It’s perhaps due to the traditionally unsung nature of human resources and DEI that so few of the diversity leaders we feature in our profiles had such roles in mind when they started their careers. Instead, they embarked upon careers in fields like marketing, sales, finance or operations and found their way to HR and DEI by chance.
Robert Childs, EVP, Office of Enterprise Inclusion Diversity and Business Engagement at American Express fits this mold to a T. “I graduated from college with a degree in economics with the intention of working in sales and finance,” Childs explains. “By nature, I am a curious person—open to learning and taking on new experiences to grow. I started my career at American Express in a servicing and operations role and enjoyed working with customers and helping them solve challenges. My passion for delivering operational and service excellence led me to a career in human resources when I realized I could apply skills of customer service, strategy and operations to problem solve and help colleagues internally.”
Learning, Growing—Making a Difference
Childs has been with American Express for more than 35 years and attributes his tenure to his having been given opportunities to learn, lead and grow and the support he’s received along the way.
“I am responsible for looking across the entire enterprise to ensure DE&I is embedded in everything that we do,” Childs says about his current role. “I have always been proud of American Express’ long history of DE&I and am honored to help lead and drive meaningful change for our colleagues, customers, and communities.”
Childs is the first to hold his position, an expansion of DEI efforts that illustrates a growing commitment by American Express. “My role, as well as the Office of Enterprise Inclusion, Diversity and Business Engagement, is new as of 2020,” Childs says. “Our Chairman and CEO Stephen Squeri wanted to ensure that DE&I became a cornerstone of our work at American Express across our customers, colleagues and communities, which inspired the formation of the new Office.”
Partnering to Impact DE&I Internally and Externally
Childs works in close partnership with his long-time colleague, Sonia Cargan, Chief Colleague DE&I and Talent Officer at American Express. Childs focuses on enterprise-wide initiatives, with a deep focus on customers and communities, while Cargan focuses on creating a diverse, equitable and inclusive culture for their colleagues, where they have opportunities to learn, grow and lead every day.
“Our goal is to continue expanding our DE&I work in tandem with our executive committee,” Childs says. “We have established clear objectives for the enterprise with timelines and metrics to ensure that we are driving real progress and being impactful through our efforts.”
American Express sees DEI as a sound business strategy as well as a moral and ethical imperative. “Simply put, a diverse team is a strong team,” says Childs. “The diversity of people and experiences are the fuel to drive the innovation needed to deliver our best for our colleagues, customers, and the communities we serve. That’s been the driving force behind American Express’ commitment to be a global leader in inclusion and diversity. We aim to take clear and positive actions to improve our world.
Committing Resources—Time and Money
Childs notes that in October 2020, American Express unveiled its $1 billion action plan, which outlines the company’s substantive commitments to advancing diversity and inclusion. Some of these include:
- Achieving and maintaining 100% pay equity for colleagues across genders globally and across races and ethnicities in the US.
- Enhancing colleague representation through a comprehensive strategy that encompasses recruitment, hiring, and promotion practices to attract, develop, and retain underrepresented colleagues, including Black and African American, Latinx, and women colleagues, to ensure more balanced representation at all levels of the company.
- Equipping leaders with a foundational education on creating a welcoming environment for all colleagues Backing customers and business partners by promoting equal economic opportunity through a commitment to double spend with diverse and minority-owned suppliers in the U.S., expanding access to capital and financial education and continuing to evolve marketing initiatives to be more inclusive.
- Backing American Express communities by allocating more resources to initiatives and charitable contributions focused on addressing systemic racism and advancing equality.
American Express also heavily utilizes “Colleague Networks,” their term for employee resource groups (ERGs). “We actively support 14 Colleague Networks that bring together people of similar backgrounds and experiences, including disability, race/ethnicity, faith, gender, gender identity, generations, sexual orientation, and veteran status, as well as allies,” says Childs. “Colleagues create and lead the networks, which help develop diverse talent, broaden participants’ professional networks, and inform our culture of inclusion and belonging.”
On the recruitment side, American Express collaborates with external partners to help them find and support great talent. “In the U.S., we’ve forged relationships with Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), philanthropic organizations like the Thurgood Marshall College Fund and the United Negro College Fund, and professional associations including the National Society of Black Engineers, Grace Hopper, AfroTech, the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, and the Hispanic Scholarship Fund,” Childs says. “In addition, we work with organizations like OneTen, Year Up, Multiverse and Management Leadership for Tomorrow to build strong entry-level and skills-based talent pipelines across the enterprise.”
Robert Childs, like so many of the diversity leaders we feature, didn’t start his career with dreams of becoming a DEI leader. Instead, he was pursuing a career in finance and sales when he gained exposure to the world of HR and DEI and discovered a passion for the work. It was only then that he could combine his skills and abilities with his passion for people. He’s one of a growing number of talented business professionals putting a focus on DEI and how a culture focused on equity, inclusion, and belonging can make a difference.
Lin Grensing-Pophal is a Contributing Editor at HR Daily Advisor.