10 August 2021

Workplace Stories Season 2, Integrating Inclusion: Creating Space for Courageous Conversations

Dani Johnson
Co-founder & Principal Analyst
Stacia Sherman Garr
Co-founder & Principal Analyst

TL;DR

  • This is the 2nd episode of our podcast: Integrating Inclusion, Season 2 of Workplace Stories. 
  • In this episode, Stacia Garr and Dani Johnson of RedThread and Chris Pirie of LITNW interview Rachel Fichter, head of talent for S&P Global. 
  • Building an inclusive, diverse, and equitable workplace is a thoughtful work in progress. 
  • “We have certain centralized initiatives, and of course, we have a general structure around Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, but … it’s grassroots too. It’s what’s happening, bubbling up from the organization. You have to do both.” 
  • There are three main pillars to DEIB strategy: people, community, and customers. 
  • What specific skills are you focusing on teaching leaders to create a more inclusive culture? What are some of the key roles and mechanisms that you all have focused on DEIB? 
  • A special thanks to our sponsor, Workday, for its support of this season! 

Listen

Guest

Rachel Fichter, S&P Global

DETAILS

Are there three sets of people in Inclusion: the folks doing the ground-level work on DEIB, maybe the researchers way off in the academic stratosphere, and then the people actually affected by these issues on a day-to-day level in the workplace? If so, could we simplify this and remove a layer? If you think that’s a good idea, then listen today to Rachel Ficter—a PhD who also works for Wall St. Financial analytics firm, S&P Global—who is doing all she can to fuse the first two roles  and who sees herself in a fascinating new kind of role in HR and analytics: DEIB scholar-practitioner, helping her firm Integrate Inclusion while also diving into the literature on Belonging in the Columbia U. stacks. So quite a woman and quite a DEIB thinker. You’re going to like this Workplace Story.

Resources

  • Rachel’s main way of connecting with the community is LinkedIn, and she is happy to connect with people interested in her work there.
  • In our conversation, she mentions the work of Dr. Cindy Graham of The Brighter Hope Wellness Center, Harvard professor of Leadership and Management Amy Edmondson,  and we refer to our earlier podcast with Rachel which you can find here.
  • S&P Global’s website is here.
  • Find out more about our podcast helpmate and facilitator Chris Pirie and his work here.

Webinar

Workday will also host an exclusive live webinar at the end of this Season, where you can meet the team (Dani, Stacia and Chris) and join in a conversation about the future of DEIB in the workplace. You can find out more information, register for the webinar, and access exclusive Season content, including transcripts, at www.redthreadresearch.com/podcast and thanks again to the team at Workday!

Partner

We're also thrilled to be partnering with Chris Pirie, CEO of Learning Futures Group and voice of the Learning Is the New Working podcast. Check them both out.

Season Sponsor

We'd like to thank the people at Workday for the exclusive sponsorship of this second Season of 'Workplace Stories.' Today, the world is changing faster than ever, and you can meet those changing needs with Workday; it’s one agile system that enables you to grow and engage a more inclusive workforce—it’s your financial, HR, and planning system for a changing world.

As we start to tell the Workplace Stories we think matter, we hope you follow ‘Workplace Stories from RedThread Research’ on your podcast hub of choice.

TRANSCRIPT

Five key quotes:

We say stupid things and offend people, not meaning and that open dialogue is what fixes that it's not climbing up. It's not saying things anymore—it's talking about it and figuring out how we don't do it the next time.

A lot of the initiatives you've talked about, Rachel, are really just adding an aspect to leadership development; it’s not like there's a separate thing sitting on the side that addresses DEIB; it's being blended in with what you're doing.

We had a 17-point action plan… It was really literally like let's throw spaghetti against a wall, and try everything and see what works because we were all in a learning mode, and we still are in a learning mode.

We've had thousands of people attending these sessions, and we called them ‘Courageous Conversations,’ and I think we had this realization at some point that we were actually not necessarily having the conversation. We were listening in on someone else's conversation. And so we created this thing called ‘Brave Spaces,’ and invited everybody who had participated in the Conversations to actually talk about and process what they'd heard more deeply.

If I think about my job in the talent and leadership development space, my job is to help leaders be the best leaders they can be, and to really support them, help them to recognize and acknowledge that they too are human beings. And that the world that we operate in, there's just so much stress, and people are so overwhelmed, and we have to create this holding environment for people so that they feel okay with all of this stuff that's going on around them.

Stacia Garr:

Welcome to 'Workplace Stories' hosted by RedThread Research, where we look for the ‘red thread’ connecting the humans, ideas, stories, and data defining the near future of people and work practices.

My name is Stacia Garr, and I'm the co-founder and principal analyst at RedThread Research, along with Dani Johnson, who is also a co-founder and principal analyst at RedThread and Chris Pirie of the Learning Futures Group. We're excited to welcome you to our podcast Season: this episode is part of our second Season called ‘Integrating Inclusion,’ in which we investigate your role in the Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging journey that we believe is a critical force in shaping the future of work.

We talk to leaders, thinkers, writers, and practitioners about the current state of the art in DEIB, and we focus specifically on what people analytics, learning, leadership and business leaders can do to move the conversation forward—and why DEIB is everybody's business.

Chris Pirie:

We'd like to thank Workday for the exclusive sponsorship of this Season. Today, the world is changing faster than ever, and you can meet those changing business needs with Workday; it’s one agile system that enables you to grow and engage a more inclusive workforce. Workday: it’s your financial, HR and planning system for a changing world.

Workday will also host an exclusive live webinar on October 13 where you can dial in and meet the team (including Dani, Stacia and myself) and join in a conversation about the future of DEIB in the workplace. You can find out more information, register for the seminar, and access exclusive Seasoned content, at www.workday.com/deib.

Rachel Fichter:

Well, it's scary, it is scary: it's a dialogue. And I think one of the other things that I personally have found is that I'm always making, feeling like, I'm making a mistake and using the wrong word and saying something wrong. But what I've heard and what I've really learned from my colleagues of color is that the most important thing is that I put myself out there and I talk. And if I make a mistake and if I use the wrong word, it doesn't matter because it's well-intentioned and it creates a dialogue. And I think that has been so eye-opening for me, and I also personally feel like I learned so much when I take that attitude.

Chris Pirie:

Dr. Rachel Fichter; she’s head of talent for S&P Global and she’s our guest on this week's episode of Workplace Stories. Dr. Fichter is head of talent for S&P Global, which is a New York-based provider of rich data analytics, including research, credit rating, benchmarks, and ESG solutions, and much, much more. The acronym ESG, by the way, stands for Environmental, Social, and Governance, and it’s a set of non-financial metrics that investors increasingly use to identify material risks and growth opportunities; you’re going to hear more about that later.

Dr. Fichter joined us in an earlier collaborative season that we did on the topic of Purpose and Purpose-driven companies, and she's worked with Dani and myself on a number of projects. But as you'll hear in this amazing conversation today, she calls herself a scholar-practitioner, and she thinks really, really deeply about her work: she engages broadly with others to understand, and she gathers input and loves to experiment, and she’s brought this approach to S&P’s strategy around global Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging. In this conversation, you'll hear how she and S&P are endeavoring to build an inclusive, diverse, and equitable workplace for their global workforce. What I love about the conversation is that it's clear that it's a thoughtful work in progress, both for Rachel and for S&P.

Dani Johnson:

Welcome, Rachel, to Workplace Stories, and the Season called Integrating Inclusion; we really appreciate the time you're taking. We know that you're headed to Europe this afternoon, and we're all very jealous and we're very happy to have you today.

Rachel Fichter:

Well, thank you so much; it’s always a pleasure to spend time with you, Dani!

Dani Johnson:

We appreciate that. We are going to start with some quick questions to introduce you and the place where you work, and then we're going to deep dive into some questions that we'd love your perspective on specifically related to Inclusion.

Rachel Fichter:

Wonderful.

Dani Johnson:

First of all, can you give us an overview of S&P Global, its mission and its Purpose, and how long you've been there?

Rachel Fichter:

Yeah, sure. So S&P Global is a data analytics company, and we service the financial industry. Just to kind of set the context there. We actually don't have a mission statement’ we have a Purpose statement, and I will read it to you: ‘To accelerate progress in the world by providing intelligence that is essential for companies and governments and individuals to make decisions with conviction.’ I would say that probably the most important two words of that Purpose statement are ‘accelerate progress.’ I think most everyone at our company has really latched onto this idea of accelerating progress, and asking ourselves what we can do to accelerate progress and what that means to me within the context of my job, but also, I think more broadly, within the context of my life and the world that I'm in. And so I think that element of the Purpose has just really, really caught on with us.

Dani Johnson:

I like that, especially in these very strange times that we're living in.

Rachel Fichter:

Exactly, right? And I think this is exactly the moment where we can ask ourselves those questions and that we must, right? It's like, it's no longer an option, but I do think I owe you also an explanation of how long I've been with S&P Global, which is about five and a half years, and I'm responsible for talent and leadership development there—that’s also my title. I think last time we were joking around the word ‘talent’ and what we call it. So that's my role at S&P Global.

Dani Johnson:

That's fantastic. And we're really interested to talk to you today, specifically about the intersection between what you do in leadership and talent, and the intersection of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging. So Rachel, we love your Purpose statement and this idea of progress, and we also know that things are changing in the world right now: talk to us a little bit about the forces of work on your business and the DEIB strategy that you have?

Rachel Fichter:

We are obviously no different than any other organization in the world right now, and we've been deeply impacted by COVID-19. We are also, I would say, increasingly a technology company with all of the associated challenges. Our value proposition is about being able to take huge quantities of data, interpret them, and generate unique insights from them that we can share with the world. And the amount of data that we're sitting on right now is just absolutely unimaginable, right? And so how do we take that, how do we process it and make sense out of it? And the world is just a really complex place to be, and we are among others responsible for doing things like rating global companies or countries, et cetera.

Chris Pirie:

What about talent? For example, I mean, there's a lot happening in the talent space right now, analysing data. There's such a massive demand for that kind of talent and skills. Is one force at work for you, the challenge in finding the talent you need to build the business of the future. I don't want to put words in your mouth, but I imagine, right?

Rachel Fichter:

Well, I think every company has that challenge as well. Right now, I think, especially in the middle skills area, we see a lot of demand and less supply right now. But certainly we are no stranger now to data science, to other technical, very highly in-demand types of skills and have been consciously and intentionally building out those skill sets in the company for probably three to five years now. So I think we're in a relatively good space, but obviously we can never become complacent there because the half-life of skills is getting shorter and shorter, and our world is changing so quickly that we need to figure out, obviously, how to make sure that our people have the skills they need to help drive the success of the business.

Stacia Garr:

Well, let's maybe talk a little bit more specifically about that, because obviously the pandemic and then the social justice movements have as you alluded to had major impacts on our organizations, but I think it also has an impact on the skills of our leaders and what we're actually asking them to do. And I know a lot of this conversation will go in this direction, so this is probably an opening shot across the bow, but how are you thinking about developing leaders maybe differently as a result of the pandemic and the social justice movements?

Rachel Fichter:

I think I mentioned this in the last podcast that we did, that in 2019 when I was working on developing our flagship leadership learning experience called Propel; we use these three attributes of a leader in a digital world called care, curiosity, and courage to guide the design. And at that point, even before COVID, we were clear that care, inclusive of empathy, was the future of leadership. And that was against the backdrop of this highly automated and digitized world that we live in. And that's, I think, always been somehow embedded in our culture—the topic of care, we’re a caring organization, people work here because they feel like they can make a real impact in the world with the contributions that they have to make. And so when the pandemic came, we were already building on this great foundation of care that we had already developed. And it also came about as we started thinking about social justice and racial justice and what that would mean within the context of our world. So it's crucial for COVID; I was just thinking the other day that we set up vaccination sites for our people in India, for all of our people and their families. Like we are a really deeply caring organization, and I think that's really come out in the pandemic, but it's also come out within the context of racial equity and social equity initiatives.

Stacia Garr:

We're doing a study right now on DEIB and skills, and these three skills are actually three that have come up, but I don't think I've heard anybody kind of clearly articulate that they've actually aligned their leadership development efforts around those, with the vision to how it can have some of these impacts, so that's great. Can you talk about a little bit more broadly, how S&P has kind of configured to address this topic? What are some of the key roles and mechanisms that you all have focused on DEIB?

Rachel Fichter:

So we have a Chief Diversity Officer who is also our Chief Corporate Social Responsibility Officer, and we have a global Head of Diversity, we have a team, we have Employee Resource Groups, and we're actually very proud that our CEO has really made sure that those ERGs have a voice in our strategy around DE&I, and they have funding, actually, to promote their own initiatives. So those are somewhat the central initiatives that we have, but actually I think we take a model that is a combination of centralized and some consistent and clear initiatives that we want to see happen, but also we realize that Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging necessarily has to be local and situated, because you don't necessarily have Belonging if it's not in the eye of the beholder, right? I've been thinking about this idea that Belonging is in the eye of the beholder; it’s something very unique and personal, so you can't do it like a one-size-fits-all approach. And so I think there, what we're trying to do is a model where we have some very clear initiatives and goals that we're trying to achieve as a company and that we're driving from a cultural perspective, from a leadership/top-level leadership perspective, but we also strongly encourage local grassroots initiatives. The divisions themselves have Diversity champions; they’ve done all of this on their own, people who are already very interested and concerned with Equity and want to do more. We have people who are very concerned across the whole company and they want to have a say, they want to have a voice, they want to share in this discussion about what Equity is.

So I guess to summarize, what I would say is, of course we have certain centralized initiatives, and of course we have a general structure around Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, but I think the other thing that really characterizes us is this idea that it's grassroots too. It's what's happening, bubbling up from the organization. You have to do both.

Stacia Garr:

Absolutely. And I think that one of the components of this too, though, is the culture in which people are kind of swimming, whether that's organizational culture, but also some local culture. So how are you all thinking about how that first element overall organizational culture impacts your approach?

Rachel Fichter:

Big question! I will have to take a little bite of that one. So just like any society, all of these companies are microcosms of that society. And so we always have people with different views, and of course we benefit from Diversity of perspective, but sometimes, we have people who have very different views, and they might be racist. And some of that might be a lack of awareness, but some of it isn’t, and overall, I think from a cultural perspective, and I mentioned this before, we're a very caring organization—we’re very committed, our leadership is really enabling and encouraging an open dialogue so that people can learn. And for example, today is Juneteenth, right? And even though it's a holiday, our CEO told us last week that he wants each of us to spend some time today to reflect on and educate ourselves about racism, and that's how he's using his time today as well. So I think that we're seeing this notion of care that is already a lived value within our organization now being very focused on racism, and being an anti-racist company.

Stacia Garr:

Let’s kind of hone in a little bit more specifically on DEIB and the questions you're trying to answer and maybe kind of the strategy behind trying to answer those questions.

Rachel Fichter:

There are three main pillars to our DE&I strategy: people, community and customers. ‘People,’ which is the one that I'm most focused on, is about enabling every person in our company to thrive and to feel as though they belong: ‘community’ is about accelerating Equity in communities all over the world. And ‘customers’ is about this idea of the essential intelligence, which is core to our Purpose, but essential social Equity intelligence, right? And we're a big player in ESG (environmental, social, and governance), and we're actually also doing a lot of Diversity research right now, and embedding that research in our ESG products. So it's really, really big for us.

We have a Diversity research lab, which was created to explore the impact of social, cultural, economic, and environmental factors on markets and economies. And I wanted to share just one example of a study that we recently came out with called ‘How the Advancement of Black Women Will Build a Better Economy for All,’ and I'm happy to send over any of the links to the research in case you'd like to share as part of this podcast, but I would say that this aspect of customers and community is incredibly important to us in terms of how we're building out DE&I strategy. Now, along those lines, you asked the question of the questions that we're also trying to answer against the backdrop of those three DE&I pillars I mentioned—people, customers, and community—I would say that some of the questions that we're trying to answer go into well as a global company, how do we think about DE&I more broadly than just in the US? That’s a huge question for us: what does DE&I look like in India, Pakistan, the Philippines, where we have more than half of our people? So that's a very big question that we have.

Another question that we have is around data, and obviously we're a data company, so we are obsessed with data: how do we get access to data to help us make more informed decisions? Some of that is related to data privacy laws, but also how do we use data to make good decisions: how do we learn how to use that data to make decisions? And I think that those are really big questions that we're trying to grapple with. And the third question is how do we create initiatives that promote Equity without unintended consequences, such as the perception of reverse discrimination? The moment we create a coaching program, let's say, for a specific group of people, we might actually be at legal risk of somebody else saying that they were excluded. I would say those are some of the most important questions that we're kind of trying to figure out right now.

Dani Johnson:

So talk to us a little bit about how this focus on DEIB has changed your work specifically, and the approach that you're taking to developing leaders.

Rachel Fichter:

Well, there's so many things but I will at least try to get us started. One of the core programs that we have is called Create, and that is for people leaders—that is what we call our managers, we call them people leaders. And we've scaled up Create this year to make it possible for all of our 3000 people leaders to participate. And as part of that, we've created coaching circles, and these coaching circles are led by internal coaches, but who have coaching certifications, so they are full-fledged coaches and they also take on different topics. So one topic might be change leadership, one topic might be virtual work, and one of the topics is DE&I, right? So that's a very new initiative that we've brought in. And what happens is, these coaching circles are small, they're typically not more than seven people leaders in one of those circles. And this gives our people leaders a safe space to share challenges they may be experiencing and to engage in coaching on those topics. Plus, then they're able to share their experiences with their colleagues and create communities around these topics, so they realize that they don't feel so alone anymore. That's just one example of several that we have right now.

Stacia Garr:

What I love about that is how you're integrating it directly into something else that's already happening—so it's not like you have a separate DEI coaching circle that's just dedicated to that, but it's actually ‘Okay, as a leader, this is the expectation, and therefore we're going to equip you to do this in the course of our other leadership efforts.’

Dani Johnson:

It's also a nice blend of the sort of top-down and bottom-up approach to solving some of these problems. We spoke about a month ago, and you introduced me to a model for thinking about this, and that's one of the reasons that we wanted you on this podcast is because I was really impressed with that model. Can you share a little bit more about that?

Rachel Fichter:

Yeah sure—I absolutely love this model, I guess anybody who will appreciate that will also know how my brain works! So this model, which I will explain in just a moment, was first shared with me by a woman called Dr. Cindy Graham, who is the founder of Brighter Hope Wellness Center, who came and talked with our people team about racial trauma. And she shared a slide with four dimensions of racism that just really resonated with me, and became the foundation of my thinking for our Racial Equity Initiatives. So the first one, well, in no particular order, is institutional racism. And that would be within an organization, the policies and processes and practices that reinforce racist standards within a workplace or an organization, right? The second one, which I think we're all mostly familiar with is interpersonal racism. And those are either racist acts or discrimination—microaggressions carried out from one person to another; that’s typically where we spend most of our time in an organization. The third one is structural racism, and that's where multiple institutions kind of are collectively upholding racist policies and practices, and it's really societal, right? And so you have to kind of think about what is the contribution that an organization has towards societal or structural racism. And then the fourth one is internalized racism, which is what we call these overt messages that might reinforce negative beliefs and self-hatred in individuals.

And so it was clear for the most part that as I mentioned, that most organizations only focused on the interpersonal dimension, but we also know that in a change of organizational development practice, you have to take a systemic approach to something like this. So you can't just focus on skills: it’s not enough—you can't just teach somebody how to recognize a microaggression or how to recognize unconscious bias/make it conscious. Of course, those are important skills, but you need the frame, you need the whole holding environment to make it work. And so that's why this resonated with me. So we built all of our initiatives around three of the four. We decided that the internalized racism was probably less appropriate for the work that we were looking to do, but that we should be doing work in the institutional, the structural, and the interpersonal space.

Dani Johnson:

And how is that manifesting? So talk a little bit about the initiatives associated with that?

Rachel Fichter:

We actually defined, believe it or not when we started, 17 actions across these three types of racism. Over time, they've morphed as this was about a year ago. So last June, almost exactly a year ago to this day, we started to really think deeply about racism and how we were going to address it within our company. As I already mentioned, interpersonal racism was something that was more typically already done with within our organization, but we decided to expand that. So one initiative that I'm particularly proud of is what we call our ‘dual’ or ‘reciprocal’ mentoring initiative, where we have members of our senior leadership community who are engaged in mentoring relationships with people of color.

And this is dual mentoring; this is not just a senior leader mentoring a person of color—this is intended to be a dialogue about how racism plays out in organizations so that as part of the relationship where one goal obviously is to give our people of color the opportunity to network, to build their profiles, raise their visibility, et cetera, and connect with our senior leaders, on the flip side, we also realize how much of an opportunity this is to create an open dialogue and what we call brave spaces for people to have conversations about racism and how that plays out in the organization.

So that's part of interpersonal racism. We have also, as part of our institutional racism initiatives, we actually have taken the concept of the ombudsperson in the organization. And while we haven't actually fully implemented the ombudsperson approach, we have taken elements of that to create a confidential role called the people advisor. Because what we were finding was that even though we have an anonymous ethics hotline and we have people relations and we have all sorts of mechanisms to support people when they're dealing with difficult issues that might be related to bias and racism, we felt there was an opportunity to create more of a dialogue and to put this within the coaching context. And this people adviser role has been very, very popular among our people: they trust it, they feel that they can go and talk about things and help get advice and guidance around how they can approach issues within the workplace as opposed to always having to go to the formal channel first.

Stacia Garr:

Who is that person? Is that somebody from HR, or is it somebody who is already working in the business?

Rachel Fichter:

We have a career coaching function within our organization—that’s all they do is coaching, and predominantly it's around career development: anybody can raise their hand and get time with a career coach and have multiple sessions to talk through their career and how they would like to develop their career. So what we did when we started thinking about what this people advisor role was, knowing how important it was to have these types of coaching skills to help people think through and reflect on issues of discrimination and racism, we thought it was incredibly well-suited to be part of that function. So the people who do this, they are certified coaches, and yet they also are educated on the practices around ombuds functions as well, so that they can offer the confidentiality that's necessary. It is part of our people's function.

Dani Johnson:

I think this is so interesting: I think organizations are finally realizing that sending somebody through a DEIB ‘course’ doesn’t work anymore, and that the initiatives that you mentioned are very, very human. They're not about educating anybody to a particular way of thinking, but they're very human, opening up and talking about things and making sure that everybody's on the same page. And I find that really admirable, because a lot of organizations are struggling with this, and they're also scared to do these kinds of things.

Rachel Fichter:

Yeah, well, it's scary. It is scary; it’s a dialogue, and I think one of the other things that I personally have found is that I'm always feeling like I'm making a mistake and using the wrong word and saying something wrong, but what I've heard and what I've really learned from my colleagues of color is that the most important thing is that I put myself out there and I talk. And if I make a mistake and if I use the wrong word, it doesn't matter because it's well-intentioned and it creates a dialogue.

That has been so eye opening for me, and I also personally feel like I can learn so much when I take that attitude.

Dani Johnson:

I think that's fantastic; Stacia and I have talked about this. We step in it all the time; we say stupid things and offend people, not meaning to and that open dialogue is what fixes that. It’s not clamming up. It's not saying things anymore—it's talking about it and figuring out how we don't do it the next time.

(Music)

Dani Johnson:

Earlier, you said that DEIB is not just about teaching leaders skills, but we want to ask you that question anyway! We are doing some research on DEIB and skills and what kinds of skills help create a DEIB culture. So I'm just curious, what specific skills are you focusing on teaching leaders to create a more inclusive culture?

Rachel Fichter:

Well, Dani, you might still not be so happy with me because I know you're asking about specific skills and I will get there, but here's a skill sort of embedded within something broader, which is going back to the discussion of data. And I think our leaders must use data to inform their own DE&I strategies; and what we found is that we built this amazing Diversity dashboard, and what our opportunity now is to help our leaders develop the skills to use that dashboard, to make informed decisions about retention, about attraction, about promotion, right?

And so I would say this might not be the typical skill that you were thinking of—I don't know what you were thinking of—but this is something that I think is really crucial, because we need to be making data-driven decisions and really thinking —again, this goes back to, let's say the practices that we have within an organization that might unintentionally foster a lack of Equity, right? And by using data, we can see it black and white, and then we can say, I'm going to try this out, and then we can look back and see, well, did that make a difference?

So I think the skills of using data and then understanding how to then take those data points and translate them into initiatives and then how to monitor those initiatives is a really important leadership skill.

Stacia Garr:

So data literacy actually is one of the skills we have on the list.

Rachel Fichter:

All good there!

Chris Pirie:

I was also thinking about things like listening skills, and you talked about three dimensions of your management training program, which I think included caring, and that's a very, very loaded word. And it's not just about bringing donuts on a Friday, I'm sure. Those kinds of leadership skills and leadership capabilities, are they in the mix as well?

Rachel Fichter:

Absolutely, and yes, of course the care and empathy piece, that's actually a fundamental part of the Create program that I mentioned for our people leaders. We have a whole series of learning initiatives related to the whole psychological safety topic from Amy Edmondson and what you need to do to make people feel safe as the foundation for Belonging and Inclusion and the vulnerability piece.

And I would also add that, yes, the listening piece is for me one of the core aspects of coaching. And of course, because we built such a strong internal coaching practice within our organization, we are also very, very focused on helping our managers, our people leaders, to build those core coaching skills, which for me, the three are building rapport, asking powerful questions, and listening deeply: they are absolutely fundamental to how we're thinking about developing empathetic leaders, who also are very aware and sensitized issues of related to Diversity.

Chris Pirie:

We asked you on the podcast before— we had a great conversation on an earlier episode where we talked about Purpose and the incredible journey that S&P has been on around the Business Roundtable statement. You did a really nice job of articulating that it's a journey and it's continuous work, and it's kind of all falling in the water. Has the Purpose-driven culture in S&P helped with this initiative and how do you see them as working together?

Rachel Fichter:

Look, I think they're one and the same: I think that as I go back to the idea of accelerating progress, just think of all of the ways that this links in with racial Equity, and our commitment to being an anti-racist organization. So I think that the Purpose that we have, which is clearly stated as Accelerating Progress, is so deeply connected to that. And again, it goes back to what I said before about not only people internally, but are the communities that we serve that are also impacted by our products, as well as our customers and the products that we've built. Now, for example, as I mentioned, the ESG products where we are including topics that are related to social and that are connected to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion are very much aligned.

Dani Johnson:

A lot of the initiatives you've talked about, Rachel, are really just adding an aspect to leadership development; it’s not like there's a separate thing sitting on the side that addresses DEIB; it's being blended in with what you're doing. Do you have any other examples of how you're doing that? So it's not seen as just another thing that leaders have to do, but it's an expectation of leadership?

Rachel Fichter:

It's a great question. I mean, look, there are expectations of leaders in this space, right? So there are definitely some things that we're doing that are separate, but I would say that another example of something that would come within that institutional racism bucket is this idea of looking at our policies, processes and practices, right? Especially the people-related ones, right?

And so we had an external organization do a review of those and came back to us and gave us feedback on them within the context of looking for bias. And typically what you would find is that there is no bias in a policy, it's really usually how it's actually implemented. I would say that one thing that we've now done, very explicitly, as a result of that is, for example, as we're now rethinking how promotions work, one of the changes that we are going to be making is around including a Diversity advisor as part of making sure that when promotion decisions are being made, that we're taking a look at the data and we're making sure that there was equitable, decision-making involved in that. Same thing with performance management —and I think I talked a little bit about that in the last podcast—but the idea of really focusing on how problematic performance management is and how it can so easily be so biased; for example, once a top performer always a top performer, once a poor performer, always a poor performer, right? So the goal that we had created a form, which was the full year performance story, which included very specific questions so that people were no longer filling out a blank or an empty box, but they actually were having to create a story that was based on a consistent set like a rubric and categories, so that a manager or people leader would be evaluating all of their people using the same criteria versus whatever they felt like depending on the individual.

So the idea of embedding somebody in all of these practices to make sure that we're focused on bias and how that can manifest in an organization, I think is one of those big initiatives that has a huge impact for leaders, and builds a lot of awareness too, and is also part of that institutional racism category.

Dani Johnson:

I think it’s interesting you mentioned storytelling; I've seen Stacia’s list of DEIB skills, and that happens to be on there as well. I think it's a really important thing, not just to take the data for what we think it means, but to build a story around it.

Rachel Fichter:

Yep, absolutely.

Stacia Garr:

Can we talk a minute about data more explicitly? You've mentioned a data dashboard and we're just now talking about data, but can you share with us a little bit more about how you're measuring/monitoring progress, what the leader sees, what does HR see, how does that differ, and how did you make some of those decisions?

Rachel Fichter:

I would say that it's definitely a work in progress, and I'm proud that we're now starting to share publicly more and more data related to Diversity as an organization. I would say that we have a lot of work to do; I mentioned that we have this dashboard … Have we been using it as much as we could be? Probably not, but that's one of the initiatives that we're actually really focused on right now is getting our senior leaders used to seeing the data and acting based on that and taking informed decisions based on that data.

So a lot of work to be done in that space, going back to the three pillars of people, community, and customer, within the people pillar, what we've done is looked at retention, attraction and promotion. So we are measuring that, on an ongoing basis. And I can certainly give one more example of another initiative that I am very proud of is a coaching initiative that we had for 23 Black and Latinx leaders within the organization, and I must say that I think that the moment we started to really consciously focus on visibility, and we had sponsors for them, very senior sponsors within the organization, in fact, our operating committee, and the coaching and the combination of that—the feedback that we've gotten has been phenomenal. And the outcomes as well, the measurable results. We've seen people get promoted, we’ve seen people get new jobs, we’ve seen people participating in strategic projects that help them to gain more visibility, et cetera. If I think about the data that we're looking for, there's a lot of lagging data; these things take years to have an effect.

Stacia Garr:

Clarifying question: you mentioned some important outcomes just now these people are participating in strategic projects, they're getting promotions or they're getting access to development opportunities. Are those pieces of data that you are capturing and that's being fed into these dashboards as well, because those are, as you mentioned, leading indicators of what representation will eventually look at, which is a lagging indicator?

Rachel Fichter:

That's a great idea, actually. I do have a tracker, but my tracker is not connected to the DEIB dashboard, so there we go. I'm going to work on that starting on Monday! I don't know why I didn't think of it before, but we need to figure out how to make the connection between the work that we're doing and the outcomes very clearly, yes, in a more structured way than we are right now. It's more anecdotal, it's more qualitative what we're doing right now.

Stacia Garr:

Part of what we've been thinking about with the research is just how do we get that feedback loop faster to leaders? Because it can feel like, well, I was mentoring these 23 leaders or we're mentoring these 23 leaders, and we haven't seen the numbers move—and obviously, it's just because there's that lag that you mentioned, but trying to short circuit that lag in some sort of way so people can actually feel like, ‘Okay, the efforts we're making are making an impact and therefore we should keep going’ because this is such a journey, such a long-term journey.

Additional question: we mentioned at the beginning, how with DEIB, there’s certainly an overall element, but then there's also a local element. When we think about that though, in the context of data in particular, but then also more broadly in if there's differences in different countries in terms of what we can do and say, and all the rest of that, how are you all thinking about that global element, whether that's on reporting or anything else, that global element and what we can do in certain places versus what we need to do in other locations?

Rachel Fichter:

Again, I would say ‘work in progress.’ You know we're a very global company, and we're committed to being anti-racist around the world, but as an organization, as part of our strategy, we had to make some choices and prioritize. And so in the initial phase, we prioritized racial Equity in the United States. We also were looking at where do we have data? We have data in the US, we have data in the UK, and we have gender data globally. So those are the areas that we can use data and we are working on.

Stacia Garr:

It's pretty consistent with what I'm hearing from other organizations is certainly a focus on gender globally. Another area I'm hearing, some organizations say for their global focus is age—so looking at that information, because that is something that can be captured, but obviously ethnicity being something that's a special US thing, unfortunately, and then some other more potentially localized topics, given an organization’s local culture and the broader culture in which it operates. So I think that's pretty consistent with what we're hearing.

Rachel Fichter:

Here's an example of what we did with that data. So we actually looked at data, US, UK, ethnicity, race, and global women. And we started looking at promotion data, and then we looked at what the average time to promotion was, and then we compared it, and then we looked at different levels within the organization. And off of that data, we actually identified a group of people who we invited to join a career coaching initiative—a sort of professional development initiative, where again, using this internal coaching capability that we had, we were tapping people on the shoulder because we thought maybe they hadn't had as much attention as they might need. And of course, this is all just guessing on our part based on the data that we're seeing, that we would tap people on the shoulder and invite them to join, have some coaching and think about their career, think about their professional development, et cetera.

And it's been very successful so far: we’ve had, I think about 60 people opt into that, and many of them have been asking to continue to have the conversations with the coaches, et cetera, and you can tell that just getting the attention is incredibly important. And we involve the people leader as well in that. So I guess that's an example of how we're using data, how we're using it globally. So it's not just the US, it was also the UK, as well as global women.

Stacia Garr:

There's two things that I love about that—at least two things, there's probably more! One is that you're really heavily leveraging a strength that you already have in the organization and applying it to this specific situation. I think that for folks who are listening and are thinking about what you do well already and how can you direct those efforts. The second thing that I love about it is obviously the data-driven approach—but here's the third one: it is that you all are just experimenting, right? You recognize this is what we're going to do something and we're going to get smarter and the data's going to get better and we're going to do something much better next year and the year and the year and the year after that. And I think that element of experimentation in this space—and knowing we might stick our foot in it, we might be wrong, but we're going to learn something—is so important.

Rachel Fichter:

I couldn't agree more. I mean, look, we are experimenting. And that's why I think I mentioned earlier that we had a 17-point action plan… It was really literally like let's throw spaghetti against a wall and try everything and see what works because we were all in a learning mode, and we still are in a learning mode. And now we're starting to see some of the fruits of our labors, and we're realizing, for example, that coaching cohort that I mentioned earlier, we're now going into the second cohort because we've seen and we've been able to see through with good data, even preliminary data, that it's making a difference. So I think we're starting to narrow our focus to initiatives that we've seen have really started to move the needle.

Stacia Garr:

The other thing I love about that 17-point action plan is it reflects the seriousness of this moment; I feel like in the past we've said, ‘Okay, well, we're going to try these three things or these five things,’ and right now I think we do have to throw spaghetti on the wall, because what we've done before clearly hasn't worked. So let's try and see and measure it. And it sounds like you're doing that really well.

Chris Pirie:

Rachel, you mentioned at least one consultant that you spoke to: where are you looking for inspiration and ideas around these efforts? Are there people or organizations that you see doing, approaching this in a sort of exemplary way?

Rachel Fichter:

Well, I mean the first organization that I'm looking to is RedThread Research! I definitely read through the lit review, which I thought was super-helpful and it was great, and I'm excited to see how the research plays out. So definitely. You know that I'm a scholar-practitioner, and that even though I'm predominantly a practitioner, I am also a scholar, so I've been getting more and more interested in thinking about DE&I research. I'm very interested in looking at gender and in terms of older women in the workplace. And so I think some of what I'm doing right now also is kind of going back into the Columbia University Library and starting to do my own lit reviews to get a better understanding of what's going on. Somebody recently asked me a question about, well, how do you develop Belonging? Or what could I do differently as a practitioner to kind of help people think about Belonging? And instead of the typical question of, well, what does Belonging mean to you, I was like, well, I wonder if people have actually really written about what Belonging means and where that comes from—so I started doing some research on that as well, and I think that's gonna keep me really busy for a while in that space.

In terms of companies that I think are doing it well, I remember when last year, Ben and Jerry's kind of was just one of the first organizations to really just be willing to take a stand, and say, ‘We are an anti-racist company.’ I think that led the way, and it was amazing to see that. I can't think of the names of the organizations, but I know that there are several organizations now that have really put themselves out there. And they're just putting all of their Diversity data out in the public space. And I admire that, it’s courageous, because there is always legal risk involved in that. And being willing to take that kind of risk because you know it's the right thing to do is very meaningful.

Stacia Garr:

Yeah, it is. In some of our interviews on DEIB and analytics, we've been talking to a number of people analytics leaders about what that conversation with legal actually looks like. And so much of it comes down to the General Counsel and their understanding and their tolerance of risk for the organization. But one organization we talked to, you can actually yourself run out of their HRAS, the report themselves, what’s our Diversity look like in the organization? And their assumption, they of course say this needs to stay internal, but their assumption is that it could get external and they're willing to take that risk, because they think it's so important for their people to know what's happening.

Chris Pirie:

That's a great podcast episode that you can put on your playlist. I really enjoyed that conversation.

Stacia Garr:

So Rachel, we've asked you a lot of questions today: what should we have asked you about that we didn’t?

Rachel Fichter:

First of all, I think you have asked me a lot of questions, and I think you've covered so many things. Maybe just one other thing that I would say, because I'm sure that many companies are doing this right now: we have our own Courageous Conversations initiative–it's an amazing series. I mean, we have had speakers and thinkers and leaders like Ibram Kendi and Robin DiAngelo and just you know, people who have dedicated their lives to thinking about racism and being courageous around racism. So we brought them in, and we've had thousands of people attending these sessions, and we called them ‘Courageous Conversations.’ I think we had this realization at some point that we were actually not necessarily having the conversation. We were listening in on someone else's conversation. And so we created this thing called ‘Brave Spaces,’ and that then came after the ‘Courageous Conversation’ where we invited everybody who had participated in the ‘Courageous Conversation’ to actually talk about and process what they'd heard more deeply. So if we had a thousand people attend a ‘Courageous Conversation,’ we might've had 300 in a Brave Space, and it's been amazing to hear the reflections and the dialogues, and there's a lot of depth. And maybe that's the kind of the summary for me. And maybe why, when we joke about skills, for me, this is about the dialogue, it’s about the experience, it's about being willing and having the courage to put yourself out there, going back to the care, having the curiosity to learn about things that you never knew about. So the curiosity to learn more, use Juneteeth as an opportunity to learn more. And then the care to realize that everybody has a unique perspective and view and that everybody is a human and we have to be respectful toward one another and I think that comes out through dialogue because we are fundamentally social beings.

So yes, skills are important and they support that, but it goes much deeper for me.

Stacia Garr:

And I think what's beautiful about that and it's to your point, it's not just listening to somebody else say why this is important. It's activating it within yourself —you’re not going to go and use a skill if you don't have some sort of activation of why it matters to you and how you think about it and then moving forward, ‘Okay, I see this thing happening and I know why it matters, so I'm going to do something about it.’

Chris Pirie:

It’s back to Purpose and acting with courage.

Rachel Fichter:

Exactly—and values and aligning and having the courage to show how committed you are to what's important.

Stacia Garr:

Well, that's a beautiful segue into our final question: I know we asked you this before, but it might be a little bit different in this context and that is, what's your Purpose? Why do you do what you do?

Rachel Fichter:

I’m sure it's going to be different because I have to study. I don't remember exactly what I said last time, but I'm guessing it hasn't changed that much, but I just want to help people… If I think about my job in the talent and leadership development space, my job is to help leaders be the best leaders they can be, and to really support them, help them to recognize and acknowledge that they too are human beings. And that the world that we operate in, there's just so much stress, and people are so overwhelmed, and we have to create this holding environment for people so that they feel okay with all of this stuff that's going on around them. And if I can help with that, then that's what is just meaningful for me, right? And if I can get a level of depth with my leaders to be thinking deeply about these topics, then I feel like I've made a difference.

Stacia Garr:

That's wonderful. Thank you. I realized I didn't ask you how people can connect with you and your work. Can you share with us how folks might be able to reach out to you?

Rachel Fichter:

Well, sure: through LinkedIn is probably the best way—I may not check it every single day, but I certainly will check it. So if you are interested in continuing the conversation, by all means, reach out to me via LinkedIn.

Stacia Garr:

Rachel, thank you so much for the time today: we appreciate your insights and your openness to share—this is important information, and a lot of people don't necessarily know what to do. And I think you've given some real insight on how folks could maybe get started in advancing, making progress.

Rachel Fichter:

Great, well, it was a pleasure to spend time with you all.

[Chris Pirie, Dani Johnson, Stacia Garr]:

Thank you.

Stacia Garr:

Thanks for listening to the 'Workplace Stories' podcast, brought to you by RedThread Research. Share your thoughts or ideas for guests and topics by sending an email to hello@redthreadresearch.com, and consider sharing your favorite episode with a friend or colleague. As always, thanks to our guests, our sponsors, and thank you, our listeners.

Chris Pirie:

We'd like to thank Workday for the exclusive sponsorship of this Season. Today, the world is changing faster than ever, and you can meet those changing business needs with Workday; it’s one agile system that enables you to grow and engage a more inclusive workforce. Workday: it’s your financial, HR and planning system for a changing world.

Workday will also host an exclusive live webinar on October 13 where you can dial in and meet the team (including Dani, Stacia and myself) and join in a conversation about the future of DEIB in the workplace. You can find out more information, register for the seminar, and access exclusive Seasoned content, at www.workday.com/deib.

Written by

Dani Johnson

Dani is Co-founder and Principal Analyst for RedThread Research. She has spent the majority of her career writing about, conducting research in, and consulting on human capital practices and technology. Her ideas can be found in publications such as Wall Street Journal, CLO Magazine, HR Magazine, and Employment Relations. Dani holds an MBA and an MS and BS in Mechanical Engineering from BYU.

Stacia Garr Redthread Research
Stacia Garr
Co-Founder & Principal Analyst

Stacia is a Co-founder and Principal Analyst for RedThread Research and focuses on employee engagement/experience, leadership, DE&I, people analytics, and HR technology. A frequent speaker and writer, her work has been featured in Fortune, Forbes, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal as well as in numerous HR trade publications. She has been listed as a Top 100 influencer in HR Technology and in D&I. Stacia has an MBA from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master’s degree from the London School of Economics.

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