Join us this week on the Connected Enterprise podcast as we discuss how Circa drives diversity in the workforce with Vice President, Roselle Rogers.
Carl Lewis: Welcome to The Connected Enterprise podcast. I’m Carl Lewis, your host from Vision33, and my guest is Roselle Rogers, the VP at Circa. Welcome, Roselle. Please tell us about yourself, Circa, and your role there.
Roselle Rogers: Hi, Carl. Thanks for having me. I'm Circa's VP for diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). I've been in HR compliance and DEI for over 30 years, 16 of them at Circa. I drive our external DEI and thought leadership strategies, which takes me to many webinars, conferences, and presentations.
At Circa, we believe that diverse teams transform businesses, and we work with over 5,000 companies interested in creating a more diverse, inclusive workplace. We do it through diversity training, strategy, analytics, and affirmative action compliance.
Carl Lewis: Wonderful. You’ve said there's so much more involved in diversity than people think. How would you define diversity to explain that?
Roselle Rogers: When people consider diversity, they think of race and gender. But it goes way beyond that, encompassing everything that differentiates us from one another. Race, ethnicity, national origin, sex, gender identity, age, religion, veteran status, disability, thinking styles, educational background, socioeconomic background, and political thoughts are all dimensions of diversity. And diversity benefits businesses because you can make better decisions when you have complementary perspectives.
Carl Lewis: I remember learning in early management education that creating plan A is easy, but if we don't have a little contention at the table and plan A fails, we don't have plan B. It's the collection of voices and ideas that matter, and we come away stronger when we bring different experiences to the table.
Roselle Rogers: Yes. Multiple perspectives equal multiple ways of solving a problem. Everyone benefits from that.
Carl Lewis: I've been at my company for 14 years, and I feel privileged to work for a company that's succeeded in creating a diverse workforce. What are the tangible benefits companies get from diversity?
Roselle Rogers: A lot of research goes into that, including a McKinsey study that shows that companies in the top quarter of gender diversity are 15% more likely to have better financial returns. That's documented across multiple companies. And those in the top quartile of racial and ethnic diversity are 35% more likely to have better financial performance. Think about it. Assembling multiple perspectives encourages healthy debate—and means you’re staffing your front line with people who reflect the demographic pools your company serves. That allows you to build customer loyalty and connection.
But building a diverse team is just the beginning, and the benefits don’t happen overnight. You don’t bring them in and passively wait for beautiful things to happen. You can’t reap the benefits without actively investing in diversity and inclusion. The link between diversity and performance requires work. You won’t get greater innovation if people don't feel like they belong, fear speaking up, experience ridicule for coming up with the “wrong” idea, or have their ideas discounted.
You need a diverse group of the right people in the right environment with the right conditions to make it work. You need inclusive people-management practices to encourage people to grow and develop in your organization.
As for the benefits, first, you'll see an improvement in employee relations, with people respecting each other more. That leads to a decline in employment claims, retaliation, and turnover rates—because people like where they are. You’ll also see more employees from underrepresented groups moving toward supervisory leadership and management positions because you’re fostering learning and giving everybody opportunities to develop. Employee job satisfaction and engagement will increase, and more employees will feel comfortable disclosing who they are.
For example: At Circa, one in four employees has disclosed a disability. That's high—and I'm proud of that because it’s an indicator of psychological safety and inclusion. People won’t disclose disabilities if they expect retaliation or stereotyping. Seeing those indicators rise in your organization means people have a stronger sense of belonging and will be their authentic selves at work. When you build a stronger connection between your employees and your company, you get greater motivation and passion.
That unlocks the discretionary effort and time employees give the organization. How much of their hearts and minds they pour into their work and how much they consider the organization’s interests when they're working. That's what shows up in your retention, innovation, and productivity numbers, which are the metrics any organization/CEO/executive team would be interested in.
That's why we say diversity is good for the entire organization.
Carl Lewis: I agree—as our workforce has grown more diverse, so have our customers. And our ability to serve our customers seems to have increased as our diversity increased. It's like our customers see themselves in our workforce, and we see ourselves in our customers.
Roselle Rogers: Some statistics point to diverse companies being more innovative and enjoying a greater market share and penetration into those demographic groups, which results in greater financial performance.
Carl Lewis: Some of my employers were better at creating a diverse environment than others. What advice would you give people who want a diverse workforce? Without creating our own affirmative action endeavor, how do we increase our diversity?
Roselle Rogers: It starts with analyzing your candidate sources. Where do you get your applicants, and how diverse is that pipeline? How do you diversify more? If you haven't paid attention to hiring, for example, people with disabilities, veterans, older workers, LGBTQ, or indigenous populations, you need to think about adding sources like that to your list. At Circa, we hear 1) it’s too much work, and 2) I don’t know where to start. And they're already overburdened with work. They have 100 requisitions and need to fill them yesterday. There's a time crunch.
But if you want your recruiters to engage in outreach, you must make it easy. Put the tools at their fingertips. Give them access to a database or directory of organizations that provide employment services to your targeted underrepresented groups, regardless of where they're recruiting. Circa offers a database of 15,000 organizations that have opted in to receive job leads, circulate them, and match them to their membership. Recruiters can use the tool to connect directly with those organizations. When you make it easy, you’re more likely to get cooperation.
Imagine instead you say, "Here’s our diversity goal. We want you to reach out to organizations. Go!" If you’re a Chicago company, how do you know who to contact in New York or Idaho? You don’t. But access to tools like I described will make outreach and diversifying your candidate pipeline easier.
Carl Lewis: It seems challenging to recruit qualified people. A friend said they’ve used four or five reliable recruiting sources for years but are now coming up dry. Then they found some hidden gem candidates in other sources. So suddenly, they’re experiencing a more diverse workforce. They were surprised but happy.
What are the challenges of transitioning to a more diverse workforce? I was talking about returning to work after Christmas and realized the person I was talking to was Jewish. We're friends, so that was fine, but I could see that being challenging—modifying your awareness because not everybody’s culturally alike. Are there other challenges?
Roselle Rogers: Absolutely. Here’s my example to help people understand: It's like bringing together a symphony. Individuals are speaking in different voices, but we need to sing the same tune and work in harmony because otherwise, we create dissonance and negatively affect our team. The key to creating great music is understanding what we each bring to the table—the cello, trumpet, piano, violin, etc. That's us as people. We have different backgrounds, and they all have value. We can play beautiful music by ourselves, but we can create something magical together.
This is where the rubber meets the road with diversity. Bringing diverse perspectives together requires skills—creating harmony, eliciting ideas, engaging in active listening, resolving conflicts, and evaluating ideas. Then challenging the status quo and realizing that just because something was done this way doesn't mean we can’t do it better or adapt it to new situations.
There are a lot of misconceptions about diversity. We need to break some myths, like that it’s just about gender and race. That it’s a zero-sum game. Giving to underrepresented groups doesn’t mean you have to take away from other people. There’s a myth that there are quotas/mandates. They're not—they're goals. You’re still evaluating people based on merit and job criteria.
We’re saying to balance the pipeline so diverse candidates compete for the same opportunities as non-diverse candidates. Because when you do, the probability of your outcomes being equal is higher. Our pipelines are lopsided because of our existing practices, so we need to shore them up.
And just because you assembled a diverse work team doesn't mean our unconscious biases magically disappear. They don't, so we need to be aware of those biases and not let stereotypes and assumptions rule our communication. We must be better allies. That’s how to overcome the challenges that arise in a diverse organization.
Carl Lewis: It's not just a business issue—it’s also happening in our personal lives. My son married a woman with a Hispanic background, and we discovered they don’t like turkey when we invited them to Thanksgiving dinner. So now tamales are part of our Thanksgiving.
Roselle Rogers: Why not?
Carl Lewis: Exactly! Why not? It adds a new flavor to the meat—and the family. We’re stronger because of it, we have fun with it, and we learn something new along the way.
Roselle, many of our listeners are in small to midsized businesses and want to advocate for a more diverse workforce. What’s your advice?
Roselle Rogers: First, we need to understand employees don’t just passively receive culture. They’re part of creating it. If our dream is a diverse, inclusive workforce, we must create it. There are three groups responsible for creating culture. First, the organization, through its values, mission, policies, leadership, management practices, and what it values and incentivizes. Because incentives influence how people behave.
Second, managers. They’re important because they affect your employees’ daily experience. We all know people leave their managers, not the company. Third, the work team. That’s our coworkers and our relationships with them. How do they make us feel? How do we make them feel? So, while we can—and should—advocate for inclusivity, it’s more important to create it by practicing inclusion within our sphere at the organization. It starts with our daily actions and choices. For example, as an individual, do you speak up when you see exclusionary behavior? Do you interrupt when you see someone talking over, discounting the ideas of, or ignoring someone from an underrepresented group?
If you’re a manager, do you call people to participate in conversations, especially the voices that don't speak up often? Do you create ways for people to send ideas ahead of time, so you can hear them regardless of whether they speak at the meeting? Do you consider neurodiversity? We all have different abilities and learning styles, so do you adjust your management style? Do you try to avoid, for example, scheduling meetings during Ramadan to respect team members who observe the holiday? And as an organization, do you celebrate multicultural diversity? Do you use those occasions to educate your employees and expand their cross-cultural competency? Do you offer training in bias? Do you have roundtable discussions within the organization so they can normalize diversity conversations?
And, aside from sourcing diverse candidates, do you evaluate your own selection process or possible biases? Because what if you’re bringing these candidates in, but they don’t make it through the selection process? That’s something you should investigate. Are they falling out at certain stages in proportionate numbers compared to non-diverse candidates? And if so, why? Is it job-related criteria, or were they rejected because somebody said they're not correct? Can you quantify that?
Carl Lewis: Right.
Roselle Rogers: Our biases play into everything, so being aware of that and creating opportunities for us to question existing practices and dig out barriers we're creating are necessary for organizations to de-bias their management processes. Another way would be to audit your pay practices to ensure there's no pay gap between genders or across underrepresented groups performing the same job. You can advocate, but you can also act to make it a reality in everyday existence and within the organization.
Carl Lewis: Roselle, this has been a great conversation. It’s a lot of food for thought, a lot of good ideas, and a great explanation of why diversity is beneficial. I appreciate your passion. So, thank you for joining us today—and to everyone else out there, ‘til next time, stay connected.