CASE STUDY: Inclusion Powers Innovation at Experian

June 25, 2020

CASE STUDY: Inclusion Powers Innovation at Experian

After serving in various business roles across the globe, Justin Hastings brings a wide range of experience to his role as Chief Human Resources Officer of Experian North America. Here he discusses how Experian supports diversity and inclusion and how the organization is innovating despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

HRPS: Experian has had success in the area of diversity and inclusion (D&I). What are some strategies that have worked in moving the needle?

Hastings: A strong culture needs to run deeply and consistently through an organization. Ours continues to evolve both from the top down and from the grassroots of our Experian family. From the top, leaders set the tone. We talk about it constantly, and make sure that all leaders operate their businesses and engage with our employees in a way that is consistent with how we talk about our culture.

At the grassroots level, we give all our people the encouragement and permission to be part of building the culture themselves. I think of “lighting lots of fires across our organization,” where groups and informal networks can build and contribute to the culture for themselves. Take, for example, the way our Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) and clubs have formed. They help build a stronger community across our business, and they have also nurtured the creation of more informal networks where relationships develop, leading to increased levels of trust. 

Ultimately, that means we have created an environment where collaboration more naturally happens. The more you collaborate, the more you can do great things such as developing great products. The more you can do great things with products that create clear value for consumers, the more you can bring your brand to life. When you can align all of these things internally, it reflects externally as well, with how you talk to the market, to potential recruits, to the communities we’re a part of, and to everything we do across our broader corporate social responsibilities.

HRPS: How do you separate diversity from inclusion? How does Experian encourage inclusion?

Hastings: We start with our purpose: Our purpose is centered on Creating a Better Tomorrow. Creating a Better Tomorrow to us means helping hundreds of millions of consumers around the world better harness their data to improve their lives. The way we bring that promise to life for our consumers is through fueling innovation, which helps us to develop products which are relevant and valuable to consumers. Innovation can only work if you have a culture which is inclusive, where creativity is encouraged and celebrated.

The kernel of our culture is having every single one of our people feel like their ideas and creativity are valued. That’s where diversity comes in. We embrace creativity through embracing diversity, and that includes a range of aspects such as socio-economic, cultural, ethnic or any other dimension, creating an environment where we have many different perspectives that we can harness to deliver our brand promise.

Everybody’s voice matters regardless of background. What matters is what’s in your head, what’s in your heart, and what you bring to work every day. That’s what we mean when we say we want everyone at Experian to bring your whole self to work.

HRPS: How has the pandemic impacted D&I efforts? How has Experian continued to support D&I with remote workers?

Hastings: Like many companies, we worked hard and quickly to secure the safety and wellbeing of all of our people across the company. It’s important to note that we were able to have more than 1,000 Experian people in our contact centers be fully operational working from home very quickly which was a monumental undertaking. We credit this, in part, to the strength of culture that we’ve built over a number of years—collegial, collaborative, trusted relationships that resulted in maintaining strong levels of productivity, which ultimately means we continue to deliver great service to our consumers and clients. 

We’re also finding that even in agile development teams, we’ve seen productivity in some cases increase since working remotely, which is another testament to how strong our culture of inclusion is. We’ve also seen some creative approaches to how our ERGs have continued to operate and engage their communities and the entire company. Here are a few examples:

  • Our Asian, Hispanic, African and Indian American ERGs came together for a candid and engaging webinar about how the coronavirus is impacting all of their communities, and how the company, employees and our communities can help and be allies.
  • Our disability, mental health and caregiving ERG called ASPIRE is partnering with our HR team to develop a dynamic “Aspire to Be Well” guide that includes resources to help employees through the inevitable feelings and experiences of isolation, fear, stress and more that so many of us are feeling right now.
  • Our Military, Veterans and Patriots ERG held a physical fitness online session, supported the Murph Challenge, and is currently supporting a steps challenge.

We even find our clubs such as Toastmasters, Gaming, Soccer and Fellowship of Christians are meeting virtually to stay engaged and connected.

HRPS: What other impacts has the pandemic had on work at Experian? What strategies have worked best in keeping employees connected and engaged?

Hastings: In a time like this, where there are naturally greater levels of stress and anxiety everywhere, it becomes even more important to be authentic and stay true to your values and your purpose as a company; to tell the truth to each other and to be supportive of each other. We’re sympathetic and sensitive to the way in which all employees have had to juggle blurred lines between their personal and professional lives with caregiving, homeschooling and other responsibilities. We’re encouraging them to share their feelings and perspectives about our eventual return to our offices so we can build their views into our plans.

This has been an important part of the tone we’ve set across our business, one focused on honesty and transparency when leaders interact with their teams and through creative uses of technology, providing our employees with a high level of constant access to their leaders.

We have regular weekly communication from our North America CEO as well, who is recording his video messages from home. We just had our first-ever 100 percent virtual Town Hall, and we had around 5,000 people join. 

We have a strong orientation to ensuring not just physical wellbeing, but focusing on the mental and emotional wellbeing of our people to make sure they feel supported. We regularly remind everyone of the resources they have to support them such as telemedicine and mental health resources, and we keep adding more information and tools for everyone too.

HRPS: Innovation doesn’t pause, even during this crisis. How is Experian exploring and encouraging innovation, even during this pandemic? 

Hastings: We are encouraged to focus on how we can be of service to our clients, consumers, community and each other. Enabling our contact centers to be effective and productive quickly while working remotely shows massive, swift innovation. When we look at what we have to offer and the issues and problems that need to be addressed, we are able to see how we can use our assets, knowledge and technology for good. 

We pulled together both healthcare and financial resources across our businesses to:

  • help better inform the government and healthcare organizations for policies and programs, 
  • help people who are financially vulnerable, 
  • help small businesses get the credit they need to survive sheltering-in-place and 
  • recover fast when we all can get back to a more normal life.

As examples, since the outbreak in the U.S., we launched a free interactive U.S. map showing populations that are most susceptible to developing severe cases of COVID-19, are offering free weekly credit reports for consumers and small businesses, and are helping healthcare and government agencies identify the populations most vulnerable to the financial fallout from COVID-19. 

HRPS: What have you been proud of in terms of your HR team in responding to COVID-19? What have been the biggest challenges?

Hastings: One of the important parts of our culture is taking ownership and being accountable. That’s what we’ve seen in how the HR team has responded. Like the rest of our organization, it stepped into this crisis with courage, creativity and grace. We’ve built the right emotional support for our people with a strong partnership with the communications team to provide consistent and frequent messaging from leaders. 

As we transitioned to remote working, we were also running through our end of fiscal year processes calmly, without distractions and kept going. Our team has been nimble and pivoting based on the circumstances to make sure we’re also consistent in our messaging externally as well. For example, our recruiting team is proactive in staying in touch with quality talent. This includes sharing the great things we’re doing and the characteristics we stand for as a company, with the idea that even though we’re going through a crisis, Experian is a company where you should want to come and build your career. 

The Authors: 

Justin Hastings is Chief Human Resources Officer of Experian North America.