e042. Employee Networks with Shannon Pope

Shannon Pope (she/her) is the Director of Diversity and Sustainability at Sony Electronics North America, and the organization has over 1300 employees.


Including You Interview with Shannon Pope

e042. Employee Networks with Shannon Pope

[00:00:48] Amy: Welcome back to Including You. I’m your host, Amy C. Waninger, the Inclusion Catalyst. My guest today is Shannon Pope. She’s the Director of Diversity and Sustainability at Sony Electronics North [00:01:00] America, and the organization has over 1300 employees. Shannon, welcome to the show.

[00:01:05] Shannon: Thank you, Amy. Thank you for having me. Appreciate the opportunity.

[00:01:09] Amy: I’m excited to talk to you because I love talking to people in the tech space especially. And in the services space, but consumer products is a really neat sector of the economy that I don’t get to interact with a lot. So this is really fun.

Thank you. So let’s start with, for a company like Sony Electronics, why is inclusion such an important focus right now? Why invest in having a director of diversity and sustainability and what is it that you hope to accomplish?

[00:01:35] Shannon: For Sony Electronics it’s important for us. It’s part of a broader message.

When we talk about sustainability, we’re talking about how can we be a sustainable company. And a lot of times the first thing people think of is environmental sustainability, but it is much broader than that. So, within our sustainability, we have three pillars. We have diversity, equity, and inclusion.

We have accessibility, which ties very closely [00:02:00] in DE&I as well as environmental. So, we know throughout, through these three pillars that we add societal value and that, and a big piece of that is the inclusion and ensuring that, as we are working to get closer to the people, be it customers, our business partners, most importantly our employees.

Inclusion is a critical piece of that.

[00:02:20] Amy: I like this notion of marrying diversity, equity, and inclusion and accessibility with sustainability, because I think you’re right. This, when people think of sustainability, they think of like responsibly sourced raw materials. They think of, carbon footprint, that sort of thing.

If we don’t appeal to a broad customer base, if we don’t have a good talent pipeline coming in, if we’re not taking care of the people when they get in inside our four walls, by including them and making them feel like they belong and have a voice, then we don’t have a sustainable business model from an inclusion standpoint because we don’t have anybody to do the work or to buy the goods and services that we’re producing.

[00:02:55] Shannon: Exactly. And the further on with that, with our employees … So [00:03:00] when we look at this Office of Diversity and Sustainability at Sony Electronics within the DE&I pillar, we have talent acquisition as well as employee experience because we have to look at how are we attracting the talent diverse talent.

And then once we are recruiting and attracting and bringing them in, then what does their employee experience look like? What does that employee life cycle look like? In ensuring that we’ve got DE&I infused and all of that because our people are our biggest asset and we wanna ensure that they’re included, that they have that sense belonging.

Because once you’ve got the diversity, equity, and inclusion, then you get, then the goal is that everyone feels like they belong.

[00:03:38] Amy: And so what have you done in that space that you feel is really working? Is there a particular initiative or particular philosophy that you leverage that you feel has really moved the needle for Sony Electronics?

[00:03:49] Shannon: Yeah. I wanna say a big piece of our diversity, equity, and inclusion are our employee networks. What some companies may call their employee business resource groups. Our E-nets, we have 13[00:04:00] different e-nets with varying cultures and interests where people who are directly, they identify with that culture or their ally, they share a common interest.

They are all they’re employee-led, they’re all-inclusive and it’s a big part of what’s working. They’re through the leader, through those employees, they have a voice. We’re listening from the leadership. We take we- we take that input so we could say, we’ve got leadership support.

They all have the executive sponsors very active, and it’s a bottom-up approach. Really getting the employees involved through different events on you know, educating or inspiring, bringing speakers in different activities and initiatives. So, I think that’s one very big piece that’s been working and we’re always open to hear, is there a gap?

What’s missing? Is there another group that needs a voice? When to start a new employee network? Then, we’re open to that.

[00:04:57] Amy: That’s great. How many did you say you have currently?

[00:05:00] Shannon: 13.

Amy: So, I’m not gonna put you on the spot to list all of them, but are most of them, demographic-based, like the, the black employee network and the women’s employee network?

Or are there, ones for caregivers, young professionals? Like how are, what are those populations look like?

[00:05:14] Shannon: Yeah. A majority are tied to demographics. But we also have families, one for parents. We have one for a different like interests, like a photography. So, we’ve got, the black employee professionals.

We have our women’s network. Our newest ones are for our Persian employee networks. We have an Asian employee network. So across the board, and I’m, I know I’m not calling all 13 out, but very wide-ranging. And again, they’re all-inclusive. A lot of our groups are made up of both the group and allies as well.

[00:05:46] Amy: I see two sides to this, the company benefits in a lot of ways and the employees benefit. And it’s obvious when you have an employee network where people are coming together around a common purpose or a common experience or common set of interests,

they’re finding community [00:06:00], and there, there’re tons of other benefits. What other benefits do you see to the employees? And then on the flip of that, what do you get as a company out of that? What, beyond just the people feel included? There’s usually some pretty tangible benefits to having these kinds of networks.

[00:06:15] Shannon: Oh yeah, absolutely. One from the employee standpoint, beyond just finding that community, finding a sense of belonging, there’s also leadership opportunities. All of our co-leads, we may have different committee leads. That’s the development opportunity for them, outside of their day-to-day to learn different skill sets to learn, maybe project planning pulling different groups together, increasing their, broadening their network with leadership on these different opportunities that they have.

So, from the employee side yeah, lots of benefits for both personal and professional development. And then with the company gets out of it, they’re always- they’re like these many incubators of ideas We do our engagement surveys and post surveys to check in to see where the feedback [00:07:00] from the employee base, and then we could turn to those employee networks to say, okay, how can we, there’s, here’s some gaps that we have.

How, what do you suggest on how we make improvements? What are we missing? What can we change? So really getting their feedback from directly from the people, from the team members impacted that they have a voice that we’re putting action behind these survey results. So that’s one, one example of what we get.

And then as well as, and as we recruit and broadening that network for referrals when we broaden that scope. What career fair should we go to? Where should we partner and collaborate so we can go to where the different diverse groups that we wanna recruit? We can meet them where they are with the support of our employee networks.

[00:07:44] Amy: That’s really important and this idea that you have these little incubators for ideas and to test things out and to see what’s working. I would imagine that innovation is a really core principle or a driving factor in your business as a consumer electronics company. [00:08:00] Are you finding that as people feel more, a greater sense of belonging, that you’re getting more innovation out of your employees? That people are quicker to come forward with ideas?

[00:08:09] Shannon: Yeah. So to your point about, innovation, of course, that is absolutely key for what we do at Sony globally. Globally we say diversity drives innovation. And so to that point yeah, we, I would say when employees lead, when anyone at a, it feels like they belong. That they could be their authentic selves bringing their whole selves to work, they are more productive.

They feel like, okay, my voice is heard. I’m gonna say this and have an opportunity to speak up to share my ideas with leadership. And that, I’m not gonna look… These are safe spaces, especially within the employee network, they’re safe spaces where they can test out an idea, bounce off an idea, always say, two-way communication.

If you wanna bounce an idea off of me, let me know. Let’s have a chat. Let’s see how it is. So just [00:09:00] giving people that freedom where they could feel like they won’t be reprimanded. Oh, okay. If it’s a bad idea, alright. But you had an opportunity to voice it, to get some feedback to maybe refine it in these safe spaces.

And so yeah, I think that’s one area that we have of driving that innovation.

[00:09:18] Amy: You mentioned earlier about, measuring employee engagement and employee sentiment. You’ve got an employee experience team. What have you seen in terms of the numbers since you’ve been doing this work? Have you seen shifts?

Has it all been forward progress or is there, sometimes with these things right we move two steps forward and one step back occasionally as people build awareness and discomfort and see bigger things and bigger possibilities, what does that data move look like for you?

[00:09:45] Shannon: Yes. So, for our, when we look at our engagement surveys, our engagement score has consistently been above benchmark. And that is, once we started DE&I, it’s not new for Sony Electronics, but [00:10:00] as far as putting structure around it, that is something that we’ve been evolving over the years.

And in that, with employee engagement, with our diversity office, and then evolving that to the diversity and sustainability office, we have seen that engagement score increase year over year. With that belonging score all doing well above benchmark. So, we are proud of that.

[00:10:22] Amy: That’s awesome. And it, it makes people stay longer if they feel comfortable where they are. And they can look at the numbers and say, oh, compared to others in our industry, we’re doing better. It makes them l I think, less likely to leave ‘cause they’re like, okay, grass isn’t always greener other places, and here we have the metrics to prove it.

[00:10:38] Shannon: And we always, our goal is to be the best place to work. Which I think that’s common for a lot of companies, but being able to have things behind, like some tangible things behind that, we’re really, we are really proud about that.

[00:10:52] Amy: No, that’s amazing. And so, when you think about- I wanna dive in just a little bit more on these employee networks because one of the things [00:11:00] that I think a lot of companies struggle with, and maybe you can help us understand how you go about it, is this notion of intersectionality and how you…

I may fit in multiple groups, but I don’t feel completely at home in any one of them. Because for example there’s a black employee network and there’s a women’s employee network, but there may not be a black women’s employee network that specifically meets the needs of black women or here’s their concerns.

How do you deal with that in your workplace? Is there, are there opportunities to explore those kinds of intersections of identity or?

[00:11:31] Shannon: Yeah. So, what we do, of course, we encourage participation in as many of the E-nets where you feel comfortable, you feel like you identify, you feel like you’re an ally, you wanna learn more.

And how we help with that is we encourage collaborations between the different employee networks. So, for example during Black History, the different E-net will collaborate. It’s not just the black employee network putting on events. They will collaborate with our vets e-net and for speaker [00:12:00] women’s History Month, the different women employee networks will reach out to the different E-nets to collaborate.

So, there is that intersectionality. Both and who’s putting the event together and then what the employees are when they come to that event.

[00:12:12] Amy: No, I think that’s really cool and I love seeing this trend of kind of the overlap of the groups and the collaboration between the groups. ‘Cause it helps build, I think another, a whole other set of networks for people.

If you are if you’re Asian and queer and then you’re part of those two different groups and you can pull those groups together occasionally and, it’s just, it’s such a neat way, I think to get at this notion that we’re all under the same umbrella.

As a company, we all have a little bit different point of view or a little bit different perspective, but there are ways that we can all lift each other up too.

[00:12:45] Shannon: And we know that just because you are in one employee network, that employee network is not a monolith. There’s different, just a lot of differences even within that group, so we never make that generalization.

But I think, as we were to collaborate, as we are very open, but at the same [00:13:00] time, having these safe spaces where people can discuss those differences, even amongst one of the employee networks I think is, I think it’s not a benefit of being part of an e-net.

[00:13:10] Amy: Yeah, absolutely. And then, also, like you were saying earlier, the career benefits of getting exposure to people in other departments, other geographies. There’s just, there’s so many ways to meet people within the company that a lot of times in the work that we do, we get very siloed. Anytime you work for a medium to large company, the work tends to get very siloed.

You don’t talk to people outside of your own department a lot or, unless it’s for a specific project. And just knowing what else is going on in the company is a huge benefit to people who are trying to innovate or trying to collaborate or, even who wanna move forward in their careers.

I think that’s really an important piece that a lot of people don’t see. They say they might see participation in employee networks is being like extra outside their job. Too much time away from, my own personal investment or my own personal interest, but they’re missing this opportunity to collaborate with people that they wouldn’t otherwise get to interact with.

[00:13:59] Shannon: Absolutely. [00:14:00] We, and that is a balance when events that are being put on by the employee networks. We do want people to say, “Oh, you don’t have to think about us. Oh, I’ve already got my plate is already, I’ve got this, and this plan for the day.”

But we wanna encourage ’em to carve out time for these events because it is important. It does add to that overall employee experience of what, what, as we are striving to be this great place to work.

[00:14:21] Amy: And I think just with anything, anytime you want to be part of a community, you can only really get from it what you put into it.

It’s hard to sit on the periphery and feel like you’re a part of something. And so, I guess my advice to anyone who is listening, who has been thinking about joining any e-network or an employee resource group or something like that, and you think maybe that’s not for me, or it’s not the right time.

I always say, “No, go do this now,” because you have no idea how much opportunity is there, how many good connections are there. And it’s really about, giving something to your company, giving something to your community at work so that you know you can reap, you and others can reap the benefits of that investment.

As you look to the forward to the future, Shannon, [00:15:00] what do you see as the next level of accomplishment or the next level of experience that you wanna create?

[00:15:05] Shannon: We continue to evolve. It’s been this continuous evolution and within Sony, we have part of our culture is the PDCA cycle.

Plan, do, check, act. So, there is this continuous improvement. There is innovation that’s just this continuous loop. And so we are, we are always striving to evolve to do better. As we look at now, we’ve done some planning, some doing some checking and then we can put that in.

All right, what are we? What’s working well? What’s maybe not working so great? What maybe do we need to maybe we could pull back on and then maybe pull more resources in the area that needs it? So, there’s this continuous cycle that we’re doing to ensure that we’ve got, a continuous improvement as we evolve into better and into better things.

[00:15:55] Amy: That’s awesome. I think your employees are so lucky to have you. I love, like I [00:16:00] said, this notion of tying DEI into sustainability because I think inside and outside the company, without a good SEI strategy, without good movement in the DEI space, you really would have a sustainability problem.

And it sounds like you guys are just doing some amazing things.

[00:16:14] Shannon: Thank you. Thank you so much. I really appreciate that. And again, appreciate the time. Thank you for having me on and so I could talk about that. Thank you.

[00:16:23] Amy: Of course. Thank you.

[00:17:00] [00:17:13] Amy: That’s it for this week’s episode of Including You. Join me next week when my guest will be Dr. Derek Arubayi of Element Electronics.

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Amy C. Waninger is the Founder & CEO of Lead at Any Level, where she improves employee engagement and retention for companies that promote from within. Amy offers assessments, advisory services, and training on essential skills for inclusive leaders. She is the author of eight books. Learn more at www.LeadAtAnyLevel.com

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