Why Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) is good for your bottom line


Session details

There’s a proven link between good business results and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion initiatives. So how do we bring more diversity and amplify more voices in an industry that historically looks quite uniform? 

It’s not just the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do.

Transcript

Maya

Good morning, or depending on where you're joining us in the world, good afternoon or good evening. I am Maya Bordeaux, and welcome to Elevate’s diversity, equity, and inclusion session. I am ATPCO's chief people and culture officer and I am delighted to welcome Keyra Lynn Johnson, the vice president and chief diversity, equity, and inclusion officer for Delta Air Lines. Good morning, Keyra.

Keyra

Good morning. What a delight to be here.

Maya

Oh, well, I am delighted too. We are so honored to have you and we are excited to learn more and hear your wisdom and hopefully be able to share some tangible takeaways for our audience today.

Delta is best in class when it comes to diversity, equity, inclusion, and we want to make sure that people understand why diversity, equity, and inclusion matters and how it impacts the bottom line.

And so before we jump right into our discussion about this important topic, I think it's important for us to set some context. So I want to share some statistics around diversity, equity, and inclusion and why this is important. Studies conducted over years by several consulting and research bodies such as McKinsey and Qualtrics indicate that ethnically diverse companies are 35 percent more likely to have positive financial returns. 67 percent of job seekers consider a diverse workplace an important factor when they're deciding whether to accept a position, and that is data from Glassdoor. The McKinsey report, a study that was done in 2015 and they've done some follow-up studies as well. In the 2015 study, 366 companies were surveyed and the top quartile for gender diversity were 15 more likely to have financial returns above the national median average. Companies with more diverse leadership teams report 20 percent higher innovation revenue, 20 percent higher innovation revenue, than companies reporting below average diversity scores. They are 70 percent more likely to capture a new audience and 45 percent more likely to report increased market share.

And then finally a statistic that is incredibly important to know, 83 percent of millennials say that they feel more actively engaged when they believe that they work in an inclusive work environment, and to get 83 percent of millennials to agree on anything, that is important for us to take that away, that they will feel more actively engaged when they believe that they are working in an inclusive work environment.

So, Keyra, I know that you're aware of all of these studies, these stats and you have been working in this space for quite some time. So it would be great for you to share with our audience just your background, your professional journey, and when did you begin work in this space at Delta?

Keyra

Great. Well, first let me start with, thank you for having me. You certainly are a well-respected thought leader in the space too, so hopefully we'll consider it a conversation, because I think even when we talk about sharing wisdom in this area, the reality is I’ve learned that there are more practices even than best practices, so we are all learning and growing on this topic together.

I came to Delta, I view not only the best airline but honestly just a great brand. And the great brand wasn't the brand that we see in the way of the logo or what we do, but the brand at Delta is very much its people. And so I joined this company more than 25 years ago and I’m very transparent about my journey because I came here because I needed a job. Notice I didn't say I wanted a job but I needed a job, and little did I know it would actually turn into a very rewarding career. So when I came to Delta, I came starting my journey certainly on the front line as I was working my way through paying for college, literally one semester at a time, and I realized that it was an organization where the opportunities were somewhat limitless. But as a frontline employee, I realized I actually didn't know how to navigate in that environment. So as I look back, I realized that many things along that, my career journey were intended for me to experience, because now I sit in the seat with perspective that I wouldn't trade for the world.

But I came here actually to have a job, it turned into a career and I thought that career would be in corporate communications or public relations. That's what I studied, that's where my background seemed to naturally lean into. I loved to write, I was a natural storyteller with words on paper, and I love to be behind the curtain, meaning I love to write for other people. So I thought that's where my career would actually take off and probably even would cap out. So I spent the vast majority of that time after working in several areas of the company to get to corporate communications. 15 of those more than 25 years were spent with an amazing corporate communications team here at Delta Air Lines.

And in the midst of our CEO transition, there was an opportunity, as with every CEO transition, there are changes and new priorities on the company, but what I could respect most was there seemed to be an increased priority about not just how we performed as an airline but how we showed up. How our brand showed up, who were inside and outside. And so it was under the direction of Ed, our CEO, taking the reins at Delta that this position was something that the organization began to talk to me about. I’m really honest to say initially I thought looking at any job descriptions that seem similar, it wasn't something that I immediately gravitated to, if I’m honest. But what I realized is, it was the way I worked anyway. And so I felt like I put a DE&I, and at the time weren't even talking about equity if we're honest, so I put a diversity and inclusion lens on a lot of my work, but had never thought about actually doing something that directly impacted that work.

So the short story is, it was sort of two and a half, I don't know, maybe not, before I got to a yes. But what got me to a yes was realizing that the perspective in every step of my career journey, even the hard roads, even the unknown roads, even the challenges, even the lack of representation, even the desire to be championed and sponsored, everything on my career journey perhaps had prepared me for a role just like this. A role where you have to lead with empathy and you have to lead with understanding, but you also have to lead with a high degree of business acumen.

Maya

Yes.

Keyra

So about five years ago I finally said yes and moved into this role, and now honestly I have the privilege to do such purpose-filled work leading our more than 75 000 employees in a comprehensive diversity, equity, and inclusion strategy. And our goal is really to transform our organization from the inside out. But that out part is really important too, because really what we want to do is actually do something that makes us even bigger than the way people define us as an airline. I really think this type of work gives all of us and our respective companies an opportunity to really make a meaningful contribution to society. So that's my journey. And so I found a unique space where it's a job but many people will hear me refer to it as an assignment, because I really think this is the work that is assigned to me professionally, and it happens to be assigned to me personally.

Maya.

Yeah. No, I love that. I love that you said every experience that you've had prior to this role was preparing you for this role, and I absolutely see that when you talk about your background in corporate communications, in public relations, in being the ghost writer and the storyteller. Those are incredibly important skill sets to have as a chief diversity officer because you are telling the story of the people of the organization and being able to do that both internally and externally. So that's fantastic that you had a career progression that led you to this place. I don't know Ed Bastian, I haven't met him, but I have followed him on LinkedIn for years and I’m like a groupie because your CEO really demonstrates a commitment to people and leads the organization with the mindset of putting people first. And I see his posts where he posts about individual employees and tells their story and that he reached out to them and how he supported people through different hardships. So I think that's fantastic that you are leading in an organization where at the helm your CEO is equally as committed to the people.

Keyra

Absolutely.

Maya

Diversity. There are so many experiences that you have along this journey and so many companies are at different points in this journey. Delta has been on this journey for quite some time and is considered to be best in class, and so I would love for you to share what have you found to be most rewarding in the work that you have led specifically in the DEI space. What have you found to be most rewarding and then we'll talk about what did you find to be most challenging?

Keyra

Absolutely. So it's always humbling and maybe even a bit risky to hear words like best in class, but I think if we can help someone else along the journey we'd love to. But I think it's also important—

Maya

Don’t worry.

Keyra

The best in class in this space for diversity, equity, inclusion, I mean to me that's like best in class and we're all playing at like a B, so best in class I think also keeps us humble because we know that there's so much work to be done.

Maya

Absolutely.

Keyra

So I would think some of the things that we're doing really well here, I think and you said it earlier, the culture is very much a people-first culture. And I think when you think about getting back to the root of why we even talk about diversity, equity, and inclusion, it really gets back to the root of the thing that we all do share in common, and that's this link as just part of humanity. And so I’m fortunate to be able to do this work inside an organization where people already matter. But even with this work we had to help people understand that people mattering is not enough. People have to feel valued. People have to feel like they belong. People have to have a sense of inclusion. I mean people have to see themselves. That's why representation is important.

So our diversity, equity, and inclusion strategy is really founded around those principles. How do we actively seek diversity? How do we boldly pursue equity, and how do we consciously promote inclusion? And so when you think about how we anchor things, the reality is this work is large, and there's a lot that we can do. But we believe that those are the three levers. And the reality is, it's the D, the diversity, it's the E, the equity, and it's the inclusion, the I. I always joke in this profession to say if I were to order those words I’d probably order them D-I-E but no one wants to be in an organization with that acronym. But I say that because at the end of the day, I’ve always believed, even before we called it forward in our strategy, that equity is the end game. So when you say what are you most proud of in an organization like this, and really not just in our organization, what am I most proud of about this work, and when I think of how society has evolved, I’m really proud to see that equity is now taking center stage. And I honestly think that's going to be the true game changer in this work, doing something that it struggled to do at the pace possible over the many years. And I think through that lens of equity, I think the thing we're most proud of at Delta is we have actually normalized conversations that were never happening in the workforce. And if you think about it, especially, I’d almost give away my age so you guys can probably all do the math, if I’ve been here for more than 25 years.

Maya

Yeah, you started when you were five.

Keyra

That's what it was.

Maya

Child prodigy.

Keyra

I see that retiree eligible notification that comes up in my benefits every year, I know I didn't start when I was five.

But the reality is when you think about normalizing conversations, these are the same conversations that most of us when we joined the workforce were told, you don't talk about that. You don't talk about those topics, you don't talk about anything that could be remotely polarizing. And the reality is we realize in a society like today, it's not about not talking about those. It's about actually being able to talk about issues where we actually may see the issues very differently and being able to coexist in a very constructive way. I know a lot of people use the term “agree to disagree.” I’ve even said in my personal life I don't often say that often. I’ll say, “well, I can agree we see it differently,” because I think even the word “disagree” comes with some level of animosity to it, and sometimes we do disagree, but often what we realize is that we just we actually just see things differently.

And so what I’m most proud of is, we have actually created a culture. And yes, this started in 2020 at an amplified and accelerated pace, but really at Delta we’re doing these “let's talk about it” series even before what people would call the game-changing year of 2020 in the DE&I space. And we’re really bringing issues to the forefront. If our industry is struggling with something through a diversity lens, let's talk about it. And when we talked about it, we had to actually get leaders comfortable. We're not talking about it in the typical Q and A fashion, meaning everything doesn't have an A. Some things just require that we have perspective, we listen to other points of view, and that we grow from that conversation.

So I’m really just most proud of the fact that we have created a culture where understanding and the room and permission to learn and grow around areas of equity, gender, race, communities that you're not a part of, we've normalized that conversation to say, when you come to Delta Air Lines that's not checked baggage. You don't get to check that some way and come to work. That's carry-on baggage. Yeah, you bring it with you. And so recognizing that our employees can't check that out the door, we give them a place to recognize that there's room for that here. Yes, are there times when it's going to feel like we need you to put it in the overhead bin or we need you to put in the seat in front of you? Yes. But we realize that you still bring it with you, so it's important that we give you opportunities to acknowledge that. So that's honestly what I’m most proud of.

I’m a big proponent, even with my family, which is such a core part of who I am, of dinner table conversations. And so we're still that family, that at least once or twice a week, we actually try to do that. And I say once or twice a week because seven days is just not realistic for our family right now. At least once or twice a week, intentional conversations around the dinner table.

And I think at Delta we've also tried to make sure that whether it's in formal sessions or informal sessions, intentional conversations about what's going on in society, how that's impacting us at work through a DE&I lens, we've normalized that to be like any other business conversation.

Maya

And so thank you for sharing that. I’m sure this normalization has been an evolution, right? That it's been a journey to get there. And so when you think about and reflect about the journey to get to this current state, what do you think has been most challenging? What was the most difficult barrier to overcome or the most difficult initiative to get adopted? Just want to get a sense of, I’m sure Delta has issues too, and so if you could share with our audience what do you think was the most challenging part of this journey thus far?

Keyra

Yeah, so I think after giving you that last answer I’ve got to give you the other side of that same point. Perhaps the greatest challenge has been normalizing those conversations. So notice I said the company has set an expectation that those conversations are to be normalized. The greatest challenge is that doesn't mean everyone feels that way.

Maya

That's right.

Keyra

And it doesn't mean that everyone's comfortable having those conversations, and it doesn't mean that everyone actually will do it, and that even all leaders can lead through it. So I think the greatest challenge when you think of an organization like ours that brings together juniority and seniority, it brings together people across the globe, the greatest challenge has actually been getting people comfortable that this is an environment where you can share what's in your carry-on baggage without concern that it's going to impact the business. In certain organizations or certain areas or divisions within our company, candidly, that's easier. And I think it's not by coincidence, even as you shared in the McKinsey study, that those areas of the company where it is a bit easier tend to be among the most diverse.

Maya

Yes.

Keyra

I think in this company in those areas where the diversity is perhaps not as obvious or perhaps the data would suggest that the diversity has the most opportunity, I think getting people to understand why we have a strategy that is specifically focused on the most underrepresented communities. That can be a challenge. And the challenge is not the company announcing the strategy. And the challenge is not the company explaining the “why,” the challenge is getting everyone's buy-in, that this “why” isn't to take away from anyone else as we advance other groups. So that certainly is the challenge here.

We've announced a lot of commitments and we've been very vocal about a lot of commitments, and I’d love to say that in announcing those commitments we're running through headquarters and we're running through our break rooms with the flag and everyone is cheering as we're running by. I think we still have to have some people saying, why do we have that flag up? Why are we doing that, why are we focused on that? And that's probably one of our greatest challenges in this space because it actually, it takes a lot of people to move and have momentum, and we've really got to continue to get more people on board.

Maya

So that really resonates with me Keyra. I am, I have been leading in HR for almost 25 years now. I started when I was five…and also as a diversity consultant and as a practitioner, I’m thinking about what companies have said are their greatest challenges over the years, and it is getting everybody on the bus, a term that I always use, or getting everyone to understand the business case, embrace the business case and understand why this matters and how it impacts the bottom line. And so I think companies have shifted away from, in my history, and I’m sure you've experienced this as well. Once upon a time, people said this is the right thing to do and made it seem very touchy-feely and like it was feel-good work. But I think companies have finally embraced the fact that this has to be a business imperative because it absolutely impacts revenue, turnover, retention, and all the different measures that companies use to measure their performance. How does Delta measure your success or lack of success in this space? Can you explain what metrics you all look at? What do you use to measure? Are you on the right path forward?

Keyra

Yeah, no, that's a great question. And so I would say even bridging back a little bit to that challenge question. Often you may have the support of the top, and in most organizations you're going to naturally have that groundswell from your entry level or frontline employees. Often it's in the middle, it's called the murky middle—

Maya

I call it the group of the ambivalent.

Keyra

—where you've got to get that hard DE&I layer penetrated in it to work. And with that in mind, we did find that, I think the business case becomes an even more important “why” to that audience that is already so busy. They're leading, they're driving, they're the player coach. The business case is important, but also giving people clear and crisp guidance on what better looks like.

So when you talk about measuring success, particularly for those in the middle, it's not enough just to say we want to be better. So we've got to articulate to folks what does better look like. When we say we want to create a greater sense of belonging, what does that look like and how do you behave to do that? And I think one of the most specific areas of measurement, and people often ask us about that, is even around the terms of representation.

And I go back and forth because it's not just about just measuring diversity, but representation is important in and of itself. And so one of the things that people see us talking about now, and it's through that lens of equity and we'll come back to that in a minute because I think it's mapped to the business case argument, is really we're looking at our large population. And yes sometimes we you can look at census data as well, but I think depending on your workforce, if people are looking for a place to start and you're looking at your own organization, what we find in organizations is often we recreate some of society's challenges. And so that simply means that you have your greatest amount of representation at your entry level or your frontline level roles.

And then the story we all know, as you move up the organization you begin to see less representation. So we've gotten really specific with our organization in terms of what does better look like, and we're starting on a quarterly basis to specifically measure those representation gaps at every level of the company. So we're looking at the front line representation gap. If we're 40 percent women on the front line and at entry level positions, we should begin to look that way at every level of the organization. So that's one way, I mean one of many ways, obviously we have engagement scores where we talk about inclusion and sense of belonging, but I think it's important that you're looking at opportunities to measure not just percentages of where you are, but where your gaps are.

And for me that's the equity story. That's not the feel-good story but in some cases it's actually not the business case story. And I believe in the business case story, you read them all Deloitte, McKinsey, I mean all of them are great. They prove the business case for diversity, equity, and inclusion, so I’m like check, everybody got it. And then I also challenge people to say, find a business case on homogeneity. You will not find it. It will not be the same. So I believe in the business case of diversity, so I’m not debating that, but I would say a conversation within organizations about equity to me takes it a step further than even just the business case. Because the challenge is, yes, we're looking for business solutions, but I believe you can't solve things you don't understand. So you've really got to get to the root of the issue, and even in this work, yes, I’m reading the business cases on diversity, equity, and inclusion, but recently I’ve just started studying systemic issues. So just, systemic, it doesn't have to be diseases, things that are systemic because I really think the game changer in this work is going to be figuring out how to solve systemic problems. And if we don't get to the root of this, the business case is just business language to really dress up a systemic issue. So when we talk about measuring gaps, that's what we're doing, is because we're saying we have an opportunity to close things, to close issues that are also replicated in our ills of society.

So you guys got that longer, deeper version, but when we talk to our leaders about it, we just really say, when we look at this, this is not a picture of equity and that's not okay. And until we advance that, we won't be able to achieve the business case on DE&I.

So just one way that we're measuring success along with pulse checks and surveys and employee input, and it's a cycle of feedback, but I think it's really important to look within an organization. Be prescriptive, figure out where your gaps are and figure out how to close them.

Maya

Yeah, no, that's great. When you were explaining how you all have measured success, I was thinking about equity. That it is a business case that has been presented and on a platform more recently, would you agree?

Keyra

Yes

Maya

And I think it's important for us to define or distinguish what equity is, and that business case as to why this became a part of the body of work in diversity and inclusion. I’m guessing most of us who have been in the workforce have always heard diversity and inclusion. And then I’ve gotten a lot of questions from companies and leaders and my family in probably the last two or three years about, why equity? When did equity come into the equation? And so I think it's important for us to distinguish for our audience here that equity at the core is about fairness, which is different than equality. And people use those terms interchangeably and that's not correct. And so we are not trying to create a workplace or a work environment where everything is equal, because obviously that is not appropriate based on diversity, right?

Keyra

Right.

Maya

Everyone needs different things, but equity is about fairness. How do you create fair access to opportunity and remove barriers for people who don't necessarily have fair access or a fair chance now?

And so—

Keyra

That key word I love that you said, is those two keywords: access and barriers.

Maya

Yes.

Keyra

And that becomes the key differentiator between equity and equality. Because if the door is open, yes, that's equal for everyone there's an open door, but if we don't take the time to examine everyone's pathway or ability to even get to that open door, we're actually doing the equality work because we've opened the door, but we're really not doing the equity work because we haven't talked about the access to that door or the barriers that could be in the way.

Maya

So that's right. That's fantastic and a perfect segue to my next question around access, around equity. We can acknowledge that our industry historically has not been very inclusive or racially diverse or gender diverse. So what tips, what guidance would you give leaders and our folks that are joining us today? What tips would you provide as to how do you build a more diverse talent pipeline across all levels in the organization? Because as you and I know, racial diversity typically exists at the bottom layers of U.S.-based companies, literally across the entire country, and that is a common pattern. How do we change that? How do we make this more fair and for people to have more access to positions above the lower-compensated positions, or the positions that are in the lower levels of an organizational hierarchy?

Keyra

Yeah, so I think it's a lot of what we’re sharing, and this requires that people are going to have to really do some of their own homework. So I challenge everyone to do your equity homework because I think it's going to help you see the world differently. I think in terms of when you think about organizations and industries like ours that tend to be underrepresented in key areas, understanding equity is going to help you realize that it's the wors you used, Maya, it's, we're going to have to build. And if you think about even just the analogy of building, you don't start building by throwing the roof on the house.

Maya

Right.

Keyra

And so often here we will use that analogy about fishing versus farming. For a while people have looked at diversity broadly in this sort of fishing exercise, and I too have said we've got to fish in different places. That's why we have to actively seek talent. But when you're dealing with some of the systemic issues in industries like ours, first you have to understand them and why they even exist, but then you have to really make it more of a farming exercise. So I think this is really not about finding the talent. In many cases we are discovering that we have to do more, and we've done some, but we have to do more to actually grow the talent we need. We can't just hope that the pipeline produces. And everyone's talking about focus on your pipeline, well the pipeline isn't just going to get more diverse. You actually have to change how the pipeline has even formed. So I think it's really important that people begin to focus on that pipeline strategy so that the work in our industry becomes normalized, it becomes a dinner table conversation. If you think about the generations coming up, I think more of them, even if there would be financial barriers, more of them could tell you what you need to do to be a doctor or a lawyer or the things that when we were growing up felt like the positions of prominence or the positions of family-sustaining wages. A lot of times you're realizing that the work in the space isn't the dinner table conversation.

So we are actually encouraging and partnering with a lot of great organizations that are out there to figure out how do we bring, or how do we introduce more young people to the potential of careers in the airline industry? And you have to do that also through that lens of equity because you can't just introduce them. And then you've got to uniquely understand the barriers that would be in place that would get in the way. Sometimes the barrier is simply knowledge, sometimes it's understanding, sometimes it's finances, sometimes it's access to information. So whatever that is, really get in there and actually sort of help remove those barriers and really create new access to the pipeline. So that's coming into the pipeline.

The other thing we challenge is for everyone to reimagine their existing talent strategies right within your own organization. We have said, does that make sense? Is that qualification needed for that job? What could we be thinking is, is that interview process really taking out as much bias as possible? So really reimagining your talent strategies internally to make sure that if you've got that rich diversity in your organization, that you're doing everything possible to remove those barriers so that that talent can move throughout the organization.

And sharing my personal journey with you, Maya, that's why I’m so passionate about that. Because the reality, if someone looks at my resume, they're going to say you didn't get out of college in four years. Well, guess what, I couldn't afford to get out of college in four years. When you have to pay by the drink you get out of college when you can. And I would look in some cases, people would look at a resume and that might look discounted, wait a minute, there's some gaps here, what was happening in this career here? And so realizing that, well what are we discounting because our own personal bias is not taking into account maybe not a abilities issue but a financial issue to graduate at the pace that society has said is a four-year degree? Well, it wasn't a four-year degree for me, and guess what, I’m okay with that.

Maya

Yeah, no, I love what you said about reimagining your talent strategies because so often companies and leaders focus on building the pipeline and how do I diversify this pipeline? And after 2020, I’m telling you, everybody comes to me and says, should we go to HBCUs? As if that's the only strategy for how you diversify your pipeline. But focusing on your internal talent and how best to support, promote, advance, develop your diverse talent that you already have is key, a key strategy to retaining diverse talent as well as recruiting outside diverse talent. I think leveraging your employees is the best advertisement for a company, and so if you're taking care of your employees, if you are ensuring that you are investing in their growth and development, they will proudly recommend that the company as a place to work and potentially bring in other diverse talent to be able to diversify the internal talent that comes into the company. This is great, this is great.

So I’d like to remind our attendees that you have an opportunity to ask Keyra or add questions by just putting your question into your chat box, which is at the right-hand side of your screen. We would love to be able to answer any questions that you may have.

So, Keyra, I have another question that I’d like to ask while we await questions from the audience. Are there any pitfalls or mistakes that have been made along the way that you would caution us to be aware of, to avoid, as we are all journeying on our way in the DEI space?

Keyra

Yeah, absolutely. We'd need another session probably for my own even in the space, and that's why I say this work is as much about practices as it is best practices. But I think we've got to be transparent about those pitfalls because I’m like, don't turn that corner because I tried that and it didn't work.

Maya

Yeah.

Keyra

So I’ll share two and they're, maybe they're related. But I think the first is because we're in a business environment where I do think that metrics matter, we always say what gets measured gets done. What is inspected is expected, whatever your phrase is. So I believe that. It was really important for me to have really specific metrics around this this area too. So, yes, do that. That's important.

But interestingly enough, while it is a business imperative, it's not like every area of the business, so it's not as easy to take this area and assign metrics that just seem, we want to increase this by five percent or increase this by ten percent. You've really got to look at that through a broader lens. And I think there are times when the metrics in this area can start to feel arbitrary because you're just seeking improvement. And when we went back and got really prescriptive and looked at really where the opportunities were, where we’re missing, that was a great example on how we realized that our gaps were more of an issue than our representation. If you look at it, we actually have holistically one of the most diverse organizations that you can imagine in some areas that people call underrepresented. We actually are over-indexing on census data at the entry level of our organization.

So it's important to just be really prescriptive because I realized that while it was important to look at it by level, it was important to look at it by location. We had assigned a blanket increase expectations on things, instead of, and even though were disaggregating data in some ways, instead of being really prescriptive and understanding those unique opportunities. So I tell people focus as much on gaps and progress even more than percentages. So gaps and progress often will matter more than percentages. So just caution, because I think in this work we're all looking for measurable movement, we're all looking to define success, but I would argue that success in this area is not going to be defined simply by what that percentage looks like or even in some cases how much that percentage increases. You've got to really look at your equity opportunities and gaps, and you've got to look at progress to make sure you're trending in the right direction.

And I would think the other thing I would save people from, this work often comes from a place of a passion for many people who are leading this work in organizations or even just leading teams, and you just get that fire in your belly because you just want to do something to make not only your company but society better in this space. But I have a really healthy respect that while it's a journey, and it's probably the most overused word in this space, journey, but it's probably the most correct word in the space.

Maya

It is.

Keyra

We've had to realize that you have to design a strategy that meets everyone where they are on their journey. Everyone is not starting their journey in the same place, and I was personally convicted because it's kind of like the same concept of equity. So even in this area, everyone's not starting their DEI journey in the same place, and so we have to be really respectful of that. At the same time, my strategy is move the masses.

Maya

Yes.

Keyra

And we often spend time, spending all of our energy on those who aren't on board or who aren't on the bus. And I’m saying, but have we actually continued to nurture and grow those who are, so resist the urge to assume that companies have to be on this journey and everyone's moving at the same pace at the same step. I promise, Maya, just in getting to know you, if we both do the 5k you will finish before me. But the reality is I will finish. We're just on a different pace.

Maya

Good point, you make an excellent point, and I would also add that success looks different.

Keyra

That's right.

Maya

Every place. You can't look to another organization to define what success will look like for your organization. So you have to define what success for your respective organization, based on meeting people where they are, the culture, the timing, the everything about what you just said about this journey and where you are in the stages of this journey.

Keyra

That’s right. And meeting people where they are. That doesn't mean we excuse people where they are.

Maya

Yes.

Keyra

This means we understand that they're in a different place on their journey so it may take a different strategy for them to grow as well.

Maya

To get them on the bus. Exactly.

So a question from the audience was around a comment that you made earlier about the pushback and the people that don't appear to be getting on the bus. So has Delta experienced employees who openly push back on the various DEI efforts, initiatives, communications that are flowing from the company, and what do you do to address that?

Keyra

Yeah. So yes, of course, I always say society comes to work. So you can imagine all of that and everyone's not always on board. That's why it's really important that your company anchors itself in a position and point of view around diversity, equity, and inclusion to say the goal is for the company to represent, that voice of the company, recognizing that some employees may have a different voice or a different perspective on that. I think the thing we've done, and it goes back to sort of normalizing that conversation, is you try to create as safe a space as possible for people to be able to express their concerns with the company's position, their concerns with viewing something differently, and an opportunity to talk about it. Often in talking about it we realize we're not as far off as we thought. But absent that conversation, people are left to draw a conclusion where they think, “I just disagree,” and then there are times when we simply agree that we see it differently.

Maya

Yeah.

Keyra

But absolutely I wouldn't present a picture that everybody at Delta all the time is sort of saluting and walking in the same direction at the same pace. But what we do is we really try to have conversations with those employees who are struggling with a position we've taken, a stance we've taken, an area of focus that we've chosen to focus on, and do what we can to explain to them the “why.”

Maya

Yeah, and I have advised companies over the years, every voice matters so long as it is expressed respectfully.

 

Keyra

That's right.

Maya

So that is the part about committing to an inclusive work environment where people feel valued and respected at all times. And so we absolutely have to create a safe space where everyone can share their point of view and their position on things, but to do so respectfully.

So, Keyra, we have time for one more question, so I will read that. This has been a fascinating discussion, thank you both. Thanks. Across multiple industries there has been a large exodus of women in the workplace due to pandemic-related circumstances like parenting and child care needs. How has Delta been responding to that, and have you as a company experienced that?

Keyra

I wish I could add even more perspective to this conversation. We actually ran our numbers right after we offered a host of voluntary programs and we saw a small uptick, and that was largely driven by our flight attendant population which is predominantly female. But across the majority of our organization and across our merit population in particular, we actually didn't experience that same disproportionate impact that the world, actually I can't even say the industry but that the world is experiencing, where I think hopefully the culture and the sense of belonging helped more people understand that maybe they could find a way.

One of the things I will say is, we have obviously 10 business resource groups but one of the business resource groups that we have is our working families business resource group, and it's working families not even just working parents, so elder care, child care, those who identify as men and women, blended families, working families. And that group actually has been a gift to our employees during the pandemic, resourceful about resources and options. We launched new partnerships, sort of a backup child care plan through care.com. So we did a lot to care for the whole employee during this time, and I’d like to think that that perhaps contributed to us not seeing disproportionate attrition in the workplace. But you never know.

The other thing, and people will say we've had a professional conversation, but I tell people all the time if you met me on the street the first thing you're going to learn is that I’m a wife and a mother, and so I’m also very open and unapologetic about making that part of my narrative even here at Delta. I will share with my team I’m leaving early today because I’m doing Read Across America with my child's classroom, because I think once again, the more we normalize the conversation that women are working and women have families and men are working and men have families, I hope that it will incent more people to find ways to make that blend work for them in the workforce. So I think between our business resource group and also between hopefully a culture of care and support, more women have found their footing here at Delta. We see it, in some situations we just haven't seen it at the trend level that we're seeing it in society here.

Maya

So that is all fantastic. And I would just add that I think offering as much flexibility as possible has risen to be a best practice across companies across the world. And so if you have employees that are in a job that can be performed remotely, that companies be as flexible as possible to allow people to work remotely. ATPCO, I am proud to share that, that we surveyed our employees, and employees were able to indicate their preference as to if they wanted to work from home or have a hybrid work arrangement and were 100 percent compliant in approving all of the preferences that were put forth. Because one, it's so important to support our employees particularly during such a difficult time. It's absolutely a retention strategy to be flexible and allow remote work, and obviously that can only be in instances where that's appropriate, so flight attendants and pilots can't work from home. But I get it.

So, Keyra, this has been wonderful and you and I could talk for days, as we have learned in getting to know each other, but we have come to the end of this session. I would like to thank all of our attendees for being with us today, for your questions, and if there are additional questions please feel free to reach out to me or to Keyra. Keyra, continue to do great things, madame, as the vice president and chief diversity, equity, and inclusion officer at Delta Air Lines. We salute you. Thank you very much for your time today and for all you do for Delta employees.

Keyra

Thanks for having me.

Maya

Take care, everybody. Have a great day.

INTERVIEW • Thought leadership, DEI
elevate 2021

Elevate 2021 is a virtual conference that powers the exchange of ideas for the future of flight shopping.

Speakers ondemand

Speakers

maya bordeaux

Maya Bordeaux

Chief People & Culture Officer, ATPCO

Maya Bordeaux is a progressive, results-driven executive who identifies opportunities to enhance the experience of all employees by cultivating and extending ATPCO’s culture. With employees currently working remotely, she is focusing on promoting a more diverse, equitable, and engaged workforce that will drive innovation and teamwork. Bordeaux has served in several senior human resources leadership roles, including at McDonald’s Corporation, where she developed and led the implementation of employee programs for its 90,000 US employees. Bordeaux also served as the Senior Vice President, People and Culture, at Wilton Brands; and was most recently Chief Human Resources & Communications Officer at Tribune Publishing, a media company with more than 4,000 employees across major national newspapers including the Chicago Tribune and The Baltimore Sun. 

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