Diversity & Inclusion Action Recording: Delivering Simple & Impactful People Practices - 10/06/20



The October 6th D&I Action Call featured guest Lydia Smith, Director of Diversity & Inclusion at Kohl’s, who shared how her organization has delt with the COVID-19 pandemic and the actions they’ve taken to address and advance racial equity both in response to recent social unrest and prior to the pandemic shutdown. i4cp’s CDO Board Chair Jacqui Robertson lead the discussion. 

The meeting led off with a song selected by Smith – “Run the World (Girls)” by Beyoncé – and a quote by Maya Angelou – “My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor and some style.” Smith shared that the quote reminds her to live and grow in difficult times, and that we have to continue to enjoy life and our accomplishments. She also shared that she has a group of peer – her “quaranteam” – that she gets together with on a regular basis to decompress and share challenges with as a part of her personal wellness routine. 

Of note, while still a focus of these weekly calls, i4cp also announced a rebranding of all our call series that eliminates COVID-19 from the title and acknowledges the broader range of topics covered in the weekly sessions.

Key Takeaways:

  1. Employees need a little “space and grace” to deal with current challenges. Smith shared that if there is a silver lining to COVID-19, it’s that employers have focused more on mental and emotional health. There’s also been an upsurge in empathy as employees working from home share their lives and challenges with teammates. So when social unrest in the wake of the murder of George Floyd and other incidents occurred, Kohl’s was set to respond very quickly to employee distress – pulling together tools and resources and shoring up EAP offerings. At Kohl’s, this also fueled a drive for more empathetic leadership, necessitating training, tools, and resources for leaders to better deal with employee challenges. Smith also shared her appreciation for HRBPs who stepped up to help prepare leaders for difficult conversations and discussed their current consideration of small peer groups that will allow leaders space and grace to learn how to effectively communicate these topics.
  2. Eighty percent of organizations are placing high/very high priority on addressing racial equity. This is a main finding from the i4cp Addressing and Advancing Racial Equity pulse survey shared on the call. This was followed by a poll asking attendees how prepared their HR departments were to address racial equity. Smith shared that she felt Kohl’s had a strong foundation and effective response in HR, but that such work couldn’t be accomplished without organization-wide buy-in. While the survey showed that our call group was more positive about their HR department’s readiness than the pulse survey respondents, there was still a lot of work to be done addressing barriers and building capabilities. Further data showing how organizations are responding revealed that much of that work is going on, but it also lead to a need for greater accountability – which ranked relatively low among actions taken by our survey takers.
  3. Accountability is a work in progress. Smith shared that she believes many organizations are still trying to figure out how to build effective accountability into their leader’s and manager’s performance expectations. She contends that while organizations grapple with that aspect, they should also explore other types of accountability such as including D&I goals in other people management expectations, through rewards and recognition, and by promoting inclusion throughout the organization.
  4. The right side of right. Smith says Kohl’s is focused from the top down on a commitment to diversity, inclusion, and equity not just in their stores, but in society at large. To this end they have simplified goals to specific KPIs related to their people, their customers, and their communities. They also have a strong focus on allyship, understanding the needs of all associates, and equipping them for difficult conversations. Challenges in the U.S. political climate, however, lead back to what you are willing to sacrifice in order to make the broader changes you believe are right – such as losing some customers. This requires constant assessments and gut checks to make sure strategies don’t have to evolve or shift so that intent and actual impact are in alignment. She shared that there has been some conflict with public programs they’ve launched, but that they look at the impact seriously before moving forward with what they believe is positive messaging and action.

Other topics from the call: 

In response to a question from the audience chat, Smith shared that Kohl’s has not had to deal with the recent executive order limiting some D&I programming, which has impacted government agencies and contractors. This topic will, however, be addressed at an upcoming i4cp D&I call scheduled for October 13th featuring guests from government contractor Lockheed Martin. Meanwhile, Kohl’s is continuing with it’s current unconscious bias training initiative, which they plan to finish for all associates by the end of the year using a combination of live and online resources. 

Also in response to questions, Smith shared more about how Kohl’s is rolling out accountability for D&I goals by making them part of regular check-in conversations with their HRBPs. This feedback then comes back to her team every two weeks to determine if there’s a need for extra conversations, tools, training, or support. This led to a larger conversation around impact over activity and making sure goals were being met, as well as expectations being ingrained into leadership behaviors.

There was also discussion of the need for incremental change that can make big differences down the road and building the power of a more diverse employer brand. This includes leveraging ERGs/BRGs for important work and how involvement in those groups can advance employee’s careers.

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