Susie Lee is Degreed’s Senior Vice President of Global Business Transformation and the Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging (DIB) Executive Officer. She provides leadership on strategy and execution planning for companywide strategic initiatives and GTM programs to ensure organisational effectiveness, efficiency, and performance. Over the five years, Susie has been instrumental in scaling the Client Experience, Pre-Sales Engineering & Enablement functions and helped to expand Degreed outside of North America into global markets: EMEA, APAC and LATAM. In an exclusive interaction with People Matters, she shares the critical value of upskilling and the innovative opportunities pioneered by Business Resource Groups in championing the cause for DEIB at workplaces.
What are your DEIB priorities for the year 2022?
Our overarching priority for DEIB in 2022 is to build on the momentum we created within the organisation throughout 2021. We have established strong foundations through the work of our DEIB initiatives and our five Business Resource Groups (BRGs). We know that DEIB, particularly the belonging aspect of this, has real tangible business benefits; it drives innovation and accelerates performance. Knowing this, our aim remains the same, but we seek out new ways to demonstrate that message and provide fresh opportunities for everyone at Degreed to feel a strong sense of belonging. To do this, we have employed both a top-down and bottom-up approach.
At Degreed, one of our core aims is to make skills the currency of work. Driving from the top of the organisation, Degreed recently partnered with RedThread Research to answer the question, ‘What skills do you need to drive DEIB?’ The research is the first of its kind; it succeeds in identifying the skills needed at different seniority levels to drive DEIB.
Individual employees need skills like courage, pattern recognition, managing ambiguity and the ability to empower people, to operate authentically. Managers were found to need curiosity, influence, negotiation skills and grit. Finally, senior leaders need skills to push for change like mental flexibility, rapport building and assertiveness. Having a list of these skills for each employee group gives us a clear focus area for upskilling over the next year. Our people hold the key to our success, and every one of them has opportunities and is empowered to contribute to cultivating a strong DEIB culture.
For us, DEIB is more than a compliance exercise or a feel-good exercise; it’s challenging at times because we believe that for DEIB programs to thrive, they need to be at the heart of what we do. DEIB must be central to every decision made, every opportunity offered, and every project completed.
We need to be mindful of everyone’s lived experiences. Organisations that can harness that diversity of thought experience the positive business impact first-hand.
Our BRGs are thriving grassroots communities with employees across Degreed at every level and department. They raise awareness of issues and challenge the organisation. They have spearheaded cultural and educational initiatives for our people to share their experiences and have sparked meaningful discussion around DEIB. These include an International Women’s Day panel, a Black History Month inspired virtual museum tour, and even a dumpling making masterclass for Chinese New Year. It’s about valuing every employee for everything they bring to a role and team — and sharing this authentically with their colleagues.
How have digital solutions been used at your organisation to facilitate DEIB initiatives?
Our focus has always been on creating the right environment for DEIB to thrive, and everything we use — processes and digital solutions — enables this. Many of the tools we’ve been using are already embedded in our way of work. For example, slack groups are set up for our business resource groups (BRGs) to collaborate, and then we use Zoom to hold virtual meetings like our upcoming Pride month panel event. The BRGs and Degreed’s people team curate learning content and create learning pathways on the Degreed platform that employees can access anytime and anywhere to upskill in anything from LGBTQ+ cultural icons to becoming a better ally and understanding race and bias.
When factoring in the voice of minorities in DEIB policies, how do you ensure that the pressure isn’t entirely placed upon them? Where do empathy and collaboration begin in framing such policies?
It’s all about understanding, empowerment and collaboration. It’s about meeting people where they are and understanding their commitments and comfort levels.
That’s why a set-up like the Business Resource Groups (BRGs), which are employee-led, bottom-up, with an executive sponsor, works particularly well because they create a safe space for people to drive change but also a space for discussion so that people can gain a deeper understanding of the issues that affect people, helping colleagues to relate to, and learn from each other.
Some people may feel intimidated and unable to commit to something as ‘formal’ as consulting on a DEIB policy. They may not feel ready to step into the spotlight as someone driving DEIB in their organisation, and some may not know how to, particularly if they are allies. The special thing about BRGs is that those further along in their journey can share their experiences and confidence with others who may feel unsure or even uninformed about DEIB challenges, the group can then voice ideas as a collective.
What are your thoughts on making DEIB more impactful across the business?
We must be intentional about making DEIB a part of holistic business operations because that would put it in everyone’s remit, not just HR’s. It’s the only way true change will occur, and it makes sense because DEIB is a part of everyone’s daily work. Every time they interact with their colleagues, complete a project, praise their peers, and raise concerns, they have an opportunity to do it in a way that promotes a diverse and inclusive workplace.
What are some words of advice would you like to share with leaders to prevent them from falling into the trap of tokenism?
I would advise leaders to work on mastering the skills which will help them make the most impact.
In the spirit of being curious, set up ongoing communication with their people, especially colleagues with a different perspective to their own, to understand their lived experiences (both at work and outside of it). It’s vital to know how day-to-day interactions can add up to an overall employee experience that leaves someone feeling alienated and ‘other’
Successfully driving a culture of DEIB and offering strong, unbiased career opportunities across an organisation starts with understanding the skills needed.
Actionable skills data levels the playing field; it gives everyone a tangible and impartial way to build the foundations for an inclusive organisation — one skill at a time. It also provides a more unbiased way to offer talent opportunities to everyone in the organisation (not just those with the right connections or credentials) based on their skills and experience.