Podcast: Using Data to Advance Diversity

Business Data



Welcome to PeopleTech, the podcast of the HCM Technology Report. I’m Mark Feffer.

            My guest today is Bob Lockett, chief diversity and talent officer at ADP. He’s responsible for the company’s diversity and talent strategy and oversees performance management, leadership development, engagement and culture, among other things.

            We’re going to talk a lot about data and its relationship with DEI, from helping determine where a company’s at, to initiating new programs. That’s on this edition of PeopleTech. Bob, welcome. It’s great to meet you.

            How does one attack the task of leading on diversity for a company the size of ADP?


Well, Mark, the first thing I’ll tell you, it’s a very challenging task, because you have so many different constituents and everybody wants their own piece of the pie. What about us? What about us? What about us?

            As you can imagine, DEI is a very emotional topic, for that reason. So, the approach that I’ve taken, that we’ve taken at ADP, is really tied to doing a couple of things.

            Number one is using the scientific method. You know that thing, Mark, that we learned about back in middle school, that many of us did those experiments?

            You would say, develop your hypothesis. Then from the hypothesis, you allow data to prove or disprove your beliefs. And then once you do that, then you really define the problem.

            After you define that problem, then start to put plans in place to achieve the outcomes. You tweak as you go, as needed, based on feedback.

            So what we’ve done is taking that exact approach and say, let’s take the emotion out of it as best we can. Let’s focus on the data. Let the data be our guiding light, to help us understand where we need to focus and what we need to do.

            Now, this doesn’t just apply from a US standpoint. Think about it. This is a global opportunity that we’ve embarked upon. The way I view it is, there are needs everywhere, for people to feel like they are seen, valued and heard for all that they are.

            So, not only do we think about diversity… You can measure diversity very easily. You can look at demographic data. How many of these do you have? How many of those do you have?

            You can measure equity by looking at pay, but the key is also to measure inclusion. So, we take this holistic approach, all data driven.

            The inclusion piece is all sentiment driven, but it’s really leveraging the scientific method and leveraging data, to help tell our story.


Can you expand a bit on how data is used in DEI work? I mean, you mentioned that this is a pretty emotional subject. It always strikes me as interesting when you apply data to an emotional subject. How do they work together? So can you talk about that?


Sure. I could tell you the stories of how we landed where we are, with some of our things.

            The first thing that we did as an organization, when I took over the role, I wanted to understand how we looked, because I have a vision that our associate population in our company is reflective of the communities in which we operate and the clients that we serve. That’s very specific and very clear.

            How do you test that, your hypothesis about that? How do you make it a realistic vision?

            We looked at about three or four different datasets. One dataset was a census data. And as you know, the census data doesn’t mean that everybody’s working.

            So, we looked at the census data and we say, “What’s the representation for African Americans, Hispanics, Asians, white women, everybody in our organization?” Let’s lay that out to understand it.

            Then we looked at the Bureau of Labor statistics data. Of the people in the workforce, let’s take a look at how that compares and then let’s compare that against our information.

            So, we compared it against our information, I’m talking specifically in the US and said, “Huh? Where do we have gaps?”

            My hypothesis was that we didn’t look like the communities in America, but the reality of it was, we did. So, I was really impressed. I was like, wow, this is great news.

            But as you look at the data, we also found that when you look up in the organization, you don’t have parity in representation for two populations in particular, which were African Americans and Hispanics.

            We said, they represent 15% of the overall workforce in the US, for Hispanics. Let’s say it was 11% for African Americans.

            Well, we noticed a gap in our company of about four percentage points each way, for African Americans and Hispanics.

            We said, well, we should close that gap, because as you come to an organization, you also want to be able to see if there are opportunities for you to advance.

            If you don’t see anyone that looks like you, in management level positions, then you start to wonder if you have a real future there. So, that was our quest.

            This is how we use data to really understand and tell our story and to put plans in place to do it.

            Now, notice the nuance here. Because again, if you go back to my original hypothesis, that we didn’t look like that, we did, but then we pivoted very quickly, because the data told us a different story. We said, that’s where we’re going to focus our efforts.

            Now, some people use, Mark, data to try and boil the ocean. You can’t do everything. You can’t be all things to all people. That is a recipe for failure, particularly in DEI.

            So, that’s why we have a very narrow focused approach. We have multiple initiatives that we work on, but suffice it to say, that was our main effort, for us to be able to say, we’re moving the needle when it comes to leadership representation in our company.


Now, do you think your company is an outlier in that, or do you think that more corporations are starting to get on board with the idea of using data in this regard?


Yeah. I think it’s a mixed bag, Mark, is probably the best way to describe it. Most organizations will take a look at their data. They’ll focus on where they think their opportunities are.

            But it depends on where they are in their journey, their DEI journey, which I always talk about, that not everybody’s at the same place.

            For us, I believe we’re an outlier. We’re an outlier because if you think about DEI, it’s one of our values. The things that really resonate in our organization, is that each person counts. In order for each person counts, by default, you have to have a DEI strategy.

            Some organizations don’t put as much interest or effort into it, so there at varying stages.

            It became a great corporate buzzword two years ago. Prior to that, many organizations weren’t making headway, with respect to that. So, my belief is, we’re certainly an outlier with our use of data.

            Of course, Mark, that is our middle name. So, we use data to make sure that we can tell our story, to solve the problem, to understand all of those things. We’re all about measuring success. How do you measure the effectiveness of what you’re doing?

            Having said that, I think we’re a bit of an outlier. I think there are other organizations that are doing great things, but I think there are some that are not doing anything because they don’t know where to start.

            If that’s the challenge for them, then a great place to start is, understand your data at least. Then, think about where you want to have an impact.


Can you think of any particularly surprising things that you’ve learned from data?


I can give you a couple of examples of things that I think we’ve learned. Number one is that it’s never enough. Here’s what I mean. We had to put plans in place to do this.

            I’ll just give you this example, Mark. We launched our talent task force. It was a specific focus on the African American and Hispanics/Latino community.

            Well, as soon as we put that out, the first question that came was, hey, what about the Asian community? I said, “Huh? I’ve got a story for you. Asians represent 5% of our population, but yet they represent 8% of leadership.” So, there’s no problem there.

            Then the next call came from the LGBTQ+ community. I said, “Huh? Tell me what the data says.”

            The reason we couldn’t make a decision and put a plan in place to improve representation for that community, is because we didn’t have any data. So, that’s one of the things that will surprise you about that.

            And when you don’t have enough of it, everyone wants to do these things, which is back to my point about, people get involved in this. They want to represent their constituents.

            But at the same time, without the data, you can’t get involved and create corporate programs to improve something.

            The second piece still ties to self-ID. If you take this to a global scale, so typically in numerous countries, they don’t collect the same data that we do in the US. They don’t collect it because their philosophies are different. It could vary, country to country.

            However, there’s renewed emphasis on understanding your workforce and being inclusive. So, just imagine, you’re a multinational corporation and you don’t understand the dynamics that exist in operating in Tunisia or the dynamics that exist in operating in France or Italy and who the underrepresented groups are. So, we’re trying to capture new data.

            That’s one of the surprising things, is that we’re beginning a journey globally, to do a self-ID approach.

            It’s not just us, by the way. There are multiple companies now showing renewed interest in this, to say, how do we understand our workforce? How do we become more inclusive, so we can appeal to the needs of various communities where we operate?


Are you satisfied with the kind of data that’s available to you today? What could be better?


Yeah. I’m in a unique position, Mark. I tell people this all the time. At ADP, because we’re a data company… again, it’s in our middle name, I have the unique opportunity that we have our own department that does all of the analytics, pulls the data, does the comparative analysis, the sensitivity analysis to whatever we want to do.

            Now, for companies that don’t have that, we do have a diversity dashboard, that gives them insights into their own information, that they may not have thought about before.

            They may not have the luxury of having a large DEI department, like we do. They may not have the luxury of having the analytic capability, but we can provide them with some insights about how their organization looks, what their leadership makeup is. Oh, by the way, with pay equity too, we can take a look at that data as well.

            So I think I’m in an enviable position. I’ve got all the data that I need. The key for me, is staying focused and executing, to ensure that we make a difference with our DEI efforts.


What are your overall goals for your DEI efforts? I mean, what kind of changes are you hoping to enable or enact? What has to happen for you to be able to get there?


Yeah, it’s a great question, Mark. I’ll go back to my vision. The vision that, we want our associate population to be reflective of the communities in which we operate and the clients that we serve.

            That is the most important thing, because I believe that the efforts that we take to do that, will have a great cyclical impact on the environment.

            Here’s what I mean. I’m not in the DEI business because I’m a social justice warrior. I’m in the DEI business because I believe that there are economic opportunities in a capitalistic society, that we can get everyone to participate in and grow the pie. I firmly believe that.

            In many cases, it starts with employment. So, what do we do as part of our DEI, some of the work that we’re doing? Well, we want to hire in those various communities.

            We have outreach efforts to every community, to make sure that we’re attracting the best and the brightest for our organization.

            Then of course, once you get there, you have to walk the talk. So, culture is really important, Mark, in this space, to ensure that if you said you’re going to do it, then you have to do it.

            My saying is, don’t talk about it. You have to be about it. So, if you’re about what you said you are, by bringing everybody together and giving everybody an opportunity, so they can be their true authentic selves, then that makes a tremendous difference.

            So, that’s the talent piece of it. Getting them in, giving them the opportunities to grow and develop, and then seeing them get promoted and being able to contribute.

            Now, I also talk about DEI from a business practice standpoint. Oftentimes in the past, organizations that I’ve worked for, DEI was all about some of the HR practices, which I just talked about briefly. It was all about talent practices,

            But I also incorporate business practices. Business practices are really about, well, how do we tap into the ecosystem of businesses and communities?

            Oftentimes, you have underserved communities, that don’t have the same opportunities to understand things.

            Give you an example. We have a company that we partner with. What the founder shared with us, was the fact that for many minority-owned businesses, they only have one way to finance their business. That’s through loans from family members or debt.

            So, they don’t get the full spectrum of how to do revenue-based financing for their business, or how to think about the debt market very differently, that others have had exposure and access to.

            So, giving them exposure and access to the full gamut is really important, but that also requires some education. So, we partner with organizations, to do that, just so businesses can finance it.

            Now, selfishly, because I am a capitalist, I believe that we should be able to capture some of that market.

            We should be able to say, we’ll help them. There’s no guarantee that they’re going to come back and nor is there an expectation, but just imagine if we’re the ones that help them understand how to run payroll.

            I said, “We want you to focus on your business. If you make pizzas or if you have a restaurant, we want you to focus on what you do best. Let us do what we do best, which is run payroll, help you do time and attendance and help you with all of those other things. That’s what we do”

            So, I think it’s important for us to extend our reach into the underserved communities, such that we can help raise the tide for all boats. That’s really the impetus here.

            Say, if we do this the right way, DEI becomes much more holistic, so it’s focused on the economic empowerment.

            If you do that by getting people great jobs, what do they do? Well, they go spend money in their communities. If they spend money in their communities, businesses grow. And if businesses grow, for us it’s a great thing, because that means you have more people to pay from your payroll systems and the like.

            So, this ecosystem approach that I think is really critical and important, when we think about DEI.

            Now, the other piece, Mark, that I’ll share with you about DEI is, I’ll share two other avenues of this.

            One is the environment. Our environmental practices now, have become relevant in the DEI equation.

            Let me back up and give you the broader view. Most companies talk about ESG, environmental, social and governance. The environmental piece is really critical. That’s where you have, what are you going to do for greenhouse gas emission reduction?

            This S is all DEI. The G is board governance or governance of whatever programs that you take a look at. So, that’s something else you have to consider as you think about DEI.

            We have practices to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The good news for us is that, we don’t manufacture anything. Probably, our facilities and employees driving to work are our largest contributors to this. But what we also focus on is, what can we do to meet target? We put together plans to do that.

            The last thing I’ll mention is what we’re doing as an organization, to make a difference, as we think about DEI and the like.

            We have the ADP Foundation. We make contributions to a variety of 501(c)(3)’s nonprofits, to help support them in the communities in which they operate. So, there’s this holistic view that we have about, we can do well and do good at the same time.


Bob, thanks very much. We appreciate your time today.


Thank you.


My guest today has been Bob Lockett, chief diversity and talent officer at ADP. This has been PeopleTech, the podcast of the HCM Technology Report.

            We’re a publication recruiting daily. We’re also a part of the Evergreen Podcasts. To see all of their programs, visit www.EvergreenPodcasts.com.

            To keep up with HR technology, visit the HCM Technology Report every day. We’re the most trusted source of news in the HR tech industry. Find us at www.HCMTechnologyReport.com. I’m Mark Feffer.

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