I have come to the end of my interviews with some of the amazing presenters for the SHRM Diversity and Inclusion Conference (#SHRMDiv). To provide some context, I got the opportunity to interview some #SHRMDiv speakers in the course of deciding on which sessions to attend. As a first-time attendee, I really wanted to gain an insight into the conference and learn more about the speakers. The first post can be found here and the second, here.
The final edition of my three-part series of “Speaker Spotlight Interviews” was with Dr. Shirley Davis. She is an accomplished corporate executive, global workforce management expert, a certified leadership coach, and a master of reinvention. She works with leaders at all levels and has worked in more than 30 countries on five continents and delivers more than 80 speeches a year. She brings a high-energy, high-content and high-value message to audiences all around the world. With over 20 years of business experience in a variety of senior and executive leadership roles with Fortune 100 companies, Dr. Davis’ expertise lies in providing solutions and strategies for achieving leadership excellence and in building high performance and inclusive workplace cultures where all talent can thrive.
Most recently, she worked at the world’s largest HR membership association, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) as Vice President of Global Diversity and Inclusion and Workplace Strategies. She is the author of, “Reinvent Yourself: Strategies for Achieving Success in Every Area of Your Life” and “The Seat: How to Get Invited to the Table When You are Over-Performing and Undervalued”. This year, she was honored to become an author for LinkedIn Learning and launched her new online course entitled, “Inclusive Leadership”.
Dr. Davis has such a positive energy and passion that made our communication come through naturally. When I told Dr. Davis that I was impressed by her robust career, she told me: “I have not shared my story like this in a long time. People just see me as this global thought leader who is speaking all over the place, but my drive actually comes personal experiences. These experiences have trained me to go out helping minorities and underrepresented professionals within organizations because I know what it is like to be there and learned to navigate the corporate ladder.”
Please tell me a little about yourself, your career, and how you got here.
I have been in human resources for almost all of my career. While in college, I had a part-time job as a bank teller. I remained in the banking industry after I moved to Oklahoma for my master’s program in human resources management. I had done so well as a customer service representative that my bank asked me to develop and administer a training program for the new customer service representatives. This was how I caught the HR bug! I enjoyed the training and development aspect of HR because I could see immediate results with people’s growth. So, when a position opened up, I became the training director at that bank. Eventually, times started to change, and the bank wanted to focus on diversity. As the only woman of color at the time, they reached out to me under the assumption that I would have all the answers on diversity. Honestly, I did not know much about diversity, but I took on the role because I knew what it meant to be a person of color and knew that I could offer something meaningful. I started studying some of the best diversity experts in the field and rolled out a new diversity training program for the bank. After this role, I held some notable positions—I was hired as a Chief Diversity Officer at one of the largest electric companies in the DC area. The company had just settled a multimillion dollar class action lawsuit and they hired me to clean up the mess, build a strategy, and position them to be more diverse and inclusive. Also, I worked with SHRM for 8 years and had the opportunity to position SHRM as a global resource for all people in HR who were looking for latest trends and best practices around D&I. After a successful time at SHRM, I decided to take all of my experience to run my own global workforce consulting firm. This is where I’m at today.
At the conference, you will be speaking about the “16 People & Resources Every D&I Practitioner Needs to Succeed”. Without sharing too much, can you tell me about the importance of D&I as a business strategy?
D&I is an important business strategy because the world is changing, evolving, and being disrupted. During my session, I plan to talk about how the common demographic trends, the current climate we live and work in, and the national dialogues are impacting our culture, diversity, and people’s sense of security and civility. In order to be effective and successful as D&I practitioners, we must recognize that there are certain people and resources we need. I think everyone will agree that one of the key resources needed in this complex climate is your CEO/Executive Leadership’s support and commitment. Implementing D&I strategies involves some bold and difficult conversations. As D&I practitioners, we must be ready to face those conversations head-on using the support of our executive teams in order to arrive at successful outcomes. There are also other internal and external resources that we need to support our D&I strategy, not just a diversity training, an employee resource group (ERG), or a diversity council. I’m really talking about having alliances and broad relationships up, down, across, and outside the organization. I want attendees to understand that this work is not limited to HR; we need every organizational department for this work. Lastly, D&I needs to be positioned as a culture transformation, not just a training or an item on the compliance checklist, because it strongly influences organizational cultures.
How did you come up with the number “sixteen” for your topic?
The number comes from my experience as a four-time Chief Diversity Officer for major corporations and organizations. It also comes from leveraging my expansive network. In recent times, I have asked my network about the key resources they need today that were not leveraged in the past. I combined all my experience and findings to arrive at this number.
How can organizations make the move towards creating inclusive workplace cultures?
It starts with recognizing that the times are changing. We need to ask ourselves, “How are we going to build an organizational culture that people want to work in and brings out the best performance and ideas from our workers? How are we going to build a culture that customers want to conduct business with?” In my opinion, creating an inclusive workplace culture is about developing a culture that is welcoming, flexible, agile, and resilient—where people feel like they can bring their best selves to work. When we talk about the culture of inclusion, we are talking about people feeling like they have a sense of connectedness, belonging, and significance. In developing the culture of inclusion, leaders must have the training and competencies to lead across differences, learn about various cultures, and understand that there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Leaders have to be transformational, situational, inquisitive, and emotionally intelligent. Creating an inclusive workplace is about culture transformation and removing those barriers or archaic facets of your culture that are still very homogeneous. Leaders have to make those paradigm shifts to make the culture more welcoming.
What should D&I practitioners expect to learn at your session and the conference in general?
They should expect to learn trends, best practices, and new strategies for D&I. Attendees should also expect to learn about themselves and evaluate themselves within their roles. I want them to understand the skills and competencies that are going to be required of them as D&I practitioners and how they need to prepare themselves for the work that is ahead. I want them to come with an open mind and willingness to make some commitment toward what they would do differently. In bold terms, they should be able to ask themselves, “Is this something I am cut out for? Am I ready for this work? Is this something I am really passionate about?” This is necessary because we are faced with serious diversity issues that will not be over in a year or two. We cannot continue to avoid these tabloid topics for fear of being labelled as the “diversity police”. Finally, I hope attendees leave the conference with a greater understanding of the realities that we face, the complexity of this work, and the challenge that it brings.
What do you look forward to experiencing at this conference?
I look forward to learning from other speakers and attendees. I also want to meet some of the newbies in the field— get a chance to know them, network, and provide guidance. On the personal side, I want to go back and see some of my SHRM alum. I worked with SHRM for 8 years and I’m still very connected with a lot of them. Also, I know that SHRM wants to be positioned as a global thought leader on diversity and inclusion. I really want to hear what their plans are for preparing our practitioners for these global realities.
On a lighter note, what do you enjoy doing during your free time?
One of the things I have learned to do is incorporate some relaxation time into my travel schedules. If I’m going to a tropical location, I use some time to breathe in and take in the sights of beauty. I also love spending time with my close-knit family, watching movies and binge-watching my favorite shows. In addition, I do a lot of work in my church because this helps to replenish me.
Dr. Davis will present 16 Key People and Resources Every D&I Practioner Needs to Succeed on October 23 from 10:30am - 12:00pm in Rooms 204-207. You can connect with her through LinkedIn, Twitter @DrShirleyDavis, and through her website.