Bridging the Gaps from DEI Strategy to Execution

Current research shows that companies with a diverse workforce tend to be 120% more profitable than those that aren’t. That’s why it’s critical to develop and implement a strategy now. On this month’s Subject to Talent podcast, Rocki Howard, chief people and equity officer at The Mom Project, uses financial, demographic and workforce data to illustrate the benefits of a robust DEI plan that focuses on hiring, building and managing your workforce.
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Bruce Morton: Welcome to Subject to Talent, brought to you by Allegis Global Solutions. Similar to you, we're always trying to learn more. On this podcast we speak to workforce and talent experts from around the world covering market trends, technology and our ever-evolving dynamic industry.

Hi, I'm Bruce Morton, the host of Allegis Global Solutions’ Subject to Talent podcast. Today I'll be handing over the microphone to my good friend and colleague Kathy Clem. Kathy is the executive director of global business services for Allegis Global Solutions here in North America. Kathy will be joined by Rocki Howard, the chief people and equity officer at The Mom Project, the leading platform for moms to discover their economic potential. Together they're going to be discussing how organizations can translate good intentions into substantive and sustainable actions with real-world impact when it comes to their diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives. Let's listen in.

Kathy Clem: Hi, I'm Kathy Clem, and I'm truly excited to be your guest host of this month's Subject to Talent podcast brought to you by Allegis Global Solutions. Today, I'm joined by my dear friend and colleague Rocki Howard, a leading voice in diversity, equity and inclusion. She is acknowledged as one of the top 100 minority executives, two years in a row. She is the host of the Voices of Diversity podcast. She is on a mission to help disrupt the intersection of diversity, recruitment and inclusion. She believes, and this is actually one of my favorite quotes, "If we change the lives of those who are historically excluded, we change the world." I am personally thankful that you accepted the invitation to join in on the conversation today, so welcome Rocki.

Rocki Howard: Oh, Kathy you know, you call, AGS calls, I answer. I am honored to be here today. I'm so excited to have this conversation because I do believe we change the world one story, one conversation, one action at a time. So, let's have a game-changing conversation today.

Kathy: I love it. I love it. We always like to kick off all of our podcasts by getting to know our guests a little bit better. Right? So, if you don't mind, you'll just walk us through, and the audience, through your journey within the workforce solution industry.

Rocki: Yeah, it's a long journey at this point. I have been in some variation of workforce solutions for 30 years now. I'm really proud to say that because I'm as excited to be here today as I was 30 years ago. If you talk to several of us, we will always tell you, there is no one way to join this particular industry. People don't usually wake up and go,

"Oh, I want to go be a recruiter." Or, "I want to be in workforce solutions." And my story is no different. I had come from retail. I was very pregnant. I was in Chicago. I was in retail management and had been leading a store for quite some time and that store was robbed, for the fifth time, at gunpoint as I was in there pregnant with my now soon-to-be 32-year-old daughter and decided that it was time for a pivot. I think when you're young, you're cocky and you believe you are invincible. All of a sudden when you become responsible for someone else's life, you realize just how vulnerable you are. Ironically enough, I went to an agency and said, "I'm very pregnant. I need something to do, but I'm not going to live in this state much longer, but I really would like something to do." I took a temp job with that particular agency as their receptionist. So, when we talk about climbing from the bottom to the top and having sat in every seat that you could sit in, I certainly have done that. Here's the really interesting thing. Before I did that, I never kind of understood our industry as a career path. Sitting there and getting to know it firsthand I thought, "Wow, I can talk to people and help them find jobs and change their lives."

I thought, "Yeah, I'm all in." So, for the last 30 years, I have been involved in workforce solutions in one way, shape, form or fashion. I was very fascinated by project management and lean philosophies and took those certifications, which really started to help me deep dive and become an expert on the recruiting operation side. I am very focused on leadership. I'm very focused, as a black woman who certainly is well over 40, I'm very focused on the multiple dimensions of diversity, and that always became part of my leadership imperatives. So, all of those things started to work together to come together. I've been, honestly, just blessed to build a career and bring those all together. So, I've literally started from a receptionist at a temp firm to being a chief in the HR tech industry. It's been a heck of a ride.

Kathy: Ah, thank you so much for sharing. I'm telling you; I'm typing and taking away some notes as part of your journey. One, when you talk about starting and climbing to the top. But the other piece, and I remember meeting you for the first time, it's around the multiple dimensions of diversity. But for our new listeners, can you provide a brief overview of The Mom Project?

Rocki: Sure. At The Mom Project, we're on a mission to create economic opportunity for women and for moms who are returning to work. For me, we do that in three core ways. Obviously, we do that by placing moms with incredible companies, and in a lot of cases through incredible partnerships like the partnerships that we have with AGS. We actually have created over $300 million of economic opportunities for moms. We have over 900,000 women and moms in our community, lots of different people in our community, but certainly over 900,000 people in our community that we work hard every day to create economic opportunity for by placing them in jobs.

Two, we have our WerkLabs division, which allows us to do deep research and partner with companies to help them understand where they are on that journey and partner with them, for them to drive deeper understandings in their org. Then of course, there's, known as our Rise Program right now, and Rise helps upskill moms, and particularly moms of color, through certification programs. It's a scholarship program. So, we really kind of tackled the multiple dimensions of diversity in all of those ways by helping to create economic opportunity for mom.

Kathy: Wonderful. Thank you for that. I can tell you, AGS is certainly proud to have partnered with The Mom Project for several years now. It's exciting to see the impact that the organization continues to make and just listening to you. I feel like every time we talk, I learn pieces of The Mom Project in the business that I really, and honestly I wasn't even privy to. So today we're going to discuss and we're really discussing, bridging the gap in organizations DEI and this entire conversation around taking it from good intentions to lasting impression, right? Or lasting impact. But before we get into the how, I want to just get your perspective, Rocki. Why is it important though, for organizations to prioritize DEI now, and what's at risk by waiting?

Rocki: For sure. It's such a good question. I personally think of DEI in kind of two different roadmaps. We have to look at DEI as a human imperative, and we have to look at DEI as a business imperative. When you think about DEI as a business imperative, it's that importance of creating a diverse workplace that leads to productivity, innovation, retention, all of those things that are absolutely key. When you think about the future of work, we keep talking about the future of work. Those of us who are in the industry have been talking about the future of work for quite some time. I would argue the future is now. A lot of us are in the middle of what's become known as the Great Resignation. Kathy, you and I have talked about this, you will know this. I think of this as the Great Recalibration.

Kathy: Yes.

Rocki: Because there's reasons why people are coming out of the workforce. We can chat about that in a moment. But if you think a little bit about what's going on, in 2044, what is now considered to be "minority," and for those of you can't see me I'm using that in quotes, I absolutely do not like the word “minority.” But the majority will be “minority” people. So, if we're not creating cultures where everyone feels included, who are we going to hire? Because the majority of the population come 2044 is going to look like people who have been historically excluded. If you think about what's going on today, 57% of the US workforce, at least, and it's not too far off when you look at the global numbers, are women. Nine million of our workforces belong to the LGBTQIA community.

There is a statistic that says if we could actually really align diversity within our workforces, that would create $28 trillion worth of economic opportunity. Which one of our companies couldn't use a piece of $28 trillion of economic opportunity? I think that always ties in, we know that companies who are diverse perform better economically. Especially as we have this conversation, we're looking at the microeconomic situation, it's not looking good. Companies who are diverse, when you look at their profitability, tend to perform 120% more profitable than those who aren't. So, if you need business imperatives and you need to understand why all this what feels like it's warm and fuzzy diversity stuff is truly not about warm and fuzzy, it's not just about the human imperative. It's about the business imperative, and we've got to get this right.

Kathy: Ah, and I could ... I mean, you said it best and just to echo your sentiment, it's the business imperative as well. $28 trillion? Who wouldn't want a piece of that just for the right reasons? Right? But, when I think about the impact of the thought leadership and the diversity mindset and the growth mindset that comes along with that, who wouldn't want that within their business? I couldn't agree more. One of the things that we continue to discuss with clients around the prioritization bucket is that there are indeed strong commitments that have been made, albeit internally, and we talked about it before, internally and externally. Even with commitments and signing a petition via the CEO Action Plan. So, if companies or firms are still a little bit hesitant on that, I think there is no way really to escape actually having real results now and prioritizing because people are watching. From employees to prospect candidates, to the communities in which we live and serve as well as our clients. So, the importance of why, and now in doing it and having it top of mind, it's critical for such a time as this.

Rocki: Well, and it's not just individually people are watching. I happen to be on the advisory board at an organization called JUST Capital. You have organizations that are actually looking at organizations and saying, "This is where we committed to, where is it coming out?" And doing that assessment and analysis. You can no longer hide. Performative DEI is not going to work.

Kathy: Yeah. Yeah. So, if organizations are understanding the business and human imperative or prioritizing DEI, why is there so often a gap between, from your perspective, this genuine of good intentions and sustainable actions when it comes down to organizational DEI?

Rocki: Because it's complex, and it's hard. Right? So many of us don't know where to start. Then we try to do all of these things that we usually work in a lot of other business situations, so let's look at the best practices. We look to the large companies and go, "Well, who's doing it right? What does that look like?" In diversity, it may not be a matter of who's doing it right, it may be a matter of who's got the largest marketing budget to make it seem like we're doing it.

Kathy: Right.

Rocki: I also think that there's another challenge here, where if you look at the top of most organizations, very few executives are not truly and authentically committed to having diverse workforces. Then we come from the grassroots up, and individuals are calling for diverse workforces, and there's these grassroots initiatives. But what's interesting, a new theory of mine, is we get to the middle, and then you hit your middle managers. There is another stat out there that says 44% of managers say they don't have the time to be able to deal with these DEI issues. So that's not necessarily their fault, but I think that is a byproduct of when we give people a job, we say, "These are the things that you have to do to be successful in this role." We give them all kinds of operational things.

You've got to manage your team, you've got to hit these KPIs and these SLAs, and you've got to deliver for the client. You have to do all of these things. You've got to go sell that product. You've got to go retain clients, whatever your business is. What we don't talk about, and where we don't hold people accountable, and where we don't teach them is DEIB [diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging] is a core part that allows you to be able to hit all of those numbers. There's a gap there. Then I think the other part of this is a lot of us try to make this really, really complex. We hire consultants. Look, I love the DEI consultants out there. There's some of them that are doing an incredible job, right? But I think we hired them before we do the work that we need to do internally to really understand what does DEIB success look like in our organization?

How am I going to communicate that? How are we going to hold people accountable? How are we going to measure our progress? Where's the gap analysis between what success looks like and where we are today? That's another piece of this that I think we don't like to be honest about where we are today. We're so afraid of putting it out there and going, "Ooh, I'm not doing so well." That we then try to over index and make numbers look better or perspective looking better, instead of saying, "Ooh, I'm at the beginning of this journey." The reality is I've done quite a bit of work and research in this area, I want you all to hear this who are listening today: Most of us are barely scratching the surface, right? I did some work in a previous organization, and we surveyed over 400 companies globally against the framework that assessed their diversity hiring maturity. What we found out is 56% of companies don't consistently publicize their diversity plans or commitments or metrics or outcomes.

Kathy: Why is that?

Rocki: Well, I think there's a couple of reasons for that. It's interesting. Why they don't publish their commitments, I'm not quite sure. Actually, I am kind of sure. I believe that they know if you publish it and I say it, then I have to be held accountable for it. I think a lot of organizations are afraid to put their data out there because they're afraid in today's cancel culture that they will take the hit for not being further along in their journey than they are. So, I do understand that. I think people don't expect you to be perfect. They expect you to say, "Here's where I am, and here's my plan for improving." So, I think that you can be proud and not be perfect. I think there's another issue here, and I could go on for several of them, I know we only have 30 minutes, but here's another thing that I think we need to tackle is that budgets haven't budged.

So, you mentioned earlier, we're giving all this money out externally, right? We're saying, "I'm going to donate $100,000 to the NAACP." Okay, great. What have you done internally? What we're finding is there are companies who are writing these big checks externally or doing that, but when you look at the budgets, like those companies that we talked about, we asked the TA leaders, "Do you have the right budget to be able to accomplish diversity initiatives?" 68% of them said they don't have a budget that aligns with their stated objectives. That's a problem. If our mouths have written the check, we need to write the corresponding check that allows us to be able to cash that check.

Kathy: Yeah. I couldn't agree more. I'm taking notes because every time I'm with you there's always wisdom and nuggets that you just pour inside not only me personally, but I'm sure those that are listening with us today. The takeaway here too is, it's okay if you don't have this built out, and it's just not fully built. Meaning it doesn't necessarily have to be perfect. Right? The idea of starting and starting somewhere and taking small, but concrete steps, and yes, opening up yourselves in terms of organizations to be a little bit more vulnerable. Just know, we're all in this together, and it's okay. This is a fundamental business imperative that we all are working towards trying to solve and identify a solution.

So just taking a step forward, right, is a step forward into progression. Now I know at The Mom Project, and I'm sure you've been working with some organizations that are getting it right or at least getting it better in terms of looking at results and building out their DEI goals. You were recently at Allegis' Customer Council, right, in Nashville? You shared this journey map, and you started to hit on it a little bit of how organizations, once again, can move from aware, to invested, to committed, to ally. So, what are some of those best practices that our listeners can learn from the organizations that are further along in this journey?

Rocki: For sure. Can I add one quick thing before we go here?

Kathy: Sure.

Rocki: We talked about why it's important from a business imperative perspective to get this right. We also talked about the fact that diversity is a human imperative, but it's a human imperative that affects our ability to attract and retain talent if we don't get this. So, I would be remiss if I didn't just mention a few stats here. My friends over at Mathison do an annual diversity report where they reach out to historically excluded candidates to understand a little bit more about their experiences when they interview people. This is where the diversity as a human perspective becomes critical in our ability to be able to attract and retain talent, right? 81% of underrepresented job seekers believe it's important for employers to invest in diversity, but only 6% have clarity on employers' diversity goals or efforts based on what they see in the hiring process. So again, we're all saying it's critical, and it's important, and it's at the top of our list, but only 6% of the very people we're trying to attract see that in the hiring process.

62% of underrepresented job seekers report that they have experienced bias or been treated differently in our hiring processes. That's a real punch in the gut. We still have 50% who are saying that they're seeing exclusionary or biased terms in our job descriptions. But here's the one that always sits with me because I have experienced this personally: 50% of our historically excluded candidates believe that being from an underrepresented community is a disadvantage. So, they believe just because I look the way I am, or just because I have this dimension of diversity, I am at a disadvantage. This is why, to your point as we think about this journey we need to go on, we need to think about what diversity looks like from a human imperative perspective because this is the experience that despite us saying, "This is all really important." Our candidates are going through.

Kathy: Let me add to that as well because you hit on it, and I want our audience and our listeners also to hear that, you're right, it's the business and yes, we certainly have to take small, but concrete steps. But we can't forget about the overall candidate experience, right? Going from a prospect of a candidate, maybe they're proactive or active, all the way through right into day one. What does the culture look and feel like? Are your employee resource groups established or not? What is the representation from an interview perspective? Is there representation in leadership in the C-suite? So it is, it's a complete circle when we talk about this journey, it just doesn't stop at the selection process or right at the interview. Yes, it's great work and let's continue to diversify our interview panel, but we also have to continue to pull the thread all the way through to ensure that there is a great experience for that candidate, as well.

Rocki: For sure. Well, I'm going to give you some steps that are really focused on the talent acquisition and the hiring journey. To your point, I would really encourage people to look at this as a full talent management framework.

Kathy: Okay.

Rocki: So, from the old saying, "From cradle to grave," for the whole life cycle of your employees, how do your DEIB initiatives match? Because a lot of us focus on the talent acquisition process. We don't focus on the talent management process. So, I think when you're thinking about across the organization set those smart goals. What does DEIB mean in your organization? How can we measure and communicate progress? Who's accountable for embedding and evolving diversity? Hint, clue, it is not just your chief diversity officer or your CEO. How do we hold everyone in the organization accountable? Because we're all accountable.

So, if you think holistically, you've got to set smart goals that are aligned with that thought process. I think when you think about being on this journey, and we kind of focus in on hiring, I think everyone should have a diversity hiring blueprint, right? Again, in a previous life, I helped an organization build one. You want to think about kind of four core pillars. One, what's your diversity brand equity? We all know companies with brand equity are able to attract more candidates. So, what's your diversity brand equity? Do they know your commitment to diversity? What are those job descriptions looking like, etc.? Right? What is your diversity brand equity? When people come look at your company, can they see themselves represented in an authentic manner? That's number one.

I think number two is really about sourcing strategically, right? Do you have tailored sourcing strategies? Are you cultivating a diverse community? Do you make sure you've got internal hiring processes? Do you have partners like AGS and The Mom Project who have this top of mind and have expertise that can help you do this? Right? If we can help you attract candidates, are they going to go through, number three, a fair hiring process? You called it out earlier. Do you have diverse hiring teams? I will tell you, back to that Mathison report, I think it is 76% of underrepresented job seekers have observed a lack of diversity on interview panels. That's no small number, 76%. Why is that important? Because when you talk about taking the bias out of the interview process, which is part of this fair hiring process, if nobody on the interview panel represents various dimensions of diversity, then how can they see the bias? It's a tough struggle there.

Then do you have structured interview processing, right? Do you have scorecards? Do you have structured interviews that ensure that everybody is getting measured by the same measuring stick? Then I think finally that fourth pillar is really all about organizational support. Do you have clear goals? Do you have specific hiring goals? Not quotas. So, this is where sometimes this gets really itchy, but you can't get someplace if you don't have a goal for where you're going. So where is it that we want to improve diversity in our organization? What does that look like? How do I drive top-of-funnel people that represent those dimensions of diversity into my process? I'm a big believer in this, how do we hold leaders accountable, and how do we train them to do the appropriate things? So, I think when you think about the roadmap, those are the four key pillars.

Kathy: I like it because it is clear, concise, and it's actionable. I heard, focus on the diversity brand equity, really being intentional and deliberate around your sourcing strategy, building the right ecosystem that's going to help cast the largest and the widest opportunity for talent, fair hiring processes, and of course, looking at the organizational support. When we sum it up and we kind of look at these four pillars and elements, it's the end to end, it's the cradle to grave. We could probably talk about this topic for hours and hours and hours. I have to say, here at AGS this topic is near and dear to me personally, as well as to the company. Our goal is to continue to try to weave it into everything that we do from the workforce, the workplace and the marketplace internally, externally with our clients, as well.

You've said a lot that has helped resonate with me, especially around the talent management piece. And focusing on TM, coupled with TA. Not one or the other. Right? But it's an and right? That's going to bring the two together. All right, final question, if I had to go to the final and the end here. So, let's talk about future state and this crystal ball, right? If you had a crystal ball, Rocki, where do you see the workforce solutions industry in a few years when it comes down to diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging?

Rocki: Right. It's a really interesting question because I think a lot of times, we are relegated to the top of the funnel. But when you think about us being able, as a workforce solutions provider, our goals are really always to provide the best talent to our clients. I think now when you think about how we do that, we're going to continue to evolve and change. You see a lot of us doing that today. So, you see a lot of us that are workforce solutions providers having chief diversity officers. You see a lot of us having diversity strategies for how we attract. It's going to move from just our ability to be able to go source, but how do we actually connect and communicate with these communities and build deep relationships with multiple dimensions of diversity candidates that we continue to nurture, that we help support and grow that we may be doing things like creating training and development for our pool and getting that supported.

I think you'll see more content driven support for that particular pool. So that we help develop that pool and understand which clients they're best suited in. I think that the expectations for us as workforce solutions providers, I think those candidates are going to have elevated expectations for us as the middleman than what they had a few years ago. I think if I looked back to when I started in the game, it was really about, I'm going to use that workforce solutions provider to make a connection to a company over here. I think now we have to think about the fact that the gig economy is here to stay. You've got somewhere between 2.2 and 5 million women who have opted out of the workforce because they can't work according to the rules. They're looking for more flexible options to work. So now this workforce solutions provider becomes more of a partner than a steppingstone than before. So top of mind, when you ask me what I see for us in the future, I think those things are all going to come into play.

Kathy: Wow. Well, I hope to have this conversation a couple of years from now, but I know our paths will cross before then.

Rocki: Way before then.

Kathy: Right, right. So, well stated. Again, thank you. A big thank you for sharing your wisdom, your experience and always your voice to such a really important topic. So where can listeners go to learn more about The Mom Project?

Rocki: Well, absolutely Please, if you're interested in partnership, if you know people who need to join our community, that's the way to find it. If you know people who could use some upskilling or your organization would really like to support scholarships for women of color and moms of color and help create some of that economic opportunity, If you're looking for the latest thought leadership in this area, You can find us in all three places. Certainly, we're on social and LinkedIn and Instagram and all of the places.

Kathy: Awesome. Well, thank you so much for joining us today. On that note, we'll end it. Take care.

Bruce: To learn more about AGS, please check us out at You can also send questions for me or our guests, just tweet us here @AllegisGlobal with a hashtag #SubjectToTalent or email us at If you enjoyed our podcast today, please subscribe, rate us and leave a review. Until next time, cheers.