Faces of HR

How One HR Pro Creates Safe Spaces to Retain Talent

For more than a decade Shrina Sood, Associate Vice President of Talent Acquisition & Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEIB) at Curriculum Associates, has helped recruit talent by supporting the Educational Technology organization grow from 200 to 2,000 employees.

Shrina Sood

For our latest Faces of HR profile, we sat down with Shrina to discuss how she got her start in the industry, her biggest influence, as well as her thoughts on trends and best practices for the HR industry, including retention best practices. According to Sood, psychological safety is one of the best talent retention tools.

“Without that, you won’t see innovation from your teams and therefore with your products and services,” she recently shared with HR Daily Advisor. “When I think about all the great ideas we’ve had at Curriculum Associates, they come from meetings when we’ve been able to create a safe space where everyone can contribute without feeling “less than” or othered.

“Creating those spaces takes intentionality and a lot of hard work,” she added. “Companies that don’t take the time to foster that support and culture won’t be successful in 10 years. Employees have other options. If you don’t treat them well, someone else will.”

In our latest Faces of HR profile, meet Shrina Sood.

How did you get your start in the field?

It was here at Curriculum Associates where I got my start in recruiting. I have been working at Curriculum Associates’ Talent Acquisition department for more than decade and within the last four months shifted to a dual role encompassing Talent and Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging (DEIB) Programs.

Prior to joining Curriculum Associates, I worked for education nonprofits on development teams and in database management roles. It was there that I got experience with managing multiple projects, working closely with executives, and acquired organizational skills that served me well as I transitioned into recruiting.

Who is/was your biggest influence in the industry?

My biggest career influence has been our CEO, Rob Waldron, I reported to him for about seven years and everything I know about recruiting great people I learned from him. He is incredibly kind and a wonderful teacher on how to be competitive in this talent market. He is great at many things but especially at pushing people to be their best selves and is not afraid to have those difficult conversations. I often think in tough situations “what would Rob do” and that’s helped me see the right approach. He is the best people leader I’ve been fortunate enough to view up close. I have also witnessed many instances where he’s advocated for women and that’s inspired me to advocate for others.

What’s your best mistake and what did you learn from it?

My biggest career mistake was during my early years at Curriculum Associates. I was not comfortable with conflict. I was very focused on “keeping the peace” rather than calling out the problem. My manager, the CEO, helped me tremendously with that area. He taught me how to provide timely and valuable feedback to anyone in the corporate hierarchy and he held me accountable if I didn’t do it. He showed me that conflict was productive. That support helped me grow in my role and I believe that’s been the reason I’ve been provided other opportunities at the company. Organizations value people who see the issue, address it graciously, and act.

What’s your favorite part about working in the industry? What’s your least favorite part, and how would you change it?

My favorite part of working in this field are the candidates. I’ve been fortunate enough to meet thousands of people and had a part in hiring many of them. A great job can change many aspects of your life and I am honored to play my small role in that. My least favorite part of the job is how long true change takes, especially when it comes to Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging initiatives or when they don’t move forward at all. At CA, we’ve been thoughtful about incorporating it into all our work but there’s more work to do here. Industry leaders can change it by adding DEIB work into their company strategy, measuring it like any other project and by providing resources.

How can company leaders make HR a value within their organization?

I’ve been fortunate to work at Curriculum Associates where leadership truly values my function. We’ve been able to get funding, time, and other resources to be successful. At one time, the CEO spent about 50% of his time on recruiting. I meet with the CEO and other leaders regularly to provide recruiting updates, which displays the value the organization puts on the work my team’s doing. All organizations should value its new hires and focus on retaining them, the company’s success depends on it. Recruiting and retention should be on every CEO’s priority list.

Where do you see the industry heading in five years? Or are you seeing any current trends?

COVID-19 progressed HR initiatives very quickly, in many ways helping the work that HR has been trying to move the needle on for the past two decades in less than two years. For example, recruiters have been asking for remote work so we would have the opportunity to hire talent anywhere in the US. We’ve also been waiting for organizations to not only talk about DEI but to invest their dollars to this work. Same goes for work life balance, equitable pay, and flexible working hours. Employees have been craving all of this – the pandemic brought the issues to the forefront in a very short amount of time. The Great Resignation we’re experiencing currently is a great reset for how we do our work and where we do it.

At Curriculum Associates, we’ve shifted from predominantly focusing on hiring for office-based jobs to being able to hire nationwide. This has resulted in better talent and more diversity within our organization, which has made us stronger and more productive. In addition, we’ve also taken on three commitments internally to progress our DEI work over the next 3-5 years. We’re focused on hiring (for example in 2021, 43% of our hires were BIPOC, compared to 25% in 2019), building a more equitable culture, and using our products, which by design are an equity tool, to help more students access grade-level learning.

The pandemic has impacted the workforce in such a significant way that I don’t believe we’re going back to how things were before March 2020. Employees are holding organizations accountable for their commitments to DEI, expect better work-life balance, and want autonomy to do work wherever and however they want. The power relationship has shifted from prioritizing company bottom line to prioritizing employee wellbeing. Prior to the pandemic, many of us left work at work. Now, work is in our homes, it’s often in the places we eat, sleep, and spend times with our families. As a result, employees are looking to employers to support their whole self – whether that’s flexible work schedules or childcare support. For example, women and women of color have been taking a large load of housework prior to the pandemic but during the pandemic women took on even more housework. They’re asking for organizations to accommodate those additional workloads they’ve picked up at home.

Companies that don’t respond to these changing trends, will have trouble retaining top talent. The availability of more remote opportunities also means that now when employees are unhappy with their employer, they can easily find another one, rather than looking for a job within 20-mile radius of their home like before.

I believe this is truly a good thing for the workforce. Companies have more options than ever before, and employees do as well. It’s a great time to be in HR because if we fix the challenges ahead, we’re going to help make people’s lives easier.

What are you most proud of?

I am most proud of the opportunity given to me by Curriculum Associates to build the recruiting function from scratch. While doing that, I’ve learned to surround myself with smart people and then let them do their jobs. I’ve also continuously challenged myself by doing what’s uncomfortable – that’s where the growth has existed for me.  

Do you have any advice for people entering the profession?

Talent Acquisition is a fast-moving space, and you won’t know how to do it all. Surround yourself with people who will challenge you and teach you new ways to think. Stay humble and keep learning.