Throughout most of Hans Keller’s professional life, he was taught not to talk politics or engage in provocative topics at work. Yet in the midst of a global pandemic, when George Floyd’s brutal death opened a fresh wound for Americans regarding racial inequality and social justice, Keller, now CIO at Erickson Living, was among the many employees seeking solace in the company’s community space dedicated to tackling tough issues.
Erickson Living, like so many organizations across the country, spent a good part of this year developing ways to make remote work efficient. Yet the company, which owns and operates retirement communities, also labored to maintain its corporate culture and sense of community as many employees made the shift to working from home. With diversity and inclusion core to its corporate values, it was only natural for the company to create an online forum where employees could have an open dialog about racial issues without judgment and fear of repercussions.
“We created a space where people could be open and share and have difficult conversations,” explains Keller. “Rather than run from these hard conversations, we actually embraced them… and it increased our sense of belonging and inclusion.”
In the wake of this year’s events, many companies have turned up the volume on diversity and inclusion issues, and employees are taking note. According to a 2014 Glassdoor survey
Making a serious commitment to diversity and inclusion (often abbreviated as D&I) goes a long way toward keeping employees happy and engaged, but it is also an important exercise for IT practitioners to promote diversity of thought, according to IT leaders at companies named to the 2020 Best Places to Work in IT list from Computerworld and Insider Pro.
“Diversity at its core takes advantage of people’s unique backgrounds and skill sets and makes for richer content and discovery of what we do,” says Darren Dworkin, senior vice president and CIO at Cedars-Sinai; the healthcare organization was ranked No. 3 for D&I on the 2020 Best Places to Work in IT list. “The IT group spends a lot of time working closely with all sorts of departments and stakeholders … and having folks with different backgrounds and skills reflects that and helps us relate and translate so we can be a department that contributes to the mission of the organization.”
A business imperative
For Erickson Living, diversity & inclusion has long been a core value, exemplified through one of the three pillars in its Employee Transformation initiative, which includes curiosity, competence, and community. Erickson, which ranked No. 1 for diversity on the 2020 Best Places to Work in IT list, maintains a robust D&I council made up of employees and leadership and offers D&I training at all levels to instruct managers, directors, and rank-and-file employees in such issues as how to overcome unconscious bias in the workforce and how to promote civil treatment among colleagues.
The company is also looking at establishing enterprise resource groups (ERGs) to support segments of its workforce, including women and LGBTQ people, and it specifically requires managers to seek out a diverse slate of talent when looking to hire.
D&I is not only important to Erickson employees, it’s critical to the company’s success as the demographics of the country change. As people from different ethnicities and races move into Erickson’s senior communities, they expect to see a workforce that is reflective of its residents.
“We have to be very intentional about our commitment to diversity, inclusion, and belonging,” says Ian Brown, vice president of organizational development and learning for Erickson Living. “Our community has individuals of all races, ethnicities, and sexual orientations and they’re ready and able to bring their truest self to the business. It’s not just a business imperative, it’s really the right thing to do.”
D&I practices may be the right thing to do, but in order to make them a core tenet of the business, companies need to go beyond lip service by creating formal structures such as D&I councils and ERGs as well as getting leadership commitment to help bake diversity into the corporate culture.
At Planned Systems International (PSI), D&I is part of the firm’s DNA, buttressed by the fact there is a minority owner, says Sandra Kelly, chief of human resources for the IT solutions provider, which came in at No. 8 for D&I on the 2020 Best Places to Work in IT list. PSI provides training programs to keep D&I practices in the forefront, leans on a referral program to keep its talent pipeline diverse and reflective of its shared values, and runs its benefits program to be open and inclusive. Key example: The firm began offering benefits to all domestic partners and same-sex couples long before the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was overturned, Kelly says.
Inclusivity and the idea that anyone can reach for the stars is essential to making PSI a great place to work, but it’s the focus on diversity of thought that makes the firm’s IT services so effective, according to Stephen Skarlatos, PSI’s CIO. “IT is all about solving problems, and when you have multiple views or ways to attack the problem, you get better results,” he says. “If a workforce is trained the same way, you get the same types of solutions.”
Evolving and growing
UKG, the merged entity of Kronos and Ultimate Software (No. 10 for D&I on the 2020 Best Places to Work in IT list), has a variety of D&I focused programs, from formalized ERGs to in-the-moment actions, many taken this year in response to the George Floyd killing, says Dave Almeda, UKG’s chief people officer. The workforce management services company recently established BUILD (Black Upcoming Individuals in Leadership and Development), a network designed to foster inclusion and cultivate Black leaders at all levels, while also raising money for nonprofits committed to promoting racial equality.
From a recruitment standpoint, UKG fields a diverse slate of candidates using a combination of employee referrals, LinkedIn sourcing, public fireside chats, coding bootcamps, Meet Up groups, professional associations, and connections with local universities. UKG also leverages a data insights tool to identify areas of opportunity to seek out more diverse IT candidates.
With all this, the key to diversity success, Almeda says, is doing the work internally — not simply outsourcing diversity recruitment initiatives or attending D&I events sporadically. “You have to keep going, growing, and evolving,” he says. “Diversity and inclusion initiatives are never truly done — it’s an ongoing journey.”
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