Too many organizations still let their diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts stall out at the “D” stage and assume good diversity numbers mean they’re doing a decent job. Through a commitment to empowerment and a data-driven approach to decision-making, our focus for this diversity leadership profile demonstrates a level of commitment to inclusion and equity organizations should strive to emulate.
Joseph Henry is the Organizational Development Leader (ODL) at Legal and General America (LGA), where he focuses on organizational learning, employee engagement and the employee experience, DEI, and leadership development. Before joining the LGA family, Henry was a consultant focused on DEI; well-being; environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG); and the employee experience, and he supported an array of industries, including higher education, law enforcement, defense, and hospitality.
Identifying Opportunities for DEI
Like many of the executives we feature in our series on diversity leaders, Henry did not start his career in the DEI space but rather developed an interest in DEI initiatives after working in the industry and experiencing some of its diversity and inclusion challenges and opportunities firsthand. “I started my career out in the safety and security industry as a program manager, which was an incredibly rewarding experience,” he says. “As a program manager I had the opportunity to work with people of all backgrounds, experience levels, and cultural experiences. This experience really helped to shape my world view and passion for people. It also helped me identify the need for a concentrated focus on diversity within the industry.”
Henry noticed the industry he was working in wasn’t doing so poorly from a general “diversity” standpoint, but companies within the industry tended to be inclusive of that diversity in positions of influence. In other words, the executive-level positions were lacking in diversity. While the lack of diversity is typically seen as a challenge when it comes to DEI efforts and overall organizational health, Henry also saw the problem as an opportunity: It can be difficult to increase the level of diversity and inclusion at an organization that already excels in this area because incremental improvements are harder to come by when an organization is already doing everything right, but organizations that struggle with DEI can likely make significant improvements with relatively small adjustments.
“The security industry, like many service industries, has a very diverse workforce,” continues Henry. “Unfortunately, this diversity is not found within leadership. This presents an immense amount of opportunity to those who are willing to stick with it. As a program manager I had the opportunity to meet people where they were and develop my skills as a culturally competent and empathetic leader.”
A Focus on Inclusion
As Henry noticed early in his career, diversity alone is not enough. Companies need to embrace and nurture their diversity by creating an inclusive and accepting workplace where all employees feel comfortable being themselves and contributing to the fullest.
“A focus on diversity is a natural biproduct of my current role as the [ODL] at LGA,” says Henry. “We are laser-focused on our Culture of Belonging where inclusion is not a flash-pan focus; it is who we are, how we operate and what drives us forward. Diversity is not what I do but rather how I do it. As the ODL, I have the pleasure every day of working to create a truly remarkable employee experience where every employee feels empowered to bring their true selves to work.”
Henry is the first to hold this position—both a blessing and a curse. That’s relatively common for DEI leaders, considering the exponential growth in corporate DEI efforts in recent years. While this clean slate can give DEI leaders the freedom and flexibility to execute their vision, it also means these leaders may not have abundant institutional infrastructure and experience to build upon.
“While LGA has always been committed to diversity, the ODL position is an expanded role as our organization continues to invest in embedding DEIB into the fabric of the organization at every level,” says Henry.
Leveraging Empowerment and Data
Despite the newness of his role, Henry and LGA have developed a considerable amount of structure in their DEI efforts, consisting of company policies and employee engagement in DEI efforts.
“We have developed an employee advocacy network,” Henry explains. “Here we have empowered our employees to not just speak up and speak out but to be the change they want to see. Our employees drive the interventions to ensure they have a meaningful connection to the pulse of the organization. Our network is cross functional and focuses on areas often overlooked when considering diversity. We also focus heavily on diversity in our recruitment and selection processes. Working to identify and eliminate bias from these processes.”
Empowering people is an inherently personal approach to DEI. It involves getting to know employees deeply and understanding how to motivate them and build their confidence and abilities. But Henry and LGA also leverage a resource traditionally seen as inherently impersonal: data.
“We really lean into data,” Henry says. “In fact, we lean into our diversity metric for every single decision surrounding talent. We set Diversity KPI’s for the organization and ensure that the decisions we make surrounding our people are aligned to those indicators of success. We are also improving our people infrastructure to ensure our we have accounted for the needs of our future workforce.”
DEI as a Core Business Objective
There’s a reason so many companies are going all in on DEI: Diverse, inclusive, equitable companies perform better. They’re more creative, they’re more productive, and they have greater recruitment and retention and employee engagement.
“We are keenly focused on the relationship between wellbeing and belonging,” says Henry. “The relationship cannot be overstated, as such we have incorporated wellbeing as a key outcome of our diversity strategy. When people thrive at work they thrive in life.”
The DEI function has matured tremendously in recent years, as deepening levels of real-world experience and increased resource commitments have allowed organizations to take DEI seriously as a core business competency. Henry’s commitment to personal empowerment at the individual level and his ability to track progress and make decisions based on quality data illustrate the advances the DEI industry has made.
Lin Grensing-Pophal is a Contributing Editor at HR Daily Advisor.