Written by Miles Tucker
BestCompaniesAZ and Career Connectors’ semi-annual Diversity Talks prompted many important conversations this fall. Eleven of the top ranked businesses with offices in Arizona met virtually to share how their organizations prioritize diversity, equity and inclusion for all their employees. Representatives shared the programs their companies have in place to welcome workers from all backgrounds, and attendees even had the chance to discuss job opportunities with these employers.
Laura McLeod, Head of Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (JEDI) at Axon
Rama Parandekar, Talent Program Management at Freedom Financial Network
Desmond Jackson, Team Manager of Managed Services at Workiva
Why is DEI important to Your Company?
Parandekar: We have diversity across the board in all divisions. Diversity is important to Freedom because of what we do and we believe all people help us build solutions for everyday Americans. We can’t do that unless we have the representation of people across all levels of society and all groups of community. Our customers tend to be everyday Americans, and when they call in a talk to someone like them, it really helps them connect. Inclusion is another important part of the climate because bringing diversity alone is not much. It is important to create an environment of inclusion and only then is it a safe environment that brings forward innovative ideas and leadership from this diverse talent. We have many ERGs (Employee Resource Groups) to help promote inclusion, promote community growth, spread the word, and create the leadership not only within our talent but to help these ERGs represent their communities.
McLeod: As the Head of JEDI at Axon this is something I eat, sleep, breathe every day. At Axon we really believe that in order to protect life and accelerate justice and realize our mission and our goals that starts with centering on not only diversity, equity and inclusion but also justice in everything we do. From our products and how we make them to the workplace culture we cultivate. Everyone at Axon, no matter the level or the role, has a responsibility and accountability and is a member of the JEDI team to build both an inclusive and equitable workforce and also an equitable, inclusive and just world. We’re really looking at empowering our employees to build for racial equity, diversity and inclusion through our behaviors, our systems, and our products. We actually added this as one of our strategic goals after all of the events that happened in 2020. We also look at ensuring that all of our employees have equal access to opportunity and success. We want to make sure we are building diverse teams that reflect the communities we serve. Lastly, we look at fostering a culture of belonging where everyone can thrive and innovate from a standpoint of our Affinity Groups, which we believe are a core pathway for us to engage our employees in this work. Every employee is a member of the JEDI team and is responsible and held accountable for the work that they do in driving this work forward. We identify members and welcome allies to help lift their voices up and to be a business resource at the end of the day.
Jackson: What we understand is that in order to attract talent and grow our client base we must continue to look for ways to be as diverse and inclusive as possible while providing a sense of belonging as much as possible to people that want to join our company. What we realize is that it’s an everybody effort in order to make sure that we are extremely diverse. We have racial equality statements and solidarity statements which we use to drive some of the information that we put out.
Why are Employee Resource Groups Important to Your Company?
McLeod: We see our Affinity Resource Groups as core pathways for engaging our employees in our JEDI work. All of our affinity groups are based off of and centered around underserved communities and historically marginalized communities. By both discussing the needs that these communities have and crafting solutions both internally and externally these groups foster professional development for their members. We want to make sure our ERGs are also engaging and retaining our employees from a belonging perspective. When we think about professional development, that goes straight back to equity and how we make sure that we are creating equitable experiences for our employees of different identities and from underserved communities. ERGs ensure that they are able to get professional development tailored to their needs as well as have a space to ask the questions that they have to be able to center the needs they have in professional development. Currently we have six affinity groups and we’re going to have seven next year. Axon Allies for the LGBTQ + community, Axon Mosaic which is focused on the Black and African American community, Veterans at Axon, Women at Axon, Asian Pacific Islander Alliance, and Hola for Hispanic and Latin Americans.
Jackson: We’re fortunate enough to have seven ERGs within Workiva, and ours are centered a little bit differently. We have a group for veterans as well as for remote employees. ERGs for us create a sense of inclusion and belonging. It builds into the core values of the organization and helps to get new employees engaged in one of the seven ERGs if not more than one. Connected Nomads is for our work from home employees and is one of our most popular. Another popular one is our Women in Tech Group which is represented by lots of folks from our engineering team and research and development overall. We also have an Ethnic Diversity in Tech Group, Women in Sales, LGBTQ+ Community and Veterans in Tech.
Parandekar: ERGs within Freedom are very new. They came in a time when everyone has started working remotely. It was perfect timing for them to come together, be with folks like them, and build a community which definitely helps with mental and physical health. We have five ERGs: Freedom Heroes for veterans, Freedom Riders for African Americans, Freedom Unidos for Latinx/Hispanic and Freedom Pride for LGBTQ+ members. We start ERGs to create a safe environment for people who have a passion for their community to share common beliefs and interests. At the same time ERGs cross between different departments that come together which helps with getting exposure and visibility.
What is the Importance of DEI at Your Company?
Lucas: Like many other companies represented here today, when we think of DE&I it’s a journey. The best way to illustrate the journey that we’ve been on as an organization is really looking at it from a talent attraction standpoint. I am a part of a team of eight that specifically helps Vanguard increase representation of under-represented talent and we identify that as Black, Latinx, and Indigenous. We do that in technology, investment management, sales and other domains that are important to our business now and in the future. We also do this by partnering with HBCUs, Hispanic serving institutions, and corporate partners to broaden our exposure and awareness in these communities. Vanguard is looking to be a mutual partner with these organizations to alleviate inequity gaps.
Menneke: Our DEI program promotes the sharing of diverse perspectives which leads to more opportunity. It drives our culture of performance and it increases our ability to foster more financial inclusion in our community. We intentionally foster a diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility driven culture where employees with complementary strengths and working styles can come together to collaborate and drive business results together. We check in on our employees through surveys, events, round tables and ERGs as well.
White: A balanced talent pipeline is a huge part of our strategy. Partnering with hispanic serving institutions or historically black colleges and universities is a big piece of it. Women’s universities and looking into the right boot camps also helps get the right people into the right seats to be contributors to our culture. 54% of the overall university recruiting we do comes from these places to make sure we are getting the right talent in the right places. We want to make sure that we are bringing people in that find a sense of belonging, that we are furthering our mission in those communities, and that we are supporting the great work of our agents.
What do Career Pathways Look Like at Your Company?
White: We try to tailor the experience for each individual, the skillsets they bring to the table, and their ultimate career goals. Within each business line there are some pathways that are identified. I happen to belong to the customer experience family so if you’re not licensed you have an opportunity to come in, get your entry-level FINRA licenses sponsored and get paid time to do it. You’ll then be able to graduate and work in a licensed role and explore where you want to go from there. We make sure that you have the right resources to grow within our family and then once you are growing, we make sure that you have promotion opportunities and that you have a sense of belonging here. A big piece of that is the 10 ERGs that we have. Some of that will come from your manager and you’ll also find that in mentorships with someone that you find in an ERG. One mentorship program that we recently launched is within our Women in Tech ERG that makes sure that women who are coming in have an opportunity to throughout their experience here.
Menneke: We have traditional career paths that are intentional in developing and preparing for the next steps in careers for our employees. For example, a teller is groomed to learn and grow their skills in the accounts area so they can quickly develop and become an account representative. However this year, we are developing robust capabilities models so that there’s more focus on internal mobility across different lines of business.
Lucas: The vast majority of our crew members come in by our retail phone roles. This is a role where you will come in and we will pay for you to get your licenses. Many employees come in this way, but we have a very rotational culture. When they start, we pride ourselves on having leaders that are constantly asking you about your development. Asking where you would like to go, what you would like to do, and getting you in position to do that. What’s beautiful in that is sometimes you might come in on the phones talking directly to clients and a year later find that you are in HR, or maybe IT, or even deep on the investment side as a trader or portfolio implementation analyst. A lot of that comes from what you are asking and what you are requiring of your leader in terms of your development. People are always moving, shifting and trying new things. One of the things we pride ourselves on as an organization is allowing people to come in, find their niche or passion, and go from there. We do also have traditional tracks. We want everyone to find their place in our mission of serving our clients.