This article accompanies Innovating for the Future.
It’s easy to feel confused and alone when you’re standing in the middle of SEI’s sprawling 90-acre campus–and that’s where Krista Deguffroy often comes in.
Deguffroy is no tour guide, though. As the director of inclusion and compliance at the financial-services company headquartered outside Philadelphia, she focuses on ensuring SEI provides a welcoming and supportive atmosphere to underrepresented members in its worldwide workforce of 3,200, which includes military veterans, workers on the autism spectrum and people of color.
Armed with both an undergraduate degree in psychology and a master’s degree in employment and labor relations from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Deguffroy joined the company in 2014 as a recruiting specialist and moved into her current role approximately a year later.
It’s in this current capacity that Deguffroy says she can envision and execute programs designed to “break bias and change the perceptions of how diversity and inclusion shape the workforce.” And that’s a big reason why she’s been named to this year’s HR’s Rising Stars list.
“Krista is an ambitious and passionate young professional who is continuously searching for new ways to better the world around her,” says Colleen Stratton, global leader of workforce development and Deguffroy’s supervisor.
One way she’s making that happen at SEI is through its Autism at Work program, which Deguffroy created in 2018 and designed to provide internship opportunities to individuals on the autism spectrum.
With more than 3.5 million Americans currently diagnosed with an autism-spectrum disorder and a low national unemployment rate, there are myriad reasons for employers to explore hiring more neurodiverse workers. So, in an effort to help decipher the working world for the interns, Deguffroy created a curriculum that includes “discovery” weeks, in which interns focus on employment-readiness tasks including conducting research and attending meetings.
Since self-disclosure is an important element of an autistic worker’s journey, Deguffroy says, she created an option that allows interns to make the decision whether to disclose their condition while they are being evaluated for their skills and organizational impact.
“There’s still a stigma attached to an autism diagnosis,” she says, “but we’re trying to change that.”
After putting four interns through the program last summer–including two who became full-time SEI employees–this summer’s program includes 12 interns.
During her tenure, Deguffroy has also turned her attention to SEI employees who have served in the military but were experiencing difficulties at work. Some veterans were “struggling to adapt” to the company’s lack of a hierarchical structure similar to what they had in the military, she says.
Deguffroy expanded the company’s “Battle Buddy” program to incorporate both peer veteran and civilian mentors for new military hires; having both types of mentors to act as translators has been very helpful to these warrior workers, she says. There are currently 48 active Battle Buddies in the organization, and approximately 80 have participated in the program over the years.
Deguffroy also helped to expand this program to SEI’s military families and spouses who want to engage with others in similar situations. She also updated a video program titled “On the Homefront” that gives viewers the chance to meet and salute the company’s veterans.
As proof of the program’s success, SEI was recently recognized by the organization Military Friendly as a “Top 10 Veteran Friendly Employer,” for its commitment to veterans.
“I am SEI”
Another companywide challenge Deguffroy has taken on involves enhancing the diversity being showcased through the company’s external channels.
Working at first with the company’s affinity group focused on diversity, Deguffroy decided to create a video that showcases the value the company places on the diversity of its workforce. (In addition to sitting on the board of that diversity group, Deguffroy also serves as president of SEI’s Women’s Network and is a board member of SEI Salutes, which focuses on supporting the veteran community.)
When it came time to shoot the video, Deguffroy says, “I was surprised by the demand” of workers who wanted to appear in the video. In the end, workers speaking 12 different native languages (including German and Swahili) were featured in the video.
“SEI offers a variety of programs to increase focus on all aspects of diversity,” says one worker in the video, which is available on YouTube and other platforms. “Everyone is welcome, and we achieve success by bringing people from different backgrounds together.”
Stratton says Deguffroy is such an asset because she “regularly works toward discovering new potential” for SEI’s workplace and workforce. “By creating new programs and opportunities to promote employee growth and learning, Krista has significantly changed the pace for SEI’s workforce- development team,” Stratton says. “Her patience, empathy and knowledge make her a valuable asset to her team and the organization as a whole.”
Deguffroy’s empathy is also exhibited in her volunteer work with the Gift of Life Foundation, a nonprofit focused on the needs of those battling blood cancer. She regularly volunteers at the foundation’s Family House and also visits with patients undergoing treatments.
Back at SEI, Stratton says, Deguffroy has already made a remarkable impact on the company in just four years. “Krista’s confidence will continue to lead her through to success,” she says.
As for where that path may take her, Deguffroy would like to continue her education by attending law school someday, but she’s not taking any options off the table.
“Anything in the future is possible,” she says. “The past doesn’t matter because you’re not going backward.”