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From A Stronger Workplace To A Stronger Society: Why Diversity And Inclusion Matters

By Jeffrey Brown, CEO, Ally Financial

Every child knows the Golden Rule: “treat others the way you want to be treated.” From pre-school, we are taught to embrace our differences and treat others with respect. More than that, we’re taught the importance of listening. It’s basic, but it’s also inherently the right thing to do. However, as we grow older and advance in our careers, the Golden Rule seems to fall out of favor with some, and is replaced with a focus on more money and more power. This mentality in business has given way to rising social and economic inequality, increasing workplace harassment and abuse, and a growing undertone of tension in our culture.

While the #MeToo movement shined a spotlight on how pervasive sexual harassment has become in a wide range of industries, I believe the problem of inequality and divisiveness is even greater as we consider how people of different races, ages, sexual orientations and physical abilities are treated in our offices and in our communities. It’s no longer enough to simply tolerate differences. To bring out the best in our people, we must focus on including different backgrounds and perspectives, and creating work environments and communities that allow our differences to be supported, celebrated and leveraged into the innovative ideas that will drive us forward as businesses and as a society.

How? We go back to the basics. We practice the Golden Rule. We listen. We learn.

At Ally, listening and learning are how we have differentiated ourselves from the start. We encouraged feedback from consumers and used what we heard to set us apart. We entered the market as an online-only bank in 2009, at a time when there were almost no banks online. We named our brand “Ally” and armed it with funny commercials and a plum logo to stand out against the reds and blues in the banking space. We’re proud to be a different type of financial services company, and believe that being different has played a big role in the growth and success we’ve achieved over the years.

Today, Ally has more than 8,000 talented teammates around the country, and we’ve renewed our commitment to our customers, colleagues and neighborhoods with our “Do It Right” brand mantra. We’ve come to realize that appreciating and embracing individuals and all the differences that make us unique is part of what will continue to drive our success in the future. So, we’ve broadened our definition of diversity beyond just age, color, race, sexual orientation and religion to include differences in physical abilities, culture, education and work styles. And we’ve refocused and formalized several initiatives to emphasize inclusion over the past few years ― all aimed at listening to one another and creating an environment where people can be open about who they are and know that they are valued.

Diversity and inclusion are now critical components of our culture at Ally.  We are proud to celebrate our differences, and we are committed to ensuring that diversity is not measured as the latest initiative, but rather an integral part of our culture and value system.  We are cognizant that increasing diversity means not only hiring qualified minority candidates, but providing strong opportunities for internal career advancement. We have hired a chief diversity officer, we have engaged with employees about the importance of diversity in the workforce, and we routinely meet as an executive leadership team to better understand our progress.  We have consulted with industry leading experts, and we have been vocal to our associate base over some of the tragic events that took place in our communities across the United States.

Here are some of the recent efforts we are most proud of since we signed the CEO Action, a written commitment to advance diversity and inclusion in the workplace:

  • Achieved 33 percent female representation across our executive leadership team, including a female chief financial officer, chief marketing and public relations officer, chief human resources officer, business administration executive, chief general auditor and president of our consumer and commercial banking operations. Our board of directors is also 30 perccent female. Across our company we continue to actively recruit more senior female candidates and more diverse candidates to ensure we have a strong and diverse thinking and perspectives.

  • Added benefits that help employees integrate their work and family lives. This includes leading parental leave benefits that are inclusive of all family structures.  Parental leave is equally available to mothers, fathers and adoptive parents. We also added paid leave while employees care for a seriously ill family members and back-up child and adult/elder care benefits that support our diverse population when someone needs daycare for a short period of time or when normal care arrangements are disrupted.

  • Revised our hiring process to exclude conversations around salary history, to ensure equitable pay for work. This change in procedure supports candidates with various employment backgrounds, whether they have served in the military, changed careers, or taken time to care for their families.

  • Established employee resource groups (ERGs) in 2017 as a safe place for connection and dialogue for all employees. Groups include: Black/African American, Asian/Middle Eastern, Hispanic, Veterans, LGBTQ, Women, Generations and other groups. 

Since rolling out the ERGs nine months ago, 20 percent of the Ally workforce (about 1,700 people) have chosen to join. I think that number speaks volumes about the willingness of individuals to connect, share and learn from others when given the opportunity to do so. In this short time, we’re also seeing incredible impact internally and externally. The groups have empowered individuals to celebrate differences and connect with their broader communities through planned volunteer events where they’ve contributed more than 1,225 hours of time. They have also assisted us with developing a more robust and diverse recruiting pipeline.

We have also started to see better collaboration, more innovation and higher levels of engagement throughout the company. As the groups have become more vocal, we’ve started to seek their input to guide key business decisions, which has resulted in better ideas and unique solutions to challenges. We’re pushing the envelope in new ways ― both in terms of our products and services and in our approach to internal issues and challenges ― because we’re better grounded when we have different perspectives. Through continued listening and learning, we’re making a real effort to connect with every employee – professionally and personally.

However, I know we still have more work to do. We all do. Advancing diversity and inclusion throughout the workplace cannot just be a one-time initiative; it needs to be a fundamental part of how we conduct business. I’m proud of the steps we’ve taken in the past year and excited to continue our journey to support diversity and inclusion at Ally. In the months and years ahead, we will continue to make the changes needed to ensure that all employees can be who they truly are at work and feel confident that they will be valued and supported.

Recently, one of our employees shared with me that, through participation in an Ally ERG, he had been able to identify as LGBTQ in the workplace for the first time in his life. For him, the ability to be open and honest about himself with others in his daily interactions and to be accepted and respected for who he is, was life changing. I was deeply touched and honored to have been a part of his experience. I was also proud to know that Ally is helping steward a broader movement toward needed changes in our society.

As business leaders, we must recognize that we are an integral part of our communities, and this feedback from individuals at our company has truly changed the way I lead and the way I see and accept other viewpoints that are different from mine. In many ways, celebrating individual differences and supporting our people at work are incremental but important steps toward changes that will make our companies, our communities and our society stronger.

CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion was spearheaded by PwC U.S. Chairman Tim Ryan.

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