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Q&A: Leaders Share Insights on DEI, Mental Health, and the Future of the Workplace

on May 18, 2021
Resources All Employee Engagement

Recently, Jim Haudan, Root Inc. co-founder and chairman, met with six other C-suite leaders to discuss what they learned in 2020 about diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), and mental health, and how their insights will impact their leadership philosophies moving forward. Here are some of the leaders’ answers to Jim’s questions.

Jim Haudan: What are you doing to put a focus on DEI efforts now and moving forward?

Enabling employees to educate each other. We’ve emphasized employee-led groups (ERGs) across all ethnicities and races – including Black, Hispanic, Asian, and others – and have been working with these groups to educate our broader business on specific community challenges.

Listening sessions help enlighten people. As a relatively diverse company, we established diversity programs before 2020 but are expanding our initiatives. Last year, we started “listening sessions” where employees are allowed to discuss hot topics that aren’t part of typical work meetings. These sessions have led to several powerful, enlightening discussions. We’ve been able to learn more about what’s happening within the business and have even taken immediate action to rectify a situation that we felt was unacceptable.

Making financial investments. As a result of recent racial and social issues, we have committed $1 million to new initiatives and believe these funds will help create opportunity for education and change.

Intentionally uniting various groups. With our multicultural ERG, we’ve chosen not to have individual silos. Our Black folks said, “We’re not going to have an African American ERG?” Instead, different cultures are working to discover each other’s issues and then partnering to come up with solutions. We want everyone to feel connected and united on both the issue and the resolution.

Jim Haudan: How are you managing mental health?

By having leader-led discussions. We have monthly global campaigns and “courageous conversations” led by our vice presidents. These conversations give people a medium to discuss what they’re experiencing and to voice their views. This is also an opportunity for our leaders to “take a pulse” on employees’ worlds and mindsets. One of the campaigns was about employee burnout, and this is a topic we would probably not have addressed without this forum.

By providing peer-to-peer support. I know more about the people who work for me than ever, simply because I’m able to see inside their homes during each Zoom meeting. I know who has kids or pets, who is working from a formal home office, and who is working from the kitchen table. I also discovered that many businesses are putting an emphasis on the strain that working parents are feeling, which made me think about the people living alone or those who don’t have children. This group also needs and deserves their own support. As a result, we’ve encouraged people with similar circumstances to create their own “quilting circles” to stay connected.

By helping parents get support. In regard to parenting, people are at their wits end, so our organization is doing a lot with the parents’ ERG forums – creating opportunities for people to share their experiences.

By connecting leaders to employees. We have established reverse-mentorship programs to help create more connection and belonging among senior leaders and younger employees. In a virtual setting, it becomes easier, in some ways, to connect upper-level leaders with junior team members because we can connect people regardless of their physical location.

Jim Haudan: What do you think the workplace of the future will look like?

We want to create safe in-person spaces. We think creativity and innovation are elevated when people are together, and we want people to have the opportunity to work in person – safely. We think a hybrid environment will be really beneficial and are creating a strategy to reflect this point of view.

We want to offer more flexibility. We wanted to get a sense of what our people wanted, so we gave them a few options as to how they would ideally like to work in the future: fully remote, fully in office, or a rotating hybrid of the two. The results came back with 15% wanting fully remote, 15% preferring fully in office, and 70% favoring the hybrid option. I find it difficult to do some of my work remotely and think working in the office can be more effective at times. I hope people have flexibility to do what works best for them.

We want to maximize the opportunities created by remote work. While there will always be benefits to working together in person, I think working remotely can lead to more engagement than ever because we have great technology that actually works. In a virtual environment, a leader can connect with anyone regardless of geographic location, and we’ve seen this connection drive amazing engagement, which then drives the work.

We need to increase the attention paid to culture. The pandemic raised our awareness to consider our people more. A scenario or plan that works for one country might not work for another because the conditions are different; the societal nuances are different. For example, a plan for our American workplaces might not work for our Jordanian offices. We will be consciously considering each unique culture more moving forward.

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