Why Employers Must Embrace a Bold Approach to DE&I

DE&I done right needs to be bold, deliberate, and baked in the DNA of a company. EmpiRx Health CEO Karthik Ganesh sat down with Workplace Intelligence to discuss how EmpiRx Health is challenging the status quo with its approach to DE&I.

EmpiRx Health CEO Karthik Ganesh sat down with Dan Schawbel, founder and Managing Partner of Workplace Intelligence and a New York Times bestselling author, to discuss how EmpiRx Health is challenging the status quo with its approach to DE&I, and how this has helped the company earn its Great Place to Work certification three years in a row. Here are the highlights of that conversation:

1. EmpiRx Health has cultivated extremely deliberate recruitment and retention practices, at the forefront of which is experiential diversity. Can you tell us more about your company’s achievements in this area, and explain what you mean by “experiential diversity”?

Experiential diversity creates a workplace that is comfortable and inclusive and allows you to thrive both internally and externally. Life experiences are what shape us, and they are welcomed, encouraged, and leveraged at EmpiRx Health because they craft an environment where everyone feels like they are rowing in the right direction. As a company, you can’t really differentiate yourself in this market if you’re saying and doing things just to check a box. You have to be deliberate in everything you say you’re going to do.

We need to treat our companies like communities. EmpiRx Health values each and everything that everyone has to bring to the table, and leverage as much of that as we possibly can. DE&I and the notion of inclusiveness is the most important tool in the way we have built and transformed our company. We have embraced deliberate recruitment and retention practices with DE&I squarely at the center, and we have exceptional numbers to show for that ― a leadership team that is 67% women, and a workforce that is also 67% women, 40% people of color, and spans four generations.

While our numbers are impressive, our focus transcends meeting or exceeding quotas. Looking deeper into the numbers, we recognize the power of curating a workforce that brings diverse ideas to the table. And when we speak about experiential diversity, it’s a much broader concept than race and gender. It’s the richness of life experiences a diverse workforce brings that holds the greatest promise.

We know our company can think differently, challenge the status quo, and grow more effectively with different worldviews. Expanding our talent pool in several ways — including geographically and across industry, background, and national origin — has brought us fresh perspectives, new ideas, and innovative solutions. Our growth numbers directly reflect this.

2. There is a very real mental health component to DE&I that is perhaps less straightforward but just as impactful. Can you tell us more about this, and describe the steps EmpiRx Health has taken to address mental health within your DE&I strategy?

Mental Health is health, and we need to normalize the conversation around it. To create trust in a workplace, employees need a mental anchor. Mental health challenges and experiences shape our mindset, so people need an employer who eliminates the stressors and uncertainty around mental health to build that trust and let them know where they stand.

Mental health is a large component of the way we look at experiential diversity and equity. Mental Health challenges have driven more and more women out of the workforce and have made it more difficult for people of color over the last couple of years due to DE&I biases. EmpiRx Health has been very deliberate in the way we do things from a gender diversity and people of color standpoint in terms of how we hire, how we retain, and how we compensate. We have been very vocal about what matters to us as a company and pay equity is a term we are obsessed with.

In the wake of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement, we were and remain concerted in our efforts to hire Black people. But we also recognize that people of color and those with diverse backgrounds can experience unique stressors in the workplace. With this in mind, we adopted strong mental health support within our DE&I strategy because a diverse workplace requires it. Did we invest heavily in mental health support tools? Of course. But on a deeply personal front, we had multiple employees speak candidly to the entire company about their individual mental health struggles, personal DE&I journeys, and how they’ve coped with these challenges in their lives. A diverse workforce demands that we embrace unique perspectives with the utmost respect and support of their personal journeys.

This means that companies must be unafraid to encourage these conversations. The fact that our employees felt comfortable enough to share their stories is a testament to the inclusive culture of our workplace. Normalizing these mental health conversations nurtures a deep sense of belonging, which is critical to creating an environment that is diverse, equitable, and inclusive.

3. Part of a successful DE&I strategy is encouraging authenticity and individuality. Why is this so important, and how does EmpiRx Health accomplish this? What advice do you have for leaders who are struggling to foster authenticity, especially among their remote or hybrid teams?

Without question, authenticity and individuality are necessary constructs for a successful DE&I strategy and employee engagement. Authenticity is showing up as your true self, while individuality is bringing your unique qualities. To foster both we must create a psychologically safe environment. How we do it starts with leadership.

As leaders, we must develop organizations whose hallmarks are authenticity and vision across the enterprise. Leaders must set the tone by listening and responding respectfully to feedback, owning mistakes, encouraging opinions, and valuing employees for who they are as individuals as well as their performance. Companies that create an authentic environment will allow for more creative expression, productive discussion, and innovative thinking.

It’s extremely possible to encourage authenticity and individuality across remote and hybrid teams. In fact, we’ve seen that our remote employees are more engaged than many of our in-office staff. Leading with inclusivity and a sense of belonging is critical to fostering authenticity and individuality across work teams.

At EmpiRx Health, this begins on day zero. Each new employee ― hybrid, remote, or in-office ― is assigned a buddy who reaches out a week before their start date and maintains regular and frequent touchpoints throughout their onboarding. Coming in the door, the new employee has a solid understanding of the lay of the land and a “friend” to serve as a guide in navigating their new workplace.

4. Women were much more likely than men to leave the workforce due to COVID-19, and the past few years have revealed other issues like pay disparities and a lack of employer support. Yet at EmpiRx Health, 67% of your leadership team are women – what sets your company apart as a “great place to work” for female employees and executives?

I’m extremely proud of our Great Place to Work certification, which we’ve received over three consecutive years, as well as our 80% retention rate. It’s because of our focus on being a best-in-class employer that we’ve felt no impact from the Great Resignation, and that’s also why representation of women in our company and within our health and welfare strategies is incredible.

EmpiRx Health put in place more deliberate benefit and financial strategies to make our company a great place to work for women and working moms. We are in fact an aberration when it comes to pay equity, with a pay scale that is actually in favor of women. Additionally, extremely family-friendly benefits and flexible work arrangements have helped our women employees better balance their family and work responsibilities.

5. What do you think the future holds for organizational DE&I, and what are EmpiRx Health’s long-term ambitions and commitments in this area?

Companies should evaluate if diversity is adjunct to the corporate strategy or is it core to their entire reason to be. It starts with the CEO – being vocal about building DE&I workplace is critical to our existence. We have created a trusted workplace where everyone is equally motivated to hit the ball out of the park.

Criticality of DE&I is not just an HR conversation by itself – it has to come from the top. The Senior Leadership team must talk the talk and walk the walk. Employees are looking to better understand what their senior leadership values. Does the company’s leadership promote the values that are important? Senior leaders need to be vocal about what is important to them.

DE&I is not just another strategy on an operating plan. It should be the DNA of the company, how you operate, hire, compensate, and show up in the market and the community. Companies need to be deliberate about their stance on DE&I – without it, the company will be ambivalent, which is equivalent to being complicit.

Organizations have to be socially conscious because they have the ability to significantly influence the communities where their people work and live. However, our viewpoint is less about specific goals and outcomes and more focused on the journey. We are not incremental in our thinking, and complacency is not an option. EmpiRx Health is keeping its foot on the gas, continuing to embrace core values that require big commitments.

If we had one goal, I would say that it’s to embrace the philosophy and value system that make EmpiRx Health who we are. DE&I is in our DNA and needs to be constantly nurtured for us to be effective. Our company takes an extremely strong stand against discrimination while embracing diversity, equity, and inclusion. My hope is the culture of inclusivity we’ve achieved can help people take a firmer stance with a stronger voice when they observe racism and discrimination in their day-to-day lives.

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