People end up in the diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) space for a variety of reasons. As we’ve noticed and pointed out previously in our series on chief diversity officers (CDOs), many stumble into their careers by happy accident. Others have pursued a career in DEI from the earliest days of their professional careers, while others still, like our focus for today’s installment—Ceridian’s global head of DEI, Donnebra McClendon—find their way to DEI work as an extension of their passion for mentorship, coaching, and employee development.
While employee development and DEI might seem like related but distinct concepts at first glance, DEI efforts are actually extremely closely intertwined with employee development. Consider the inclusion element, for example.
Employees are far more likely to grow and reach their full potential within an organization if they feel they belong and are accepted for who they are.
A Passion for Increasing Satisfaction
DEI leaders like McClendon often have personality types that are driven to improve the lives of those around them, even if that sometimes manifests itself in small doses. “I’ve always been drawn to connecting with people through conversations,” McClendon says. “My very first job was greeting customers in the drive-thru line at McDonald’s, but it was more than making people smile. It helped me to recognize that all people want to feel like they matter. In my current role, I leverage the ability to build relationships and cultivate a workplace of belonging.”
McClendon says she has always loved making people smile and that she truly enjoyed talking to her customers. She viewed these brief interactions as a way to make lasting impressions.
“I learned about the jobs my customers were rushing to in the morning, and the families they were headed home to feed in the evenings,” she adds. “I met thousands of people during my time in the drive-through, and my goal was to always leave them with a smile.”
From Drive-Through to Diversity
McClendon understandably had a few stops along her path from McDonald’s drive-through service role to global head of DEI at Ceridian. Over the course of her career, McClendon says she’s taken a strong interest in the personal development of the employees on her various teams and saw a natural link between her passion for such work and DEI.
“I’m extremely passionate about championing equality and inclusion in the workplace, and empowering people to be successful,” McClendon notes. “I’ve managed people for over 20 years, and I have learned the importance of individualizing the employee development experience.”
McClendon says she entered the diversity space because she saw an opportunity to streamline and enhance DEI efforts. Now, as the global head of DEI at Ceridian, she says, “I am fortunate enough to be able to leverage my formal education, people leadership experience, and passion for being a champion of equity and inclusion.”
McClendon is the first person at Ceridian to hold her position, but the company is no stranger to DEI efforts. “This is a new role to the company, although others before me have led successful DEI initiatives within the organization,” she says. “Our company’s investment in formalizing the role further demonstrates our commitment and our drive to be an exemplary organization when it comes to DEI.”
A Comprehensive and Sustainable DEI Strategy
Broadly speaking, initial efforts at promoting DEI in many businesses were fairly siloed. Many employees may not have even been aware of the fact that their company had invested resources into DEI, and fewer still likely had much of an idea of what those in that role did.
Today, leading companies like Ceridian imbed DEI in virtually everything their organizations do because they appreciate its centrality to corporate success.
“We’ve made significant investments in building a comprehensive and sustainable DEI strategy that touches every area of our business,” says McClendon. “We’ve set corporate goals driven by our core values, including the value of equity. We’ve embedded DEI into our employee development, talent attraction, retention, and promotion programs. We require quarterly DEI training, and we offer bi-weekly micro-DEI lessons to all employees. Also, we established a Global Diversity Advisory Council to provide strategic insight to our policies.”
McClendon adds that Ceridian has embedded DEI into its DNA. “We examine our programs, policies, and best practices to ensure we minimize systemic inequities and amplify inclusion and diversity,” she says. “We have also launched a framework against the Global Diversity and Inclusion Benchmarks (GDIB standards), formed a Global Diversity Council (led by our Co-CEO Leagh Turner), and introduced organization-wide DEI training to guide the organization’s path to DEI leadership.”
Employee Resource Groups
Like many companies on the cutting edge of DEI efforts, Ceridian has implemented a number of employee resource groups (ERGs) focused on specific demographics or shared experiences. “In 2021, we expanded the number of our employee resource groups, called YOUnity groups, from six to nine, adding the Native and Indigenous Peoples Alliance, the Ceridian Parents Network, and the Asia Pac Network,” McClendon continues.
Ceridian’s current list of ERGs includes:
- Asia PAC Network
- Black Employee Network (CBEN)
- Women’s Network (CWN)
- DisAbility, Differently Abled People
- Hispanic & Latino Network
- PRIDE, LGBTQ Network
- Native & Indigenous Peoples Alliance
- Parents Network
- CVMN Veteran & Military Network
These groups provide an opportunity for employees to come together and have a voice in the organization; they also allow Ceridian to better understand the needs of its diverse employee segments.
Understanding the Relationship Between Diversity and Inclusion
The terms “diversity” and “inclusion” are used together so often that it’s understandable that many people view them as synonyms or assume that where there’s diversity, there must be inclusion. But unfortunately, that’s not necessarily the case. Diversity is a fundamental first step in inclusion (one can’t be inclusive of diversity if there is no diversity), but it’s not the end of the game.
“We understand that diverse talent is critical for both business performance and fairness, but we also understand that diversity does not organically foster inclusion,” says McClendon. “We work hard to build an organization that is demographically diverse by being intentional in our hiring practices.”
Ceridian also leverages internal referral programs and external partnerships to recruit diverse talent and cultivates inclusion by setting the unwavering expectation that all employees bring their authentic selves to work. “Our leaders are taught to create safe spaces and we encourage education through cultural inclusion,” McClendon says.
McClendon’s work at Ceridian is representative of the DEI efforts of many companies that excel in this area. Ceridian combines a passionate DEI champion in a CDO-type role and an organizational commitment to treat DEI not as a tangential and experimental fad to “try out” but as a core element of corporate strategy that permeates the entire organization.
From drive-through service to DEI champion, McClendon continues to make a difference.
Lin Grensing-Pophal is a Contributing Editor at HR Daily Advisor.