Women of Color Returning to the Office: COVID, Gender, Inclusion – Part I

For months, the national conversation has revolved around how companies would return to the office in the wake of COVID. This week, Jeffery and Amanda talk with two senior executives from the heart of corporate America, Tamika Curry Smith and Elba Pareja-Gallagher. This episode delves into diversity, equity and inclusion, workplace flexibility, gender and the impact of COVID. Grab your favorite beverage and join the conversation.

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Disclaimer: This transcript was created using YouTube’s translator tool and that may mean that some of the words, grammar, and typos come from a misinterpretation of the video.

The Transcript - COVID, Gender, Inclusion - Part I

Amanda Hammett: Welcome to Win(e)d Down Wednesdays. This is Amanda Hammett and I am so pleased to have my two guests here today, as well as my co-host, Jeffery Tobias Halter. Jeffery, how are you doing today?

Jeffery Tobias Halter: I'm doing great, Amanda. How are you?

Amanda Hammett: Now, before we kick-off, I need to share with the audience because it is wind down Wednesday and we do like to wind down with our beverage of choice. So today my beverage, because it's been quite a week, is a Vodka and club soda with lots and lots of limes because it's been that kind of week already. What about you Jeffery?

Jeffery Tobias Halter: You gotta manage that auto-immune so that lime part is really, really important. So, I'm going to introduce our speakers in just a second. I am enjoying a Pinot Grigio from the Engelheim winery right here in Georgia. Got up, got a drink, local and stay local. So, Georgia winemakers. And now it's my pleasure to introduce two very good friends of mine. And they're gonna be our guests today. Tomika Curry Smith and Elba Pareja-Gallagher, And they're going to do self-introduction in just a moment. So Tamika, why don't you start.

Tamika Curry Smith: Sure. Well, thank you for having me, Jeffery and Amanda. It's a pleasure to be here. I will start with my drink of choice going with the line theme that Amanda started. This is a margarita, and it is definitely one of my faves and I agree it's been quite a week as well. So I’m right there with you. In terms of my background, I am a diversity equity and inclusion practitioner who's been doing this work for over 20 years. I previously led. DEI at Deloitte, Target Corporation, Mercedes-Benz USA and Nike, Inc. And I also have done DEI consulting with dozens of organizations, everything from nonprofits to colleges and universities to small, medium and large businesses. As a part of my consulting work, one of the things that I'm doing right now is working with Goldman Sachs and their private equity group. And I consult with the portfolio companies that are part of their group that they're focusing on to try to have them go public and grow and, and spin off and really helping them who are early in their journey as a company in general, helping them infuse DEI into their DNA from the very beginning. I think we say that all the time, but when you work with earlier stage companies and startups, you really are able to get on the ground floor and help them from that. I'm a little bit of a, I call myself a recovering accountant. I started out my career at Deloitte doing accounting and management consulting. And I just mentioned that because my business back on really does impact the way I approach DEI work. As not just the right thing to do, but also as a business imperative that drives people and business outcomes. So once again, thanks for having me here. Really excited for the conversation. Awesome. Thank you.

Jeffery Tobias Halter: Elba, go ahead, please

Elba Pareja-Gallagher: Hey everybody. I'm so excited to be here. I have a drink of choice. Here it is. Any guesses? Kinda it's a blueberry martini, actually a blueberry pomegranate martini, which is what gives it kind of that pink color. So, anyway, thank you. I like to say it's not just about wine down Wednesday, but sometimes I need those Monday, Tuesday, Thursday. But Hey, thank you again for having me. I am Elba Pareja Gallagher. I think I've been in DEI my entire life actually. I think I was born talking about diversity, equity and inclusion. I've spent the last 24 years working at UPS, mostly in finance until I found my charm in sustainability. So my more recent role is as director of stakeholder engagement at the sustainability group at UPS. So it's a thrilling place to bring my business acumen experience. While I was there, I've worked throughout the organization. I worked in Asia, I've worked in Miami. I've held numerous roles, investor relations. Primarily, what I loved was when I was the chair of the Hispanic inclusion group or the business resource group. Fantastic opportunity. And in about 2015, I launched this non-profit that you see in the background here on that side, showme50.org. My true passion, trying to achieve 50% women in senior level positions, across all organizations, all organizations, all institutions. We need more women leading and we're workingreally hard to teach women and men just like Jeffery, right? Engaging men, not only to improve women's talents and our skills and abilities, but really the other half of the equation is having organizations improve their talent management systems to be more transparent, more fair, more inclusive. So, yeah, that's what keeps me busy. Two full-time jobs really.

Amanda Hammett: Wow. I'm impressed ladies. This is my first time meeting both of you. Jeffery brought and mentioned that you guys were old friends and I'm just, I'm blown away and I'm just thrilled to be here with you. And I cannot wait. This is going to be the first of two episodes. So come back and see us for the next one because we have even more to share. In part two. But let's get into part one. So let's talk a little bit about returning to work. That is the big conversation everyone is having it. There have been numerous studies that have come out, talking about what employees want. A recent one was actually put out by the Future Forum. They did a study of 10,000 knowledge workers. Now, what that study showed was that 93% of employees were looking for flexibility in when and how they worked. But also I think this surprises nobody -- more than half of employees are open to a job change. So ladies. Let's talk about this, Tamika, why don't you go first? What is going to make this transition back to work easier? Or what is some of the companies that you're working with? What are they doing to make this easier?

Tamika Curry Smith: Yeah, I mean, it's such an important question and one that I think a lot of companies are still trying to figure out. It's a bit of a, you know, flying the plane while you're building it. And I will say the trends that I'm seeing is that one, this phased in approach. So, although I think we all left the workplace due to COVID in a bit of a dramatic way where it was like the offices are closed, don't come in, that the thought about coming back is how do we have more of a phased in approach? How do we help people get their feet wet again? Some people are already going into the offices, kind of on an ad hoc basis and they almost need people to pilot it and see, does it work? And how do you check in and how do you make sure that people are safe and secure and that they're physically distancing and all those kinds of things. So I think part of it is making sure that you test the waters before you just jump in. The other thing, and I think you hit the nail on the head -- flexibility. And what I'm seeing is a bit of what I call freedom within a framework. So there's a framework around what that return to work looks like, but employees have freedom and choice, and that requires an approach that is not one size fits all. And so I think organizations are really trying to figure out how, I mean, this, this is to me like the diversity and inclusion at its best is how do you appreciate the diversity of everyone'experiences, but also create an approach that's inclusive and mindful of everyone's experiences. And so, you know, really thinking about things like for some of the framework items, team meetings will still be virtual because you may have people that are in different locations and you don't want to go right back to our old behavior, which was to sometimes be exclusive to people who weren't physically in a location. So making sure that we keep that virtual aspect of it. Thinking abou days in the office are flexible except with an asterix. So there may be times when due to an important meeting or due to decisions that need to be made or an effort that requires cross-functional collaboration, we do need people in the office at a particular time. I think the other thing that is not always talked about, but it's critical in this is technology. How can organizations leverage technology to make this hybrid workplace work? So how do you keep track of where your employees are in and when, and if there is a feeling around collaboration, can you provide some kind of scheduling system, perhaps where people are able to say, here are the days I intend to come in and maybe then I can go look at that system and say, oh, Amanda and Jeffery are going to be in on Tuesday. Maybe I'll go in on Tuesday as well. So I think there are a number of technology solutions that are being considered to make the logistics part of this work as well.

Amanda Hammett: Perfect. Elba, what about you? I mean, what is it going to look like at UPS? I mean, obviously you guys have an interesting workforce in that you have your knowledge workers, but you also have people out there, you know, handling packages to the end user, but you also have them, you know, sorting and getting them all through the massive system you must have. What is that going to look like? Elba Pareja-Gallagher: Yeah. It's challenging. Well just think about just the COVID environment when we first started. Right. We are all essential workers at UPS, certainly our frontline employees. Right. They're out delivering what you needed when you needed it. So what I'd like to focus on is what I know best, which is around the corporate setting. Right? And what are we going to do around bringing employees back? So I think Tamika’s comments are right on. It is going to be an experiment, it's going to have to be staggered. It's going to have to be flexible in every way that we know flexibility is, you know, I like to think also bring in the concepts around innovation and how we innovate and that we can't just have linear thinking. I liked in the article where they talked about embracing nonlinear work methods and work days. Right? So also I like to think about career when you're progressing a career, you always thought that you had to go up right in a linear format, but we talk about career ladders and how you can move around in all different directions and still achieve a goal. And so I think that's what's going to be key with working, coming back to work, coming back into the office is how can we navigate a non linear way? So it requires flexibility in all forms. Some days you might work one way, some days, you might work another way. I think what's key is communication from our senior levels and ensuring that people feel comfortable, that they understand and that they know that things can be flexible. When there's no communication or unclear communication, then employees tend to jump to conclusions. And I think that could be part of the issue of why there's a lot of anxiety, including my own of the thought of having to go back to the way things used to be. If we know that our leadership understands things are going to be different and we are going to be more flexible, I think that helps allay a lot of the fears. Another thing I really enjoyed in the article, it talked about curated collisions. And how can we as leaders help our employees find those both physical locations and even
on zoom or through other technology. As Tamika mentioned that we can curate people to come together for specific collaborations that we take on. So I think that's important and also recognizing that we have bursts of activities and so on sometimes, you know, some days, some weeks we may need a lot of in-person interactions and some not. Right. And so we're going to go in some waves and we just have to be ready for that, but it is going to be challenging no matter where we work, big company or small company adjusting. And I think we've got to enter it. with an open mind and a positive attitude and just kind of just show up and let's see how it goes. I think we all are willing to be flexible.

Jeffery Tobias Halter: Yeah. And I want to build on that, you know, I love the non-linear thinking and the flexibility part, I would love to get your opinions as experts in the industry. Right? As you think about, is there a best practice out there that you've seen a company doing? What does that look like? Because what I'm finding is this is such a complex challenge right.? Leaders really don't know what to do from one day to the next. You've got policies around flexibility, but then there's always this manager discretion element to that. I thought the article was interesting. It was kind of contradictory to say, you know, people want flexibility, but they also enjoy a structure of coming together. And so what's a manager to do. And so I just love real quickly, one best practice maybe you've seen from a company in your studies around what they're doing now, Elba, would you like to start.

Elba Pareja-Gallagher: Sure. I think a best practice is for the highest level leaders to meet in small groups with their teams that's happening at UPS. And it's working fantastically where, you know, a senior executive leader is holding, not really focus group meetings, but just a meeting to engage with the frontline and find out how they're feeling about the coming back to work policy and just listening. So listening sessions at the senior level, I think that's a best practice. Very effective. Wonderful.

Jeffery Tobias Halter: Thank you. Tamika

Tamika Curry Smith: Yeah. I would also add a data-driven approach. So I've seen organizations that are. Literally mapping out their workforce and they're seeing where is everyone physically located? How close are they to an official office? Can they leverage, for example, we work or other types of flexible workspaces to provide for collaboration. And they're really taking that data-driven approach to understand where the critical mass of people are and how they can manage that. And I think the listening part is so important, but even more than listening is how do you prepare and equip your managers who are trying to navigate through this? And so I think there really has to be a focus on almost training and level-setting managers around flexible work arrangements, around inclusive leadership and how to think about that because I think the worst thing organizations can do, and I've heard some use this term. Well, we just want to go back to normal. No, there's no going back to how we were before. You have to co-create a new normal based upon management expectations, what employees need and what will help the organization thrive. And I think understanding each of those pieces of the puzzle is important to develop a plan that works for everyone.

Amanda Hammett: Oh, wow. I have so many things that I want to ask you, and this might be like a month-long session now. So, let's as we wrap up this first session, because again, we are going to go into a part two right after this, could we talk a little bit specifically about how you see any additional challenges coming up as we co-create this new normal for women specifically?

Tamika Curry Smith: Yeah. I mean, I can start and I'm sure Elba will have some amazing points to make it, you know, this has been such a, I would say in some ways a blessing and a curse, it is provided, I think flexibility to many people and women as well, but it's also, as we know, from all the data has resulted in more women leaving the workforce than we've seen in decades. And in some cases erasing the gains that we've made from a DEI perspective, specifically around gender. And so I think I go back to that, it's not one size fits all. You really have to understand the needs of your female employees. And so really understanding that having those listening sessions that Elba mentioned earlier, and then taking a look at your benefits offerings. And what additional support can you provide around things like childcare, around backup? Like I said, I'm seeing many organizations now offering things like backup childcare or a stipend that employees can use. They are being less, less adamant about the times that people work. So, and I can attest to this. I have an almost 11 year old son and he starts school, you know, in the fall as many of us do. So I'm already thinking about how do we, how do I take breaks in the day to drop him off and pick him up and in a way that, that now is acceptable and okay. And actually embrace and understood as opposed to frowned upon, because I may be taking a break in the middle of the day.

Amanda Hammett: Absolutely great points, great points. Elba.

Elba Pareja-Gallagher: And I would say let's reflect back when COVID first started. I was just the other day I was thinking, I think it was March 16th when it was like, they told us go home. And that those immediate times women especially were under so much pressure. School was still in. They were trying to figure out, you know, what are we going to do with our children and what we were. Recommended to do is make sure we're talking to our employees, right. Just like Tomika said, right? Keep those communication lines open to understand what are the needs of different employees, but especially women McKinsey and company annually comes out with their women in the workplace study. It's coming in September and they do a lot of great work around the data and also giving us advice on how to work with women. And so I nwould encourage all of us to be on the lookout for that coming out in September and really taking a look at what we can do to support the women and the different ways that they're having to navigate their life. You know, how can we help them work, work into their life instead of the other way around? Also think about on-ramp programs. Another great way to engage women and not lose all the gains that we've had through the years in terms of advancing into leadership roles is to recognize that if women do need to take some time away for whatever reason do we provide a way for them to come back? So an on-ramp program enables you to stay in touch with women who may be, need to go to a part-time role or even take some type of leave of absence, but then engaging them in such a way that they will be able to come back and more easily flow into the traffic of the workplace. So think about an on-ramp approach. Wonderful.

Jeffery Tobias Halter: Gosh such amazing ideas. I mean, and our time is always so short. And so we kind of got to put a bow in this and, and wrap it up. But, you know, what you're starting to talk about is really going to be the key focus of part two of this, which is this notion of intersectionality where, you know what, no two women's experience is the same through COVID. We talked about mothers, we've talked about, you know, more mature women or, or women with no children or men. Specifically, we're going to talk about that intersectionality and the article about women of color. And the significant challenges beyond what we've already talked about, that women of color are facing. So on behalf of Amanda and Tamika and Elba, I want to thank you for joining us. Join us for mod two, and catch up with this real soon, on Win(e)d Down Wednesdays So thanks for joining us.




Disclaimer: This transcript was created using YouTube’s translator tool and that may mean that some of the words, grammar, and typos come from a misinterpretation of the video.