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These 5 Atlanta Companies Know D&I Is Serious Business

by Jocelyne Williams

D&I has been a huge topic of conversation in the media, specifically as it relates to the tech industry over the last several years.  I assume everyone must know this term — but I am often asked, what is D&I?

It stands for diversity and inclusion. Emphasis on inclusion, which is the #majorkey — with the current climate of racial sensitivity, D&I work is more vital than ever. There’s so much fresh and highly sought talent graduating and entering the workforce in Atlanta — the catch is providing a culture that makes them want to stay. Diversity is merely the range of demographics aloud in the building, inclusion is the feeling you belong there. Instead of focusing on the problems related to D&I, we need to implement solutions.

The Great Debate

For a 30-year-old black woman living in Atlanta, the 5th highest metropolitan city for women owned firms, with a 36.93 percent rate of new entrepreneurs, I often think “what a time to be alive!” Diverse entrepreneurs can certainly succeed in Atlanta’s ecosystem.

But it’s important to realize that it’s also imperative to build, lead, or work for a business you can be proud of. There’s a magnifying lens on every business, startups to Fortune 500, to invest in their human capital. This means giving credence to those groups who often have to fight to be fully heard, represented, included, and promoted in traditional organizations. For so many, the struggle to do more than merely exist in their workplace is real.

So what can your business do to change these experiences and get in on the talent takeover of the Southeast? Take notes, because ATL is quickly becoming a corporate & technology mega center and it begins with the culture. The city’s diverse and inclusive nature, plus the convenience of travel from Hartsfield-Jackson, has talent from around the globe wanting to #chooseatl. Companies must get right or get left…behind.

These 5 companies in ATL do it #fortheculture:

1. The Home Depot’s core company values also tie to D&I. Headquartered in Atlanta, The Home Depot walks the talk by creating a culture their employees believe in and feel. “Lean on the culture, instead of [leaning] on a program you can grow,” says Myra Reeves, Senior Manager D&I.

They collect results from an annual Voice of the Associate survey, which has seen an increase in associate’s commitment over the last several years. Not to mention, they’ve exceeded a White House commitment to hire 55,000 veterans in 5 years by 3 ½ years; hiring over 79, 000.

2. VMware found a cultural fit and knew they had to keep a presence in Atlanta, with the acquisition of AirWatch, which has over 1,000 employees. This past year saw the launch of the second chapter of their D&I strategy, VMinclusion. D&I Program Manager Michelle Rodriguez oversees a program called VMware Power of Difference communities (PODs) — the Pride@VMware POD created a strong brand presence through the Atlanta Pride celebration and has created training opportunities for internal staff on the LGBTQ community. There are also Black@VMware and Women@VMware POD chapters in Atlanta. In addition, a collaboration with Stanford University for unconscious bias training was held in Atlanta last month.

Rodriguez advises companies to “Focus on culture. You can’t have the ‘special sauce’ of innovation without inclusion.”

3. ThoughtWorks, a global IT consulting company knows how to #investinwomen. The company set a bold goal of achieving 50 percent female representation for their ThoughtWorks University Program.  This two-year entry level program provides new hires, many of whom are sourced outside of computer science departments, the opportunity to pursue careers in IT.  Since the program’s 2011 inception, ThoughtWorks has successfully achieved their goal. Graduates of the program have gone on to become leaders of the business, and one inaugural TWU graduate is now up for principal, reports Tarsha McCormick, Head of D&I.

“Talk to your employees to really create a culture of inclusion; involve them in the work and solutions,” says McCormick.

4. Southern Company Gas is building the future of energy through innovation in every area of the business; D&I is no exception. Focused on building a transparent and inclusive culture, Tommi Paris, Manager of D&I at Southern Company Gas, implemented a TEDx style program inviting employees to “discover & discuss” ideas about workplace D&I through talks delivered by senior leadership. This approach allows leaders to expose personal experiences, thoughts, and understandings around D&I topics. Employees then engage in intimate round table discussions and work through ideas. The program creates the “aha” moments many corporate cultures strive for.

5. Cox Enterprises means business when it came to transforming the 119-year-old multimedia giant into an innovation and technology hub. Cox has started to model the highly sought startup culture in every aspect of its business, fostering an environment that appreciates unique talents and perspectives. “Cox lives by the maxim: If you take care of the employees, the employees will take care of the company,” said Rock Anderson, Cox Automotive’s executive VP & chief people officer. One way Cox Automotive reflects this philosophy is with career development. Their leadership achieves 100 percent participation in the Executive Sponsorship Program, which connects execs to high potential women and people of color in protégé relationship development and career guidance.

Featured image via Jocelyne Williams, inline images via The Home Depot, VMware, Thoughtworks.

Jocelyne Williams, PMP is a dedicated problem solver, communicator, and St. Louis, MO native. As an emerging trailblazer, she is excited about managing organizational products, people and processes. She founded the women and leadership panel series in 2016 to promote, connect, and equip women for success. A firm believer that you can affect change, Jocelyne believes in creating and supporting diversity & inclusion efforts for women in business.

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