Racial inequality has been a reality in our country for more than 400 years, says Jacqueline Welch, CHRO and chief diversity officer at secondary mortgage market company Freddie Mac–which is part of the reason that systemic racism is so pervasive and so difficult to confront. However, it’s incumbent upon HR leaders to rise to that challenge, translating the earnest conversations now happening around race into “measurable, sustainable change aimed at remediating the impacts of systemic racial inequalities.”
Welch sees that directive as benefitting from a three-pronged approach: rooting out biases in HR processes and systems; prioritizing diversity throughout the talent-management ecosystem; and cultivating an inclusive culture. HRE recently spoke with Welch about these and other goals. Read more of her interview in our upcoming feature story on the future of diversity and inclusion, on HRExecutive.com and in the September magazine.
HRE: How has Freddie Mac communicated with its workforce about the concept of racial inequality, and its commitment to eradicating it, recently? And has the organization taken any new actions to deepen that commitment?
Welch: The mission of Freddie Mac is to bring liquidity, stability and affordability to the housing market. This is important to say because housing faces underlying issues of inequality. Through our work to support our mission, our people already understand the dynamics of racial inequality through a housing lens, and we take our obligation to do more in terms of access and opportunity for underserved borrowers very seriously.
Further, Freddie Mac has long worked to embed inclusion and diversity into all our business processes. We are a majority-minority company, and women make up nearly half our workforce. While we have much to be proud of, we also know there’s always more to be done and have a board-approved I&D strategic plan to guide our actions.
I share that bit of context to frame how we specifically addressed recent events and how our actions reaffirmed our commitment to I&D. Our CEO shared internal and external messages reflecting on and denouncing the recent killings of Black people. Other business leaders and I have shared subsequent messages and are transitioning the conversation to one of action. Our employee resource groups immediately jumped into action providing safe spaces for courageous conversations, resources to support mental health and increased allyship to our ERG for Black employees.
As HR, we continue to focus on our employees’ mental wellbeing, addressing potential bias in our own processes and further democratizing I&D across the organization to help ensure every person is accountable for our progress. And now, we have renewed vigor as an organization to use our diverse perspectives to find innovative solutions to continue addressing the underlying issues of inequality in housing.
These activities highlight that we are committed to action and have been over the long run. My single piece of advice for each of us is to put our words into action. Our employees, customers and communities are watching how we all respond.
HRE: Much has been said about the value of allyship in the workplace. What are some strategies to nurture allyship?
Welch: We have built a culture of allyship by evolving our employee resource group model. We ask our senior leaders to serve as the executive sponsor for an ERG outside of their specific affinity. For example, a man leads the ERG for women and those who advocate for women’s issues. A white woman leads the ERG for our Black employees and their allies. An ally leads our PRIDE ERG for LGBTQ+ employees and their allies. This approach helps cultivate inclusion as a leadership principle, both for the executive sponsor and the ERG members.
As a result, ERGs are organically co-sponsoring events that acknowledge intersectionality, the interconnections of various diversity dimensions such as race, gender, sexuality, etc. These partnerships expand ways in which ERG members engage with not only their affinity, but with others. Overall, our goal is to create an environment where allies can understand and empathize with those unlike themselves, and over time, find ways to use their privilege to elevate others.
Related: How HR can boost workplace equality
HRE: How do you recommend that HR can keep issues of racism and social injustice at the forefront of their agendas, amid all the changes brought about by the pandemic?
Welch: It requires a commitment from the top to embed inclusion and diversity throughout all business processes. And then democratizing the work of I&D to hold each person within the organization accountable for doing their part.
HRE: Do you see the term “Diversity & Inclusion” changing in the future?
Welch: Dictionaries and the words within them are known to evolve over time. A commitment to fighting for equal rights and evidence of progress should always remain a constant.