organization," he said. "The gatekeepers. The recruiters. Who on staff is being trained, and trained for what? When you do that, you've presented them with the situation, and now, they will come up with the solution."

Leaders don't make mistakes, Flores said. "When they see the numbers, it's not a 'mistake,' it's an ah-ha moment for them," he noted. "Remember, HR is the expert at presenting this information. Will the change come overnight? No; you have to remember this is a marathon and not a sprint."

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Overcoming Workplace Bias

Fellowship Program Creates Career Opportunities

JPMorgan Chase hired 4,000 Black workers last year for internships and entry-level positions in its Advancing Black Pathways Fellowship Program, Elliott explained. It's a six-week paid, full-time fellowship held during the summer months in select JPMorgan Chase & Co. offices for Black undergraduate sophomores to build early professional development skills and positively impact the future of people's lives, the firm and the industry.

Her company is looking to build from that talent and promote it forward. "We have leaders who are working directly with our historically black colleges to not only bring them to the company, but to make sure they have the kind of education they need to succeed," she said.

"Our support of this program has doubled every year. Speak to our directors and supervisors and they are excited about it. They will tell you, 'I didn't know this talent was there.' Eighty percent of our participants, as juniors, came back as seniors."

Elliott also told of what JPMorgan Chase is doing for workers in the lowest-skilled positions, including paying tuition reimbursement.

"And those charges for that are not tied to one department, it's charged to the company," she said. "This has encouraged more to do this. We also coach our employees on how to get through life and its challenges. We teach them how to thrive, earn higher wages, get on that path.

"We ask them, 'What are the skills you need to move to the next step?' especially of those whose jobs are vulnerable to a technology solution takeover."

'Ban the Box' Started in Austin

In 2016, Hayes helped to lead Austin to pass an ordinance—known as "ban the box"—preventing private employers with 15 or more employees from asking about potential job candidates' criminal history before extending a conditional job offer. The ordinance allows employers to ask about an applicant's criminal history after that point.

The city monitors this, and companies are investigated if they do not comply.

Currently, 13 states (and the District of Columbia) have ban-the-box laws that apply to private employers. More than 30 states have such laws that apply to government employers.

Hayes said the city of Austin also goes to people who are incarcerated soon before they will be freed to help give them work skills and improve their resumes so they can gain job placement. Her city hosts successful job fairs for individuals who were previously incarcerated.

Hayes has also helped Austin develop affinity groups in recent years and has brought them along to not only share their culture, but now to meet with groups to discuss gaps.

Flores encouraged the audience to "bring your case with passion. Passion used to be equated with anger. No. You have to be passionate. [HR] is the business you've chosen. You have to lean into it. Have passion. The census numbers are out [showing minorities make up a greater share of the country's population], and they can't be ignored any more. You have to be an advocate and an activist to move this forward."

Paul Bergeron is a freelance writer based in Herndon, Va.


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