e043. Homegrown & Inclusive with Dr. Dereck Arubayi

My guest today is Dr Dereck Arubayi. He/Him is the Training, Recruiting and DEI Manager of Element Electronics. Element started in 2007 with a simple belief – every home should have access to TVs with the latest technology. Today, they continue to push themselves and have expanded their product range of electronics and home appliances while providing customers with the latest technology, but at the most accessible prices. They have offices in South Carolina, Minnesota and Arkansas, and are continuing to grow their impact in our communities and the industry. You can find Element products at your favorite retailers, including Amazon, BrandsMart, Costco, Meijer, P.C. Richard & Son, Target, Walmart and more. Element Electronics employs roughly 250 people.

Including You Podcast Interview with Dr. Dereck Arubayi

e043. Homegrown and Inclusive with Dr. Dereck Arubayi

[00:00:48] Amy: Welcome back to Including You. I’m your host, Amy C. Waninger, the Inclusion Catalyst. My guest today is Dr. Derek Arubayi. He is the training, recruiting and DEI manager of Element [00:01:00] Electronics. Element started in 2007 with a simple belief: that every home should have access to TVs. With the latest technology today, they continue to push themselves and have expanded their product range of electronics and home appliances while providing customers with the latest technology, but at the most accessible prices.

They have offices in South Carolina, Minnesota, and Arkansas, and are continuing to grow their impact in communities and industry. You can find Element products at your favorite retailers, including Amazon, Brands Mart, Costco, Meyer, PC Richard and Son, Target, Walmart, and more. Element Electronics employs roughly 250 people. Dr. Arubayi, welcome to the show.

[00:01:43] Dr. Arubayi: Thank you so much, Amy, for that warm welcome. Been following you for a little while and it’s really appreciative that we’re able to engage with DEI conversations in this regard. Thank you again.

[00:01:54] Amy: I appreciate this conversation because I don’t get a chance to talk to many people who are in the [00:02:00] manufacturing space. And so this is a little bit different industry for me because typically I work with companies that are more, in the IT software spaces, those kinds of very office heavy, not so much factory heavy, manufacturing, heavy.

And so I’m really curious as to… With a company of about 250 people spread out around the country, why is DEI so important? Why is being inclusive so important at Element?

[00:02:24] Dr. Arubayi: Thank you so much for that question. The answer to that question as to why DEI is very important to Element regardless of whatever industry you are, DEI should be first nature, not second nature.

So I wanna put that out there. Why it’s important to us is because our leadership team over the years has found a need not only to set up our manufacturing plant in a diversity in, what I’ll call a diverse community in South Carolina. They leave out the core values of what we’re really looking out to achieve an [00:03:00] element.

In this regard, I would say that our core values are four. We’re homegrown. And we’re inclusive and these things speak to who we are in terms of our DEI, D and I initiatives that we’re trying to pull throughout element electronics. So with that being said, being homegrown, for instance, Having a manufacturing plant in South Carolina, we currently have about 184 people.

And one thing I would say about Element electronics, just making that move from a leadership strategic standpoint to situate that factory in South Carolina does empower the local community. I can see that our population is predominantly black, Hispanic, and a mixture of other races. So 70% of the people that work at Element Electronics are really people of color.

So DEI is not just a buzzword for Element Electronics. It’s what we’re really looking out to achieve in the company. If I go to leaving out what we [00:04:00] want to do with diversity, inclusion, and belonging beyond just given statistic to say, oh, we have 70 people. On our C-suite, we have about 20% representation in terms of diversity numbers female and people of color.

We’re looking to push that number to 30% by the end of the year, 2023. From the director office level diversity representation standpoint. So, I’m looking at my numbers now of 68 corporate offices and plant-level managers and directors. We have 49% that are either black, Hispanic, or Asian. So, we really pride ourselves in,

Living out our American roots, we are the only manufacturing television company in the US. When we started in 2007, we were practically nobodies in the market, and we have been able to punch our weight above our weight with a team that we have.

So why is important to us? It’s important to us because we want to live out a culture of representation. We want to look like the people that lead and the people that serve, want to look like the people that lead in that kind of frame.

And we have definitely set goals out for what we’re really looking out to achieve.

[00:05:30] Amy: I think that’s fantastic. And it sounds like this notion of being homegrown and inclusive has really helped because you’re a big player now. It’s not easy to grow a company to that size, that quickly in revenue, but then when you consider that we’ve also recently have been through a lot of disruption in terms of technology, in terms of supply chain, in terms of workforce capabilities, workforce development, workforce availability there’s a lot of retention problems right now. It sounds like you guys are, are really doing well in those spaces.

[00:05:58] Dr. Arubayi: In terms of retention if you ask me. So yes. Now that you push it that way I can tell you for a fact that the majority of people that joined Element, especially in our manufacturing plants, ‘cause it’s very easy to lose people in the manufacturing plants, have been at elements since 2014 when that plant opens.

And that’s a great testament to the management team, the HR leadership team who continue to make sure that we are engaged with the employees that work for us. At Element, nobody’s a statistic. Yes. DE&I is about knowing that you have representation, but beyond that, diversity in our own palette is about identifying more or less the differences that we have.

Not just identifying the differences. That’s the first step. And then including those different conversations and those differences that you have been able to identify and giving them a seat at the table. For instance, our VP of HR [00:07:00] is a person of color.

Our new CFO is a lady, and we are looking to push the tides of what DEI is really looking like at Element Electronics. That’s what I’d say.

[00:07:09] Amy: That’s excellent. Now, beyond the representation goals that you have, which I think are very important, especially as you move up the org chart, what are you doing?

What is the secret sauce at Element that has made such a difference for you in the DEI space?

[00:07:26] Dr. Arubayi: Thank you for that question, Amy. First of all, you cannot be outside of what you really profess to be. Many times organizations come in and they have this magic wand that they think they can weld and weld on and get the right diverse candidate in, and that person gets in and the person gets stuck because it’s more or less like bringing iron into wood.

Iron is already cast. It cannot form, it has to be melted. It has to re-energize itself for retail, align with what it is. So [00:08:00] in, in this regard, I would say our mission, vision, values, you can’t go outside of your mission, vision values. If you cannot articulate your diversity strategy within, what you really stand out to represent.

And this is not just a buzzword and this is something that we need to correct in the corporate world or whatever space that we find ourselves in. I don’t wanna see myself as a DEI statistic coming in. Oh, now we have diversity, yay on the C-suite. And then there is really nothing in terms of control or in terms of bringing real change.

For Element Electronics, what we really pride ourself, and I can even attest to that, I’m a product of strategic sourcing for diversity because that is what the company really wants. So in terms of strategic sourcing, in terms of our mission, vision, values, like I said, one of our core values is that we are inclusive. We are homegrown. We want to be a representation of what really [00:09:00] America looks like.

The philosophy of how we engage DEI in this regard is even beyond just our employees. The way we engage external vendors or how we engage the local community in South Carolina or in the different communities that we live in is very important. Even our sponsorship deals, for instance in local Minnesota we sponsor Minnesota United, the local football team.

That gives our employees opportunity to be able to engage with marginalized populations like myself. I’m able to engage with local businesses. Engage with people of color that have never been to games like this, that would love to be in games like this to at least allow them, see a different level of what like C-Suite, Minnesota United would look like because they’re our partners and we sponsor them through the year.

And that’s really part of what our philosophy is. So, in terms. Mission, vision, values, strategic sourcing. So targeted sourcing, recruiting for DE&I [00:10:00] is something that we really pride ourselves in. With that being said, so strategic sourcing mission, vision, values… I think I’ll leave it there for now.

[00:10:10] Amy: Very good. So how do you know it’s working? How do you, what is the culture like there? What do you see within the culture that makes Element unique? And how do you know that what you’re doing is working?

[00:10:24] Dr. Arubayi: Thank you so much for that question, Amy. What cannot be measured cannot be done. So, you have to be able to have a matrix that puts you in that driving seat for you to say, this is where we are.

This is who we are. It’s like unconscious bias. It’s oh, we don’t have biases. I always say to my managers, you don’t really know that. The only way you are able to know if you have a bias or not, and that’s why it’s called unconscious bias, is, if the numbers show that there is a pattern to your recruitment or there is a pattern to your performance appraisals, or [00:11:00] there’s a pattern to your training and development, or there’s a pattern to how you promote, you cannot outrightly say yay or nay until the numbers show.

And that’s why Element Electronics we go with Matrix. We go with recruiting matrix. Recruiting for female candidates or recruiting for diverse candidates. We pride ourselves in that. If you ask me and if we flip things around South Carolina, for instance, and we’re very self-aware, we’re very self-aware of what we’re really trying to achieve as an organization.

South Carolina is a predominantly black population. Hence probably you might say, oh, that’s why they have such big DEI numbers. So even within that space, the way, for instance, like I told you I lead the recruitment, DEI, and also training function. Even when we are training our managers to be able to have best practices in recruiting and in interviewing, you are able to see that.

Okay. This is my team. So self-analyze [00:12:00] your team, understand what the nomenclature of what your team really looks like and your, we as HR are strategically leaning towards making recommendations based on diverse candidates and not just a tick in the box, but we want to make sure that the most diverse candidates get to the hiring managers and not just that. Hiring managers also understand the EEOC implications of not hiring diverse candidates, because sometimes it’s oh, okay we are just gonna hire what we think or have a referral and I wanna get this person on board.

No, there’s a process. We have a strategic process. We have a step-by-step process, and HR does make recommendations to the hiring manager based on DEI initiatives.

[00:12:50] Amy: I think this notion of a process for hiring is so important. And I teach this too in, in corporate settings around the country and around the world.

A lot of managers, if you ask them like, why [00:13:00] did you hire this person? And you nail them down on why did you hire that person? Why did you make this choice over this choice? They will, in their more honest moments, they’ll say I really like the guy. I really like that guy.

There’s something about him that reminds me of a younger me or I really like this person. There’s somebody I’d wanna sit, have a beer with. And this notion of a beer test in hiring is so dangerous because you’re not hiring your best friend, right? Hopefully, that role is filled outside of work or somewhere else.

But you’re really hiring somebody who can do a job. And when you strip out all of the qualifications of a person and go with your gut, you’re really at that point saying, “I’m just gonna lean into all of these biases. I don’t know I have, and I’m gonna let that make the decision for me”. And what I hear you saying is, no, you need to have a process.

You need to have some decision trees. You need to have some weighted criteria in place. You need an outside perspective. You need a diverse team advising you so that you’re not just replicating yourself throughout the [00:14:00] organization over and over again. Is that correct?

[00:14:03] Dr. Arubayi: Absolutely. You’re spot on with that.

And in the past, I’ve worked with StrengthFinders. We don’t use StrengthFinders at Element Electronics, but it’s basically the same concept. If we are all same-of-same. Saying the same thing. Where is the change going to come from? And that’s what I would always say to my hiring managers.

Look within your team. Self-assess. I’m not saying higher statistics just to tick a box. I’m saying if you don’t have an affinity bias based on just engaging these people and saying, okay we, you went to you are in Indianapolis. Oh, fantastic. I grew up there and all of a sudden I’m stuck right there and…

There are other candidates that are from Kentucky or from other states in the United States, but because this person even went to my school. Or even referral bias. Oh, this, I’ve worked with this person for [00:15:00] twenty-one years, and if this person makes a recommendation, excuse my language, if this person makes a recommendation as to this is a unique candidate, it means that every other candidate, 45, all of them that have applied to this position have to suffer because of this referral bias.

So it cuts across. And if there is no process regardless, because even what managers need to understand, and this is just beyond Element Electronics, is that you post a job and it is live and it’s public.

And you probably have a candidate that has been referred or based on your bias, you’re already leaning towards that based on the halo effect. You’re like, oh, I love the strength of this person. This person’s strength can actually be your strength. So are you hiring your strength or are you hiring to the strength of your team?

And those are conversations that always will evolve and will emerge until we get it right. It never ends [00:16:00] because someone will say, “Oh, they remind me of me.” But you already have you. Are you hiring for you or are you hiring to make your team more nuanced and robust? Have a different perspective in conversation, in implementation of strategy in different things.

And those are the kinds of conversations that really I try to facilitate and lead in my own spare time.

[00:16:22] Amy: I think it’s very important. I love that you’ve used StrengthsFinders or Clifton strengths in the past. I’m a Gallup-certified strengths coach. That was one of the first things I did when I started my business, was I wanted to teach people how to, we talk about diversity of thought, but I think we talk about it.

I think a lot of executives talk about diversity of thought in a disingenuous way if you will. Yes, I’ve got nine guys on my team named John, but we have diversity of thought. And yes, we all went to the same school. And yes, we all majored in the same thing, but we have diversity of thought.

Okay, but do you really? And I think StrengthsFinder- if I can just do a little plug for that real quick… If you’re listening to this and you’ve never taken the Clifton [00:17:00] Strengths assessment through Gallup, do it. It’s phenomenal. But I think when we get into what are people uniquely good at? What are their unique gifts, and you can see people for what they contribute and what they’re passionate about, and what lights them up as opposed to the demographics or where they came from, or what job title they have, or their tenure with the company, or all of these other superficial things.

It allows us to really tap into what’s great about each individual person. Yes. And that’s how we really raise our teams.

[00:17:28] Dr. Arubayi: Yes. Absolutely. And I’m gonna go back to your initial question about what Element is doing because in the summer part of our strategy, so we don’t just talk strategy, but we also want to make sure that we’re preparing for generational gaps within the organization.

Last summer we did have an internship program led by myself and trying to get diverse candidates in. So 70, 70 odd percent of those who we hired on for that program were diverse candidates. [00:18:00] In terms of retention as a future talent pipeline pool for what we’re really looking to achieve at Element Electronics, we have indeed offered two of those candidates, diverse candidates positions at Element: one in our South Carolina office and one in our Eden Prairie office.

So just to reinforce that element, we are not just, and more or less encouraging other organizations, not just to talk. But to actually walk the walk of DEI, we’re not saying we need DEI because we are just, we want to be a statistic or just to get into the conversation of, oh, we are the most diverse company and for instance, Minnesota.

No. We are trying to make sure that our mission, vision, values with our leadership buy-in, our strategic intent is backed up by tactical strategies. Week. Week-to-date, month-to-date, q-to-date, year-to-date matrix that we can actually see and say this is where we are. This is who we [00:19:00] really are.

We are really not really diverse in our, in the true sense of it, but we are moving slowly for sure. So that’s about Element and the internship program and what we do.

[00:19:11] Amy: No, I think that’s important, that incremental progress is what’s sustainable. A lot of times organizations will do, they’ll try to do quick transformation.

And they lose a lot of people along the way because culture is not an overnight creation, and it doesn’t turn on a dime a lot of times. And so it’s that consistency that really drives, I think, sustainable change. Because if you’re not consistent over time, people think you’re not serious.

[00:19:40] Dr. Arubayi: Absolutely.

[00:19:41] Amy: So what’s next for you and for Element?

[00:19:44] Dr. Arubayi: For myself an element I believe that we’ll be looking back at the numbers. Now the DEI numbers, we are guided by numbers. Assess those and really know our strengths, finders find out where we need to really the pressure points where we really need to put [00:20:00] more effort in.

I can give you an example. Like I told you, our South Carolina office is diverse, and our corporate offices are getting there. We are looking to identify those pressure points and also tackle them head-on. We already have buy-in from the leadership team. Hence why I’m able to have a conversation on DEI where I- we are able to talk about these things because this is what we really want to leave through.

Employee resource groups is something down the line because I’m only, what? 11 months into my role. My one-year anniversary will be on the 7th of February. But since we’ve come in, we’ve really made great strides in all hiring that we have done. I would say 60% of the hires that we have done.

Or even more, since I’ve been here at Element Electronics, and this is a big credit to my director the HR team, the VP of HR Element Electronics, is that you can come into an [00:21:00] organization and it’s more or less am I really gonna be a DEI expert in this regard? Is DEI really a reality or is it just all talk?

But when you come into an organization and you actually do see that we are diversely inclusive and we all belong in a conversation it really sets a right tone in how we really want to move forward. So in terms of employee resource groups, just to try and get that in place. I would say upfront we just implemented Juneteenth, so last year we had MLK day only.

But we did celebrate Juneteenth last year, which was an initiative introduced by myself to the whole team and which was bought in by the management team. But we didn’t just wanna stop there. We wanted to celebrate people. Of caller and Juneteenth is something that we really pride ourself as one of our paid holidays this year.

So it’s already been implemented. It’s gonna be rolled out, and that’s something we really want to get through. [00:22:00] Through the ranks. Something I did miss is our internal strategy, so talent acquisition is bringing people in and the talent development is training people to make sure that they do understand what is really going on within Element Electronics.

Our last promotions from managers to directors. So the numbers I gave you have definitely improved because our last promotions in the month of November had seven promotions. And I can tell you six of those individuals are diverse candidates. So, in everything that we represent going forward into the future, we are looking to keep on doing what we are doing and attacking those pressure points where we see that there are gaps.

And just to make sure that we’re living out not just the diversity representation or inclusion getting someone in the seat at the table, but actually have a robust, diverse culture where everyone is valued, and every one is appreciated.

[00:22:56] Amy: I think it’s, that’s beautiful and I think we’ll leave it there. Dr. Arubayi, [00:23:00] thank you so much. Thanks for sharing your expertise with us, with our listeners and viewers.

[00:23:05] Dr. Arubayi: Thank you so much, Amy.

[00:24:00] Amy: That’s it for this week’s edition of Including You. Join me next week when my guest will be Ellen Rice Cheever from LMI.

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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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