Krista Deguffroy is Director of Inclusion and Compliance at SEI and is responsible for ensuring equality, equity, and belonging in the changing workforce of financial services. We asked her to share her and SEI’s diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) story with us as part of our ongoing focus on chief diversity officers and other diversity leader roles.
A Data-Driven Mission
Those who think DEI efforts are fluffy, vague goals would be surprised by the data-driven approach Deguffroy and others are seeking to implement, using hard numbers and data modeling to achieve the goal of a more representative and inclusive workplace.
Deguffroy joined SEI as a contract recruiter. After a year in that role, she moved into a full-time position focusing on affirmative action and equal employment opportunity. Deguffroy says she loves employment law and seeing patterns in the data she worked with, but she wanted an opportunity to feel like she was making more of a difference, and data were the tools she thought could get her there.
“I decided to take those data patterns to my supervisor and asked for support in attempting a pilot program to impact our goals for veterans,” she says. “It took a lot of data modeling, project planning and long nights practicing my pitch, but I got the green light! Since then, my inclusion journey has been a series of pilots and programs designed to make our workforce more representative of the communities we work in and serve. The long nights and hard work hasn’t changed, but I love it.”
It’s virtually impossible to have true inclusion without buy-in from company leadership. All the diversity in the world won’t translate into inclusion without executives’ willingness to promote diverse talent and listen to their ideas. Deguffroy’s experience pitching her veterans program with SEI is a prime example. Without a management chain receptive to new ideas, her initiative may never have gotten off the ground.
“SEI is the type of company where if you believe in something and share your idea with leaders, you may get the response of ‘okay, go try it,’” she says. “The empowerment to see an idea come to fruition is both liberating and anxiety-inducing. It’s the type of scenario where you might think, ‘What did I get myself into?’ I won’t pretend that it isn’t hard work to put a grassroots vision into place, but it is one of the ways our culture shines. There is no title, role or leadership experience required to affect change. You believe in something? Great. Go out there and make it happen.”
Looking Beyond the Labels and Categories
Many people have a preestablished mental image of what a “diverse” workforce might look like. And this isn’t necessarily conducive to DEI efforts. Diversity and inclusion are about more than checking boxes based on race, ethnicity, gender, etc. They’re about seeing beyond labels and categories and embracing the diversity of individuals.
“Diversity is so multi-faceted that any segment of our population can fall into a diversity category, depending on the lens,” says Deguffroy. “I think we’ve learned how valuable intersectionality is and why none of us comes to work—virtually or in-person—as a single facet of diversity. From that standpoint, I would say that we’ve come a long way in embracing authentic human interactions.”
A Collective Effort
Establishing DEI is a tremendous effort in any organization, especially when compared with what is often a relatively small HR department. In some ways, a key job of an HR team is to act as a force multiplier by engaging everyone in the organization in those efforts, regardless of title or position.
“I think we’re looking at inclusion and belonging as a responsibility for everyone and not just within the HR or talent acquisition teams,” says Deguffroy. “For instance, my colleagues and I are going through an exercise right now about employee-centric belonging: keeping the employee central to our decisions. By keeping employees central to decisions, we practice empathy and emotional intelligence, without even having to try. It sounds simple, and it should be, but like most things in the inclusion space, they don’t happen by accident. They take consistency, introspection and action when you’ve veered off course.”
While it might seem like a lot to ask everyone in an organization to play a role in diversity and inclusion efforts, it’s actually very similar to the attitude companies take with other key business goals, like cybersecurity and customer service. These are all key aspects of a company’s success, and it makes sense that the entire organization should get behind them in a meaningful way.
Not Always a Smooth Road
Meaningful diversity and inclusion efforts are relatively new in the vast majority of American workplaces. While there have been some success stories, there certainly isn’t a time-tested road map for success. DEI leaders have had to experiment with different strategies and find what works best for their unique companies. This means understanding that mistakes will be made and that one should be willing to acknowledge and learn from those mistakes.
“SEI is continuing to learn and grow in our belonging journey,” says Deguffroy. “There is no doubt in my mind that we’ve made many strides toward progress, but I would be lying if I said that we haven’t stumbled along the way. To be authentic and grow in our inclusion journey, we have to admit that we have a long road ahead of us for true equity in today’s world. We’re committed to staying the course and invite our global business colleagues to join in our shared learning experience.”
DEI has become the focus of meaningful and legitimate attention in companies around the country in recent years, as evidenced by the growing number of chief diversity officer roles and other executive- and management-level positions aimed specifically at promoting DEI goals.
We love talking to people like Deguffroy and others in these roles and learning about how they came into their positions and about their and their organizations’ unique journeys with DEI efforts. Hopefully their experiences will help guide and inspire tomorrow’s DEI leaders.