September 5, 2016 BestCompaniesAZ

8 Ways to Build Diversity Into Your Organization

By Lee Vikre | @LeeVikre 

Diversity pays off in business results. There’s no longer any question of that, but it’s hard to do, as the tech industry has sadly shown. BestCompaniesAZ caught up with Gay Meyer and Latasha Causey of USAA to learn how they’ve built their diverse workforce. Meyer emphasizes the importance: “We’re a financial services company – and just like when you’re building a diversified financial portfolio, it’s critical that you build a diversified employee base.”

BCAZ took eight great ideas for building diversity from our discussion with Gay and Latasha. For more in-depth information, listen to Building Best Companies Radio podcast.

Take a wider view of diversity. Meyer emphasized that “Diversity isn’t race and gender, but is a collective strength of unique characteristics, experiences, skills, background, perspectives, and cultures.” Diversity of thought means you’re not thinking the same way every day – and the company grows stronger for it. What a person has been through in life can be brought into their work to make a difference for the company.

Encourage people to show up as who they are. USAA is passionate about making sure people come to work “showing up as their best, being who they are”, emphasizes Meyer. Millennials especially value acceptance. According to a study by Deloitte, “Millennials are refusing to check their identities at the doors of organizations today, and they strongly believe these characteristics bring value to the business outcomes and impact.” Meyer agrees: “Diversity is an essential component of our business strategy and we consider it a competitive advantage. With folks coming to the table with diverse point of view, we know it’s going to take us to the next level as a company.”

Go slow to go fast. Culture development initiatives like diversity require support from senior leadership. USAA not only has 100% buy-in from the Executive Council and Board of Directors, but they also included members (customers) in the process. “Our members are everything to us, so it’s important they buy in to any journey we take.” Member feedback emphasized the need for diversity. “If our employees aren’t diverse we’re not going to deliver the best customer service. We want the employee base to be as diverse as our members.” Gathering data carefully helped USAA plan and execute successfully. Meyer refers to their planning process as “We go slow to go fast.”

Screen for skills, not experience. According to hiring expert Lou Adler, traditional job postings containing lists of educational and industry experience requirements discourage diverse candidates to apply. Interviews focused on experience rather than skills also tend to screen out diverse candidates who could do the job well – and bring different viewpoints – by using transferable skills. Sometimes managers are fearful of making hiring mistakes, but training can bolster their confidence.

Look in unique places. Latasha Causey states, “We make sure to hire the right person for the right job, so it’s always a skills match; but we post jobs in unique places, not just on our website…Go beyond the common places to search.” USAA posts on specialty sites for LGBT, military veterans, and other diverse groups including BestCompaniesAZ. In addition to online postings, USAA partners with various groups in the community.

Develop and retain. Communication through multiple channels, opportunities for growth and development, and transparency underlie USAA’s retention strategy. “We listen and hear their diversity of thought”, says Meyer. USAA provides different options for advancement, whether an employee wants to be a manager or would prefer to advance in a different role. Strong benefits and culture also factor in to retention.

Provide a strategy – and flexibility.  USAA’s CEO, Stuart Parker, set the strategy for diversity and inclusion. However, the execution of that strategy can vary depending on the demographics of the location. Observes Meyer, “San Antonio (USAA headquarters) is a military town, and while the military is a critical component of our sourcing here in Arizona, there are a lot of other things going on in Phoenix.”

Create an innovation lab. Diversity results in innovation, and USAA makes the most of it. In USAA’s innovation labs, employees of all ages gather to innovate through a design process. Causey describes: “You write on walls, energy levels flow in the room, that’s where new ideas come from. Sometimes they spend a few days, sometimes it only takes a few hours to create a brilliant idea. It feels good to be in that laboratory and feel like they had the opportunity to create. It’s a lot of fun. Lots of our new products are the result of diverse brainstorming; banking products, credit cards, and insurance products.” This brainstorming allows USAA to meet more members’ needs through different products and services.

Want to hear more about how USAA does it? Listen to the full podcast – Building Diversity Into Your Organization.

About the Author
Lee Vikre – Hiring Jedi
A workplace culture maven, writer, and speaker, Lee Vikre has helped numerous companies develop “best company” cultures, gaining recognition at the local and national level. Lee has been called the Jedi Master of hiring because of her exceptional recruiting abilities and friendships with people who love Star Wars. Her favorite activities involve matching people with their dream jobs at award-winning best companies.  Lee coaches CEOs but still hasn’t been able to train her three dogs not to bark during conference calls.