No longer a footnote on business strategy, diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) has become a top priority for companies looking to positively impact retention, hiring, and revenue.
The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), which has been committed to DEI for years, is one such organization taking a formal, strategic approach to DEI in the workplace and beyond. Understanding the importance of DEI in the modern workforce, the organization formally launched an “internal focus around diversity, equity and inclusion” in 2019 and added anti-racism to the effort in 2020, after the murder of George Floyd, according to Yvonne Massenburg, chief human resources officer at AAMC.
“Our formalized DEI strategy focuses on our workforce and challenges our workplace, culture, leadership, the ability to lead in an inclusive way, including partnerships, community engagement, outreach, and more,” says Massenburg.
A chief component of AAMC’s DEI strategy has been the forming of the organization’s first Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Council, with “representation of employees across the organization,” Massenburg says.
The council’s top priorities include establishing employee resource groups, evaluating reporting systems to ensure they’re “safe, fair, supportive, and effective,” and examining inclusion at the department level. Currently, the DEI council is focused on rolling out an education strategy to ensure all employees have access to opportunities for building and developing skills around DEI.
The year-old council includes a “highly engaged and committed group of employees that wants to continue to support our efforts around diversity, equity, and inclusion,” with the goal of ensuring AAMC continues to grow its inclusivity as an organization, Massenburg says. AAMC has also hired a DEI director to build a small team under HR and serve as a dedicated leader focused on fostering inclusivity in the organization.
Organizational leadership felt it was important for AAMC to create a formal strategy and framework to address racism involving both external and internal stakeholders. They worked with the Sustained Dialogue Institute, which offers anti-racism training that all employees are welcome to take and to become certified themselves as “dialogue facilitators.”
Eliminating bias in hiring
To help ensure a more diverse workforce, AAMC also set about evaluating how it hires to root out any unconscious bias that might exist in the process. As part of this overhaul, Massenburg says AAMC made a “consistent structured interview process that everyone needs to follow.” This includes a debriefing with an HR representative who evaluates why certain candidates were identified over others, with a focus on ascertaining whether any bias was involved in the process. AAMC also introduced competency-based interviewing where the focus is “truly on behaviors and past experiences versus judgements of individual personality traits,” Massenburg says.
“We focused on our external recruitment and have done really an impactful job of improving our diversity hiring, through partnerships with external organizations and focusing on leadership levels where representation needs some improvement — we have a robust screening and selection process that includes focusing on behavioral-based interviewing, training for interviewers and looking at minimizing bias in selection,” she says.
AAMC partners with external professional organizations, such as the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), to help open expand its talent pool. While hiring slowed in 2020 due to the pandemic, as it picks back up, Massenburg says the company is dedicated to bringing in more talent and continuing to expand diversity all the way up to leadership levels. By nurturing relationships with external organizations dedicated to BIPOC representation in tech, the company has been able to access a more diverse talent pool of qualified candidates and diversified the organization’s recruitment strategy.
Identifying problematic terminology
In early 2020, AAMC conducted a survey of all its internal systems source code, looking for any problematic or offensive language or verbiage that could be removed or changed. This has remained a top priority, continually ensuring all systems are scanned for lexicon that needs to be changed, says Stephen Lopez, interim CIO at AAMC.
There’s also a list of terminology on the company’s internal site that employees can reference so they know what language should not be used in the workplace. Some problematic terms — such as master and slave — have become so normalized in the tech industry after decades of use that it’s helpful to supply employees with a reference list to educate themselves on what terms have fallen out of favor.
Using software that scans job descriptions and other collateral used for recruitment, AAMC is able to keep an eye on any potential bias in the hiring process as well, says Lopez, noting that they do not require people to disclose gender on internal systems and offer a “not disclosed” option for employees to choose. Lopez says they are looking to expand options beyond male, female, and not disclosed, and have started to include pronouns in email signatures. AAMC is also implementing education around gender identity in the organization.
Leading by example
AAMC CEO David J. Skorton has also indicated to the board of directors that he wants to be held accountable for his DEI work and that everyone at the leadership level makes DEI a year-round priority. Within the next year, all leadership positions will carry a DEI goal as part of their performance with the organization.
By tying DEI goals to leadership performance, it’s a way to encourage leaders to take “concrete actions” and to make sure they continue to “move forward with making sure that we implement our goals for DEI,” says Lopez.
The company is also reviewing a pilot inclusive training program that will be open to all supervisor positions. Supervisors are already required to attend workshops on employee engagement, management strategies, and leadership skills, so the inclusive leadership program will be an added to that training.
“One of the things that we realized is that we need to live this rather than just have a website that lists things that we want to do — and one of the things that I’ve done is taken a personal goal for DEI in my performance goals,” says Lopez.
Lopez has also asked Erica Stanton, senior director of IT business management services at AAMC, to lead a Women in Technology employee resource group, which is still in development and will be open to everyone who is committed to fostering gender diversity in tech. It’s intended to “focus on women” and create a “safe space for women” where they can address career path needs, expectations, and career development, says Stanton.
Beyond DEI initiatives, Stanton says the organization has also focused on creating more avenues for employees to feel heard. This includes town hall meetings, management meetings, and ongoing meetings with leadership where employees can ask questions, voice opinions, and connect with leadership. Monthly newsletters also go out that include a memo from the CIO’s desk along with a suggestion box that allows employees to submit things anonymously. They also hold quarterly social hours where employees can share pictures, play games, and connect with each other outside of work-related meetings. While not necessarily DEI-specific, these were implemented to increase employee satisfaction, work-life balance, and communication, which are paramount to retaining diverse hires.
“I feel like we’ve definitely made strides and people are feeling like they’re heard no matter where they are in the organization — people are speaking out and being heard,” says Massenburg.