Fair360 2021 Top 50 event: Leading in Challenging Times: A Panel Discussion

During Fair360, formerly DiversityInc’s 2021 virtual event “Leading in Challenging Times,” panelists discussed how leaders from top companies integrate data transparency into their corporate strategy, their workforce connections and their consumer outreach in the communities they serve. Participants included Theresita Richard, Vice President of Diversity at Capital One (No. 28 on The Fair360, formerly DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity list in 2021); Alicia Petross, Vice President of Diversity Inclusion and Engagement at The Hershey Company (No. 10 in 2021); Sharon Fronabarger, Head of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Accountability and Metrics at Johnson & Johnson (a Fair360, formerly DiversityInc Hall of Fame Company); and Han-Ron Siah, Senior Vice President of Digital Talent Strategy, Analytics and Solutions and Talent Point at Marriott (a Fair360, formerly DiversityInc Hall of Fame Company). Anita Rickets, Chief of Staff at Fair360, formerly DiversityInc, moderated the session. Here’s a look back at their conversation.

As we continue to navigate these unprecedented times, from a global pandemic to political unrest and an ever-mounting push for social change, the world is evolving in unforeseen ways, and the public is watching the broadcast, print and social media every step of the way. This means that expectations of accountability and transparency are no longer just a suggestion — they have become a business imperative. 

So, Sharon, I’m going to dive in and begin with you. Working through the pandemic, with ongoing health concerns, business challenges and social justice issues frequently making the headlines, as a leader, how important has data and data transparency become to your day-to-day work?

Fronabarger: Hi, thank you, Anita. And I couldn’t have said it better, I think we can all agree that society is really demanding more from us as organizations, including this greater transparency and accountability of, how are we actually going to accelerate DEI outcomes beyond the statements, the pledges, everything else we’ve said as leaders outside of the organization?

So, we have a responsibility to meet this moment and drive change within our organizations and for society as a whole. As the world’s largest and most broadly based healthcare company, here at Johnson & Johnson we also have a responsibility to build healthier communities, and we rely on our credo, of course, which outlines our responsibilities to create an inclusive environment and respect the dignity and diversity of our employees. And I love this because it really makes diversity, equity and inclusion everybody’s responsibility, each and every person around the globe. 

And then, as you can imagine, as head of accountability and metrics, I think about data and transparency constantly. I even have a t-shirt that says, “I have a spreadsheet for that.” Literally, data is my life. And it really has always been a part of my work and continues to be more important each day as I think about it both from an internal and an external perspective. 

From an internal perspective, we approach DEI just as we would any other business challenge. We’ve based our strategy on data, external research and insights from our own employees. And what that’s told us is, even though diversity looks different around the world and everybody experiences diversity differently, inclusion is exactly the same.

And it all goes back to: Employees want to feel like they belong. So we continue to go back to utilizing data and making sure that it’s driving equitable decisions. I think it’s also important to remember that, externally, we have to share what we’re doing. What is our actual progress? Not just what we say we’re going to do. 

So one thing we’ve done is, we’ve published data on our Health for Humanity or our Sustainability Report for the last 10 years. And I often point our employees back to that data just to say, “Hey, you want to see trends, population trends, what’s been happening? We publish that. We share that with the world.” And then we also supplement that with our “You Belong” D&I Impact Review.

And that really gets us to the storytelling element. So, how are our employees living our DEI vision every day? We know that being transparent in what we share externally allows our stakeholders to hold us accountable. So it’s not just us holding ourselves accountable, it’s our stakeholders as well. And, ultimately, as part of our DEI initiatives, we are committing to even greater transparency as a company, accountability for all of our leaders, because we want to make sure that our workforce reflects the world’s full diversity. And we know that transparency drives accountability and trust, then trust drives success.

Ricketts: Excellent. Han-Ron, can you speak to us a little bit about what lessons in leadership you’ve learned over the past year, and how they’ve impacted the way that you lead?

Siah: Thanks, Anita. I think for me, it’s been about authenticity. I think back to a year ago when the pandemic was just decimating the hotel industry and our company, and our former CEO, Arne [Sorenson], decided to do a video, which is not unusual. Some of you may have seen it, but it was noteworthy because he was going through chemotherapy at the time, and he was completely bald. And to be honest, it was a little shocking when all of us who knew him saw the video because it was a level of vulnerability and transparency that I think really drew us closer together. 

He was also very transparent in that message that day, about the impact of the pandemic. He used data. He said, “Our revenues were down 75 to 90%.” Bad, right? Compared to some of the worst quarters we’d ever had, with 9/11 or the 2008–2009 financial crisis, our revenues were down a quarter — that’s bad, but this was a whole different level. And so he talked about the contingency plans that our company was having to put in place just to survive. And through that, the senior leadership was not excluded from the contingency. He didn’t take a salary for the year. The chairman didn’t take a salary for the year. The C-suite took a 50% pay cut. 

But what touched me the most was the way that he, in that video, you could just see the emotion — it tore him apart to know the impact that the decisions that we were making were having on the associates that were the heart and soul of the company. And so, that level of transparency, vulnerability, empathy and authenticity, that’s one of the greatest lessons I’ve learned over the last year as I’ve seen the crisis unfolding in so many different contexts.

“What we’re trying to do, ultimately, is impact humans. And so we need to understand and recognize that every data point we have connects back to a human being — it has impact on that person.”

— Theresita Richard, Vice President of Diversity, Capital One

Ricketts: Thank you, Han-Ron. And I will say, for me, personally, I found your former CEO Arne to be one of the most authentically lovely individuals I’ve ever had the pleasure of being involved with. True kindness and greatness in the face of his own personal challenges. So he’s very much missed as a corporate leader. 

So, Theresita, what’s the relationship between data transparency and leadership, and why do we find them so closely linked, especially in individuals who are universally considered good leaders?

Richard: I love this question. And I think it really starts with: What is leadership? So, if I think about the definition of leadership, it really is creating the conditions [that allow] the people in your organization to thrive and deliver on critical outcomes. So, when I think about how those things are related and connected, you can’t get to what the critical outcome is if you don’t have that view into the data, and you can’t get there without being transparent.

Also, when I think about leadership, there are a few things that come up for me, which is, you’re creating the conditions for the organization to change. You’re navigating tensions constantly. And then you’re also trying to create a space where your people feel like, “Yes, I want to go after this thing that you’ve set before me.” And so, in order for that to happen, you do have to be transparent around the data — data transparency creates accountability. It creates motivation.

And when I also think about this, there are a couple of phrases that come up for me. One is, “Clear is kind.” Two is, “Transparency is imperative.” And let me add a third one in there, which is from my good friend, Roxy Hornbeck [Assistant Professor in Arts Leadership at Seattle University], which is, “All meaning is context-dependent.” 

And so if I’m looking at the data, if I’m looking at where we’re trying to go, I want to be able to see myself within that. And if I don’t necessarily see myself within that, I want to be able to understand why we’re making the decisions that we’re making. And so, all-around great leaders, inclusive leaders, they lead with that clarity and that transparency.

And I’ll connect it to something that Han-Ron shared, which was on vulnerability and authenticity. I think it is a vulnerable place as a leader to be transparent in the data because you want to be able to put forth your best foot. You want to be able to say, “Here are all the places where we’re making progress.” But that connection with the vulnerability is, there are also places where we have not made progress or maybe we’re stagnant. Maybe we’re not moving forward. And so we have to put that at the forefront. And in order to know where we’re going, we’ve also got to know where we’re starting from. Otherwise, you can’t map the journey. So when I think about those things together, they’re very much interconnected and foundational to one another.

Ricketts: Alicia, as a leader, what is your personal connection to data, and what kinds of numbers and figures are you examining regularly?

Petross: I believe that data is really key to inspiring action and equality. So I regularly work with thought leaders like you at Fair360, formerly DiversityInc, like peers throughout different organizations, labor economists, our world-class analytics team and Hershey business leaders, to study and look at diversity and workforce trends. Our HR strategies always depend on listening strategies, and we leverage that information to drive the business forward.

One example of that is our newly created Pathways Project, which is our five-year plan to continue to make Hershey even more diverse and inclusive. It has three focus areas, and there are measurements within each. 

So we’re focused on pathways to join. This is about understanding who does work for our organization. So, here I’m looking at metrics like applicant tracking, data, hiring benchmarks and workforce representation across multiple segments of demographics and across all of our global functions. And then I’m pivoting into our supplier-diversity metrics and our service-provider metrics. And lastly, I’m also working with external labor accounts to understand who’s out there that can be part of Hershey’s success. 

The second pathway is around growth, and this is one we’re spending a lot of time on because this is the most important to our current workforce. And this is about understanding the experience of working at Hershey. So, here I’m taking a look at many talent-movement metrics, like promotion rates and ratios, development and succession plans and statistics, and understanding: Who is involved in our accelerated development programs? What are our DEI training stats? How are our vibrant business resource groups growing? What are we learning from our inclusion and trust indices within our many pulses and annual sense census surveys? And of course, I’m taking a look at retention and attrition stats. 

The third pillar is pathways to reach out, so we can show up for consumers and communities in ways we haven’t before. So here I’m pivoting to commercial business information, taking a look at business wins with fast-growing, diverse consumer segments. And I’m working with our fabulous corporate social responsibility partners to increase our philanthropic spend with diverse communities where we do business around the globe.

Now, for all of this data, I’m looking at it across dis-aggregated and aggregated datasets involving short- and long-term time horizons. And I find it’s really helpful to look at quarter-over-quarter progress plus annualized trends to really get to the heart of what is happening within the business. And of course, for all of this data, I’m linking the most important data back to Hershey’s commercial workforce and ESG strategies.

Our HR strategies always depend on listening strategies — we leverage that information to drive the business forward.”

— Alicia Petross, Vice President of Diversity Inclusion and Engagement, The Hershey Company

Ricketts: Han-Ron, back to you for a quick follow-up question. I’m curious as to what kind of leadership decisions you typically make purely based on data, and how does it guide your day-to-day decision-making?

Siah: This is probably not a surprise, but for the hospitality industry and a company like ours, where we’re so focused on our people, the day-to-day decisions tend to revolve around our talent, from hire to retire. One thing that our leaders are thinking about every day right now is hiring. And I just looked up some stats about this. So, over 95% of our hotels globally are open now, getting ready to welcome back all of you. We’ve hired so far 35,000 people around the world, new associates, but we still have thousands of opportunities and 3,400 openings just in the U.S. alone.

So, hiring is a decision, a day-to-day decision on the front lines of our company, that our leaders are thinking about every day. And our approach at Marriott is to try to provide multiple data points so that people can make the most informed decision, not rely too much on any single data point. So we look at the information and application, we look at what’s in the interviews, we look at what’s coming out of labor-market trends. We look at different sources of recruiting, and how that’s helping us. But at the end of the day, business moves so quickly now, you kind of go with the decision on the data that you have to make the decision, because you don’t have the luxury of collecting all the data you’d want.

We have different technologies that can help us become more efficient. But I will just mention one thing, which we have been a little bit cautious about: applying artificial intelligence and algorithmic approaches to recruiting in particular, just because we wanted to set a high level of transparency, set a high bar for ourselves when it comes to explainability. And so we just want to be cautious and make sure that we’re not unintentionally introducing any sort of bias into the process.

Ricketts: Excellent. I appreciate the idea that even as we progress with data, we make sure that we are not bringing unfortunate habits and pathways of thinking into the analysis. So I want to piggyback off that and ask you, Alicia: You have a lot of data, and then data becomes information, and information becomes insight. So what data do you consider to be the most important? And is there data that you’re more comfortable ignoring, that isn’t as important to you on a day-to-day basis?

Petross: Yeah. Equity has long been important to us, and we’ve held ourselves to a really high standard, but we know we can do more. And so, I regularly study data evidencing equality. I think that those data sets are particularly important. And our most senior business leaders and our HR business partners are also looking at that very same data because I believe that this data should not rest only with the DEI team. We cannot be the only ones in the know. So it’s really important that we are having transparent conversations around a couple of data sets.

So I think that representation, retention, recruitment data, development metrics, experience metrics, promotion metric and pay metrics — those are the big data sets that we really focus our attention on. And here’s one, a quality metric I’m really proud to share: The Hershey company has no pay gap. U.S. salaried women, Blacks, Latinx and AAPI employees earn $1 for $1 compared to white men at the aggregate level. So I think that’s a great example of how we’re able to pinpoint individual and group analysis to identify outliers and then take action.

“Capability is No. 1: We need to make sure our employees, our leaders, have the capabilities to understand what the data means — to connect the dots.”

— Sharon Fronabarger, Head of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Accountability and Metrics at Johnson & Johnson

Ricketts: Excellent. And following up on that, Theresita, what data do you like to see tracked that has become increasingly important to you over the years? Something that’s vitally important to you now in your role?

Richard: I want to build on what Alicia shared. She was talking about looking at data aggregated as well as dis-aggregated. And I think what has become even more important to me, I think it’s critical as we move forward that we look at that data with an intersectional lens because we are not one single dimension in our identity. And so as we are able to look at that data for visible and invisible identity, the intersections of those, it really helps us to get targeted and focused around what we’re doing and why. So that has become a critical piece for me, where I’m constantly asking and looking at: Can we go further? Can we understand this deeper?

The second thing that I would add to that is, beyond the quantitative data that we had, do we understand the experience behind the numbers? Because what we are really trying to do, ultimately, at the end of the day, is impact humans. And so we need to understand and recognize that every data point that we have connects back to a human being, it has an impact on that person. And so, as we think about the data itself, as we’re looking at things around our customers, our business, our diverse suppliers, et cetera, as well as the talent within our organization, do we understand the experience that takes place behind that? Can we tie back to sentiment? Can we connect the dots and then be able to follow that along their journey? And I think those two things together, the intersectional lens, as well as the experiential lens, are really important for me.

Ricketts: Sharon, I know that you’re a longtime practitioner and believer and evaluator and analyzer and user of data. So what has data transparency taught you about being a better leader?

Fronabarger: I think I’m going to highlight a couple of things that I’ve heard come up today in this panel, about vulnerability. We need to make sure that we are making ourselves vulnerable by sharing data, to not only talk about what we’re doing well but also where we might not be doing so well. None of our companies has this figured out 100%, and I think we need to be honest and vulnerable about that. 

I think I also go back to it takes more than good intentions to move the needle. And here’s where I believe that data plays a really important role: As we’re transparent about data, we’re going beyond just the corporate-speak or the pledges or the commitments, and really showing that we were making progress, being honest about where we’re not making progress. But the real key to that change is making sure we’re holding ourselves accountable to that data.

I think also that if I go back over time, data has really allowed us to focus on where we want to spend our time. And what I often talk about is: Data takes emotion out of the equation. It puts everybody on the same level playing field, as we are looking at datasets. You know, as I mentioned, our strategy is based on data and insights, and I know many of my fellow panel members are as well. And it’s important, really, to go back to making sure that we are driving accountability, linking it back to our transparency. And then also, one piece is about trust. I think a lot of times I get the question, “Sharon, how do you know that that data is even correct?”

Well, I think it’s important to make sure that people trust the data that’s being shared. So, we do this by communicating who has access to the data and specifically how that data can be used, in a point well taken about making sure that we are aggregating and disaggregating data because we learn different things by doing those two methods. 

But it’s also important to train our leaders on how to use the data, how to understand the data, ask questions about the data because what you see on a page, drawn in a particular report, might not be the true story. “Read the footnotes,” as I like to say. 

And then I think it’s about really just acknowledging what initiatives we’re working on, creating those measurements and then sharing the data behind that so that we can let our patients, employees and customers know that we’re committed to transparency and accountability.

“Hiring is a day-to-day decision on the front lines, one our leaders are thinking about every day, so our approach is to provide multiple data points so people can make the most informed decision, not rely too much on any single data point.” 

— Han-Ron Siah, Senior Vice President of Digital Talent Strategy, Analytics and Solutions and Talent Point at Marriott 

Ricketts: Excellent. So, we’re going to kind of future-plan a little bit, take out our data crystal balls. Where do you see the relationship between leadership and data transparency going into the future? How do you think that access to data is going to change, say, in the next five to 10 years, and how do you feel that will affect your leadership style technique or leadership as a whole in business?

Siah: I guess, to me, the trend is clear. Let me talk about it from an external and internal perspective. From an external perspective, we see that there’s this trend toward more and more data disclosure. We talked earlier about the continued momentum that we see in the investment community for ESG. So, that’s driving disclosures — we see that with the FCC requirements that have come out related to human capital disclosures. So I think, from an external perspective, the trend is clear, and I think companies want to disclose more to put themselves out there and to show that companies want to lead and hold themselves publicly accountable as well.

So I think that there’s an external aspect of that. I’ll just mention, from an internal aspect as well, for us at Marriott, I think the impact of greater data transparency within the company is going to help empower our frontline leaders. Right? So in our business, we’ve got hotels and leaders in 130 different countries and territories with their own unique, individual context. And so we want to provide them with the information, not just about our associates but have that integrated. I think, Alicia, you were mentioning this earlier, with the customer data, with the operational data, with the financial data, so they have this multifaceted approach to data to make informed business decisions, to become better leaders for their people, but also for the business as a whole.

Petross: I would say, building on that, I think that in five to 10 years, the access to data that we enjoy as DEI leaders will likely be shared by all employees across our organizations. So transparency in data will really be an on-demand, always-on kind of scenario. So, while for us we’ve been super open in sharing demographic, talent and pay information at frequent town halls and other forums with all of our global employees in an effort to really be vulnerable, be open about our aspirations and also talk about where we’ve got some more work to do, I think that that’ll become more of a part of the fabric of how companies operate. 

And so I think my role will continue to evolve as a trusted advisor and sense-maker, and I think I’ll continue to model open communication so that our data sets really reflect the company we’re aspiring to be. And our data’s a real reflection of the consumers that we serve around the globe.

Richard: I would just plus-one to all that has already been said. And the other thing that I think about: I’ve got my phone right here — we’re all connected to our digital devices pretty much at all times. And so that is only going to continue. So when I think about the trends that are there, it’s rapidly accelerating, we are used to having information at our fingertips that we can pull up, we can go down the rabbit hole and come back up at any point in time, 24/7. That’s only going to continue. And so, we will have the information. But now, how do I make sense of it? How do I go from insight to enablement? How do I use this information to enable me to make better decisions?

This brings us back full circle to how we operate from a leadership capability perspective. I think we’re going to have to lean more into how we’re ready and build that muscle within leaders to be able to leverage data, lean into that transparency and use it as a leadership tool.

Ricketts: And Sharon, what is your spreadsheet going to look like in five to 10 years?

Fronabarger: Well, hopefully, it will also be on my phone. So, again, I would just build on what everybody else has said because I believe there are two key aspects here. Capability is No. 1: We have to, along with making data more transparent and more available to people, we really need to make sure that our employees, our leaders, have the capabilities to understand what that data means and to connect the dots. I could give a data point: For example, 76% of employees and job seekers say that the presence of a diverse workforce is more important than ever when they are considering a new company. That was from Glassdoor, and that’s important — but why is it important? How are we connecting the dots? What can leaders do with that particular data? So I think capability is just as important as creating that transparency, and I think that’s really going to take us into the future.

Ricketts: Excellent. Thank you so much to all of you for the conversation today, for the information and the insights. I truly appreciate your taking the time to share all that you have learned about data with our audience and attendees today. So thank you for your time.


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