Nationwide and Workday began this year as great workplaces for diversity.
But when the murder of George Floyd forced the United States to reckon more deeply with racial injustice, the two companies and their leaders realized they had to do more on the issue of equity.
According to Workday co-founder and co-CEO, Aneel Bhusri, the first thing the business software company did in the wake of Floyd’s murder was to engage employees.
“We did a series of town halls for all of our employees where we addressed what we thought was right and what we needed to do as a company,” he said.
“And then, I personally, and the rest of the management team, began to sit down with our employee belonging councils, especially our Black council, the Talented Tenth (an Employee Resource Group (ERG) that highlights the accomplishments of Black people in technology) and the Latinx council.”
Those initial conversations revealed a blind spot in the company’s culture. “Black employees didn’t feel like they had the same mentoring opportunities that maybe their peers did,” Aneel recalled.
Kirt Walker, CEO of insurance and financial services giant Nationwide, joined Aneel to discuss their responses to the racial reckoning during the September 25 edition of “Better Together,” Great Place to Work®’s conversation series with exceptional, purpose-driven leaders.
The two leaders, along with Great Place to Work® CEO Michael Bush, talked about how Workday and Nationwide have responded to the challenges of 2020 by caring for employees, customers and communities, and by offering hope for a brighter future.
Diversity, inclusion and recession resilience
Michael, Aneel and Kirt also discussed Great Place to Work’s research on how organizations can thrive across the current recession. Michael noted that data from the Great Recession of 2007–2009 shows that companies with consistently inclusive, high-trust cultures outperformed peers.
In particular, organizations, where historically marginalized groups such as women, people of color and male hourly workers had a positive experience, showed roughly four times the stock market’s performance overall before, during and after the Great Recession.
Workday and Nationwide have stood out for providing a great experience for virtually all their employees, no matter who they are or what they do for the organization. For four years in a row, both companies have earned spots on the Best Workplaces for Diversity™ list that Great Place to Work publishes with Fortune.
This ranking accounts for the day-to-day experience that historically marginalized employees have at work and the representation of women and people of color in leadership positions.
Making work great for women
At Nationwide, 25% of Kirt’s senior leadership team is made up of minority and women executives. These include Gale King, Nationwide’s EVP and chief administrative officer, a recognized thought leader on people management matters. Gale has spoken at a number of Great Place to Work company culture conferences.
Workday also has several women in senior leadership positions. To Aneel, female representation at the top comes from the company’s founding spirit of diversity and inclusion, and from strong women candidates who proved to be best for their roles.
Aneel also noted that gender diversity at senior levels at Workday makes it easier to attract other women job-seekers. “One of the reasons why Workday is a great place to work for females is because females outside of Workday say, ‘Hey, I can go there and I can get the top job,’” Aneel said. “There's not a glass ceiling at Workday.”
Despite their efforts in diversity and inclusion, both Aneel and Kirt acknowledged they still have work to do. Workday doesn’t have enough Black and Latinx folks in senior roles, Aneel said. Kirt noted that he and all Nationwide leaders have diversity and inclusion objectives, and the topic is discussed with the board of directors each month.
It’s not just a matter of equity, Kirt noted, it’s also about good business. “If we don't look and feel like the communities we represent, how can we understand what their needs are?” he said. “I think that's the bottom line.”
Tackling racial justice through listening sessions and ERGs
Kirt and Aneel said the murder of George Floyd prompted responses that have been both personal and companywide.
Nationwide, for example, began a series of virtual community conversations about how associates were experiencing the racial reckoning underway.
“Two things really came up,” Kirt said. “One of them was the fact that people said, ‘I don't know how to have a conversation. I don't want to be seen as a bigot or unread.’”
The other theme, Kirt said, was that employees wanted to know how they could personally contribute to solutions. To help address these questions, Nationwide turned to its associate resource groups (or ERGs), which include several Black associate groups.
The resource groups worked with Nationwide’s chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer to help create “Catalyst for Change” sessions, where civic leaders from across the country spoke to employees about a broad range of issues.
In addition, a social justice task force took shape at Nationwide. “It wasn’t just managers, it wasn’t just leaders,” Kirt said. “It was associates that came together. And we said, ‘You need to share with us what you think that we could do differently as a company and what we can do differently as a country.’”
One of the things Nationwide has done differently is deepen its commitment to social equity. It announced a $1 million donation to a set of organizations including the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund and The Bail Project.
Workday steps up on racial justice
It’s a similar story at Workday.
In addition to focusing on equity in career progress, Aneel and his team took other measures. The company is giving $10 million to social justice organizations. Workday also formed an accelerator team of 20 people who are spending a year focused on how Workday can improve its diversity and inclusion.
What’s more, Workday decided to offer its internal tool for measuring inclusion to its customers. The VIBE Index assesses value, inclusion, belonging and equity. As a result, customers will have access to a tool for improving inclusion.
“You can't get better unless you measure it first,” Aneel said. “And so, we're bringing out these reports and analytics for companies to measure and improve the outcomes for people of color.”
Determination and hope
Amid a continuing pandemic, economic downturn, continued racial strife, and questions about the stability of democracy in America, these are challenging days. But Michael, Aneel and Kirt offered a determined, hopeful vision.
Michael revealed a measure of pain as racism persists in the public realm. But he also pledged to pursue a better future.
“I live in a country where, as soon as I turn my phone on [and read the news], I don't feel like I belong here. It's every day that I read something and it's like, ‘Wow. Okay.’ But here’s the thing, I stick to the facts. I know I belong here.
“And so, because I belong here, I have actions. There are things I need to do. And nobody can affect whether I'm going to do those or not. I’m going to simply do them. One of them is vote. That’s what I am going to do. And get everybody to vote.”
Aneel shared that he sees a more just society on the horizon.
“I believe in the good of people. And I think in four or five years, we're going be a better country, a better society. And I actually have hope on this topic of racism,” he said. “The U.S. can go from having a really bad history to being a leader on how to address it.
“I believe in the goodness of people. And I think that will shine through over the next four or five years.”
“The time’s right to do what’s right, right now. And we’ve got to act with urgency,” he said. “We can make this happen. And it’s going to be far less than 100 years before we see real change if we all agree and work together on this.”
Watch the full conversation with Workday’s Aneel and Nationwide’s Kirt here.
As Aneel suggested, you can’t improve your workplace culture without measuring it. Learn more about how to measure the experience of different employee groups with our culture management tool.
Learn how to evolve your culture to keep up with our ever-changing world at our next CEO conversation, Better Together.