e032. Employee Voices with Eric Thomas

Eric Thomas (he/him) is the Global Head of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion of Genesys. Every year, Genesys orchestrates billions of remarkable customer experiences for organizations in more than 100 countries. Genesys employs more than 6,000 people globally.


#IncludingYouPodcast Interview with Eric Thomas

Interview Transcript

[00:00:35] Amy: Welcome back to Including You. I’m your host, Amy C. Waninger. My guest today is Eric Thomas. He’s the Global Head of Diversity, equity, and Inclusion at Genesis. Every year, Genesis orchestrates billions of remarkable customer experiences for organizations in more than a hundred countries. Genesis currently employs more than 6,000 people globally.

[00:00:57] Amy: Eric, welcome to the show.

[00:01:00] Eric: Thank you, Amy. Thanks for having me.

[00:01:01] Amy: I’m really excited to talk to you, I know Genesis does if I could explain the way I understand what the company does, it’s really call center technology, but it’s very customized for inbound calls and it helps companies really create a solid

[00:01:17] Amy: customer user experience through phone trees and navigation and scripting. Is that correct?

[00:01:22] Eric: That’s correct, and it’s a, a really omnichannel approach towards delivering that a tailored type of customer experience. But you’re right with empathy, really as the cornerstone of our, market differentiation, right?

[00:01:35] Eric: We, our goal is to empower our customers to deliver empathetic, but yet effective experiences for their customers in terms of challenges they may be calling in that they’re facing and trying to get resolved, yes, yeah, I think you captured it well.

[00:01:50] Amy: Excellent, and the reason I wanted to set up what you do is, because the real question I wanna ask is, why are diversity, equity, and inclusion so important at Genesis?

[00:02:00] Amy: And you touched on empathy, I’m imagining it expands from there.

[00:02:03] Eric: It does, we started our journey a couple of years ago and it’s we see diversity, equity, and inclusion not just as a nice to have, but a true business imperative. When you think about companies, particularly in the tech space who are fighting us war on talent the challenges that we’ve had over the past couple of years with, what’s been characterized as a great resignation, or some people call it the great reach.

[00:02:24] Eric: Call it what you want, it really forces you to reimagine how you attract and retain some of the best talent and some of the best diverse talent, and we believe that by having a culture of inclusion and being focused on DEI, that it makes us the career destination for some of the best talent out there.

[00:02:41] Eric: We also recognize that diversity of thought allows you to take innovation to new heights, right? and being a technology company, innovation is critically important to us, and having folk on our teams who have different lived experiences with different backgrounds just takes the level of innovation to new hikes,

[00:02:59] Eric: and then lastly, from a commercial standpoint, one of our key corporate initiatives is taking market share, its gaining new logos, new customers and we’re seeing an increasing number of requests coming through customer RFPs, requests for proposals, asking us to, what is our commitment in this space to diversity, equity, inclusion, what are we doing to, to show up in this space?

[00:03:21] Eric: And it and it’s, I think our customers want to know that not only are we committed to this within our workplace, but we’re doing things to make sure that our solutions are enabling them to meet the diverse needs of their customers. DEI for us is a force multiplier that allows us to really achieve a lot of our corporate goals and objectives, and at the same time, creating that workplace for our employees to feel like that they can truly show up and be their best selves.

[00:03:46] Amy: I love everything about that answer because you touched on internal external impact and the marketplace that you’re serving, which I think is important for people who want to do business with some of those name brand companies, it’s time, it’s past time to step into the arena.

[00:04:01] Amy: So, what is it that you think is leading to your success in this area? What are some of the flagship programs that you’ve engaged in your time at Genesis that you feel are really moving the needle for the company?

[00:04:15] Eric: Yeah, so as I mentioned we started this journey a little over two years ago in July of 2020,

[00:04:21] Eric: and it started with basically launching a diversity, equity and inclusion office. Our CEO, Tony Bates had been at the helm for, I think just shy of two years, and it was always his intention and his desire to ensure that, DEI, having a DEI office in efforts for the key part of our various corporate initiatives.

[00:04:40] Eric: And probably like a lot of companies, the murder of George Floyd elevated that in priority. So that was the first step, is instantiating the office itself and then appointing me as the company’s inaugural DEI officer, and when we launched the journey, we focused on inclusion first because think it was pretty clear for us that while a lot of companies probably spend a lot of time on diversity, trying to increase representation in numbers and not to trivialize that as truly important, we felt like that

[00:05:10] Eric: fostering an inclusive workplace and creating that sense of belonging was number one for us because eventually we would set on a path, and we’ll talk a little bit about that, of increasing representation in certain areas with women and underrepresented populations, but if you can’t keep them, then, recruiting them

[00:05:27] Eric: it’s a stranded investment, right? Spending the money to recruit, and so we created a space for our employees to harness the energy of a lot of our employees and launch the number of ERGs. We don’t manufacture ERGs at Genesis, what we do is we create a space and resources for employee

[00:05:44] Eric: who self-organize around that, and they help us in a very inclusive and organic way define what is an inclusion at Genesis? How does it look at Genesis, what’s important to our employee base? And then we moved and have been moving to lay a foundation of understanding systematically how do we address some of the different systems, right?

[00:06:03] Eric: The practices, the policies and the various actions that are carried out that have an impact on the, on how the employee experience is administered, how do we make sure that they’re done in an equitable fashion? and so we’ve been working across all of the HR disciplines, partnering with the HR leaders from talent acquisition to talent management, learning and development compensation, and looking at, hey, are we administering these different policies and practices in a way

[00:06:28] Eric: that is fair to all of our employees, and then that has been the consumed the majority of our journey for the first couple of years.

[00:06:34] Amy: I wanna go back to something you said about representation without inclusion and this notion that we can just recruit our way into DEI, being a myth in this space, and a lot of times I’ll have companies that reach out to me as a consultant and say, how do we recruit more diverse talent? And my question back is always, how are you keeping the diverse talent you have? And if you can’t do that, you might as well just put your money into a paper shredder,

[00:07:00] Amy: Because if you can’t figure out how to retain recruitment is just never gonna get you where you need to be. So, thank you for calling that out, I think that is such an important piece of this conversation.

[00:07:11] Eric: If I could follow up to that,

[00:07:18] Eric: It’s such a critical, important aspect of the, understanding the significance of creating communities of inclusion and belonging. I have the pleasure at times of being able to mentor a number of early in career professionals, and if I’m frank, a lot of the new black employees that join the company when they find me, they want space.

[00:07:37] Eric: And I never turned him down, and I had a young man that was probably six months outta college and came on the call for an introduction, and one of the things that I noticed when he came on the call was that he had on a t-shirt, this is the arrow of zoom, so a lot of our calls are pretty casual, so no issue there.

[00:07:54] Eric: He had a gold chain that was draped around the T-shirt, he had two diamond earrings in his ear and he had this flat top cut that if you think back to the Fresh Prince of Bel Air days, like that was how he showed up on the call and we went through our 20 minutes of dialogue. He was very prepared,

[00:08:10] Eric: He had all his questions scripted, he knew, hey, I only have 20 to 30 minutes with this corporate executive, how do I make the most of it, and while we had a good time getting to know each other, and I had the opportunity to kind of part, impart certain experiences, my lived experiences and answering some of the questions I couldn’t help that

[00:08:26] Eric: when we got to dinner, the call, it was a distraction for me, and I asked him, I said, Hey, let me ask you something, I said, you felt comfortable coming on this call with both earrings in your ear? And he paused and he said, you know what? I didn’t even think about it, and I had two immediate reactions, one, I need to check my own biases, right?

[00:08:45] Eric: Because I’m from the old school and this is part of the work that has to be done and ushering in the ability for folk to truly show up as their authentic selves, right? So, I had to check my own biases, right? Because the way he conducted himself on that call, how prepared he was, if that’s indicative of how he’s showing up in his day job each day, the earrings really don’t matter.

[00:09:08] Eric: And then the second reaction I had was that, okay, we’re doing something right because he felt comfortable coming on that call, and this is, and I share that story because it’s such a critical part of the work, which is, and some, in a lot of cases, changing the mindset and unlearning some previously learned practices that can get in the way of folk really being able to come and be their best selves so we can get the best from them, right?

[00:09:33] Eric: So that’s why I think, we started with inclusion as part of our journey, and it continues to be a critically important aspect of how we set the tone of diversity work at Genesis.

[00:09:45] Amy: I gotta tell you, as you were telling that story, I was getting really nervous about how it was gonna end, and I’m really glad that it ended the way it did.

[00:09:54] Amy: I talked to enough corporate executives that have stopped the conversation and said, now wait a minute, you didn’t come into this, presenting the way I want you to present, or, why are you dressed this way? Or why do you look this way? Or why do you talk this way? And it is so important for people to be able to

[00:10:09] Amy: Do their best work as their best selves, and not have to constantly second guess, can I be excellent as I am? What is it that you think about the culture there? How have you cultivated this culture where people can show up, come as they are and do their best work?

[00:10:26] Eric: So, there’s been a number of things that we’ve done right, and it’s been a collective by my small team of DEI practitioners that I have in the organization, but more largely our workforce. We have a very engaged workforce in this effort, and what we try to do is create the space and be more of a listing ear to make sure that we are defining diversity and inclusion in a way

[00:10:53] Eric: That fits within the context of our culture, and what I mean by that is, as an example of our employee resource groups really take two dimensions with the approach. We take the traditional dimension where you have employees who self-organized by maybe some level of affinity that brings them together.

[00:11:09] Eric: But because we are a global company, we also take the geographical approach because we understand that how a lot of how diversity or inclusion challenges may show up in the US historically different than how it will show up in other areas where we have a presence around the globe from the Latin American community to the European community to the Asia-Pacific countries.

[00:11:31] Eric: So, we have geographical councils that are organized in each region, and we give them the space to help us define what does inclusion mean for you in that area? Maybe it’s cast challenges that our India team faces that they wanna shine a light on and they wanna make sure that are not impeding progress or certain employees in that area.

[00:11:50] Eric: Maybe it is gender or ageism issues that, that surfaced and the European country, and maybe it’s challenges with ensuring that we are fairly employing folk who are differently enable show up in the Latin American country. So that’s one of the intentional ways that we’re allowing our employees to place, to tell us what’s prevailing to them,

[00:12:08] Eric: And then we build a set of initiatives and priorities around ensuring that we are delivering practice those inclusion practices in those areas to ensure that, systematically fairness and all these other things are showing up in the.

[00:12:20] Amy: I think that’s, this notion of listening to your employees, especially when you’re a global organization, is so important because diversity is not the same everywhere.

[00:12:29] Amy: And in some places, as you mentioned, the socio, socioeconomic factors are a much more important thing than ethnicity, for example. Or religion might be a bigger factor than race, or race might be the factor. There are places in the world, I know a lot of global organizations struggle, for example, with LGBTQ inclusion and places where LGBTQ status is criminalized.

[00:12:53] Amy: And so, letting locals take the lead rather than colonizing the culture of the local offices think it’s really important. How do you balance that though, with sort of a global overarching approach, how do you set standards that apply globally? Or do you?

[00:13:10] Eric: We do, and we try to strike a very good balance between a set of standards and an actual operating model, but, allowing the groups that have organized to lead the efforts, allowing their authentic voices to truly prevail.

[00:13:27] Eric: We are a corporation, we are here at the end of the day to make money, but we also wanna do it in a way that’s healthy in terms of our culture, and allows our employees to, to feel like they can contribute to that in their best way, and we have an operating structure for our ERGs that we ask them to follow.

[00:13:43] Eric: It’s a very structured governance, and it’s consistent around the globe, right? They have chairs and co-chairs in which, in, in various committees that, that they’re organized by, that allowed them to do the work. They have a budget. I actually have a personal, my team that is dedicated to supporting them and providing them air cover around the globe and ensuring that they are adhering to the operating model, but also, again, trying to strike that balance between making sure we’re not suffocating their authentic voices and It’s an art, let me say, we’re learning as we go and we’re continuing to mature in that space.

[00:14:17] Eric: And it’s an art, when you give employees a voice and a platform, you know they’re going to use it, right? And that’s, it can be a great thing, but we gotta make sure that it’s being channel channeled and harnessed in a healthy way.

[00:14:29] Amy: Yeah, and the last thing you wanna do is ask employees for their opinion and then tell them that they’re wrong.

[00:14:33] Amy: Or ask them for their opinion and then punish them for giving it, and I think that it’s so important to keep that focus.

[00:14:39] Eric: And the other thing it does, Amy, it allows us to approach diversity, equity and inclusion in a very innovative way, and I don’t think a lot of folks are doing this work.

[00:14:47] Eric: Around the globe really tap into the ability to be innovative. How is it, how can we leverage the employee voice, what we’re discovering through the different structures that we set up around the globe that allows us to think about diversity, equity, and inclusion, and some of the non-traditional ways that may allow us to make progress in areas that

[00:15:07] Eric: Traditionally, these practices have not been able to do from one company to the next, over the last 30 to 40 years that they’ve been in existence. So, it’s it allows for a truly innovative approach at the work.

[00:15:17] Amy: And so, all of this work that you’ve done and you’ve come a long way in just a couple years’ time, what are the tangible results?

[00:15:23] Amy: You mentioned that the reason to start the work in the first place was, compete for talent, compete for clients, build a good experience. What results are you seeing in terms of, the business metrics around the work that you’re doing.

[00:15:36] Eric: So we measure our efforts in a few ways.

[00:15:39] Eric: Of course, quantitatively we’ve set corporate goals to increase representation of women globally and various members of the underrepresented populations in the us, and those goals were set through, a bottoms up approach that focuses on the market in which we operate and the talent availability in those markets.

[00:15:56] Eric: Those goals have actually been we’ve published the goals. They become a part of our corporate scorecard and we provide progress against those updating our board, all of our employees, and in a number of cases, analysts, right? So, we have very specific score scorecards that we’ve created that allow us to measure the progress.

[00:16:14] Eric: And then it’s pretty exciting to watch the tailwind that we’ve, experienced since we launched this effort two years ago, and we’ve gone, and I, it’s in our sustainability report, so I’m not sharing anything that’s a trade secret. But we’ve gone from workforce population that was 24% women over the course, or our employees who identified women over the course of the years approaching 30%.

[00:16:38] Eric: And just in two years around the globe we’ve gone, if you look at our, what we call our underrepresented populations, which is an amalgamation of the various majority groups in the US, when we started this journey, we was just shy of around a little over 18%. We’re approaching 25% in just two years, right?

[00:16:54] Eric: And so, we it, it’s been a I would say a phenomenal and exciting initiative to watch grow. One of the other ways we measure our work is through what we call our inclusion index, and we launched this about a year and a half ago that allows us to measure employee sentiment, really in two key categories.

[00:17:13] Eric: One, how well are we doing as leaders and as a company fostering a truly inclusive environment, how does that, how do you feel being your ability to be able to show up to work each day and be your authentic self? And then two, how well are we doing professionally at creating equitable opportunities for groups that traditionally and, historically has been marginalized.

[00:17:34] Eric: And so, it has now become a part, the inclusion index is now a part of our overall way of measuring the employee experience, but it gives, allows us to look in, unpack the data demographically to understand if certain cohorts or different demographics are having different experiences when indexed against the majority.

[00:17:52] Eric: And then the last way we measure the work is that, and this is something that the work in progress for now, is we’re creating a maturity framework, that allows us to measure the progress the arc of our progress against the multi-year goals we’ve set. How well are we doing against, what we committed to? how well are we maturing along this continuum? and are there calibrations that need to be made based on learnings along the way?

[00:18:15] Eric: So those are three keyways in which we measure our effort.

[00:18:20] Amy: So, with all of the work that you’ve done and all the progress that you’ve made, I have to ask, what’s the focus next? Where are you hoping to go? Is it move along in the continuum? Is it different targeting different groups for representation?

[00:18:32] Amy: What’s the next goal?

[00:18:33] Eric: So, the next immediate goal and that’s, it’s interesting. We are actually having our strategy sessions now looking forward to the upcoming 2023 calendar year. It’s really integrating a lot of the foundational principles that we’ve laid over the last couple of years within our business group.

[00:18:49] Eric: Now, as I mentioned before, we started with a how do we make sure that we are cultivating this inclusive culture, galvanizing the energy around our employees with the employee resource groups and these regional councils. We’ve worked across our HR partner to ensure that every policy and procedure was, is working to be, are there tweaks that need to be made to ensure that they’re carried out in the next action?

[00:19:12] Eric: And having understood that, having a baseline of understanding where we are and where we need to go, now we can turn to each one of the business leaders, and give them a sense of proprietorship that they have a stake in making this happen, and it’s not just the DEI office trying to drive certain initiatives from our little corner,

[00:19:29] Eric: It’s not just our HR teams that we partner with to try to make sure that certain policies and practices being carried out, it is the leaders across the organization that drive the business every day filling a sense of ownership that they have a role to play, and so they each have scorecard that we’ve developed.

[00:19:46] Eric: And there’s various DEI initiatives that they now have visibility to understand how their individual businesses impact the aggregate goals and growth, and we’re working to integrate it basically within the operating fabric of each one of those groups. So that’s kinda our, one of our number one goals for next year.

[00:20:02] Eric: The other thing that we’re doing a little bit less tangible to try to measure, but it is how do we make sure that we are continuing to position ourself to get in front of what we’re now seeing, showing up as what I would call organized opposition against diversity work, right? There’s a number of organizations, it’s not just to the us, it’s around the globe that have awakened to the inertia that they’re seeing with diversity work.

[00:20:27] Eric: And now you’ve got, with organized opposition trying to downplay the work or attack the work in a lot of ways, and I think now we are keeping our eyes open and monitoring different situations around the globe and trying to work to anticipate how do we ensure that we’re able to continue to build sustainable practices that will outlast me and even Tony, regards.

[00:20:47] Eric: That’s what we’re focusing on, as we kind the corner in the upcoming year.

[00:20:52] Amy: Next year, I would love to have another conversation with you about how you’re tackling that, because I think from a risk management perspective, most companies are watching local regulations or national right regulations or global regulations wherever they have operations, right?

[00:21:09] Amy: To think about, what regulations are affecting our industry, our ability to sell our product, price our product, move our product or service, right? What, what might change our software or our operating policies or, the lines of code in the thing that tell us how to operate.

[00:21:22] Amy: And I don’t know that enough companies are doing what you’re doing in terms of the legal risk management and the policy risk management around their DEI initiative. So, I would love to have you back and talk about how you’re doing that.

[00:21:35] Eric: Let’s do it. I think that we’ll have a good story to be able to tell you.

[00:21:38] Eric: Cause I think we’re very well to address, some of the challenges that we’re seeing, whether it’s regulatory challenges and changes in regulatory policies or even a shift in the judiciary that we might see coming up in the upcoming elections in the us. So, I think we’re poised to handle a lot of that in a very positive way.

[00:21:54] Amy: That is fantastic. Eric Thomas of Genesis, thank you so much for being a guest on the show. I always enjoy talking to you, talking to your colleagues, and it was just a pleasure to have you.

[00:22:05] Eric: Amy, I appreciate you having me. I enjoyed the conversation. It was a lot of fun.

[00:22:59] Amy: That’s it for this week’s episode of Including You. Join me next week when my guests will be Trav Walkowski from Employee Metrics.

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Amy C. Waninger Author Bio

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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