Diversity & Inclusion

Christy Harris on Developing Talent Through the Lens of Diversity, Inclusion

Employers large and small have long touted the benefits of developing a diverse workforce. But to get the most from diversity efforts, HR professionals need a clear view, not one clouded by a limited plan.

Instead, they need to look through a lens that shows how diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) should have a place in an organization’s core values, according to Christy Harris, the leader behind DEI efforts at Allstate Insurance Company.

As senior vice president at Allstate, she knows how making inclusive diversity a core value pays off. “It’s up to us to ensure we model more inclusive practices that will allow us to change our landscape. We also need to be sure we’re creating more inclusive workplaces so our diverse colleagues can thrive once they are hired,” she says.

“HR as talent advisers can help leaders understand that every talent decision they make needs to be developed through the lens of diversity and inclusion,” Harris says. “Do I tend to hire the same profile? Do I recognize and reward the same types of individuals? Do I give preferred projects to a few of my team members? Do I promote certain types of leaders? Do I develop for and coach for a certain type of performer?”

Harris has been with Allstate 19 years and in her DEI role 4 years. She didn’t begin her career with her current role in mind. She was a finance major in college and was introduced to the HR field at her first job out of school. It piqued her interest, she says. “I did some research, went back to school while working, and made a career move to HR.”

Years later when she became the leader of talent acquisition at Allstate, she was excited to be able to promote diversity. “I wanted to grow as a person and a leader, and this role has allowed me to do that,” Harris says. “In fact, it still does. It’s important for very personal reasons—I want a more fair, just, and inclusive society for my kids and for my friends, my coworkers, and family.”

Making Diversity Foundational

How can employers make DEI efforts meaningful? Harris says it starts with commitment. “It’s foundational to both our Global Code of Conduct and our culture as an organization—what we view as our shared purpose,” Harris says.

For 17 years, the Northbrook, Illinois-based insurance giant has landed a spot on the DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity list. The company supports 11 different employee resource groups (ERGs), promotes an Inclusive Conversations series, offers diversity-focused training, and keeps DEI on the front burner.

Having such a strong company culture and guidelines “creates a powerful framework to infuse diversity, equity, and inclusion in everything we do,” Harris says. For a company to have an effective DEI strategy, “it can’t live on the sidelines. It has to be a part of the daily course of business—and conversation.”

A number of efforts contribute to the company’s strategy, Harris says, including “the very hands-on work we do with leaders in every department at Allstate to establish and demonstrate progress on inclusive diversity commitments.”

Value of ERGs

Harris says the company has had ERGs in place for more than 15 years, and they have grown tremendously over that time. “It’s important to our ERG strategy that each group be able to provide an open forum where employees with a shared interest can aspire, develop, and collaborate,” she says.

“In partnership with our inclusive diversity team, each employee-led ERG puts forth an annual plan, complete with workshops and professional development events, to help employees build knowledge and expand resources,” Harris says.

Because the groups are employee-led, “we strive to create an experience that is both empowering and organic,” Harris says. “It’s grassroots but with an intentional framework of support and backing built in.”

Being such a large organization, the company’s ERGs cover a variety of interests. The 11 groups are the:

  • Allstate Asian American Network (3AN);
  • Allstate PRIDE;
  • Allstate Women’s “I” Network (AWIN);
  • African American Working Network (AAWN);
  • Abilities Beyond Limitations and Expectations (ABLE);
  • Allstate Foster and Adoption Network (FAN);
  • Intrapreneurs@Allstate (I@A);
  • Parents Working Together (PWT);
  • Professional Latino Allstate Network (PLAN);
  • Allstate Veterans Engagement Team and Supporters (AVETS); and
  • Young Professionals Organization (YPO).

The conversations between the ERGs and the leadership team “have been incredibly impactful,” Harris says. “We’ve drawn on our ERGs to help us think about new and different offerings we can share with employees to further support and promote diversity within the organization.”

Dealing with Societal Challenges

Harris says she was especially moved by conversations in the wake of the killing of George Floyd in May. The conversations were “raw and emotional—and needed,” she says. “We’re establishing more regular dialogue in response to that discussion because of that experience. It’s about keeping that conversation front and center.”

Current issues such as the Black Lives Matter and #MeToo movements have placed a spotlight on diversity and inclusion efforts. “For us, it’s provided a critical opportunity to connect with one another and engage in powerful and transformational dialogue,” Harris says. “The pain and trauma continuing to surface in light of recent events represented a tangible moment in time to discuss the pervasive issues of racial inequity and oppression in our country and do so in a way that allowed for real dialogue and discussion, not just talking points.”

Harris lists a few initiatives her company launched in response to recent events:

  • An Anti-racism Resource Center accessible to all employees, with weekly content updates, including movies, podcasts, articles, books, documentaries, and resources for parents;
  • Multiple Inclusive Conversations sessions attended by over 8,000 employees across the enterprise;
  • A new company holiday recognizing Juneteenth, the holiday celebrating the end of slavery in the United States; and
  • New learning experiences aimed at building understanding of the history of systemic racism and addressing privilege. Participation in new and existing courses from June through August 2020 was 20,000, exceeding participation in all of 2019.

Also, Harris says the Allstate Foundation matches employee donations to nonprofits, including Black Lives Matter and other community organizations.

Driving Change Both Internally and Externally

Employers have the ability to drive change in the diversity space both internally and externally, Harris says. “For example, we were excited this year to add Juneteenth as a new annual company holiday,” she says.

“We’re also providing a forum for ongoing dialogue and educational opportunities through our internal Inclusive Conversations series and externally through our long-standing partnership with Facing History and Ourselves, a not-for-profit dedicated to using lessons of history to challenge teachers and their students to stand up to bigotry and hate, which has translated into powerful education sessions at Allstate, as well,” Harris says.

“This is about a movement, not a moment, and requires ongoing focus,” Harris says. “We know as a company we can do more.” She says it is imperative that “every Allstater become an upstander—that we commit to doing more to create a more equitable world for everyone.”