Inclusive Organizations: Create an Environment for Inclusion through Policies and Practices

Wei Zheng: We have three panelists today. I believe you can see them in the spotlights. My first one is Valoria Armstrong. She’s the chief inclusion officer of American Water. The second one is Christine Geissler. She’s the global senior vice president of human resources at the Rickitt, and the third one is Armond Kinsey. He’s the chief diversity officer of Atlantic Health Systems. So a big welcome to all of our panelists whose organizations have won various kinds of diversity awards. So let’s get started with this question of what does inclusion looks like, and I got two audience questions actually. They’re interested in what kind of metrics you use, and what kind of ways to how do you measure the impact of inclusion, so let’s start with Christine would you like to get started.

Christine: The biggest thing about measuring any efforts on diversity, and inclusion is that there is no one-size-fits-all, and there’s no great answer, and you know being in a global role myself the other thing that makes it more challenging is that it is different solutions, and different answers and different things you can talk about around the globe and so it’s not even one size fits all within one company.
There are certain things, for instance, that we report out, and we just made a decision that we were going to report out our gender equity, and pay results every year, and we were going to do that regardless of the country, but it’s important in some countries and not in some countries. It’s not so even in terms of measuring it becomes difficult but there are so many ways to measure, and it can start with you knowing your employee engagement surveys, and you know I highly encourage round table discussions in a smaller forum to really get at some of the feedback that you need to hear in addition to the smaller forums, and the focus groups, and so forth I think you know one way to measure it is also to know how willing our employees to tell their story, how comfortable do they feel, how safe do they feel at your organization, and you know there are some measurements that aren’t written.
We have in terms of analytics, and you know I’m telling you exactly what the numbers are and what they mean. The last thing that I know I’m bouncing around a little on it, and maybe it’s my cold drugs today, but the last thing that I am part with you on measuring is it all about the story, and you have to be careful with analytics because you can use it to paint the story that you want to and that isn’t always the right thing to do either, but you can use it to tell a story of really truly facts, and what I mean by that.
A perfect example of that is what if I said our organization was at 30 percent gender equity in terms of we had 30 females. Let’s say at the leadership level 30 females and maybe that was our goal this year, and so we’re like yay hip hip hooray this is great. What if I took the analytics of that story, and said okay based on our hiring rate today, based on exactly the formulas of what we’re doing today, what would be the predictive analytics of when we could get to 50 percentage parity, and what if that answer was in 78 years. Well, okay, not so yay not so proud, not so excited about that 30 if it’s going to take us 78 years to get to gender parity, so you know what you can do with the analytics and the facts to tell factual stories is really important because that’s how you can really grab the attention of people and let them know if it is working or not working. So you can see the difference it would be very easy to say yay, we’re at 30 percentage that’s where we needed to be and if I let it go at that I’m telling the story that I want to tell to feel good about perhaps the efforts that I’ve made in the last year, but if that story isn’t the real story to gender parody we’ve got to be honest, and we’ve got to bring that out there, so I’ll leave some time for my colleagues here.

Wei Zheng: Wonderful just a quick follow-up Christine so how did you tell the story? How do you strike a balance between the two sides or two interpretations of that story?

Christine: I just think it’s you have to know enough about the analytics and that’s the problem I’m kind of blessed because I’ve been surrounded by some really good people that are really strong in analytics so much better than me, so much more talented that can say hey Christine yeah you could say that but I think you’re telling it in a way that is slanted that is biased, and so I have people that are willing to challenge me with the story and willing to say hey here is the fact that’s not what the facts tell us and so you have to make sure because as we all go through changes we all know we can build facts to support our own stances how do you take a real strong factual analytical approach, but then you know weaving it into a story is still telling the facts but just making the facts come to life.

Wei Zheng: Oh, thank you for the explanation. Val, Would you like to share your perspective on measurements, and how do you tell how inclusive an organization is?

Val: Sure and you know I’ll ditto a lot of what Christine has shared here is that and I think a big part of it is listening, and hearing from our employees in regard to employee engagement surveys, and culture surveys and being able to hear specifically what your employees are telling you because I think it’s a balance of being a top-down but also a bottom-up approach.
We don’t want this work to be seen as oh this is being driven from corporate this is a corporate initiative and so, therefore, it’s very important that we’re hearing from our employees and that they feel that they are part of this journey that we’re on as we’re moving forward.
And one of the questions that I see that came into our box here is around employee business resource groups and the advantage of having those that’s one of the engagement tools that we use to measure our employees, and hearing from them in regard to what’s important to them, we actually launched for employee business resource groups this year, and we intentionally put business as a part of our resource groups because our goal is to ensure that the work that they’re doing, and their conversations are tied back to business results, and so they spend time focusing on culture careers of our employees’ growth and development as well as an impact to the community and the work that we’re doing and, so we’re measuring a lot of that work through our employee business resource groups and having leaders that are leading that work from across our organization. Now we have also published this year our first indirect report where we were able to share demographic information and breakdown of our employees across our organization.
At American Water, we’re actually located all across the U.S. We’re not a global company, but we are a U.S. geographically dispersed organization with over 7000 employees and within that space, we serve a demographic a customer base that’s very diverse as well and so it’s important for us that we’re tracking the hiring and retention of our employee base.
We have a focus on women racial and ethnic diversity as a part of our hiring metrics and that’s data that we share out very frequently on a monthly basis with our leaders in regard to what’s the recruitment of individuals into roles across the company that represent women racial-ethnic diversity but also what’s the retention rate because what we’re seeing through a lot of our analysis is that while we may be doing a really good job hiring individuals in where we’re struggling which I know we’ll talk about this in a little bit is the retention and to me, that’s a clear indicator that there are probably some cultural issues that you’re dealing with within your organization.
I would just wrap it up by saying that I think it’s important for organizations to define what does an inclusive culture look like for our inclusive culture at American water may be very different from a company that’s down the road, so you have to determine what are those values that are important for your culture and for us is having an environment of dignity respect for all and also a culture where we have zero-tolerance where there are individuals that are discriminatory practices that are taking place or things along those lines so I think it’s important to identify what that is and that also allows you to begin on your journey in this area.

Wei Zheng: Excellent, thank you, Val, first of all I applaud your effort to share your demographic information. A lot of organizations that do not want to share are afraid of sharing. So kudos to you, I want to follow up just very quickly how do you measure the culture you mentioned dignity respect zero-tolerance. Do you ask for people’s perceptions of their experience of these how do you how is that reflected in the survey

Val: We do and that’s through our employee culture survey we specifically have questions within our survey that speak to fair treatment of employees and their perspective. There a lot also we specifically ask about having an inclusive culture within our organization, and then lastly we actually we’ve been a question around equity this year as we’re evolving the work that we’re doing with this work and we’ll talk about this also during our time together inclusion and diversity is is changing each and every day and for us as an organization. It’s important for us that we are not staying in a box, and we’re continuing to evolve with it, so equity has been a big part of our work as we’re moving forward with our strategic plan.

Wei Zheng: Thank you very much. Armond, you mentioned earlier that you actually help the organization you build up its functions could you talk about how that journey was like, especially in the perspective of how did you build up measurements and people’s experience of inclusion?

Armond : Sure happy to, and thanks for the invitation so I joined the Atlantic health system almost three years ago and I was the first chief diversity officer. This is the first time they’ve had an office of diversity and inclusion and you know to be quite honest I was in Washington.I was at the time working at Kaiser Permanente, so I loved the city. I was in a nice space and a nice position, but what drew me here was the opportunity to build we have a six hospital system here and it was the opportunity to pull what was happening.
There was you know some pseudo-diversity initiatives happening but it was an opportunity to build and create a foundation of what diversity and inclusion would be like for the system so in doing so of course you know to Val and Christine point you gotta build and be able to measure those initiatives simultaneously, so there was a lot of running and flying the plane and building the plane as we were flying so we look at it similar to what was said. As diversity inclusion and equity are similar but still different in their own rights, so you have to be able to uphold those and make sure they stand alone but also integrated so we do a lot of work around pay equity and of course all that is measured similar to what was shared we do a lot of work around diversity laying the foundation of what is diversity at Atlantic health system not only what it is for our employees but what is it for our patients that are walking in our door and how do we make sure that from a patient care perspective we can meet the needs of those patients walking in the door keeping in mind that in health care there’s a number of laws and policies that we have to abide by around diversity and inclusion and then you layer on top of that this issue of a pandemic for the last two years and the diverse patient population and the cultural beliefs that came in along with the pandemic.
It’s been an interesting, and challenging time to be working anywhere I’ll say that working anywhere but in healthcare it’s been a little more challenging trying to manage both the employee diversity as well as our patient diversity and then still keep a community lens on top of that. How are we reaching out to some of those community members? So we were building all of that throughout the pandemic and putting measurements with that as well and similar to what Val said we we also use in employee engagement surveys .
We have six questions on our survey that culminate into an inclusion service sorry, an inclusion score. Of course, we can slice and dice the actual diversity data by various demographics, so we do look at them like most organizations separately but then see also where the compilations happening where the intersections how are we recruiting people in the door.
I think Val’ve nailed it on the fact that you know our diversity recruitment is up this year but what is our retention so who are we losing in the back door and when you have those numbers that don’t equal out there usually is a cultural challenge that’s happening which for us we had to go back to our talent acquisition process and have a discussion about where are we sourcing who are we bringing in the door who’s doing the interviews what are the questions being asked so there’s at here’s a gap the at the early part fit that we’re losing people on the backend so we had to tighten up the the brains there which is slowly but surely helping us on the retention side on the back end.
So you know building a lot of it as we’re going and continue to evolve it’s a journey that you never see the end of because I think I don’t know I think was Val that said it’s constantly changing I think when I started it was just the diversity department and then it was diversity and inclusion and now it’s equity and if we think about years ago it was just the civil rights movement so we have seen the transformation of diversity work over the years and i’m sure we haven’t seen the end of it.

Christine: I just want to comment because Armond said something is so profound that you know and I know Val agrees with this. The issue and to the question that Charles asked in the chat why are some companies hesitant to share? Why do we pause about sharing our metrics, our analytics even how we share it internally much less externally is because Armond had just touched on it just so briefly. Can you imagine if I say boy when we look at our inclusion index on our employee engagement survey, and it is at 85 percent, wow you know how we’re doing wonderful it’s great it’s above benchmark well guess what if all of a sudden we do a cut and we do that cut by asking what do are you know individuals of color, what do our women feel versus men, what do individuals feel who identify in there are so many different ways depending on how you do your analytics what if we ask these different groups and then all of the sudden that 85percent looks like 40 percent but the numbers are small.
So it just rolls into that 85, and we look great so I think people get so hesitant because the more you get into analytics is the more you know which is great but it helps to unwind unravel and learn more and more and so at any spot in time you can share a number and that number is going to mean three different things and then what’s in that number is going to mean another 10 different things. I think that’s why companies get and people get a little hesitant so I hope you don’t mind me commenting on that Armond but I think that’s part of Charles question on you know why is their hesitancy I think you’re going to see more and more overall very bland generic analytics for everyone until we get to really stronger analytics that people are going to be able to consistently understand what that means.

Armond: I agree no no go ahead Val

Val: I was going to say you hit it spot on with that I mean there’s a level of accountability that comes once you actually put that data out here, and it’s in the universe it’s hard to pull it back and so there’s a level of accountability that’s placed on what are we going to do to improve because our operation minds start to kick in there and then also if it reveals that we have gaps along the way and so it’s kind of like you’re looking into that closet, and you’re seeing the skeletons that are in the closet that have been hiding that not really many people are known about which for us, you know at American Water we did a full analysis internally, and we had a number of conversations, and we had to truly challenge ourselves as to why would we not share this data why would we not share where we’re doing excellent work, but we still have room for improvement and that was revealed in our inclusion and diversity report and so you’ll see next year we’re still going to have areas of improvement, but the key is that we’re continuously moving the needle and I think we all look at this journey of inclusion diversity and equity as it’s more of a marathon, and it’s a long marathon. It’s not a sprint by any means.

Armond: And I’ll just add I think what both Christine and Val said is accurate, it’s a balance of what do we want to share and are we prepared for to have the conversations once we share it. Something happened in 2020 with in addition to the pandemic, the civil unrest that happened across our country with the killing of George Floyd. Every single company came out with a diversity of statement their stance on their support for diversity and inclusion. The shift however this time I think is now employees are saying to that company remember you put out that statement what are we going to do, what’s the actions to the statement, what are we doing what are we going to do about what we said we support, and we did the listening conversations I think when I think was Val that talked about listening to your team you know when that killing happened we went on a listening tour across all of our health systems or hospitals to make sure that people felt like their voice was heard that they knew that we were empathetic to them having to deal with what was happening outside our health system come in here and deal with a pandemic 24hours a day, and it was heavy for our team so now we are now obligated to do something about that within the walls of our system can I control your behaviors outside here now but I can definitely influence them so if you’re with me for eight hours, and we’re expecting you to have these types of behaviors while you’re with us the hope is that that translates into your personal life if that’s not already part of your core, but a lot of organizations are now having to have some internal conversations about was that just a statement for show and tell or are we serious about the work that needs to happen behind diversity and inclusion.

Wei Zheng: Well thank you for the additional thread that’s really really relevant. So a lot of organizations mention when their social events happen, they do listening sessions, and picking up on what you said is among as well. What are you listening for what kind of questions do you ask what are you listening for and how do you take action on them because I can imagine a lot of organizations doing that but nothing comes out of it and people get discouraged and that’s not a successful practice? So how do you make it impactful a practice just having those listening sessions?

Armond: I’ll just briefly give our example, when it started there were four of us that decided to go on tour. So to say my CEO our chief human resources officer is ahead of psychology and myself because we knew that this was more than just a feel-good moment like there will be conversations like we talked about around psychological safety and how much can I share at work, so we wanted to be sure that people heard from all different aspects of the business. We didn’t go into with an agenda. We went into it with opening remarks and then let the audience take us to where we need it to be and when you think about where all of our hospitals are in northern jersey just outside Manhattan, but each one has its own unique community so the needs and the ask of each hospital was a little different those closer to the city much more diverse in their demographics. They talked a little bit differently than are some of our hospitals in our western region, which is a little bit more suburban and rural so we just couldn’t go into it with the preconceived idea of what they wanted or how they wanted us to respond to it was really to Val’s point earlier listening, and then we did create an action plan after we finished letting them know we heard them and that the stuff that we were putting into our strategic plan. They would be able to see their fingerprint on that strategic plan because we heard what they said, and I think it went a long way to the understanding that they were a herd and that we weren’t just here on a listening tour but there were follow-up actions that would happen.

Wei Zheng: Could you share one or two follow-up actions that you derived from that process?

Armond: So similar to Val business resource groups when I entered Atlantic health system, we didn’t have any. After the killing of George Floyd people wanted to be involved, and they didn’t know how to get involved. They didn’t know where the space was for them to be involved. So we created nine business resource groups in the last year, and they vary between demographics. We have one for working parents, so they constantly evolve. The working parents one came organically during the pandemic, people trying to juggle schools being closed and parents trying to work and a lot of us are working from home and just juggling that so some business resource groups weren’t just by ethnic or racial demographics. So there’s one for everybody in our organization, so I think launching that post the round tables really helps them understand that we heard you, and we’re going to help find a way for you to get involved.

Wei Zheng: Thank you. Val, you also mentioned listening to employees a lot. What are one or two things that come out of those listening sessions or in Charles terms maybe some grievances, and how did you take action on those?

Val: So we actually as a part of our employee business resource group very similar to what Armond and their team did is we held after the Derrick Sheldon verdict came out we knew that that was going to be very emotional for our employees within our organization, and we were prepared for that, so we were taking time leading up to that verdict thinking through how are we going to address this internally within our organization, and we had the day of the verdict we actually had a stand down across I like to call it may be a stand-up across our organization where our CEO, as well as our chief human resource officer, spoke with all of our employees in a virtual space across the entire company we put all hands down, and they spent time speaking about understanding the impact of this. Not only to our country but to our workspace and understanding that employees are going to be in different spaces with it. We don’t really know some employees support it some may not have that outcome but what was important for us is that when employees came into the workspace that they have treated with dignity and respect and so that message cascaded across the organization, and we actually built upon that later that day when we had a helium community healing session is what we called it where our together we stand our blackafrican-american ebrg partnered with our women’s we can ebrg and they spoke about the impacts of what had occurred over the last year with George Floyd and Ahmad Aubry, Brianna Taylor the impacts of that personal impacts of that, and then we begin to think through how do we move forward and the key to that was listening to our employees taking those individual conversations back to the employee business resource groups and creating a space within those resource groups to have continued conversations and dialogue. What we’re hearing now you know from our employees is that emotional safety, mental health, and wellness flexibility are extremely important to them and so we’re implementing what are our plans as we’re reintegrating back into the workplace and creating a level of flexibility with our employees with work and balancing that with home. We’ve got a strong desire of employees for mentorship and sponsorship programs within our company which we historically haven’t had so as a part of our strategic plan on that i’ve rolled out this year we’ve got a five-year strategic plan we pulled all of that specific feedback in from our employees into the plan of work we will be standing up a mentoring ship program for the company and working through what the sponsorship look like but more importantly employees are wanting to grow and develop and so what how do we create development programs for employees that are interested in well maybe I don’t want to be on the same career path that I’m on now but I want to think about taking a veer in this direction and focus in this direction for my career, so we’re seeing where it’s employees once their voice is being heard we’re hearing a lot more from them about what their work space means to them and what the trajectory of their career looks like for them as well and I think comfortable employees are getting to be a lot more comfortable in sharing that not just with individual peers but with their leaders as well in their respective areas.

Wei Zheng: Thank you very much, Val. Christine how about you how does listening look like in your world?

Christine: I love the expression that values done the community healing because that’s really what those have become. Our listening sessions with our global CEO have been fantastic and not because it’s with the CEO, not because it’s addressing some things going on around us in our communities, not just because of those things but because it really educated people. The biggest issue that we sometimes have when it comes to inclusion is you know I love the expression of headwinds and tailwinds. Some of us have had more headwinds, and some of us have had more tailwinds, and you know if somebody feels like they have had, you know, more tailwinds behind them and supporting them in their career and so forth and haven’t had some of these obstacles that others have had. To hear about those headwinds that others have had are like wow, I had no idea that Val thinks about that with her children and I don’t even know if Val has children, but you know it’s all of a sudden it strikes a nerve with people to say I really had no idea, and we’ve had employees that have been to tears and putting messages in the chest to say oh my god I had no idea, and I’m so very sorry and what can I do to help and what can I do to make a difference.
And to me, that’s how we start elevating our game. You know the problem with this is what we’ve done today to this point hasn’t worked. We haven’t gotten to the place that we want to be. Yet, has progress been made yes, but not to the point that any of us want, and you’re right Charles. There’s accountability in that we all have to get better, but for me, one of my beliefs is that we get better when we know more and some of us have lived in a bubble and don’t know. I mean they literally don’t know and so how do we start shedding more of a light and I think the last two years have done that, and it’s been very powerful and very helpful in educating and shedding the light, so I think those stories those listening sessions have been amazing and the people that have partly taken in sharing their stories. Companies that have created not just our company, all companies that have created safety for people in those situations I applaud because it’s been needed, and I think very helpful in getting ourselves to a better place.

Wei Zheng: Thank you, Christine. I love the idea of headwinds and tailwinds. What is one example of a headwind you have experienced in your DEI journey? You have been marathoners. You have been doing a lot of work in this DEI space. What is one challenge you have encountered?

Christine: I would think one of the headwinds that I have had as an organization has been in the analytics because I came from a company that had really super strong analytics and I had great partners that I was referring to earlier and I just switched to this company mid-pandemic or near the beginning of the pandemic. So for me all of a sudden asking for information and not being able to get it was probably a big headwind for me because I didn’t have accurate data I wanted to share.
I couldn’t get the right employee counts much less get the right diversity counts and the right other types of metrics that we needed. But that journey’s changed significantly so two years later you know we’re in a much stronger place and able to do that, but that was really one of the headwinds and then for me personally being new to the organization when you know covid was first hitting, and you know black lives matter was igniting at the beginning of that pandemic periods well is for me, it was a capacity issue and for those of you that you know want to be part of the answer and want to be part of the solution that’s a very tough headwind because you want to make a difference you want to do what’s right but you just literally don’t have enough arms and legs because you’re trying to figure out how do employees even work when they’re not coming in the office and all of these other things and for me I was personally blessed at our organization because we had an enormous amount of people that stepped up and it sounds like Armond might have had the same situation as he was building all of these ergs that hadn’t been built before.
Same thing for us is we had people that just stepped up and started making a difference and you know we just gave them the freedom to figure out what that would look like and what that meant and help them navigate along the way but it really took an army and a lot of people I was just small you know piece of the puzzle and so that was one of the headwinds but I actually think it became a nice tailwind for all of us in the organization because it was built by our people.

Wei Zheng: Very nice thank you. Val, Do you have an example of a challenge you have experienced?

Val: Lots of challenges in this space. I would say probably the biggest one that we’re dealing with right now is just ensuring that everybody is alone in the journey. That’s the challenging part.
We are in the utility space and water and wastewater in particular. It’s a very white male-dominated industry. It’s been that way for years and so having this conversation and this prioritization around this creates a conversation with employees, especially those white males, of feeling that they’re being isolated and this doesn’t apply to them. This is the only kind of that gender and racial and ethnic conversation that you all are having and so that’s been a continued challenge for us, of which our employee business resource groups are definitely a venue for us to be able to help in closing that gap.
I think also it’s just hitting some of those challenges head-on. I’ll share an example, we have an employee referral program and some of our employees were having concerns about well I’m referring individuals for jobs, but you’re not hiring them. You’re hiring all these women, and you’re hiring all these racial, ethnic diverse individuals that in their mind quotes weren’t qualified for the job. It’s one of those things when you start to like Christine said, you dig into that data and that data tells the story. So while you may have an individual that is looking at a person that’s being hired, they’re looking at it through that one particular lens of saying oh well you hired this female to supervise our distribution crew and this female doesn’t have distribution experience or operations experience so, therefore, that’s where biases start to come in and the bias being there that well, we only hired this person because she’s a female, and now she’s not qualified for the job so, therefore, we’re not hiring the right candidates for the job.
So for us, it’s about being very more being transparent relative to hey, we do have an employee referral program. We want our employees to utilize that program, but it doesn’t guarantee that individual is going to be hired and for us, we’re going to always hire the best person for the role so continuing to be open and transparent and trying to listen to as we as I’ve shared and all of us our employee’s concerns but also being able to share back with them some feedback and data and information that will help educate them.
A lot of times that’s what it comes down to is that education, and then you know recognizing that we do all have biases and those biases will show up at some in some way shape form, or fashion, but how do you recognize them and get around them and then ultimately that this is the company that where we are this is who we are. This is how we’ve identified the work that we’re doing and I think from an employee standpoint, it’s making that decision does this align with my personal values does this organization align with who I am and the organization that I work for, and unfortunately we’ve lost some people because this isn’t the place that they’ve identified for themselves, which is okay. And, that goes back to kind of what I shared earlier, I think for organizations of you’ve got to start this journey where you are and identify what your values are in this space and what inclusivity looks like for you and from a cultural standpoint, and you have to really kind of stay you got to stay the course with that and also continue to evolve where you’re growing and learning from a lot of what other companies are doing in this space as well.

Wei Zheng: Thank you Val. Armond, could you share an example of a challenge you’ve encountered?

Armond: Well, buildings are similar to like Val said. It has been a lot of challenges. But to the front of me is similar to Christine analytics and data was a challenge some of our systems don’t speak to each other so making sure that the data you did get was accurate data was key.
So we’re in a better space today. But that was a huge challenge. The other one was policy did not align to practice. So we talked the game about being inclusive, being diverse, and wanting to build equitable practices and procedures, but our policies in the written word did not always support that, so I spent a lot of time. I’m not just always starting from scratch to write a policy, but tweaking existing policies to make sure that they were equitable.
And to be able to have those conversations with people to know that you know what is our core at the core of our system what are our values, what do we stand by, and what’s non-negotiable you know that zero-tolerance policy is non-negotiable. We don’t waver on that. So there was a lot of conversation around what was the gray area and what we would put a stake in the ground for doing this work. I’m sure Val and Christine understand this is one of the biggest skill sets I think you can pick up is your ability to take diversity work and translate that into when you’re having various conversations we talk about.
One of the questions posed earlier was around just leadership and getting making sure you got the support. It’s really everybody doesn’t understand your world in diversity and inclusion, but it’s sometimes our responsibility to understand their, so my conversation with our CFO is very different from the conversation I have with my chief human resource officer different from the conversation I have with procurement different from the conversation I’ve had with our chief medical officer because their lenses are different, and it’s our responsibility sometimes to understand their lens to advance our work.
I think Christine said earlier, it’s not a one-size-fits-all, even within your own organization. You really have to understand the lane that people are looking at diversity and inclusion in and for me, I have to understand some medical terminology, so I can speak to physicians so that they understand you know what’s the importance of sickle cell disease in African-American community. I have to understand from a financial perspective when I’m talking to the CFO what’s the importance of us spending a million dollars with this diverse vendor that lives in our own community and what’s the repercussions of you know giving them the business versus a big mom and a big box shop.
So those conversations I think are key, and they’re starting to happen for me a lot easier now that I’ve been here a little while.

Wei Zheng: That’s an excellent point. I really like that. Can we stay on that topic a little bit because we do have a question related to how do we persuade people to invest in DEI because some of the effects may be intangible, and you mentioned that people have different languages within different functional areas and so could you say more about some examples of how you talk with the chief medical officer or CEO or chief operating or financial officer about the value of DEI about your investment decisions.

Armond: Yeah, I think, and I don’t want to appreciate the question, but I’m at a place now in my career where I no longer try to persuade you that this is the right thing to do.
I’m lucky to work for an organization where I have the support of our CEO that we know what we need to do. We know the work we need to do to better serve our team members to better serve our community to better serve our patients.So I’m not going to spend a lot of time persuading you with the right thing to do. I will absolutely have conversations and help influence and teach why this is important, but I think there’s a difference there between me trying to convince you to do this work versus me trying to educate you why this is important for our community and our patients.So with that being said, most times I haven’t hit brick walls. It’s usually a situation of people not knowing, I think Val hit it dead on about the biases we all bring into an organization or bring it anywhere, uncovering those biases so that they’re not a hindrance to getting the job done.
So I think there’s a balance thereof making sure that we can have those conversations and bring the data, bring the policy, bring the law, into the conversation because it’s not always in this space a feel-good conversation.It’s something that we just have to do in order to be compliant, so it’s a balance of I’m sure we have a lot that we have to balance on a daily basis.

Wei Zheng: Thank you, Armond. Christine, do you have an example? Could you share some examples maybe not persuading maybe helping educate people to understand the value of investments in this programs?

Christine: You know I have to agree with Armond. Thank goodness we don’t have to do that as much as we had to even five years ago, even three years ago.
I think people get it, and it really is about the persuasion is to take the time to get people to work on it. To understand how we can get better in that space, to get people to take bias tests and see what their biases are. You know I think we spend more time persuading on the smaller things versus the bigger we need to do this, and again I thank goodness for that. But it still is important to know some things top of mind in terms of analytics and in terms of the fact that we know that when you’re looking at Fortune 500 companies, and that those with diverse leadership teams those with diverse boards are more successful are doing better but the answer is I think we all hopefully know this by now so that again the influences is how we get better at it and then convincing people hopefully you’ve built enough credibility in the organization that you can do one of these trust me we’re going to go through this course today talking about micro-messaging because it’s just going to be eye-opening because you don’t realize how many micro messages we have in a meeting that you might not have caught and it really is enlightening so just trust that it’s the right thing to spend the next half hour on tomorrow.You know, hopefully, it’s just proving time after time again. Yes, that was worth their time. Yes, we’ve all gotten a little smarter because of it. I’m catching myself you know behaving a little bit better because of what you’ve you’ve shared and taught us, so you know hopefully some of the time spent more that way.

Wei Zheng: Thank you. Val, your company seems to be well-aligned in terms of support for this but specific program-wise. What are some ways you to help people understand their dei’s value program values?

Val: Yeah, I agree again with Armond and Christine. It’s a no-brainer for us within our organization this is, it’s an expectation. This is who we are. This is the work that we’re continuously working to embed across our organization so I’ll frame it up similar to what I want our mind shared is that it’s really about education.I can share some examples, while on the surface may not appear to be super huge, but they are very impactful. We have a lot of podcasts across our company, especially in this virtual space. It’s we’ve lived and breathed zoom and teams and web and all those formats over the last two years and so as we’ve been holding a number of podcasts and conversations outside the space, but you know it could be on well-being it could be on health it could be on the pandemic.It was important for me that the individuals that are delivering those messages that we have diverse individuals on camera and so at the kind of about two years ago I started noticing and this was before my role was in place I was leading our inclusion, diversity advisory council, but we didn’t have a chief inclusion officer, so my role was just stood up last year as the chief inclusion officer for the company, and so I would have conversations with our internal communications team about the importance that when we have a podcast you all control who the speakers are. You control who we determine, so you’ve got to put on that lens of am I having all white males or all-black females on this podcast we need to diversify it.
And so that conversation resonated very well with the director of our communications team. I spoke with our senior VP about it, and it’s something that they have really put into practice and to me, it speaks volumes to our employees when you look at a podcast when you look at a video that we share across the company you want to look and at it and see someone that looks like you.I mean, that’s just that that cultural part of us creating an inclusive organization, but it also makes yours makes you feel valued I want to look at the video I want to look at something where I see a black female or if there is you know Hispanic within our organization that’s just key in general. So that’s just an example of somewhat I would say maybe a direct minor conversation that led to a pretty big impact for us, and I’ll also share one thing that we’re doing right now, and it goes back to the data piece that we’ve spoken about how important data is and analytics.
We are actually conducting what we call an internal labor market analysis this year with a third party vendor and this third party is taking a deep dive into our hiring practices, promotions which equate out to retention of our employees, performance evaluations, and ratings that we have as well as pay and so what I’m seeing out of this work as we’re continuing to evolve it is that we have opportunities.We have opportunities for how individuals within certain groups and organizations are being rated. Now, what do we do about that? That’s where at this point I have to take this data and there are conversations that are held with those owners within those respective places of saying, well, we’ve got a gap here and this is just an example, you know we have a gap of maybe our african-american employees are being rated at lower levels than our white population so what’s causing that. Is it because we’re saying that they are low performers and that’s why they’re having lower performance ratings, or are there some areas of bias that are coming into here that we need to peel back and understand and evaluate.So I’m loving this work that we’re doing here, so I look at it going beyond just the numbers and it’s taking that deep dive into how do we do some analytics around this data and this information.

Wei Zheng: Thank you, Val. Let’s move on a little bit to the question of selecting dei programs and value mentioned different vendors, and so I have actually two related questions from the audience. One is asking about an earlier stage, so they’re at an earlier stage of the organization. They’re just thinking of starting some DEI programs where do they start, and another related question is more in the middle stage they started some programs. I know some organizations have started usually starting with training right training easiest to implement and then, or they did some creating a dashboard to track different groups of employees so how do they then the question becomes how do we build on that? Where do we go next? When decisions like those adoptions of DEI programs come up, what’s your suggestion? May I go to Armond? Can I go to you first because you build it from the ground up? So looking back, what’s your insight in terms of where an organization should think about starting?

Armond: I do think education is important, but we have to be cautious with diverse inclusion education that it is sometimes looked at as punitive.So somebody says something wrong, so now you go and take this diversity training versus being on the front end of us trying to upskill future leaders to get to build their skillset and build that muscle to be an inclusive leader that should be the goal of diversity inclusion training. Not as a punitive or retaliation because somebody did or says something inappropriate.Education is under one of those underlying things that needs to be there regardless of what you’re building. There’s constant education that needs to happen, and I think Christine said earlier that it’s gonna change depending on where your organization is on that journey if you’re just starting out. You want to get a couple quick wins under your belt so that people can understand the ROI for diversity inclusion, and how they tied to the work.So it could be something around supplier diversity. How do you build that if it’s a tougher build, if you’re just starting out.
One of the toughest builds actually because it involves so many different players, but start thinking about how do you start diversifying who you’re working with externally. If that’s vendors if that’s your talent acquisition team who are they working with where is your company showing up at? Do you talk about career fairs? I think we all do some sort of career fairs are now a lot virtual now, but pre-pandemic you know we were out with you know at career fairs setting up booths things like that so where are we showing up. So prior to me coming one of the challenges we had when I walked in the door was diversifying our nursing population but we weren’t taking advantage of some of the trade organizations. So now we work with the Hispanic nurses association the black nurses association, the Filipino nurse association and they all have national and local chapters.
So thinking about how do you get into your specific market and it’s not always just, always preach that you can’t just show up one time a year and wait for the career fair again next year. You have to build relationships so that if they need a guest speaker we can send a nurse to do a guest speaker. If they have other networking or mentoring programs throughout the year we’re engaged in those as well. People want to feel like there’s a mutual respect even from a vendor to vendor relationship. So those are some I think the low-hanging fruit it does become, you know more challenging where you’re trying to build stuff across the system. The data becomes more challenging etcetera, but I think some of the underlying things around you know building an infrastructure for data building a strategic plan start diversifying your vendors and education across your organization will be vital.

Wei Zheng: Thank you. Christine, would you like to add your perspective?

Christine: So there are so many resources out there, and I think one tapping into each other you know there might be somebody on this call that you can say oh my gosh, you know pat let me share with what we’re doing we’re at the beginning of the journey and I heard you’re at the beginning of the journey. Let’s go through this together and I will say you know even though I had a ton of experience with DEI you know with the former company I literally started reaching out here in the New Jersey area to see what else was going on and what could I learn from, what could we share. Sometimes it’s even sharing speakers. Sometimes hearing from somebody within your group. It just doesn’t oh you know that’s Julie we all know Julie or Marilyn we all know marlin and yeah, she’s great, but also Marlin goes and talks at our company, and as this amazing, you know diverse female and at our company, it’s like wow I want to be like Marlin, and she had so many profound things to say and so sometimes exchanging talent helps too.
So use the surrounding resources, it doesn’t always have to be expensive and there are ways to share. Now, having said that I will tell you and I owe nothing to this company, but I will tell you the resources we’re using with mind gym a company that we’re contracting with right now have been incredible.
What I like about it and for any company that you use anybody that that helps you is it’s very practical. I feel like we have to do things that educate, that make it non-threatening because you want people to want to come on the journey with you and so you can’t beat them into it. You have to help them to understand you know why it’s important and to feel comfortable with it and bring them on the journey, and you have to do it in very pragmatic ways, and this is what I like about the tools we’re using with mind gym. They’re teaching people so many things about micro-messaging, for instance, like wow I had no idea that could be a micro message that I would be sending to somebody, and how unfortunate because I never thought of that, and I’m so glad that people are sharing these examples of micro messages because I probably do them in a meeting and it’s things like that teach and educate non-threatening ways, and then I also think it’s just in time learning. My piece on that is, for instance when we do our talking talent sessions in succession planning I spend at least the first 45 minutes talking about bias because again how do you just bring it to light and remind them they’ve gone through the training. They’ve gone through all of this stuff, but how do I make sure leaders understand what it looks like and what it sounds like and that any one of us in the room can be kind of an inclusion interrupter and I steal that idea from somebody else I heard once I love that.
Anyone can be an inclusion interrupter to say hmm perhaps we could think about that a little differently or you know it sounds like you might be making the decision you know for Martha because she just had a baby, and you’re assuming that she doesn’t want to travel and from what we learned and talked about earlier perhaps we shouldn’t be making that decision thinking that we’re being kind that we should be letting you know Martha makes that decision and reach out to her and see if she has an interest in that role and all of a sudden people catch themselves and if you can catch people in non-threatening ways because we also have to understand that yes there are some bad people doing bad things absolutely we all know this across any profession, but there are also some really good people who want to do the right thing and sometimes just didn’t realize that they weren’t.
You’ll have people that like oh I thought I was being nice to Martha because she had a baby and I think Martha’s wonderful and I just assume she wants to stay home and not travel, and I just assume, and we make a lot of assumptions, and we think we’re being kind, and we’re not and our biases are making us make judgment calls that are poor judgment calls.So how do you catch each other in a way that educates and stops people from doing the wrong thing and does it in a non-threatening way? You’ve got to open up that communication so like in inclusion interrupters knowing that any of us in this call could say, Christine can I just challenge you on what you just said because I actually think that’s not being inclusive and okay great let’s talk about that I’m I wasn’t catching that what am I missing. So again, how do you create that sense of safety, I’m sorry I digressed a little bit, but I think it’s an a couple of ways to think about it.

Wei Zheng: Thank you very much, Christine. Val would you like to add your perspective in terms of organizations where do they start to choose DEI programs for themselves and also for organizations that were in the middle of the journey. How do they expand? What’s the next step? What are some principles?

Val: Sure, I think that Armond and Christina again hit it spot on there and Christine I’ll say I know Marilyn she is all the things that you just said and more she’s great I serve on the board for the Tennessee aquarium here in Chattanooga, and she’s leading all the diversity of work that we’re doing there so kudos to you Marilyn, but I’ll say just truly organizations this work is daunting. There’s so much out there so many areas that you can begin your journey to the point that it could just be very overwhelming. You just don’t know where to start we’re sharing a lot of information with you all right now, but I would say take that all in stride It’s because we’ve been doing this for a long time, believe me when we started our journeys at multiple points in time within our organization we were in the same place that at some of you all are trying to think through where do I begin this journey and so for American water we started our journey in 2017 not that long ago and did not have my role as chief inclusion officer.
We didn’t have that support, what we had was a group of passionate individuals that we I reached out to as an executive sponsor of our inclusion and diversity advisory council of saying do you all want to embark upon this journey with us to figure out where we’re going to go with American water with this and oh by the way we had a CEO that gave her full support as well as the board of directors that’s all we had in 2017.So there is a group of 12 of us very ambitious enthusiastic employees that were going to do what we were going to change the world because we had all the answers of what we needed to do at American water and what we had to realize really quick is that we didn’t have all the answers.
We needed to take time to really assess where we were as an organization and what we did is we took about six months this is before we made the first data analytic approach or any recommendations we took that first six months and we held employee focus groups across the entire company.We spoke with over 450 employees and we had a number of employee groups between 8 and 12 people in those groups, and we just asked questions. We wanted to hear where is American water, getting it right what are we doing, and at that point in time we had a shortlist of what we were getting right and a whole big list of where we needed to improve but we took all that in stride, and then we also said there are companies out there that’s doing a lot of darn good work in this space we don’t have to recreate the wheel let’s go and ask those companies if we can talk with their inclusion and diversity officer or those that are leading this work.So we identified ambitiously eight companies that we wanted to reach out to and every single one of them said yes, so we took field trips we divided and conquered. We went to Walmart’s corporate office and spoke with leaders at Walmart we went to blue cross blue shield here in tennessee, lexmark in kentucky we went to several of our peer utility companies, and we sat and spoke with them about how is this work going for you. What have you learned along the way? What can you tell us that will help us to not go down and make some of those same mistakes that you made and take away your learnings? We pulled all that information together, and we developed our plan for ourselves, and we had to realize that we needed to start where we are. So out of that, we identified four areas that were going to be our focus, and we had to stick to it communication was key internal-external communication training was another area of employee engagement and workforce and succession diversity.
Those were our four key areas from 2017 all the way up until this year, we did not waiver on those, we also identified upfront that we were going to refer to it as diversity and inclusion. We decided that we were going to say inclusion and diversity, that was very intentional for us. We wanted to put inclusion first. Create an inclusive environment all that comes with that how we define it and diversity will be an outset of that but also it will be a result of it but it’s not going to take the back seat but we wanted to put inclusion first. Two years later in our journey from 2017 to 2019 we established okay, it was 12 of us there’s not so much we can do how we’re going to bring others into the fold. So we rolled out and stood upon the inclusion and diversity champion network. So we had to have boots on the ground we needed people that were going to be able to continue to immerse this entire business. So we had over 200 these champions that work within our network to evolve our messaging and the work that we do with I and D, and I know I’m saying a lot here but I’m being very intentional about it.We also were clear that I and D was not a program. So if anybody said the p-word, it was a wordy dirty. No, it is not a program, and we had to correct it at the moment our elt is completely behind that and our board of directors. It is who we are. It’s embedded in our culture. So we took time and we constantly sell people that say program not many, but they can see it on my face when they say indeed prop no not a program. Safety is not a program for us, I and D is not a program for us it is who we are. It’s how we operate so that’s kind of where we started our journey and I think as individuals that are starting your journey this is a good way for you to maybe take that step back and do that evaluation fast-forward companies are a lot more involved in this space what can you do.
I’ll say it’s exactly what we did this year. We have a budget now for I and D yay to team I have a budget, so we have dollars in place. We have my role as a company that’s leading this, I actually have a team of people that are working with me and that are passionate, and they’re actually on my team getting paid as a salary. It’s their job. It’s not an add-on, and we took we’ve taken a lot of our work over the last five years, and we’ve said how do we evolve it. We still have a ways to go and I’ve actually worked with the team circulated across the business as well as we have a very robust five-year strategic plan of what we’re going to do over the next five years, and so we have seven areas within this strategic plan which are beyond those four areas that I spoke with you all about that speaks to data and analytics transparency also ownership from leaders, leader ownership and accountability across our organization.The community work that we’re doing externally that’s important for us as well and where we’re at now is working through how we’re going to what is year one, year two and year three gonna look like for us of measuring the outcomes for that.

Wei Zheng: Wow, thank you this is exciting, and congratulations on a big achievement just one quick follow-up before I see the floor to our participants. You mentioned you picked up eight companies that you wanted to do field trips and study their practices how did you select those based on what because you mentioned something like Walmart, it’s not in your industry it’s something else, so how did you select those?

Val: We just went on to, and we also looked to see what companies were being recognized for their work and so this is what we just decided hey Walmart’s doing some good work in this space they’ve actually received awards, and they have recognition for this they’re on the diversity in top employer list with inclusion and diversity and their focus here, so we use diversity inc a lot as well for identifying some of those companies, and we just narrowed it down and like I said we had the eight and everyone that we reached out to said yes.

Wei Zheng: Excellent, thank you for sharing your time, your experience, and your wisdom with us. I’m psyched up by your stories and insights. I’m really excited about the work that we’re all interested in doing otherwise we wouldn’t be in this room together. So thank you so very much. I have taken down many notes. They have the marathon idea, then translating these inclusion ideas or practices daily practice so the microaggressions that Christine talked about and these listening sessions these bottom-up ideas. I love the champions network. It’s really through people on the ground in different areas that push who gives momentum to our effort and my favorite idea is this I and D is not a program. It is who we are. This really ties everything into our identity then it becomes part and parcel of everything we do Permeates our how we how, we live and how we breathe and how we go through our lives thank you so very much again everyone.