Tauhidah Shakir
VP of HR, Chief Diversity Officer Paylocity

As Vice President of Human Resources, Chief Diversity Officer, I have the privilege of leading our HR function with an inclusive lens while developing strategies and programs that continue to foster a diverse and equitable workplace.

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On today’s episode of the RecruitingDaily Podcast, William Tincup speaks with Tauhidah Shakir, the VP of HR and Chief Diversity Officer at Paylocity, on why DEI initiatives have struggled to improve the employee experience for women of color.

Some conversation highlights:

How did we wake up and have Covid layoffs disproportionately affect anybody?

Because the energy, what is only being put on one key of the employee life cycle, and that is attracting the talent. It’s not retaining. It’s not thinking about the employee experience. How do people leave us? How do we treat them while they’re with us? And so that’s where it’s like, “Once we get you, you’re here now. We checked our box,” and no more effort is put into it.

Outside of maybe some of the obvious things, what do you think women of color need in a workplace?

You are putting this effort and energy around getting the right folks in the room. But then there’s not a lot of thought put into how to make this environment conducive for conversation, for interaction, for mind share, for open dialogue and true thoughtful thought leadership.

If we lined up 100 business leaders, would you think that they think we’re struggling?

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Probably not. If they’re not having the right conversations, probably not. Because a lot of business leaders are just looking at numbers, and if they see an uptick in women of color in leadership roles, they’re like, “Score, we’re doing it.”

Tune in for the full conversation.

Listening time: 28 minutes

 

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William Tincup:
Ladies and gentlemen, this is William Tincup, and you are listening to RecruitingDaily Podcast. Today we have Tauhidah on from Paylocity, and we’re talking about Why Has DEI Struggled to Improve the Employee Experience for Women of Color. I’m prepared to do a lot of questioning and a lot of listening on this podcast. Tauhidah, would you do us a favor, the audience a favor, and introduce yourself and Paylocity?

Tauhidah Shakir:
Sure. I am Tauhidah Shakir and I am the VP of HR and Chief Diversity Officer at Paylocity, and we are a HR software HCM company.

William Tincup:
The topic is meaty. We have a lot of things to cover and not a lot of time to get there. But from your perspective, where’s the biggest struggle and where we’ve missed the mark?

Tauhidah Shakir:
I think the biggest struggle is around really just focusing on the numbers, going old school with taking an affirmative action approach versus a culture shift, and thinking about a more inclusive approach. Numbers, metrics, that’s something that’s tangible. It’s easy to get caught up in the numbers. But we see it on the backend when the retention numbers are high, that it’s not working. Because as much energy as you put in to attracting someone, you have to make sure that you’re putting the same or more amount of energy on retaining them.

Tauhidah Shakir:
And oftentimes, it’s doing the pre-work. So before we get to, “Let’s get some people of color in the door,” before you get there, let’s make sure that our soil is, our foundation is good, that we have an inclusive culture for people of color, for our employees in general. And I feel like sometimes, that step is overlooked or minimized.

William Tincup:
Yeah. I think it’s popular, especially since Me Too, Love is Love, Black Lives Matter, I say, even George Floyd. With some of the things socially that we’ve been through and are still going through, technically, it’s easy for people to say, “This is important.” And yet behind the veil, and maybe even put money on the front end to attract the talent, but not have the systems or the process or the attitude or any of the things to then engage and retain, in this case, women of color.

William Tincup:
I don’t know if you saw the same study or saw some of the same statistics, but it’s last year, at the end of the year, obviously there was layoffs and furloughs and all this stuff. It disproportionately affected women, and it disproportionately affected women of color in particular. And when after I was reading that, I can’t remember if it’s New York Times or Wall Street Journal, but after reading that, I’m like, how could you go through… And pretty good, you’re going to go through layoffs. That’s part of life. But how could you not use the same analytics on the back end when you’re doing a riff that you do on the front end?

Tauhidah Shakir:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

William Tincup:
How did we wake up and it disproportionately affect anybody?

Tauhidah Shakir:
Right. Well, I think that goes to what I was saying. Because the energy, what is only being put on one key of the employee life cycle, and that is attracting the talent. It’s not retaining. It’s not thinking about the employee experience. How do people leave us? How do we treat them while they’re with us? And so that’s where it’s like, “Once we get you, you’re here now. We checked our box,” and no more effort is put into it. And so that’s why when those decisions are being made, the same data analysis and DE&I lens is not being put on how employees leave us as the efforts and energies that are put around attracting them.

William Tincup:
It’s funny because it’s… Again, the work starts after you attract them. I mean, everyone, sourcing, finding, interviewing, all that stuff is all fantastic. You work really hard to get them to build an employer brand and all that stuff. You get them to a place, and all of a sudden, you get them there and it’s like, “Okay, the work stop.” It’s a work start. Actually, the opposite is true. The work actually now begins. I mean, and just observationally, outside of maybe some of the obvious things, what do you think women of color need in a workplace?

Tauhidah Shakir:
I think I love the quote by, I think her name is Verna Myers, and it’s, “You can be invited to the party, but if you’re not asked to dance, you’re just on the sideline.” I think that’s part of the issue. You are putting this effort and energy around getting the right folks in the room, but then there’s not a lot of thought put into how do we make this environment conducive for conversation, for interaction, for mind share, for open dialogue and true thoughtful thought leadership? And so I think what we need as women of color in leadership roles is for that to be more thoughtful, for some thought to be put into that.

Tauhidah Shakir:
Because I can tell you for myself, whenever I’m going into a new meeting, a new situation, I may tend to hang back because I want to observe, read the room, get the temperature, because I don’t want to give anyone fodder for stereotyping me. I don’t want to come in too hot. I don’t want to be labeled aggressive, and so I may be hanging back. But if you are only thinking about getting the people in the room and then not what it takes to make us comfortable once we’re in the room, that may be taken as, “Oh, maybe she doesn’t have anything to add to the conversation. Maybe she’s reserved or intimidated,” or whatever the case may be.

Tauhidah Shakir:
But it’s just having leadership really thinking about that. How do we make this environment conducive? It’s the simple things like asking the opinion. Because especially in the virtual world, most people are working remotely, when you’re on Zoom meetings, it can be hard to know when to interject. And so it’s just instead of, especially if it’s a new person, and women experience this, women of color, it’s even more of a barrier, but you don’t want to jump in too aggressively. So it’s just saying, “Hey, T, what do you think about this?” Just ask, making space for the conversation. If you want thought leadership, then definitely ask for it. Make it comfortable to give it.

Tauhidah Shakir:
And then also, partnering with women of color to make sure that they have mentors and connections within the business, and that takes time. It takes time and thought to make sure. If you have questions, a lot of times, it may not be how to. “I know how to do my job, but help me navigate this new corporate landscape and environment that I am unaware of.” And so having those types of mentor opportunities and relationships is something that we’re doing at Paylocity, and I think it’s helpful because oftentimes, as I said before, you know how to do your job, but it’s just, “How do I navigate? What are the personalities? What are the things I need to avoid?”

Tauhidah Shakir:
And a lot of times, folks who are not minorities, those are things that oftentimes you see companies, it’s like there’s a lot of employee referrals. A lot of folks are being placed in positions because of who they know, and so they’re getting the lay of the land. For a lot of people of color, you don’t know anyone, so you don’t have that. You don’t have that leg up, so you’re going in already at a deficit. And so creating those opportunities and connections are super important for folks to feel like they’re truly included and they can be their selves and open up and then really share and contribute.

William Tincup:
So aggressive is a code word for all women. That we could spend 30 minutes talking about. Does it have an additional connotation for women of color?

Tauhidah Shakir:
Oh, definitely. I mean, historically, it’s like you don’t want to be labeled the angry black woman. You see it on TV. You see it in magazines. We’re inundated with images of the angry black woman who you don’t want to get her mad because then she’s going to go off on you. But you see our male counterparts, and it’s like-

William Tincup:
Do the exact same thing?

Tauhidah Shakir:
Exact, and to the nth degree, and it’s, “Oh, he’s assertive and he takes charge.”

William Tincup:
Yeah.

Tauhidah Shakir:
I’m like, “Wait a minute.”

William Tincup:
Right on. I’m telling you, we use the same words.

Tauhidah Shakir:
Right?

William Tincup:
I don’t understand. But I know, because my wife’s told me about the aggressive. The word of aggressive just has a different connotation for all women, just hard stop. I just didn’t know that it actually had an additional connotation and meaning for women of color. I’m glad you broke that down for us.

William Tincup:
You mentioned mentoring and coaching and getting a lay of the land. Again, you also mentioned thought. And so I was thinking about then, just being thoughtful about one’s journey. And again, we work really hard to attract. Done, stated, covered, let’s do more of that. But that being thoughtful about what happens in onboarding, career pathing, training and development, promotions, mentors, coaching, all these stuff, all that thoughtfulness can’t just be in talent attraction. It’s got to be throughout the pry out, entire employee experience. How do we get better at that? Other than just being thoughtful, how do we actually tactically get better at that as HR professionals?

Tauhidah Shakir:
Sure. I think the core of it is not looking at DE&I as a unconscious bias training, or it’s not a one time thing. It’s not just we have our compliance training and then we’re done. It’s really incorporating DE&I language, philosophy, behaviors into everything that you do. It is a corporate standard. It’s a core value. This is how we behave. And so you start with your culture book, your handbook, the types of policies, your website, just incorporating that language in everything you do so people are used to and accustomed to hearing it. And then they start to mirror that language, that behavior. It goes with leadership training, having leaders go to a one-time inclusive leadership training or sensitivity training. I mean, that’s a moment. That’s not a sustainable long-term initiative.

Tauhidah Shakir:
And so that’s something that it’s just inclusive leadership is a part of your leadership development training because it’s a part of being a leader at Paylocity. And so that’s just a part of it. And every time we give leadership training, it’s a part of it. It’s not a separate standalone. It’s part of it. And so I think that’s a way to start. It’s like stop putting it to the side as if it is a separate entity. It is something that should be embedded in everything that you do. So when you’re having business conversations, you’re talking about having a diverse group of clients and employees and making sure that you’re using inclusive language and that your sales force represents the clients that you’re going after. When you start talking about it in those business spaces and not just HR and people spaces, I think that’s how it really gets ingrained.

William Tincup:
Yeah. It becomes a business initiative. It’s this is how we do business, why we do business, et cetera. You being in the room and then being asked to be a part of the conversation, you got me to think about creating safe environments for, we’re really narrowly focused on women of color, but for all folks, right?

Tauhidah Shakir:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

William Tincup:
As a part of leadership training, how do we train leaders to do that, to create more of a safe environment? Because most, not every company of course, but most, it’s shark-infested waters, and so I can see myself being reticent to enter into the fray because it’s gladiators and sharks and all that other stuff. So how do you think we teach or unlearn some of the things that we’ve learned in terms of leadership training and train people to create safe environments for folks where we can get their opinion, we can get their perspective, we can pull out the learns and possibly avoid some of the mistakes that we’d make? How do we do that?

Tauhidah Shakir:
I think, I mean, in my opinion, is that you take it back to basics. I think what’s making folks hesitant and making it kind of this big, scary thing is that, of course, everything that’s happened over the last couple of years. But we are making it a separate thing versus this is how you connect with your people as a leader. You should be asking your people how they’re doing. You should be talking to your people about things that are other… not just task related. And so when you take it down to that human element, it doesn’t become about ethnicity or gender or sexual orientation. It’s about connecting with human beings. And when you connect with human beings, then you start to learn about their differences. What makes them different? What makes them unique? And then those conversations are more natural.

Tauhidah Shakir:
And I think that is often missing from leadership training. It’s about how to get the most out of people, how to get them to be more profitable, more efficient. And the piece that is often missing is, usually, for someone to give you that discretionary effort, you have to connect with their heart and their mind. And that heart piece is sometime missing because we think it’s, “Oh, that’s squishy. That’s HR, fluffy stuff.” But I think what we’ve seen over the past few years is companies that don’t do that, you’re not going to be able to attract, retain your employees because that is so important to just mental well-being and just the holistic life cycle of an employee. Often when speaking with employees, that’s even more important than, “How much am I going to make?” is, “What is your DE&I initiatives? What does work-life balance look like? How much emphasis are you putting on mental stability and awareness?”

Tauhidah Shakir:
And so I think that’s a way to de-stigmatize those conversations for leaders is just to make it about a human connection, and that’s how you really engage employees. I think that’s just base level, and you then build from there. But I think, over the years, I’ve been in HR over 20 years, and I’ve seen leadership practices get further and further away from people. That may sound weird, but we’re trying to automate that human connection and you just… You can’t. That’s something that can’t be. You can’t automate that human connection, and that’s what really engages people and keeps them with you.

William Tincup:
Yeah. You got to have the desire and the thoughtfulness to then ask the questions and listen. And then so you got to be open, which is, for a lot of people, it’s vulnerability. And as a leader, you’ve got to be vulnerable. You’ve got to want to be vulnerable and learn from everyone else in the room. What’s your take on stay interviews or exit interviews with women of color?

Tauhidah Shakir:
I think it’s important. I think something that we do is we have DE&I focus groups. We use our product to send out whole surveys. Collecting data is so important because we know that our leadership, there’s still a lack of diversity in leadership. And so what we don’t want to do is get non-diverse leaders in a room and decide what our employee community needs. We need to be talking to the employees that are impacted by our decisions and making sure that we’re getting their feedback and then incorporating it. And the best way to do that, through exit interviews, stay interviews, using survey tools, is to get that information firsthand from the employees that you’re trying to support.

Tauhidah Shakir:
And so having those, that feedback is so critical because we live in a time where folks are not afraid to tell you how they feel, but you have to make it comfortable. You have to ask. Number one, as you were saying, create the space. Allow them to be vulnerable and be open to what you hear. But I think that feedback is so important for you to truly understand. What was your experience? What are things? What are our gaps? What are our opportunities? Because we can’t all be in all places at all times, and so there’s things that we’re unaware of, that those types of conversations, interviews, and surveys will bring that information to the forefront, then it makes it actionable.

William Tincup:
Yeah. And then I think that actionable is a great place to actually jump off to the next thing, which is we’re being judged rightfully so on actions versus words, or even kind of intent. Because I think for 50 years, we’ve seen the intent and words, but I think society is just more… We have COVID. COVID definitely rapid, sped this up a bit, but we’re just less willing to tolerate words. And I think as just in general, we look at businesses and it’s like, that’s great that you have a mission statement or you have a diversity statement in your job description. That’s cool. Do you live it? And then okay, if you live it, show me. Actions. Show me where you live it programmatically. SIGs, ERGs, really show me tangible things. What’s your take on actions versus words?

Tauhidah Shakir:
Oh, it’s where of the rubber hits the road. It’s critical. And I think, as I was saying before, employees are not hesitant to give you feedback. They’re also not hesitant to call BS on you. If you are out externally, I call it doing things for the gram. If you’re doing everything for Instagram or for clients, for external folks, but you’re not taking care of home, you’re not taking care of your employees internally, they will tell on you.

William Tincup:
That’s right.

Tauhidah Shakir:
They will let folks know. “We may have this statement, but this isn’t the experience. This isn’t what I experience when I come to work every day.” And so, I think it’s so important you start at home. You have to start with your internal employees. You have to start by cultivating that culture of inclusion, so when you do start promoting and communicating all of the things that you’re doing, you have employees that are advocating, that are rallying behind and saying, “Yeah, I agree. This has been my experience.” Then they can help evangelize what you’re doing and support, versus saying, “Okay, that’s so contradictory to what I’ve actually experienced.” You want to make sure that there’s alignment there.

Tauhidah Shakir:
And it’s no harm in saying, “These are the things that we would like to get to. This is how we would like our culture to be. And we’re working towards that.” But it’s worse to try to present a false facade versus just saying what it is and that you’re doing a lot of work in your journey to get to where you want to be. But don’t over accelerate. Don’t say that you’re there if you’re not or you’re doing something that you’re not, because that will definitely come out. And it’s hard to come back from and it really taints in your credibility, with your employees first and foremost, and then all also with clients, potential candidates, and beyond.

William Tincup:
Yeah. And again, it’s being truthful and being honest, authentic about where you’re at in your journey. And again, you can be failing, but if you’re telling people that you’re failing and then what you’re doing to actually right the ship and where you’re spending time, money, and energy to then actually focus on changing things, most people are willing to actually hear the story and go, “Okay. Well, at least they’re being honest.”

Tauhidah Shakir:
Right.

William Tincup:
Perception-wise, the title of the show, Why Has DEI Struggled to Improve the Employee Experience for Women of Color, if we lined up a hundred business leaders, would you think that they think that we’re struggling?

Tauhidah Shakir:
Probably not. If they’re not having the right conversations, probably not. Because a lot of business leaders are just looking at numbers, and if they see an uptick in women of color in leadership roles, they’re like, “Score, we’re doing it.”

William Tincup:
“Done.”

Tauhidah Shakir:
“Done.”

William Tincup:
“Check that off the box.”

Tauhidah Shakir:
“Moving on to world peace next.” So it’s those conversations that are so critical. Are you talking with the folks in those roles? What is their experience like? Are we looking at the attrition numbers? Are we having stay interviews? Are we having exit interviews? So yeah, I think some would be clueless because they’re only looking at one part of the equation.

William Tincup:
All right. So this is going to be a landmine, of course. As if all of what we’ve talked about isn’t a landmine. Where does pay equity lie in this struggle to do a better job of both, again, attraction, engaging, and retaining? And we know the struggle’s there. We know it’s real. We got that. Where does pay equity in your mind lie in that struggle?

Tauhidah Shakir:
I mean, I think it goes hand-in-hand. Because you can’t say, “Okay, now we’re going to actively promote and try to attract women of color into these roles, but then we’re not going to pay them the same for the same work.” And so it goes hand-in-hand. It’s a commitment. Something that we did at Paylocity was launched pay transparency back in August, and it’s just giving transparency, clarity to employees around our paid practices. We have pay parity, so that’s great for us. But I think that is the first step, is oftentimes folks feel like there’s things going on behind the curtain, and if you’re not open to sharing, employees will create their own narrative. Sometimes, as you were speaking about before, it’s better just to say, “Here is what it is, and even if it’s not a hundred percent where we want it to be, these are our areas, these are our opportunities, and we’re working on improving it.” But I think that’s a huge part, because it’s not just about giving someone a title or inviting them into a conversation if you’re not going to pay them equitably for their time.

William Tincup:
Right. I don’t know if we ever get there. And that’s a good thing, in my opinion. I think by the time we get to the place we want to, we’ve changed what we want to get. And so I think it’s a kind of an endless pursuit or relentless pursuit, which is a good thing, not a bad thing.

William Tincup:
Okay, last question, advice. If someone listening to this show didn’t really understand the struggle that women of color are going through as relates to the employee experience, where would you have them start? Okay, again, they hear the show and they’re like, “I didn’t know that this was… I thought everything was good. I didn’t know there was a struggle.” Okay, fair enough. Now you know. Where do they start? What’s your best place for them to start from here and then move from there.

Tauhidah Shakir:
I think the first place is understand your landscape. So start by looking at your data. Do you have women of color in leadership roles? That’s the first step. And then if you don’t, there’s obviously an issue there. If you do, start talking with those women and understand what they need. Get their feedback. What is their experience like? Are they able to be themselves in those conversations? Are there things that, opportunities that you are unaware of?

Tauhidah Shakir:
I think it’s first, you have to understand. Before you can start solving, you have to understand what’s the problem that you’re solving for. So understand the data landscape, and then start talking to the folks that are impacted. Start talking to the folks that are impacted by the change that you want to make and truly be committed to it. If it’s not something that’s truly important and that you’re not going to put a hundred percent into, then leave it because it’s even more, personally, I will say, it’s even more discouraging for someone to say, “We’re, this is what we’re going to do,” and then halfheartedly approach it. It’s like I would rather you just say, “It is what it is,” but don’t pretend you’re trying to make change when you’re really not.

William Tincup:
It’s disingenuous. It comes off disingenuous, and that leaves a sting, a different type of sting than having your hope built up and then everything ripped up underneath you. Tauhidah, this was wonderful. Thank you so much for carving out time and talking with us about this. I absolutely appreciate you.

Tauhidah Shakir:
Thanks so much for that, buddy. I appreciate it. I enjoyed it.

William Tincup:
All righty. And thanks for everyone listening to the RecruitingDaily Podcast. Until next time.

The RecruitingDaily Podcast

Authors
William Tincup

William is the President & Editor-at-Large of RecruitingDaily. At the intersection of HR and technology, he’s a writer, speaker, advisor, consultant, investor, storyteller & teacher. He's been writing about HR and Recruiting related issues for longer than he cares to disclose. William serves on the Board of Advisors / Board of Directors for 20+ HR technology startups. William is a graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a BA in Art History. He also earned an MA in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona and an MBA from Case Western Reserve University.


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