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#039 – How to Blend DEI, Accountability, and a Great Corporate Culture (with Serilda Summers-McGee)

Podcast Summary

Welcome to The Working Well Podcast, the show that explores the rapidly changing landscape of work and wellbeing. Each episode, we dive into the hottest topics of leadership, employee wellbeing, and the future of work. I’m your host, Tim Borys.

Today I’m excited to be hosting the amazing Serilda Summers-McGee. She’s a dynamo of a woman who’s redefining what DEI, corporate culture, and leadership look like in the workplace. Today, we dive into how these important topics are influencing employee wellbeing and organizational performance.

Here’s a bit more about Serilda before we get started…

Serilda Summers-McGee is a powerful force for positive change, business excellence, and vibrant workplace cultures. Her diverse background and refreshing perspective on people, DEI, and business performance is a true inspiration for leaders and organizations.

She is Principal and CEO of Workplace Change, LLC. Her full service HR firm specializes in guiding and advising companies to integrate Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion into their business and HR systems. Prior to launching her own firm, Serilda was Chief Human Resources Officer for the City of Portland, Oregon and supported a workforce of over 10,000 team members. In the past 5 years, she has won numerous awards including the “Women of Influence”, “HR Excellence”, and “CEO of the Year”.

Connect with Serilda:

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/serilda/ 

Website: https://workplacechanges.com/

Podcast Transcript

Tim: All right. Serilda, great to have you on The Working Well Podcast. So nice to have you here. How’s the day going?

Serilda: I’m happy to be here, Tim. My day’s going well.

Tim: Excellent. Now we’re going to talk about a lot of things today and I’m really excited. In our previous chat, we had a lot of great topics that came up. So this one is really about that intersection between leadership, diversity, equity, inclusion, wellbeing, and company performance.

Now, you have a widely varied background and you’re an innovator in the DEI space as well as the leadership and corporate culture space. So I’m looking forward to hearing a lot about where you started and how you got to where you are now. You’ve won lots of great awards over the past few years, Women of Influence, and you have the CEO of the Year for 2022.Congrats.

Serilda: Thank you so much. And I’m excited to share with you my perspective on the intersection of the topics you mentioned because there’s a lot of overlap and intersectionality as it pertains to those topics.

Lessons from Taco Bell to being CHRO of the City of Portland

Tim: Yes. And one thing that stuck out from your bio and I’m really excited to hear the evolution of this is you started working at the front reception at Taco Bell or at the counter at Taco Bell. Tell me how you go from that to the CHRO of the City of Portland?

Serilda: Miracle. Lots of prayer. So look, I grew up pretty stereotypical for the 80’s as a black girl in Michigan, right? Like it was tough days. My family worked in factories and foundries, and they always told us kind of the way to get out of this cycle of poverty and the cycle of manual labor was education. But in order to attain that education, I had to work to survive.

And so, I worked in fast food, quick service in the summers. I worked in factories and foundries for GM plants and but I worked at Taco Bell the longest. Taco Bell taught me a lot, and it mostly taught me to a.) Get out, right? Like, it reminded me every single day that this can’t be your life at 40 years old. I’m 40 today. I was 16 when I started working there. And I remember thinking like I can’t do this at 40, like, this is so physical – flipping tacos is physical. You’re on your feet for eight to 10 hours straight. You get a couple 30-minute breaks in there. When’s the last time you stood in one spot, moving your arms very rapidly for 10 straight hours? Day after day, right? Like it was grueling physical labor but it did teach me work ethic. It did teach me that I needed to stay committed to my education to get out of that cycle.

And it also taught me how to manage people, right? I worked in Taco Bell from the time I was 16 until school. I went to grad school twice. I got a master’s in education in the MBA. I worked at Taco Bell all the way through getting my education degree at Ball State University.

And so that’s like until I was 21 years old from 16 to 21. I worked at Taco Bell. I used to call it Taco Hell affectionately, right? Coming home smelling like taco meat and onions. It was not great. But it made me have a passion for education. It made me have a passion for just kind of getting into something that was a bit more white-collar.

Respecting the Front Line Employees in Your Business 

Tim: Yes. And one thing that stuck out from your bio and I’m really excited to hear the evolution of this is you started working at the front reception at Taco Bell or at the counter at Taco Bell. Tell me how you go from that to the CHRO of the City of Portland?

Serilda: Miracle. Lots of prayer. So look, I grew up pretty stereotypical for the 80’s as a black girl in Michigan, right? Like it was tough days. My family worked in factories and foundries, and they always told us kind of the way to get out of this cycle of poverty and the cycle of manual labor was education. But in order to attain that education, I had to work to survive.

And so, I worked in fast food, quick service in the summers. I worked in factories and foundries for GM plants and but I worked at Taco Bell the longest. Taco Bell taught me a lot, and it mostly taught me to a.) Get out, right? Like, it reminded me every single day that this can’t be your life at 40 years old. I’m 40 today. I was 16 when I started working there. And I remember thinking like I can’t do this at 40, like, this is so physical – flipping tacos is physical. You’re on your feet for eight to 10 hours straight. You get a couple 30-minute breaks in there. When’s the last time you stood in one spot, moving your arms very rapidly for 10 straight hours? Day after day, right? Like it was grueling physical labor but it did teach me work ethic. It did teach me that I needed to stay committed to my education to get out of that cycle.

And it also taught me how to manage people, right? I worked in Taco Bell from the time I was 16 until school. I went to grad school twice. I got a master’s in education in the MBA. I worked at Taco Bell all the way through getting my education degree at Ball State University.

And so that’s like until I was 21 years old from 16 to 21. I worked at Taco Bell. I used to call it Taco Hell affectionately, right? Coming home smelling like taco meat and onions. It was not great. But it made me have a passion for education. It made me have a passion for just kind of getting into something that was a bit more white-collar.

Respect is the ultimate currency

Tim: Yes. And then tell me a bit more about what you learned about leading, managing people at that at that time. How has that translated to where you are now?

Serilda: So, so one of my first clients when I started Workplace Change, my first big client, when I started Workplace Change was Burgerville.

Burgerville is a a regional brand. It’s in Oregon, in Washington. And it’s locally sourced meats. If you’re ever in Oregon, Washington, you got to get a Burgerville meal. It’s delicious, right? It’s nutritious, it’s all local. And they brought me in because they became the first unionized fast food quick service. It’s not fast food anymore. Quick service restaurant in the United States of America. And so, they reached out to me because I have a really rich. Background working in human resources and government organizations working with unions. So I went and worked for Burgerville and I had this major aha, right?

Most of the people who were at the table, the lawyers, the business owners, et cetera, they hadn’t worked in quick service. They didn’t understand the experiences of the people. They didn’t understand the grievances of the people. They didn’t understand how you can have a very successful business but how that business is built on the backs of people who are low-wage earners, who are committed to you, committed enough to show up every day and sacrifice their body and their health being inside the ecosystem. And I was able to communicate like translate what the quick service employee is experiencing and what the corporate folks needed to hear to understand what was vexing the workforce.

Taco Bell taught me that working direct customer on the lines, right onthe heated, boiling hot water lines, making this food throughout the day. I understood the challenges, I understood the obstacles. I understood how condescending some of the language can read to people who are out there on the front lines every single day. And Taco Bell taught me that. Taco Bell taught me how to communicate with people in a way that made them not feel disrespectful, but disrespected, but made them feel valued and made them feel seen.

Taco Bell taught me that and those experiences, those life experiences helped me become a strong leader today because humans are all the same. We try to think about like the poor people versus the rich people versus the middle class people. We’re all just human beings wanting to be respected, responded to, encouraged, celebrated for good work, not talked down to, not humiliated. It’s human nature. And sometimes we forget those things along the way and so, Taco Bell grounded me in that I’ll never forget what Taco Bell gave to me in my time there beyond smelling like onions at my core and not being able to ever eat Taco Bell ever. It gave me this kind of sense of understanding the natural human experience and seeing how it’s all the same no matter what environment or ecosystem you go in. The human experience is the same and the needs are the same.

Tim: Yes. You just nailed it in the sense of most of the leadership and organizational challenges we see today around people come down to whether it’s a lack of empathy or understanding or ability to just see that other person as a human and have a conversation with them

Serilda: That is the problem. Right. When you see a person as a human, you respond to them in a very humane way. When you see a person as a problem. You respond to them in a very aggressive way, right? Like, I’m going to eliminate, dispose of this problem, and that’s not humane generally, by and large. And so even if a person is terrible at their job, right? Or you don’t like them or they’re rude or they’re whatever, but you have positional power and authority. You don’t have to engage with them in a cruel way because you have the power. You can be humane. You can be nice and civilized, still hold them accountable and still fire them, but you don’t have to make them feel like garbage along the way.

And that’s Taco Bell, right? Taco Bell taught me this because here’s the thing, I worked at a Taco Bell in a very urban environment. We’ll say it that way. So if you disrespect, respect is the currency in low income environments, right? We don’t have a lot of money. We don’t have a lot of assets, right? We have respect. So if I feel disrespected by you, the way in which I respond to that disrespect is an open hand slap to the face, like it can become physical very quickly. And so, you have to be very thoughtful unless you want to turn a situation into a directive or a redirect into a physical assault where family members are coming from the neighborhoods and it’s an all-out war. Literally, it can go from zero to 10 like that.

And so that’s where I learned to like, Okay, how do I get you to do what I need you to do? Not call your posse in here to make my life a living, double hockey sticks, right? And get the outcome that we all need. You’re trying to get paid. I’m trying to get paid. I don’t want any problems. You don’t want any problems. You need to do this job.

That’s Taco Bell. And I’ve taken those life experiences with me now we’re, we’re really sophisticated now, so nobody’s going to slap me in the face. So it’s a lot less on the line if I don’t get it right sometimes.

Tim: Well. Yes. That’s a very like you call it physical example, but people get disrespected in the workplace all the time. And yes,, they may not slap you in the face, but that’s where a lot of the challenges with corporate culture come from. There’s this simmering distrust dislike, lack of respect that’s going on. And everyone’s on the surface very polite about it but work doesn’t get done. People are ineffective. Stress levels are high.

You would’ve seen a very different picture at the City of Portland. So tell me about some of the. Differences you see in the commonalities, in the, in the solutions to that.

Serilda: Oh man. Differences in commonalities. So God, I love this question, Tim, because there are so many parallels that people who don’t get to cross over, they don’t get to see, right? So I tell you disrespect someone, they feel deeply disrespected by you, it can get physical in these low-income environments that is a physical slap in the face, right?

But on the corporate side, folks are slapping each other in the face 24/7, but it’s just not physical. It’s manifesting in different ways. So like you said, they’ll drag their feet on a project that that you need to get finished. I call it sniper shooting, right? They’ll spread gossip about you that can wreck your career, your quarter million dollar, half a million dollar a year career, right? I’d rather you slap me in the face than you stop my earning potential for the next 20 years.

What do I mean? And people, they will set you up. They will whistle blow. They will claim things happened that didn’t happen because you are disrespecting them. And now they’re like, I’m going to now disrespect you.

I’m going to now get you back for the harm that you caused me. And it’s just deeply dysfunctional and it doesn’t establish. You can’t run your business as successfully as you could have if that didn’t exist. So I tell folks, I learned some, some hard knock rules of life when living in subsidized housing, working at Taco Bell, catching the bus places, right? Like getting supplemental food assistance, just kind of living in that environment.

But those very rich life experiences directly translate into the corporate world, hands down easily. There’s an easy nexus. Like, no, she didn’t slap you in the face. No, she whistle blew and gave you a bully that then made you have to spend tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees in order to fight the bully. Only to come up that it was mostly just a misunderstanding. OK, that’s a slap in the face. A big slap in the face because this person is chronically disrespected, and we can really interrupt that trend line, and it’s harder to catch it. It’s easy for somebody to yell at you and say, don’t talk to me like that, and for you to de-escalate it then for someone to go back to their desk, to their home office. And cook up a plan of how they’re going to get back at you. And there’s a whole, there’s a lot of that’s happening right now in the workplaces throughout America, on the heels of COVID, on the heel of civil unrest, on the heel of Me Too, Black Lives Matter.

All of these things have just brought the stressors to a fever pitch at a crescendo right now, and it’s going to require a lot of direct communication to get things back on track or we’re just going to keep on litigating and fighting and whistle blowing and calling each other out and going to social media and saying people are racist, sexist, homophobic, trans folks. Talk about slaps in the face, right?

Tim: Yes. Well, you hit on it in the sense what I’ve seen as well, and same up here in Canada, is that people’s bandwidth for stressors is just razor-thin right now., Pre-COVID, stress levels were high, but I find that buffer zone is just gone and gone. The littlest thing sets people off and you don’t know what it could be, but a lot of people are so in their bubble that they don’t notice when they have done something disrespectful or when they’re not seeing the bigger picture because they’re just focused on their own psychological survival, I guess we’ll call it.

Serilda: Absolutely. And disrespect has changed, right? Yes. What used to be disrespectful two years ago, what used to not be disrespectful two years ago is now seen as deeply disrespectful today. Can I give you an example?

Tim: Yes of course. Yes.

How to manage difficult conversations in the workplace

Serilda: So I have a person on my team, on my workplace change team, and she was new and she started working with us and she asked for some flexibility, and I don’t believe in flexibility. I believe in you getting a job done and we can be flexible within reason. If you can still get this job done, we can be incredibly flexible as long as it’s something that I can provide to other people who are making a similar request. That’s just always my approach. But her approach to having the conversation with me was one that was clearly based on trauma, right?

She came forward and she said I am neurodivergent and I identify as neurodivergent and so I don’t want to be in the office before 10:00 AM and I need this as an accommodation, like she’s using all of these HR rich words to be able to kind of like force a leader to bend to their will. And I remember kind of pausing the conversation and saying, Hey, pause. Right? Like, I could have felt disrespected. I know managers, we are a B2B business. I know managers who who would feel deeply disrespected. They’re a new hire and is now trying to force them into accommodating these wonky timing things. Because they would immediately say, that’s a red flag. Let’s get them out of there. I feel disrespected by this behavior.

I feel like they’re trying to force me into a corner to do what they want me to do and not be able to manage my team fairly the way I need to manage my team. And they would get rid of that person. But instead, I had a conversation about it. And say like, why do you feel like you need to come and tell me that you are neurodivergent?

Number one, I believe that most of the world is neurodivergent, right? Whether it’s anxiety or ADHD you’ve got what is it when you read the words backwards? Dyslexia. Dyslexia. I mean we can, we can go on and on and on about the different kinds of ways that people take in information and how we need to celebrate those different kinds of ways. But I’m like, why are you needing to put these medical terms to it? And then say you need accommodation. Why can’t you just have a conversation with me? Right? Yes. Undiagnosed, you don’t, you don’t have a doctor’s request. I’m not asking for one, like, why are we doing this? I could have seen that as disrespectful.

She could have seen me calming the conversation down and saying like, I’m not going to play that game with you. You want to be able to work in these flexible ways and arrangements. You got it, but don’t ever come to me and try to weaponize some self-diagnosis into trying to force me to bend to your will because I resent that.

Two years ago, that is not the way in which people were having these kinds of conversations. Number one, she probably wouldn’t have asked. Number two, I probably wouldn’t have had the direct conversation with her. Number three, she probably wouldn’t have used this very kind of loaded legal health language accommodation, neurodivergent, all of those kinds of things.

The world has shifted so aggressively, and now because we have all this new language, these new expectations, these new demands that we’re asking, people are feeling more and more threatened. People are feeling more and more disrespect, that people are feeling more and more like, I need to get away from that stimulus. And, and it’s really unfortunate because, at the end of the day, we should just have a conversation about it, which is why I use this example of her request and the disrespect and the sensitivities, that folks are having right now.

Tim: So how does she respond to the change in tone, I guess you’d say of the conversation.

Serilda: She was grateful. She said thank you. Like at the end of the day, she got what she wanted. Right. I just let her know what my value set is and what our cultural dynamics are in the workplace change. So if she tries it again, I’m going to ask do we have a parallel value set. Is this the best environment for you to be in? Because we don’t manipulate people here. We have conversations and we try to figure out how to move forward in a way that respects the business, that respects the colleagues in the workforce and that, , getsthe work done. And you can have the flexibility that you need. I doubt that she’ll do it again because she felt like she was able to have an adult conversation with me and we were able to be straight up. I think it’s going well so far, but if it’s not, trust and believe, I’ll have another conversation.

Tim: Yes. Well, and with your background, that’s a conversation that you’ve probably had multiple times in multiple ways.

Healthy Communication – the nexus of employee wellbeing and great company culture

Tim: What advice do you have for leaders that maybe are new leaders or aren’t used to having those types of conversations?

Serilda: Yes. You talk about the nexus of employee well-being. Corporate performance leadership, diversity, equity, and inclusion. The nexus of all of that is healthy communication, right?

And so what my advice to people is, number one, if in your personal life you feel like you are either in a fight or flight zone pretty consistently, meaning you are very combative and argumentative with people that you’re talking to – loved ones, friends, etc. Or if something touchy, sensitive shows up, you shut the conversation down, and you don’t engage, you need some coaching. You need some training on how to have healthy conversations before you even try to step into this kind of conversation that I gave an example of in the workplace, right? Because there’s actually things on the line as a manager, if you say the wrong thing, as a manager, if you do the wrong thing, you create liability. You create li risk for the company that you’re representing.

So what I encourage people to do is that if you’re not an effective communicator, you come in way too hot or you shut down way too fast, then you need to get support from a HR representative. Usually HR folks have got people that they could leverage. If you don’t have HR, talk to other managers that you feel do a really good job approaching difficult conversations. And then get yourself trained up because it is a muscle you can train yourself to become really skilled at having difficult conversations with any kind of person.The hot head to the person who shuts down and wilts like a flower and cries, they both require a different kind of communication style and you’ve got to figure out how to facilitate that, right? But don’t come in like, oh, Serilda said, and then do that. No, it’s more nuanced than that. You got to read the room. You have to read the energy, understand the audience, and then make sure you’re sticking the landing in a way that doesn’t get you into hot water.

Tim: Yes. It comes down to emotional intelligence, understanding how to connect with people. Right. And, and we’re terrible at it. Some people think they’re good at it and other people. People, 75% of people say they’re above average.

Serilda: Oh my gosh. Right. I love that statistic. My thing is, I’m like, the most dangerous people on the planet earth for folks who think they’re smart and are not. It’s dangerous.

Training and Accountability

Tim: And with things changing so rapidly, leaders have their real job to do. As I hear often from people is like, I don’t have time. Like we did the training, we did this. And it often seems to be like, Hey, go for an hour lunch and learn or something or a 90 minute session. And then it’s like, okay, whew, they’re back to my desk and work. Right. How do you help leaders and even individual contributors? How do you help them transition information from that session or seminar into day-to-day life? Day-to-day work.

Serilda: Practical application? I tell people training without accountability is just entertainment, right? Being held accountable to what you just learned, the use of what you just learned. That is always a missing component with all of these trainings that happen.

So what I encourage people to do, so when we, I present personally between 150 and 350 trainings a year. All over the country. And I’ll be in Canada in June. I will be in Toronto at a conference there. Where do you live, Tim?

Tim: In Calgary.

Serilda: Oh, okay. It’s a little ways away. Yes. I’m like, we should, we should have lunch. But training is not enough. You need training in order to fill the tool belts because you can’t start holding people accountable if they don’t understand. What the best practices are, what the expectations are, what the standards are, right? They have to have the tools for you to hold them accountable, but once you give them the tools, you actually need to ensure that they’re utilizing those tools, and the way that you ensure that they’re utilizing the tools are a few different ways.

Number one, managers should think about the training that they are providing, that their workforce is going through, and think about how we want to see it applied in the workplace. That’s a step that most managers don’t do. They’re just like, oh, that sounds interesting, let’s bring that in, which is cool.

If it’s for entertainment purposes, right, a cerebral entertainment exercise. But if you actually want something to change, you have to think about, now how can we integrate some of these things into our day-to-day operations.

So I’ll give you an example. We’re working with a government organization. Next week, they have a human resources team and specifically a really large recruitment team. The recruitment team is going through equity integration training, right? Like how do you take some of these concepts and then make it relevant into the work that they do day-to-day? But then we have work sessions where we actually bring in their systems and we have a conversation about, okay, so this is the way, this is this practice. This is how it’s executed and implemented. This is how you can make a shift to it to make it more inclusive in the ways that we learned about.

So we have three sessions set up after the training to talk about the application of the previous session. And we have four sessions total, so it’s a series of four. We have three work sessions that are 90 minutes long after each training that are just about integrating the last training into their day-to-day practices and operations. That came to be because management said, we love the content, we love the curricula that you are presenting to us. We actually want to take it a step further and go into integration. Do you have something like that? And we’re like, yes, we do. We’re all about integration. And we were quickly able to put together the structure of training and development based on the curricula.

So that’s just one example. You can also embed this into your performance, your performance evaluation system. You can tie the application of these concepts into your merit pay. You can do all kinds of interesting ways to ensure people are utilizing the information you’re investing in providing to them.

Tim: Yes, and that’s we’re, I see this on the workplace wellbeing side as well. That’s what we do our consulting on. And there’s such a crossover with communication leadership, the respect of people in the workplace, what leaders are saying about wellness versus what they’re actually doing about wellness. And the integration is huge. Like yes, you have a gym on site. Yes, you have a benefits plan. Yes, you’re doing all these different things. Is it actually being implemented? Right. Are leaders being held accountable for results in those areas? Generally, not.

Serilda: In most, generally not. That’s exactly right. So what are we doing here, right? Yes. I think about it like health and wellness. Like in your body, you can watch all of the YouTube videos and Instagram shorts on how to make hummus tasty and balanced, whipped meals of grains and colorful  vegetables, and you can do all that while snacking on Doritos, eating Pop Tarts and having fried chicken for dinner. Right? It’s got to go beyond just thinking about it to actual work. If you want to have a healthy environment and healthy ecosystem. Now, if you just want to think about healthy thoughts and then just live in a cesspool your decision. But please don’t claim that you’re a health guru while I’m watching you eat, sugary treats and pointless food that that’s poisoning you every single day.

Why are you claiming to be something that you’re not? Why do that? And that’s what people are doing in these work environments is that they have the right buzzwords, they have the right talking points, and they’re saying the right things all while continuing to engage in very harmful behavior that stresses out their workforce, that causes people to be the worst versions of themselves. That just kind of fosters this environment of toxicity while claiming they’re above it.

Tim: Absolutely. And when we go to corporate culture, that is at the heart of the issue with so many corporate cultures, is marketing and leadership, talk about all these great things, and the day-to-day reality of employees coming into, the office is polar opposite or very different. Different enough to cause stress.

The role of HR in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Serilda: Absolutely. I mean, let’s just make it very visible, right? Because sometimes culture can be, it’s like air. It’s all around us, but I don’t quite see it, right? Diversifying the workforce, right? So I’m a HR practitioner. I embed diversity, equity, and inclusion fundamentals into traditional HR functions, recruitment, employee relations, labor relations, classification, and compensation benefits, training and development that we embedded into all those fundamentals.

Now, nearly during all the civil unrest and George Floyd, nearly every company made a commitment to diversify their organizations diversity, equity, and inclusion. Now, they had all the talking points. They put color, they put together colorful marketing ads. They said all the right things, right? If you fast forward two years later and you look at their board of directors and you look at their executive team and you look just one level below, they’re VPs and directors. The composition is still by and large, deeply homogeneous, very white, very male-dominated, still very homogenous from a gender identity, gender expression standpoint as well. Make it make sense, right? That we need to reconcile the two, like the outcome isn’t aligned with the commitment two years later.

And so, everybody is noticing this, right? It is very superficial. This is where the term performative came from, right? Rainbow washing and all of those kinds of things come from people saying like, show the receipt. Like, don’t tell me you’re going to do it. Actually do the work and not enough people are really doing the work.

Tim: Yes. Because that change takes some effort.

Serilda: It takes effort, but it didn’t take that much time. Like you got a vacancy today, find the people who are historically underrepresented and then ensure that they are aware that the position is there, and then make sure you interview them for the position and then make sure that it’s a competitive process where they get an opportunity at fair shake at the opportunity. It’s baloney for you to tell me It takes so much time when I know you hired a VP yesterday. Sorry Tim.

Tim: No, I love it. It requires people to get uncomfortable and to step outside what their norm is. And that’s not happening. So what do you see as the future of human resources then? Things have shifted a lot over the last couple years.

Serilda: The future of human resources. I have a lot to say because I speak a lot right? And I’m like, human resources by another name is still Human Resources right now. It’s people and culture. Now it’s people, culture and equity. I mean, now, people are making it all kinds of stuff. And it’s like, well, at the end of the day, human resources has been embedded into the framework and the infrastructure of capitalism and business in North America and beyond. Right. Not going anywhere. The compliance is tethered to it, right? The federal and the state laws are tethered to it. The money, salaries, compensation, all those things, all those infrastructural things are tethered to the existence of human resources and having someone who is responsible to be responsive to compliance types of requirements.

So it’s not going anywhere, but it can evolve, right? And so what I teach at different universities in the human resources function. Am not saying human resources is terrible. I think human resources is amazing. It’s got all this data. It’s data-rich. It’s opportunity-rich. It’s accountability-rich, right? You can hold people accountable through performance management systems owned by human resources. You can ensure you’ve got diverse talent through recruitment initiatives owned by human resources.

You can make sure that women are being paid 70 cents on a white man’s dollar, and black women are being paid 62 cents on a white male’s dollar. And Latina women aren’t being paid 51 cents on a white male’s dollar for doing the exact same work. Why? Because the money, the compensation, and the salaries are embedded in human resources. Look at how amazing the opportunities are inside human resources. If we actually manage the systems that exist in in human resources differently, and that’s my call to action. I am classically trained in human resources. I have served in the most senior human resources capacities in full-time jobs, and I currently serve as four interim executive vice presidents and senior vice presidents for four different corporations right now on an interim basis until I can find a really great candidate to step in, to lead these HR teams. I live it and I breathe it. And here’s what I do know, it can be administered for good or for harm. So I just want to give you one quick example.

So I go into this really big organization. I come in as the executive vice president and I bring two of my members of the workplace change team with me. As directors, we’re fully embedded. We get a card, right? An ID card for the company to get in and out. We get email. We get access to all of their infrastructure because we’re in their full integration. We roll up our sleeves. We don’t just preach these things. We actually come in on the ground and help you do HR differently.

So I’m in this organization and we run a report. We run a report because particularly in this organization, the black employees were crying foul. They said black people, this is about 20,000 people inside the organization. The black folks are saying folks are not being treated properly. They are going to the union. They have grievances of the wazoo. They are sending messages to the CEO. They are going to the press. I mean, it’s a big old hairy mess in there. And they said we want to bring you in.

Hey, I’m black. I know Tim, you may not know this. You might not be able to see that. And that’s a joke. Cause I’m a dark-skinned black girl with some braids in my hair right now. I’m black.

And they bring us in. They’re like, Hey, we know we need some systems changes, but we also need to figure out how to cool the charge nature of our black employees in particular. I said, okay, cool. Step number one, let’s research what their complaints are. Is there any or are they making this up? Cause sometimes in HR I know people make things up. Okay. We look at the data and we see that black folks who make up about 4% of the population there, they make up, they made up like nearly 30% of terminations for calls. So when you have tens of thousands of employees, you actually fire a lot of people. Like there’s a lot of energy that’s happening in there. So we can track that data. In HR we saw that although they make up 4% of the population, they’re making up 30% of the terminations for calls. Interesting. We also saw that recruitments were low. We saw that disciplinary action was alarmingly high. I mean, they made a significant amount of the discipline, for calls, right? And I said, that’s interesting. How is this even possible, right? How can 400 or it’s not even 4,000, it’s probably like 1900 people make up hundreds of terminations every single year. It’s disproportionately represented in that particular population.

So I suspended all terminations. You cannot get a termination in this corporation. Remember, they brought me in as the interim executive vice president of human resources. I’m not a contractor consultant. I’m up in here, so we’re going to suspend all terminations. That freaked people out. Managers couldn’t just terminate people. They had to make the case to me within the first week of me suspending it and folks having to come to through me. We went from having week to week probably 20, 30, 40 requests for termination. About a month into it, maybe two or three requests, because now my HR team is understanding that they don’t have to do whatever the HR manager is telling them to do.

Number two, we saw that the number of requests that were coming forward were not legitimate. I would say 90% of them weren’t. They just didn’t like the person or they just were fed up. They had never talked to the person. They were not patient with the person. And when we would look at the other employees like, is this the first employee to do this? Has any other employee did this? Let’s do a little bit of due diligence. We saw that. 40, 50% of their workforce were doing some of these things, but only the black employee was getting terminated for it. Ah, wrong answer. They’re not going to be terminated. You’re going to get a conversation and all the other people we identified are going to get the same conversation and we’re going to send out a global communication to your entire workforce. It’s level setting, the expectations. We’re going to reboot. It was more work. People were deeply frustrated with me but the outcome shifted.

That is us using human resources for good, to pay attention to what’s happening systemically, and saying not on our watch. Is this going to be just allowed to happen disproportionately to one particular demographic of people while everybody else gets grace and everyone else is treated with humanity? No. Right.

So that’s just me, just you, sharing with you what’s the future of human resources. I think the future of human resources is more aligned with the illustration I just provided with how we can disrupt and interrupt some of these negative trend lines that are causing harm to human beings.  

Tim: And that requires identifying the areas of opportunity and being aware of the flaws in the system precisely. So how do we get to that point?

Serilda: Well, we already know that. Look, if you work in the system, that the system is rigged and how it’s rigged, right? Like you, there’s not one HR person, there’s not one finance person. There’s not one legal in-house, legal representative who doesn’t already know that there’s a fly in the ointment, right? But more times than not, they are talking about kind of protect the system, right?

The system is built to sustain itself. And these folks are just actors in maintaining the status quo. Not even recognizing because when you’re in your little space, you don’t look up and see the massive impact that you are having, these ripples that are happening causing a tidal wave to certain demographics of folks. And so if people just look up. Ask some questions and say, how can we do this differently? How can we do it better? And then try something different, which is hard. It’s scary. There’s so many people who are just so afraid to lose their livelihood if they don’t stay in rhythm with a system that is benefiting those who are at the top. That’s the fear. But if you move in fear, right? If you govern yourself from a place of fear, I can assure you that the outcome will not be great. It’s not going to be nearly as great as it could be if you move from a position of conviction and a perspective of abundance. And I believe that.

Tim: But I love that you’re so data-focused as well, because it’s like the numbers don’t lie.

Serilda: The numbers don’t lie. What is the statement? Men lie. Women lie. Numbers don’t lie. Now I can look at the numbers and lie to you about what they mean, but if you really look at the numbers, they tell the story.

Tim: Yes. Well, and companies have this information at their fingertips and they’re just not using it. And I love that. Well, there’s so many more things we could talk about. I want to be conscious of time. 

Identifying the True Meaning of Workplace Wellbeing 

Tim: There’s a trend towards chief wellbeing officers head of wellbeing, things like that. Where do you see that fitting in the organizational structure?

Serilda: Man, it looks so different, and so every ecosystem, doing wellness, very differently. I think that we need to establish a standard of what we mean by wellbeing. Just like we have a standard of what we mean by human resources, and we have a standard of what we mean by finance and marketing and communications and operations, right? If we think that wellbeing is important. I actually believe that there needs to be a body of work associated with what does wellbeing mean in the workplace? What are we trying to get at so that we can consistently apply it from place to place?

I feel the same way about diversity, equity, and inclusion. DEI looks light years apart when you go from one organization to the next organization. And that’s because we haven’t really established a standard of what diversity, equity, and inclusion means, looks like, feels like, in organizations and institutions. I think government has more of a pretty set standard nationally about what diversity, equity, and inclusion means in play from a federal and state standpoint. But I think you go to healthcare, it’s different from place to place. Sometimes it’s patient-focused, sometimes it’s employee focused, sometimes it’s data-focused, right? Research-focused. It can look 1,000,001 different ways. And I just think we need to get some foundational standards that people can look to for guidance.

Because people are looking for guidance right now. Kind of like what we did with sustainability. We’ve got the B Corp. B Corp established some standards for what sustainability meant because they knew from place to place to place sustainability meant different things, like sustainability looked like blow dryers in one place. And it looked like food rotting in one of those bins in another place. And they said, well, this is what the standard bearer looks like for sustainability. And if you want to claim to be affiliated with us, you have to hit these standards. And I really feel like there’s a value to that when it comes to wellbeing and when it comes to diversity, equity, and inclusion, quite frankly.

Tim: Yes. I see wellbeing and diversity and equity inclusion being very interconnected, agree. Obviously, if you have poor diversity, poor equity, inclusion, you’re going to have poor wellbeing. And yes, until we get a big standard at the bare minimum, identifying what it means for your individual organization is a good start because I don’t think a lot of companies have even gotten that far yet.

Serilda: I agree with you a hundred percent.

Tim: They or at least people within the organization aren’t agreeing on what it is. HR believes this. Leadership believes this. Managers believe that.

Serilda: That’s exactly right. Which means we’re stuck, right? We’re, literally, the way then we’re doing wellbeing is just by talking about it in perpetuity with no actual outcomes and real resource investments or accountability tethered to it, which is a waste.

Workplace Change: The Future of People and Culture

Tim: So surreal. Then in wrapping up what’s your one takeaway to listeners? What’s the one thing you want people to remember about you, your organization, and this conversation?

Serilda: Oh man. So one thing about me is I’m actually pretty cool. Like people, people see folks who are in human resources and do the kind of work I do investigations, a lot of accountability. And they think like we lose our humanity as well. It’s like what HR said and it’s like, no, there’s a real human being back there and you can have a conversation with that human being and, and make your point, right? You can make the point, you can make your point, make your case and have a conversation with them. You don’t always have to see them as the man trying to oppress you and stop you from ultimate glory.

One thing about workplace change is, I think workplace change is the future of of people and culture, people ops. My goal is for every human resources function and department and small, medium, large, extra large environments, government, not-for-profit, for-profit, to run human resources, the way in which we are trying to lead it in workplace change. And we’re small, but we’re incredibly mighty. And our objective is not just to disrupt, but it’s to disrupt the status quo and to rebuild something that still gets you big payday as corporations, that still gets you creativity and innovation that still allows you to have your flexibility, management and leadership in leading the company towards the promised land of however it is you imagine it in your mind, but that treats people with humanity and respect along the way.

And that is the future of human resources, people, ops, people culture etc. And I believe it can exist inside HR. It does not have to be set aside from, it has to happen right in the infrastructure of capitalism. There is where it must live and human resources lives there.

Tim: Fantastic. Love it. Thank you so much. Where can people find you?

Serilda: We should connect on LinkedIn. I’m heavy on LinkedIn, so Serilda Summers-McGee or Workplace Change on LinkedIn is a great connection point. That’s how Tim and I found each other. And then I’m on all social media, but WorkplaceChanges.com is where we put a lot of content, a lot of videos, a lot of publications to help you kind of see the way we see the world.

Tim: Perfect. And I can attest the WorkplaceChanges.com site is awesome. All right. Thank you so much, Serilda. I look forward to reconnecting again soon. And when you’re in Calgary, by all means, stop by.

Serilda: Is it cold in Calgary right now, Tim?

Tim: It is warming up now. Spring has sprung. Okay.

Serilda: The snow is almost melted. Oh, the snow? No, it’s cold. No, no. You still have snow. It’s cold. Damn.

Tim: It’s mostly melt. Next time

Serilda: Nex time I’m there. Thanks for the invite.

Tim: You’re very welcome. We’ll chat soon. Right

Serilda: Right on.

Tim: That wraps up another episode of the Working Well Podcast.If you enjoyed the show, please rate, review, and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. Now, which guest would you like to see featured on the show? Just message me through LinkedIn or on the contact page of TimBorys. com. Thank you for tuning in. I’m Tim Borys with Fresh Wellness Group and I look forward to seeing you on the next episode.

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