People and Strategy

Brian Reaves on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Episode Summary

Brian Reaves is the Senior Vice President, Chief Belonging, Diversity, and Equity Officer at UKG (Ultimate Kronos Group). In this interview with Tony Lee, Vice President of Content at SHRM, Reaves explains that diversity, equity and inclusion are business imperatives and impact business as much as any other strategy. (length 18:08)

Episode Notes

Brian Reaves is the Senior Vice President, Chief Belonging, Diversity, and Equity Officer at UKG (Ultimate Kronos Group).

In this interview with Tony Lee, Vice President of Content at SHRM, Reaves explains that diversity, equity and inclusion are business imperatives and impact business as much as any other strategy. (length 18:08)

Episode Transcription

Tony Lee (00:01):

Hi, and welcome to People and Strategy, a podcast from the Society for human resource management and the SHRM Executive Network. I'm Tony Lee head of content here at SHRM, thank you for joining us. The SHRM Executive Network is the premier gathering of executives and thought leaders in the field of human resources that advances the HR profession by engaging executive practitioners to create solutions that drive success for their organizations.

A big question on the minds of executives everywhere is how do I know if my organization's efforts to create a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive employee experience are actually working? Most efforts to solve for DE and I tend to focus on workplace communication and training of employees, including frontline managers, but we're seeing more research that suggests that the key to advancing DE and I begins with the use of data and analytics to identify inequities in the workforce, rather than simply teaching employees how to communicate with one another.

Joining me today to discuss the use of data and analytics to improve DE and I efforts is Brian Reaves senior vice president, and chief belonging, diversity, and equity officer at UKG in Austin, Texas. Brian is an experienced leader in advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion within the tech sector. He's held software development roles in industries, such as cloud computing, supply chain logistics, healthcare, finance, and telecommunications at organizations including Dell and SAP. Brian began his career as a software engineer at Xerox. We won't say how many years ago it was, Brian, but it was a little while ago, and he continues to leverage his training and perspective as a software engineer to develop innovative DE and I strategies that produce better business outcomes. Brian, welcome to People and Strategy.

Brian Reaves (01:52):

Thank you, Tony, and I appreciate you not outing me on my age there.

Tony Lee (01:57):

My pleasure. So let's start with what is a software engineer by training doing in charge of a belonging, diversity, and inclusion program?

Brian Reaves (02:09):

Great question. Well, quite honestly, I still consider myself a software engineer, I'm just focused on solving different problems, actually more complex problem, using different strategies and tactics than I did as a traditional software engineer. That said, my passion for this topic, probably, it goes back to when I was born. I was born very humbly in a socioeconomically disadvantaged environment in South Central Los Angeles, so as a young Black man growing up, I experienced the world a little bit differently than I'm experiencing it now. And quite honestly, through the love of my family as well as opportunity and education, that changed everything and generationally changed things for my family. What my current role represents and what I've been doing over the last five to six years, represents my give back and my hope that I can enable significant opportunity for other people to change their generational outcomes.

Tony Lee (03:03):

That's fascinating. Well, we have talked to many guests about diversity, equity, and inclusion and SHRM has tried to be a thought leader there with Together Forward at Work and other initiatives, but I think the perspective you're bringing today that's a little different is the idea of analytics as a way to focus on the importance of DE and I. Let's start with the biggest analytic, which is the company's bottom line. We've seen different research that says a more diverse employee population is better for business. I assume you see that as well?

Brian Reaves (03:35):

Absolutely. For most companies, if not all companies, people are their most important asset and therefore the topics of diversely, belonging, equity, and inclusion, given that there's correlation movement and causation that excelling in the topic drives greater innovation, employee engagement, retention, all those things lead to better business outcomes and competitive advantage, which is ultimately the bottom line.

Tony Lee (04:00):

I assume it's the other side as well. Your customers are more responsive to a more diverse client base that they're working with.

Brian Reaves (04:08):

Absolutely. We want to see we want to do business with people who share our thoughts, people who we believe share our cultures, and in our world, the world is very diverse, 8 billion people, 330 million in the US so all of those intersections matter. To the degree, as a company that you focus in these areas, that you give significant credibility to these areas, and in our particular space, as UKG, as an HCM leading provider, we can actually drive some of this thought leadership into the platform to help other customers and partners accelerate their journey. This is the right place, the right time, and again, this is the best way you need to meet your customers where they are and they want to see themselves in you.

Tony Lee (04:56):

Yeah. One of the big challenges as you well know, especially as the discussions really ramped up starting last year was how do you measure success? Companies are launching enhanced programs, they're launching additional training, but how do you know that you're doing it right?

Brian Reaves (05:15):

I think a lot of companies, where they begin and it makes sense if they begin there, that they look at objective measurement. Typically you look at the demographics of your organization globally, you look at gender, in the US you look at ethnicity, but I would submit that it goes far beyond that because those two intersections aren't how people truly define themselves. As you're beginning to do measurements, things like identity where you can, differently abled people, generation, other DEI intersections are important to measure objectively, but that's only half the story. I think beyond the objective measurement is what I call the subjective measurements and that's really looking at how do you truly measure the level of belonging, inclusion, and equity that's within an organization. Those two sides of the equation will move companies faster forward than just looking at either one of them.

Tony Lee (06:08):

All right. I'm an executive leading an organization as the senior HR person and yeah, we do employee engagement surveys. Sure, we do them all the time. Is that it? Is that how I measure? Or is it more involved than that?

Brian Reaves (06:22):

Well, the employee engagement survey is just a tool or a mechanism to engage, but the questions are the most important thing. What I've found is companies don't ask enough questions that are tied to ... When you think about belonging, for example, things like advocacy, authentic self, what are the intra-company relationships that a person has? Those things are the things that you should ask and begin to measure and doing it more often than once a year. I think we all go towards the ENPS magic question, would you promote my company or would you sort of ask someone else to join that you know? But the bottom line is to go deeper in those questions, just like the listing sessions you mentioned. Over the last year and a half, post George Floyd's killing, it was the listening sessions, it was the engagement, the empathy with your employees and engaging on a much deeper level. I think there's an opportunity to use those employee and engagement surveys to really not only poll people at the top level, but to get much deeper as to what their journey is and how they're feeling along this DEIB journey.

Tony Lee (07:25):

I guess that's where analytics play in. The challenge we have though is that I can't think of too many people who got into HR because they were really good at math, so they're often not too comfortable with analytics. What would you suggest there? Is there technology they should be leaning on? Where do they go from here?

Brian Reaves (07:44):

Well, the beauty and most more advanced HR organizations, they do have departments of HR analytic people who are very comfortable with math. You'll find data scientists and other folks in many HR organizations. The key is to whether you outsource it or you come to companies like UKG, which have it in our platform, but the key is what a HR professional can do and a company should do is define what success looks like. What are all the things that you want to measure and then find a tool. Ultimately, it's just to find a technology platform or a tool that can sort of take all that information and bring it all together in some meaningful way, a scorecard, just like we measure all other parts of the business in an objective scorecard manner. We set goals, we look at where we are vis-a-vis goals. You have to do the same thing in this space if you're going to want to be successful.

Tony Lee (08:37):

Yeah. Let's talk a little bit about unconscious bias. We've done a lot of coverage about research that shows that basic diversity training to frontline managers is fine, but that oftentimes afterwards unconscious bias never was even addressed. How do you get there?

Brian Reaves (08:55):

Well, what's interesting about unconscious bias and I've tried to be as student myself, you learn a lot about what is bias? It's a negative word, but we all are biased in some way. In fact, it's brain science, and it's a way for our brains to keep us going, moving in the right direction, and to protect us. Now, the issue when you think of bias when it comes to people is given most of us have limited lived experiences, there's no way to have a mindset of every individual in the world, then you start to look at social stereotypes and what form those opinions on social stereotypes, and that's where things go wrong. But once you actually explain that to people, that it really is unconscious, yes, and it's brain science, and it's the way our brains work and on different things, the way we experience the world, you then get people curious, right? Because it's not like, "Oh, you called me biased. I'm a bad person." It's like, "There are things that I do every day that I need to be mindful of so that I can intercept that thought," because those thoughts are really based on what the brain is doing, gathering all the feedback that it needs for a particular situation. I think it's fundamental to speak about that. I don't even call it training, quite honestly, I call it foundational learning around this topic.

Also things, microaggressions, is important. Thinking about inequities in society, thinking about privilege. I didn't say white privilege. I said privilege. We all are very privileged. We're having this conversation today, we woke up, it is privileged position, but knowing that it could be a superpower that not everyone has the privilege that you have, but how can you use it to benefit someone else? That's a power position and something that most good, decent human beings will do.

Tony Lee (10:37):

Yeah, no, that makes perfect sense. Let's talk about that. Foundational learning you mentioned. One of the challenges that we keep uncovering is that managers specifically aren't really incentivized to take it seriously, to do something real when they're addressing diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. We're seeing more incentives being created at the senior level. We're seeing CEOs and boards actually putting pressure on senior leadership to do something. But do you think incentives going down to the frontline manager is a way to get those managers to take it more seriously, or is that not the right way to do it?

Brian Reaves (11:15):

Well, it depends on what the incentive is. I was, many moons ago, even before I formally got into this role, I was thinking, "Well, take pay away or tie some amount of someone's compensation to it." Over the years, Tony, I've actually changed my point of view because this topic needs to be driven into the DNA of an organization and it needs to have the same natural motions that other HR motions that people do accept. To that end, the similar motion is inclusive leadership. When we look at leaders and we ask leaders to do certain things, we measure that all the time and what happens if you're not being a good leader? There are things that happen. You get coaching, or at some point, if you don't improve, you're no longer allowed to be a leader. The same should be here.

We'll go back to that measurement conversation, leaders should have scorecards, leaders should see and take that subjective input as opportunities to be more inclusive leaders, which is the table stakes to me. Not just a leader, but an inclusive leader, and with that, if you don't lean in and build muscle in that area, guess what? You won't be able to be a leader moving forward. I think that's the sustained motion, as opposed to saying, "Hey, we'll take this amount of pay from you." Well, for some of us, that's just a tax burden that we'd right off in a second, but most of us want to thrive as professionals and therefore you have to attach it to the natural motion and the natural leadership motion within your company.

Tony Lee (12:40):

The other thing that has really blossomed over the last year and a half has been DE and I consulting. Companies big, small, and in between have reached out because a lot of them felt like we didn't have the right expertise on board, and we need to find people who do, and so consultants' phones have been ringing off the hook. What's your thought on balancing that, about trying to build an internal structure versus relying on outside resources?

Brian Reaves (13:06):

I think it has to be a balance because ultimately you want to sustain and like any other part of our business, we tend to bring consultants in that, to me, one, you bringing a consultant when they need an expert in an area where you need to either build competency or extend that competency. Just sort of outsourcing the problem is not going to be a sustainable approach because the second that consulting goes away, then the whole strategy and the tactics go away as well. I think the balance comes with really looking internal first, holding yourself accountable as a company first, and then figuring out what is the greatest area of opportunity that you have in the company. If you don't have that core competence in, you then go out and get it. But what the caveat that organization or that individual's role is to help you sustain that moving forward after they leave.

Now, what's interesting is a group of people that do exist in your company that can tell you all about this topic and all of the various intersections are the diversity networks, as we call them here at UKG or employee resource groups or business resource groups. I think companies would be very, very smart to leverage more of the people who are inside your family already, can help you accelerate the journey because they represent our proxy to all of the customers that you hope to serve moving forward. Internal consulting using ERGs or [inaudible 00:14:26] networks is also a very, very powerful resource.

Tony Lee (14:28):

Yeah, although there has to be someone skilled enough to work with the ERGs to make them useful, right?

Brian Reaves (14:34):

Absolutely. Which is where, Tony, somebody like my organization does, it'll never be the largest organization in any company that I know, but that subject matter expertise in a role like mine and a team like mine is the catalyst that will ensure that you can accelerate moving forward to your point.

Tony Lee (14:51):

Yeah. Another challenge is a fair number of the people listening to this podcast are at smaller companies. They've got 300 employees, 200, 100 employees. What's your advice there where they may not have the resources and may not have any ERG? What are the other options that they should pursue?

Brian Reaves (15:09):

But even at 1, 2, 300 people, there's a journey and a commitment that any number of people can make with regards to going on their journey. There are lots of resources outside of the company people can consume where leaders such as myself, other leaders like myself are very able and capable and willing to share best practices and not for pay, but quite honestly go out and consume those practices. I think inclusion starts with a company of one. The first time you hire the next person in your company, everything that you should do as an inclusive leader should start there and it should build from there as opposed to, let's get you super large and then let's worry about this thing called inclusion or diversity or equity and belonging. The reason why that needs to happen is goes back to what we spoke about earlier. This is all about the business impact. A more successful business outcome comes with embracing this topic. This is not just a nice to have, this is a ultimate business imperative.

Tony Lee (16:09):

One last question for you, Brian. Is there something that you have seen being implemented out there that just knocked you out? It was a procedure, a policy, a tactic that you said, "Boy, that's really smart. That's something that other people should emulate"?

Brian Reaves (16:25):

When leadership themselves, if you have the top leaders in the company, CEO, she, he, they, and they embrace this topic as being instantly as important to the next great chapter of that company as anything else they do. But because by taking that leadership motion and elevating this topic as important as anything else you do within the company, that's the smartest thing because as you well know, people will follow leadership, people will follow culture, you build it in from the beginning.

I'll end by saying I think of this as a global team contact sport, meaning it's global in nature so it's not just a US thing, it's team, it requires all of us, it's contact because you can't sit on the sidelines, you must engage. Ultimately, it's a sport because winning does matter. If people take that mindset and embrace this topic in that manner, I think that they'll be on accelerated journeys.

Tony Lee (17:20):

Wow. That's that's wonderful advice. Thank you so much. That's going to take us to the end of today's episode of People and Strategy, a big thank you to Brian Reaves for joining me to discuss using data and analytics to improve DE and I initiatives. Now, before we close out, I want to encourage everyone to follow People and Strategy wherever you listen to your podcast and also listener reviews have a real impact on a podcast visibility. If you enjoyed today's episode, please take a moment to leave a review and help others find the show. Finally, for more in depth coverage of the topics we discussed in today's episode, and to learn more about the SHRM Executive Network, please visit Thanks for listening and we'll catch you next time on People and Strategy.