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Shirley J. Knowles, chief inclusion and diversity officer at Progress Software
Company: Progress is a software company that offers custom software for creating and deploying business applications.
Skills they've used to be successful in HR: Authenticity is an important core value. In conversations about diversity and inclusion, I use real-world scenarios — including my own experiences — to illustrate why this work is essential. I don't use buzzwords that many people are unclear of. I talk about things in a way that anyone can understand.
How they've supported employees during the coronavirus pandemic: I have taken a particular interest in the well-being of our employees, specifically their mental and emotional health. We offer fitness classes, meditation sessions, and mental-health training led by a Harvard professor who is also a licensed mental-health counselor.
By offering exercises that focus on burnout, avoiding isolation, and finding meaning in work and one's personal life, I am helping employees find balance while trying to navigate through the ongoing pandemic.
Francine Katsoudas, executive vice president and chief people, policy, and purpose officer at Cisco
Company: Cisco develops, manufactures, and sells networking hardware, telecom equipment, and other IT services and products.
How they've been supporting their company's diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts during the pandemic: In early 2020, right before the pandemic, we established our Social Justice Beliefs and Actions at Cisco outlining our ambitious goals for addressing injustice and establishing a framework to hold the company accountable to its commitments.
Although we didn't know it at the time, this blueprint would guide our approach to social-justice issues that arose over the course of the pandemic. While these beliefs and actions were first focused on supporting the Black community, they have become an invaluable working guide to how we as a company respond to injustice and address inequities overall.
Initiatives they've taken to address the effects of the Great Resignation: Every quarter, we conduct "engagement pulses" to check in with employees about top-of-mind issues and concerns. We've found that employees who aren't invited to participate in an engagement-pulse meeting are 21 times as likely to leave Cisco than their invited counterparts.
We've also done more work to understand people's career trajectories within Cisco, examining the velocity of promotions for groups and individuals. As a result, we're proud to have promoted 30% of our workforce over the past 12 months.
Books, podcasts, shows, or movies that inspire them: I'm reading "Black Magic: What Black Leaders Learned from Trauma and Triumph'' by Chad Sanders, who is powerful and inspiring. It was recommended to me by a leader here at Cisco. He said that it reminded him of his experience in corporate America. So by reading it, I have gotten to feel more proximate to his experience and journey, and that has been a wonderful gift.
McKensie Mack, CEO at MMG
Company: McKensie Mack Group is a research- and change-management firm that centers on racial and social justice.
What initiatives they have taken to address the Great Resignation: Last year, in collaboration with Project Include, we published research on the impact of COVID-19 on remote workers. We developed and shared resources and guiding principles for leaders looking for support and education in reframing how they think about work, benefits, and productivity.
Skills they've used to be successful in HR: My training and education as a transformative justice facilitator help me bring a restorative framework to the ways I work with people, de-escalate when situations get tense or uncomfortable, and seek noncarceral and nonpunitive approaches to working with people who make mistakes or cause harm.
My knowledge of power, privilege, and positionality has been valuable in HR.
Cassie Whitlock, director of HR at BambooHR
Company: BambooHR provides HR software for businesses.
Skills they've used to be successful in HR: Understanding data and analysis has been essential in elevating my impact across the organization. Using data has helped me identify and solve complex challenges around screening and hiring, role progression, designing department structures, employee engagement, and retention. Data is the language of business, and it's critical in HR.
How they've been supporting their company's diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts during the pandemic: Diversity starts with hiring practices. We had already implemented essential diversity, equity, and inclusion hiring practices like gender decoding on our job ads, diversity representation in the screening process, scorecards for consistent and equitable screening criteria, and antibias training for all hiring managers and interviewers.
We also looked at internal diversity to understand how to best support employees. We adapted some roles to help working parents juggle remote work and homeschooling. We offered paid time off for employees who contracted COVID-19 or had to provide care for a family member with the virus. It was also essential to create income stability for employees with personal or family health risk factors.
Sara Cooper, chief people officer at Jobber
Company: Jobber provides job tracking and customer-management software for home-service businesses.
How the events of the pandemic affected their view of HR's role: The pandemic required HR leaders to be very quick on their feet, to make fast decisions often with little information and in an environment changing by the day. There was no pandemic playbook.
The most successful companies did this by creating plans that took into account the evolving information almost daily and listening to their employees and customers.
How they've supported employees during the coronavirus pandemic: We realized early in the pandemic that performance during this time had to be approached in a very different way.
For example, we implemented "wellness Fridays" in the summers of 2020 and 2021, which provided employees with Fridays off to focus on self-care. In addition, we offered various programs for folks who needed to reduce their hours or take job-protected leaves to focus on themselves or their families. When we eventually reopen our offices, we will be moving to a hybrid structure.
I realized early on that there's no single solution for every company but that the key to creating a thriving hybrid environment requires the input of the company's most important stakeholders: its employees.
Danielle McMahan, chief people and business-operations officer at Wiley
Company: Wiley is a global leader in scientific research and career-connected education.
Initiatives they've taken to address the effects of the Great Resignation: We offer employees over 1,000 flexible and affordable degree and nondegree programs, including bachelor's and master's programs. As a global leader in research and education, we practice what we preach to unlock potential and support lifelong learning.
How the events of the pandemic affected their view of HR's role: We transformed our department to become more people-centric: focusing on people rather than processes. To formally acknowledge this shift, we said goodbye to "human resources" and renamed our department the People Organization. Our employees are at the center of all that we do.
Their favorite interview question: "Tell me your story." I love to hear people's career journeys, and it allows the candidate to reflect on what roles they've held in the past and how those roles inform the type of job they're looking for today.
Through these stories, I also typically get to know the candidate personally. I am able to learn what is important to them and what they value.
Ashley Alexander, head of people at Front
Company: Front is a software company that develops a shared email inbox and calendar product.
How they've supported employees during the coronavirus pandemic: Once we made the decision to transition to remote work, my mission was to ensure that our employees felt supported and connected. We doubled down on activities that fostered a sense of community, like our weekly all-hands meetings on Zoom , ask-me-anything sessions with our executives, and virtual companywide off-site activities.
Why they pursued a career in HR: I got into HR because I wanted to help people, but throughout the course of my career, this idea has dramatically expanded. I now view my role as an employee advocate. I strive to demystify why things happen at a company the way they happen. I've found that even if they aren't happy with everything that happens in a company, if they understand our choices, ultimately, they can respect them.
Kali Beyah, global chief talent officer at Huge
What their company does: Huge is a digital design and marketing agency. Clients include Google, Coca-Cola, and Unilever.
How they've supported employees during the pandemic: Whether giving mental-health days, reimagining our return to the office, extending summer Fridays, flexing for childcare, shifting to "no-meeting Fridays," or continuing to invest in development, transparency, wellness workshops/resources, and DEI — we've taken a holistic and evolving approach.
The constant as we evolve is that we listen to our people regularly, and we are authentic in our responses.
How they've addressed the Great Resignation at their company: We are reimagining the future of work as the world not only encounters the "Great Resignation" but also the "Great Reevaluation." Our reimagining includes things such as "Huge holidays" (closure and collective recharging three weeks a year), "Huge summer" (work from anywhere in July), "no-meeting Fridays," and summer Fridays.
How the pandemic changed their view of HR's role: We have an opportunity to reimagine work and the role it plays in people's lives — and we have an exciting opportunity to debunk false binaries and prove that people and businesses can both thrive.
Lauren Nuttall, vice president of people at Boulevard Labs
Company: Boulevard is a client-experience platform built for appointment-based self-care businesses.
How they've supported employees during the coronavirus pandemic: I opted to take Boulevard 100% remote early on in the pandemic in March 2020. However, as the pandemic persisted into 2021, I realized that with the significant paradigm shift around the viability of remote work, coupled with the growing employee (and candidate) interest in staying fully remote, we needed to deepen our commitment.
That meant giving up our physical office space altogether and allowing all employees to move wherever they want in the US without it negatively impacting their existing compensation package.
Additionally, the need for better virtual access to mental health and high-quality medical care prompted the decision to bring on One Medical to provide complimentary subscriptions to all employees and their dependents.
How they've been supporting their company's diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts during the pandemic: One of the programs that I'm most proud of was a virtual-speaker series where we sought to highlight and amplify underrepresented voices within the beauty and wellness industry.
We invited a massage-business owner that catered specifically to LGBTQIA+ clientele for one of the sessions. This created a dialogue around how even limited pronoun options within a booking workflow can be harmful and resulted in us making actual changes to our product to better represent our customers and their clients. Surfacing these opportunities to educate and create dialogue can have incredible ripple effects.
Tanya Reu-Narvaez, executive vice president and chief people officer at Realogy
What their company does: Realogy is a real-estate-services firm that owns brokerages including Century 21, Sotheby's International Realty, and Corcoran.
How they've supported their company's DEI efforts: To help increase representation in the industry, we established a new partnership with the National Association of Minority Mortgage Bankers of America and expanded the Inclusive Ownership program, an industry-first initiative designed to attract brokerage owners from underrepresented communities to launch their own franchise businesses.
How they've addressed the Great Resignation at their company: We have a Go Further Today program where we've made small but impactful changes that decrease meeting and email fatigue and increase efficiency by working smarter.
We have no internal meetings on Fridays, encourage employees to make smart decisions about whether to accept or decline meetings, and embrace an "exhale, then email" philosophy to help mitigate the pressure of email overload we're all facing. These are small but mighty changes that make a significant difference for our teams.
Noa Geller, vice president of HR at Papaya Global
What their company does: Papaya Global is a cloud-based payroll platform.
How they've addressed the Great Resignation at their company: We added a learning and development budget for every employee to choose the development course that is meaningful and impactful to them. Driven from our employee-engagement survey, we took initiatives to support work-life balance, such as a work-from-anywhere benefit, allowing our employees to work up to one month per year outside of their home region.
Also driven from our engagement survey, we are implementing more trainings around best practices and tools to ease the burnout that is a part of a hypergrowth company during COVID times.
How the pandemic changed their view of HR's role: During the pandemic, the HR role became an even more crucial role within every organization. We were proactively working to support COVID policies and work-from-home best practices, and many of these things were unprecedented.
HR managers really had to be innovative and creative — and in a very short amount of time. We have supported managers in learning how to manage remotely, how to navigate illnesses and emotional distress among their employees, as well as help employees remain connected to their teams and the company, while not only fully remote but often completely isolated.
Tara Ataya, chief people and diversity officer at Hootsuite
How they've supported employees during the pandemic: We restructured the global offices to be used as creative hubs, built for collaboration and social connection, with a special focus on health and mental wellness.
In addition, employees were granted the autonomy and benefits they needed to reshape their work environment to choose what works best for them by restructuring our workplace policy so every employee can choose if they wish to work full time in office, remote, or take a hybrid approach.
How they've supported their company's DEI efforts: During the pandemic, we built on our partnership with the Black Professionals in Tech Network in Canada to help end systemic racism in the technology sector by providing Black professionals with equal access to opportunities in tech, an expanded peer network, and support in accelerating career growth.
This helped foster a stronger sense of belonging in the workplace by joining an allyship training with the Black Professionals in Tech Network, along with 125 Hootsuite employees, including all members of the executive team, about best practices for sourcing Black talent.
How the pandemic changed their view of HR's role: The pandemic shifted HR teams from being the best-kept secret superpower to the front-and-center compass for navigating through the most difficult time many organizations and generations have ever faced.
The role of HR is one of strategy, that is adept at navigating uncertainty with agility and enables the business to drive meaningful business results with people in mind.
Félix Manuel Chinea, diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging manager at Doximity
How they've supported employees during the pandemic: My focus during the pandemic has been to make DEI initiatives at Doximity meaningful, impactful, and tangible across the whole organization.
By aligning DEI with our company mission and values, we are able to both directly support our employees and empower them to make a meaningful impact in their communities during and beyond the pandemic.
How they've addressed the Great Resignation at their company: The Great Resignation has given us an opportunity to reflect on what makes working at our company fulfilling. Our organizational purpose at Doximity is to connect medical professionals and build clinical tools that will ultimately impact patient care. Amid a global pandemic and demand for racial justice, I believe our purpose allows us the opportunity to both attract and retain top talent and make a meaningful impact on health equity across historically marginalized communities.
How the pandemic changed their view of HR's role: Both the pandemic and recent demands for racial justice have highlighted the long-standing need for all leaders to develop solutions and cultures that recognize the full humanity of employees.
While every person is responsible for fostering an equitable and inclusive culture, DEI leaders must develop a strategic understanding of how to integrate these concepts into their company's organizational structure.
Gloria Chen, chief people officer at Adobe
What their company does: Adobe is a global software company.
How they've supported employees during the pandemic: What I am most proud of during the pandemic is not what the company has done for our employees but what our employees have done for each other.
When India was overcome by the Delta surge, and our employees and their families were ravaged by COVID, our employees created a phone tree to locate hospital beds, located oxygen to bring to hospitals, and cooked and delivered meals to families in quarantine. Our employees were truly our heroes.
How they've supported their company's DEI efforts: In 2020, our diversity and inclusion team and our Black Employee Network launched the Taking Action Initiative task force to explore and drive actions we could take to make meaningful change internally and externally to the company.
The effort led to strategic partnerships with historically Black colleges and universities, Hispanic-serving institutions, and a sponsorship program to support career advancement for underrepresented individuals.
How the pandemic changed their view of HR's role: Having stepped into the role of chief people officer in February 2020, my entire HR experience has been shaped by the pandemic.
I learned that the basics of human needs — physical and mental health, a sense of security, and connectedness — cannot be taken for granted in a professional setting. During the pandemic, we lost one of our beloved cofounders. That gave me a tremendous sense of responsibility as a longtime Adobe employee to carry the torch for the values that they instilled in us.
Kim Seymour, chief people officer at WW International
How they've supported their company's DEI efforts during the pandemic: WW recently released an extensive report titled "Black Women & Wellness" to shed light on the disparities and biases that Black women face within the healthcare system today.
The report showcases what is being done by changemakers within their communities to create safe spaces, better access to healthcare, and underscore why Black women deserve health, wellness, and quality healthcare.
How they've addressed the Great Resignation at their company: Some of our most recent investments to address potential employee burnout include offering Sibly for resilience, One Medical for convenient medical care, and ClassPass for fitness goals. All of our employees at WW are also members and have access to the WW program.
In addition to a personal-well-being allowance of $1,000 per employee, my team also created "flex Fridays," which allows employees to start their weekend early by redistributing the hours they work the remainder of that week, whether that's a Zoom-free Friday afternoon or signing off early.
Manish Mehta, global head of human resources at BlackRock
How they've supported their company's DEI efforts: We are fortunate to have over 80% of our employees participate in one of our 15 global employee, professional, and social impact networks.
Each network is sponsored by one or more of our Global Executive Committee members who engage with them to help navigate important cultural and strategic topics. I am a sponsor of our Asian and Middle Eastern Professionals network, which was formally launched in 2021.
How they've addressed the Great Resignation at their company: We supported and enabled managers through training modules on delivering feedback, effectively setting objectives and managing performance, motivating and managing teams, and having productive conversations on returning our people to the office.
We sustained our focus on career development. This includes career pathing in areas like technology, development programs for our emerging vice-president leaders, and our Black and Latinx managing directors and directors, and increasing our sponsorship programs.
How the pandemic changed their view of HR's role: I have seen the difference HR can make in people's lives. Helping people navigate the loss of a loved one or a colleague, supporting the family of an employee we've lost, recognizing and helping those suffering from mental-health challenges, being there to listen and act when an employee does not feel like they belong, growing our benefits to respond to what employees are dealing with in their lives — these are just some of the things that HR does that are not always seen.
Karsten Vagner, senior vice president of people at Maven Clinic
What their company does: Maven Clinic is a virtual platform that provides support across fertility, pregnancy, adoption, parenting, and pediatrics.
How they've supported their employees during the coronavirus pandemic: Some of the companywide initiatives and programs included Donut, a Slack -integrated app, to help employees maintain that serendipitous connection they've all come to love at the office.
We also experimented with other virtual events, like weekly "coffeehouse cabaret" sessions with Broadway talent over Google Hangouts, cooking challenges, a companywide talent show, Halloween in April for employees' children, and more.
How they've supported their company's diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts during the pandemic: Working with Maven's people team, the company created employee working groups devoted to getting feedback about various aspects of Maven's business. While it was rewarding to see employee feedback come to life, what I'm most proud of is the fact that neither I nor the executive team did this work in a silo.
Our DEI program was completely ground up and centered on employee needs. And it continues to be to this day. The work our organization has done — in recruiting, partnerships, volunteering, product— it's all been led by our employees.
How they've supported their employees during the Great Resignation: To combat work-related stress, Maven introduced new programs to support employees' mental health, including group sessions with Maven's mental-health providers and career coaches, mandatory mental-health days, twice-a-week no-meeting blocks, and several weeks where employees had time to recharge and unwind.
Elaine Mak, chief people officer at Valimail
How they've supported their employees during the coronavirus pandemic: As the pandemic unfolded, it was an opportunity to lay a strategic foundation on Valimail's organizational design to serve a dual purpose: Drive talent acquisition and retention and seat people at the table to become an integral voice in making decisions that affect them.
In 18 months, my team has refreshed Valimail's company mission, values, and strategy to explicitly prioritize and resource people and DEI efforts. My team has also pivoted the leadership model to a cross-functional structure that distributes power, agency, and autonomy of decision-makers across levels.
I've also led the people team to expand and diversify the leadership team at Valimail to ensure appropriate voices and perspectives have a seat at the table to inform strategic decisions.
How they've supported their company's diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts during the pandemic: We empowered a DEI committee resourced with an executive sponsor and budget focused on wellness initially to address burnout. Along with other company efforts, we have the foundation to execute a strategic road map on DEI education and development and further cement DEI at the heart of our business and people strategy.
Lastly, our efforts in people and DEI culminated in an employer-brand makeover that authentically reflects a day-to-day reality where people-first is core to our culture.
Kerris Hougardy, vice president of people at Ada
What their company does: Ada is an automation platform that powers brand interactions between companies and their customers.
How they've supported their employees during the coronavirus pandemic: Ada's first priority during the pandemic was to assess the health and safety of its employees and to implement an immediate change to the work environment.
The transition to a full-remote, digital-first culture required Ada to ensure its employees could work and communicate effectively.
Our employee-relations team is on hand to support anyone going through work or personal issues. We have a wellness fund for each employee to get access to support — mental health and physical, access to ClassPass, and lunch and learns where they can listen to speakers around burnout and resiliency.
How have the events of the pandemic affected your view of HR's role? HR is no longer only about hiring and firing employees, but about supporting and engaging with employees as whole humans.
People should be able to show up authentically and do their best work, to feel acceptance and belonging, and to feel supported with life's ups and downs.
Cheryl Johnson, chief human-resources officer at Paylocity
What their company does: Paylocity provides cloud-based payroll- and human-capital-management software.
How they've supported their employees during the coronavirus pandemic: My HR leaders collaborated with Paylocity's Diversity Leadership Council to ensure that company benefits intentionally built an inclusive and equitable culture for current and future employees and their families.
The group also confirmed that medical plans aligned with the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) Standards of Care for the Health of Transsexual, Transgender, and Gender Nonconforming People.
For financial flexibility, we rolled out a loan program, offering interest-free loans to any employees in need, along with on-demand payment for early access to earned wages if needed. At the same time, we introduced voluntary furloughs for up to 90 days and implemented an international work program to allow employees to work abroad for up to 90 days.
How they've supported their employees during the Great Resignation: We formed task forces to understand why people were leaving but, more importantly, why people were staying. Recently our HR team has found success socializing "stay interviews," which help managers to improve their direct-report relationships, keep at-risk talent, and provide broader insights to build culture and connection.
Giving employees greater transparency helps them spot career opportunities and paths to growth. Our HR team is implementing succession planning efforts to identify and develop key talent and give employees more freedom to impact how, where, and when they work.
Dave Carhart, vice president of people at Lattice
What their company does: Lattice is a people-management platform that helps leaders build engaged, high-performing teams.
How they've supported their employees during the coronavirus pandemic: Work was stressful in "normal" pre-COVID times, but the pandemic has created new levels of burnout and exhaustion.
Recognizing this, in 2020, I oversaw the rollout of Lattice "recharge days," a number of designated days where the entire company is off on the same day with the explicit goal of stepping away from work mentally. The recharge days has since been made permanent, with six annual recharge days added to our annual calendar on top of national holidays and flexible PTO.
How have the events of the pandemic affected your view of HR's role? It's reminded us how critical it is to lead with empathy and represent a very human voice within our workplaces. We are asking people to bring their whole selves and all of their energy and commitment.
With that will also come their personal passions, their family commitments, and the individual challenges that they are facing. We need to embrace all of that and come with support for the whole person and their family, too.
Marlee Raber Proukou, director of people operations at Jetson
What their company does: Jetson is a personal-mobility-devices company that sells electric bikes, electric scooters, and hoverboards.
How they've supported their employees during the Great Resignation: In addition to navigating a global pandemic, our employees have had to adjust to the company's rapid growth, resulting in many being spread thin and approaching burnout.
We've tried to address this two ways — focusing on both recruitment and employee appreciation. We built a larger people-operations team to increase our recruitment efforts, bringing in much needed full-time and contract hires to assist with our ever-increasing workload so our employees can enjoy more of a balance.
Through bigger efforts, like rewarding our employees with promotions, bonuses, and raises to smaller changes like our new "all-star award" — a peer-nominated cash award presented monthly to an employee who is impacting their teammates — we continuously try to let our employees know we are grateful for them.
How have the events of the pandemic affected your view of HR's role? The role has evolved from what many people thought of as traditional HR functions, like payroll and benefits administration, to encompass more people-centric priorities like supporting employees' work-life balance, ensuring a work environment that is both productive and safe, and creating an increasingly diverse workforce.
In today's world, a successful HR team is quick-thinking, strategic, and empathetic. Most importantly, we are working to understand and support our employee's personal and professional experiences in what has been an extremely turbulent two years.
Karen Craggs-Milne, vice president of ESG at ThoughtExchange
What their company does: ThoughtExchange is a patented antibias enterprise tool that leaders use to gain insights that inform decision-making.
How they've supported their employees during the coronavirus pandemic: With the pandemic causing a global shift to remote work, and recognizing the diverse circumstances of the company's employee base, we brought an equity lens to the people team's COVID-response initiatives.
By asking diverse employees what they needed most to navigate the pandemic and how to best support employee well-being across different employee populations, we helped ThoughtExchange identify tailored solutions that made a big difference to employees.
Listening to its employees, we offered financial support during school closures so parents could hire tutors, purchase memberships to educational sites or resources, and continue to ensure their children's educational needs were met.
What are the skills you have used to be successful in HR? Empathy and patience are arguably the two most important characteristics to grasp when being a leader in HR.
Employees want to feel heard and recognized during their time at an organization, and leveraging the ability to understand where all opinions are coming from, and then negotiating the best collective outcomes, is key to maintaining top talent that feels safe and valued within their work environment.