How Synchrony is Using Data to Increase Workplace Diversity

 Synchrony uses data to improve diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging.

Numbers can reveal opportunities to ensure every employee has the opportunity to succeed

Business leaders have been touting their commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion & belonging for years — but what’s really changed?

After the murder of George Floyd in May of 2020, many business leaders made promises to make meaningful change for underrepresented communities. But action has been slow. That promised future of a workplace with equity and opportunity for every employee is still out of reach.

Beyond words, what makes a difference in the employee experience for workers from diverse backgrounds?

For financial services firm Synchrony, No. 25 on the Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For® List, the answers lie in the data. “Perception is not necessarily reality; it really does take looking at the data,” says Michael Matthews, chief diversity, inclusion, and corporate responsibility officer.

To do that effectively, Synchrony created the Advancing Diverse Talent (ADT) initiative.

“Through a couple of iterations, what we designed was an initiative where we stop everything once a year, pull the data and look at various areas of the company — our representation, our staffing, etc. — and determine how we're doing from a representation perspective,” says Matthews.

By doing that regularly, Synchrony can track progress. Data that is collected in each review period offers a snapshot of the company for that point in time. Comparing cycles reveals trends and patterns.

“It’s really an all-encompassing look,” says Matthews. “We look at how we hire, what we hire for, who we hire, how we develop, how we retain — across the board when it comes to talent.”

The ADT initiative ensures representation and inclusion are treated like any other measurable goal.

“We drive progress as we would any other business priority,” says Claudine Hoverson, SVP and chief talent officer. “We use data to assess where we’re at and where we want to go.”

ADT is a big part of what Synchrony will share with attendees at the Great Place To Work® For All™ Summit in Orlando, Florida, Oct. 11-13. Matthews and Hoverson will join Synchrony EVP and CHRO DJ Casto to discuss what drives DEIB success and offer lessons learned from their progress so far.

The numbers that matter

Most organizations are inundated in employee data — so what are the numbers that have meaning for DEIB?

“Of course, you start out with general representation across the board,” Matthews says.

“At the end of 2021, we were about 46% non-white and almost 60% female because ADT is global,” Matthews reports. Yet, different numbers are needed to understand how the organizations is changing over time.

During the first two years of Synchrony’s ADT initiative (from January 2020 through January 2022), 40% of promotions for the VP level and above have gone to people who are ethnically diverse. Forty-five percent of VP and above role advancements have gone to women.

Matthews stresses that any DEIB data set must be viewed holistically.

“It’s really a journey,” he says. The numbers that matter to your organization today are not necessarily the numbers that will help drive change further down the road.

And numbers require context. Synchrony benchmarks its representation numbers with census and population data in the markets it operates in. “We can’t just base how we’re doing based on what we think,” Matthews says.

Other numbers matter when trying to understand how a process — such as hiring — is or isn’t working to improve diversity.

“We spent a lot of time looking at our recruiting data and our conversion rates,” says Hoverson. The conversion rate represents how likely a candidate is to advance through each stage of the hiring process.

Questions asked include:

  • How many applicants are coming into the funnel?
  • How many applicants are we moving forward to the interview process?
  • How many are actually getting an interview with the hiring manager?
  • How many finally get hired?

Whether or not a diverse candidate is chosen depends on how many candidates were considered and the diversity of the panel interviewing those candidates.

For companies that feel good about their DEIB efforts, Matthews and Hoverson recommend taking a look at the last several years of numbers. For Synchrony, a three-year overview revealed that numbers the team had been proud of were actually stagnant.

“Change takes time,” says Hoverson. “We need to continue to challenge ourselves to change organizational mindsets to instill the behaviors that really promote our culture. If you don’t look at it over time, you don’t get the true story.”

Numbers help leaders

Arming yourself with data leads to productive conversations with executives.

“It’s very easy for us as diversity professionals to go to a leader and say, ‘You need to do better with diversity,’” says Matthews. “They might even say, ‘I agree — but what am I supposed to do with that?’”

By offering numbers, Matthews and Hoverson can tap into executives’ curiosity.

“When we start talking about data, it’s powerful watching the leaders, their minds clicking,” says Matthews.

Leaders start asking questions about where people fell out of the interview process, or why a seemingly diverse slate of candidates didn’t necessarily lead to more diverse hiring.

“We found that they became empowered,” says Matthews of the leaders who engaged deeply with the data.

Numbers by themselves aren’t enough to change an organization. It takes commitment from every person across the whole organization to make real progress on DEIB.

“The CEO said [the ADT program] was a priority and, the entire executive leadership team rallied around it,” says Hoverson.

When Synchrony rolled out its promise to increase diverse representation across the business, every executive leader that reports directly to the CEO signed the commitment, dedicating their time and resources.

The board of directors is also actively involved, asking tough questions and holding roundtables with executive leaders and with diverse talent from within the organization.

“Having leadership at that level, and throughout the organization, embrace and commit really does make a difference,” says Matthews.

Join us

Michael Matthews and Claudine Hoverson will be sharing more about their work to improve DEIB at the For All™ Summit on Oct. 11-13 in Orlando, Florida. Get your tickets to learn from leaders at the best workplaces in the world.

Ted Kitterman