Establishing meaningful connections with people unlike yourself
Freddie Mac is a majority-minority company, and women make up nearly half our workforce. As a company with a strong track record in diversity, we accept the challenge of thoughtfully defining and executing sustainable next practices in inclusion and diversity.
On a fall day in October 2018, the summer greenery on our campus in McLean, Virginia, was being replaced by bright hues of orange and yellow typical of the season’s transitioning foliage. The change in the season hinted at an important evolution happening inside. Walking among the employees on that morning were diverse suppliers and community partners preparing to attend our first-ever Inclusion Summit.
The Summit was the brainchild of Jacqueline Welch, Freddie Mac Chief Human Resources Officer and Chief Diversity Officer, and Dominica Groom Williams, Freddie Mac VP of the Office of Inclusive Engagement. The Summit’s goals were lofty but attainable: Bring together and engage a diverse group of people invested in Freddie Mac’s mission and harness their unique perspectives to help us realize our inclusion ambitions. More than 200 attendees listened to Freddie Mac’s leadership highlight various aspects of our longstanding commitment to diversity and inclusion, offering historical context, connecting it to what we are doing presently, and explaining why it matters for our future success. As each leader spoke, he or she shared how we were more keenly expanding our focus on inclusion.
What happened next helped drive the message home and transitioned the audience from passive attendees to active participants. A member of the Freddie Mac Single-Family Innovation Lab took the stage and explained a process many in the room had not been exposed to—design thinking. This process1, with origins dating back to the 1950s, is a creative problem-solving process that places human need at the center of solutions development. Design thinking is used by organizations to develop products, services, and solutions with the end-customer’s needs in mind. By putting the human at the center of development, organizations can develop solutions more quickly, learn and adapt faster, and create innovative solutions that may have otherwise been overlooked.
The Innovation Lab facilitator used the design-thinking process to include the attendees and harness their unique ideas and perspectives. After walking the audience through the stages of design-thinking, the facilitator asked the audience to think about one common problem statement: “Tell me about a time when you did not feel included.”
“Tell me about a time when you did not feel included.”
This specific problem statement pushed the participants to place themselves at the center of the problem-solving process. From there, the facilitator was able to lead the attendees through the various stages of design-thinking, from empathizing to ideation and, ultimately, to experimentation to resolve the problem statement. At the start of the activity, many people were in quiet reflection as they faced a time in which they did not feel included. As they made their way through each stage of the process, hushed tones soon channeled into exciting, productive conversations as they pushed the boundaries of their thinking. The outcome of the activity resulted in more than 200 potential prototypes of ways the company could be more inclusive.
At the close of the Summit, Jacqui and Dominica cemented Freddie Mac’s next step in our diversity and inclusion journey by introducing our new approach called inclusive engagement, defined as establishing meaningful connections with people unlike you. It’s a simple, but not always standard, practice, even for a company as diverse as Freddie Mac. The Summit demonstrated how inclusive engagement could be applied. This piece will share our diversity and inclusion journey along with more applications of inclusive engagement.
Freddie Mac’s Diversity and Inclusion Journey
Every journey has a starting point. Freddie Mac’s occurred in 1970, when we were created by Congress to make homeownership and rental housing more accessible and affordable. In this same year, the United States was undergoing massive change, as the country addressed systematic injustice and inequality. During this period of history, the Civil Rights Act and the Equal Pay Act were passed to address inequalities affecting racial minorities and women. Presidential executive orders and federal legislation were created requiring government agencies and their contractors to work with minority-owned companies, which launched what we now know as supplier diversity. It’s against this backdrop that Freddie Mac was created. A commitment to diversity and inclusion has been part of our DNA since our inception. It’s probably why our leaders are quoted as saying: “Diversity and inclusion are more than a business imperative; they’re right priorities.”
“Diversity and inclusion are more than a business imperative; they’re right priorities.”
For nearly 50 years, our leaders have understood the value of diversity and inclusion (D&I), and their efforts have paid off. Walk among our employees, and you will see racial and gender diversity. Peek into a training room, and you will see visible diversity among the suppliers partnering with our business areas. Listen to business strategy discussions, and you will hear D&I referenced as a competitive advantage. And while there is always more to be done, generally, we do a good job of the “D” in D&I.
However, studies2 show that diversity alone doesn’t drive inclusion. As part of our ever-evolving journey, we are further exploring how to expand on the “I” in D&I. Our goal is to more sharply focus on making people feel included. For us, this is not another initiative or program; instead, it’s a mindset, cultivated by thoughtfulness and executed strategically. D&I programs and initiatives do drive change. But embedding an inclusive mindset drives sustainable change. On our journey to be more inclusive, we will address biased systems, ignite innovation through diverse perspectives, and further instill a culture where people feel comfortable to be their authentic selves.
An Inclusive Mindset Delivers Meaningful Results
Separately, inclusion, defined as the intentional act of making people feel included, and engagement, defined as providing the culture and tools people need to be at their best, are two aspirations many companies share. With our inclusive engagement approach, the two concepts meld into one, igniting innovation in ways not seen before.
As our Inclusion Summit highlighted, bringing together diverse people and creating an environment where they can work together to tackle big challenges can yield innovative and meaningful results. Those are characteristics of inclusive engagement. At the 2019 HRO Today Forum—HRO Today Magazine’s national human resources conference—Jacqui’s keynote outlined three ways to embed an inclusive engagement approach.
- Make inclusion a leadership principle.
- Ask the important, actionable questions.
- Search for and address biased systems.
Here are some examples of how we are using these principles to advance a culture of inclusion at Freddie Mac.
Unlocking the Hidden Potential in New Talent Pools
In today’s labor market, where unemployment is at an all-time low, the competition for top talent is ever increasing. We have built an effective talent pipeline by widening talent pools and investing time and money with targeted diversity partners to help ensure a diverse candidate slate.
One example is our initiative to engage with people with autism3. In 2012, a former Freddie Mac executive read a news article about college-educated people with autism who were struggling to find full-time employment. She asked the important and actionable question: “How can we be more inclusive of people with autism?” In response, two members of the company’s senior leadership shared their experiences with children on the spectrum and provided the support to create our intern initiative.
Since launching our intern program, we have engaged nearly 20 individuals with autism and 50 percent of them have converted into full-time roles that support our mission. The majority of these employees still work at the company. The program provides vital corporate experience for these employees—real work in a real corporate setting. Even if they don’t stay at Freddie Mac after the internship ends, it’s a great jump start for their careers.
To welcome the interns and support their success, we teach our neurotypical employees how to be more inclusive of their new co-workers. We quickly realized that this learning is useful for neurotypical employees, as well—just good human practice. We also reexamined our HR processes and ensured we are being more inclusive—even at the interviewing stage. Candidates with autism have asked to have interview questions emailed ahead of time or to be shown their new workspace ahead of time. Once interns start, we place them with mentors from the Abilities employee resource group, who help them navigate the corporate landscape. The internship program has proved fruitful for all involved. Employees have learned additional best practices to help others be at their best, and it has helped our HR division evolve and be more thoughtful about engaging neurodiversity. Presently, we are expanding our efforts to be more inclusive of all neurodiversity groups, such as people with dyslexia.
Inclusive Employee Resource Groups as Business Drivers
Often, one of the first tactics companies leverage to advance diversity in the workplace is the establishment of employee resource groups. Dating back to the 1960s, Xerox4 was one of the first to institute “workplace affinity groups.” In these early years, the groups were designed to provide professional and personal development for people who shared similar characteristics. Today, these groups tend to be more closely connected to the business and help drive positive outcomes across various business needs, including areas like talent acquisition.
As part of our approach to inclusive engagement, we have evolved our employee resource group (ERGs) model by asking leaders, typically at the senior or executive vice president level, to serve as the group’s executive sponsor. For example, a white male leads the ERG where most members identify as black or advocates for issues that affect the black community. And a male leads the ERG for women and those who advocate for women’s issues. This approach encourages the concept of allies and helps cultivate inclusion as a leadership principle both for the executive sponsor and the ERG members. This small action has a large impact. More ERGs are organically partnering to co-sponsor events acknowledging intersectionality5—the interconnections of various characteristics such as race, gender, sexuality, etc. These partnerships expand ways in which ERG members engage with not only their affinity but also with others.
How does this approach help drive business outcomes? A member of the PRIDE employee resource group asked an important question outside her area of expertise: “What don’t we know about LGBT homeowners and renters?” This question prompted her to partner with our business lines to commission a first-of-its-kind study to better understand the LGBT housing experience in the United States. The findings6 of this study were compelling and actionable; members of the LGBT community are less likely to own a home, are more mobile, fear discrimination when buying a home, and prioritize living in LGBT-safe neighborhoods. It was her inclusive mindset that prompted her to ask the tough questions and her willingness to collaborate with the right people that enabled her to take action.
Developing Diverse Suppliers
A commitment to supplier diversity gives us an opportunity to engage with suppliers that may have been previously overlooked. Diverse suppliers help us to be more competitive and innovative in our day-to-day work, creating healthy competition and challenging the status quo. While we do measure our efforts based on spend, we also engage with this group through an innovative learning and development initiative: The Vendor Academy.
For each incoming Vendor Academy class, we work with targeted business divisions to identify business needs and attract the right mix of diverse suppliers to the program. The suppliers participate in a five-month program, where they network with business leaders, learn how to do business with Freddie Mac, and grow their business—not only with us, but with other companies as well. The results have been promising, with more than 40 percent of all Vendor Academy graduates earning contracts with us after successfully completing the program. It is an innovative take on the classic adage: You can give a (wo)man a fish or you can teach a (wo)man how to fish. In doing the latter, we are extending our reach and deepening our impact.
Community Engagement as Inclusive Engagement
We’ve also applied the concept of inclusion to our community engagement efforts and even embedded our community engagement team within our diversity and inclusion team. Engaging inclusively with our community partners is a two-fold effort. By working together to serve our diverse communities, we create collaborative environments that allow our people to learn more about each other and also make a sustainable impact in the communities where we live and work.
For example, we have a decades-long partnership with Habitat for Humanity affiliates that enables us to pick up a hammer, climb a ladder, and literally make home possible. We’ve evolved these team-building events into inclusion-building events. For Women’s History Month7, Jacqui led a group of diverse women, representative of our various employee resource groups, in contributing their sweat equity to a local Habitat home.
Another example is a pilot program we recently launched that pairs Freddie Mac employees with local organizations to help teach credit best practices. Freddie Mac employees learn our CreditSmart©8 financial literacy education curriculum and partner with community organizations to share this knowledge with underserved communities.
From “Next” to “Now”
Diversity, defined here as representation, will always remain important. Employees, suppliers, and community partners must continue to reflect our customers and the world in which we live. Our broad goals are to maintain and, where possible, increase our diversity representation, while simultaneously maximizing the inclusion of the diversity we have.
The examples noted above show that inclusion can’t be a one-and-done program. Instead, it must be a mindset, driven by:
- A willingness to ask the important, actionable questions
- A culture that makes inclusion a leadership principle
- A commitment to search for and address biased systems
When done effectively, real sustainable and positive change can happen. We’ve been on this journey since 1970, and we will continue to move resolutely toward future possibilities, driven by the inclusive engagement of our employees, suppliers, and communities. Together, we will best be able to deliver on our mission of making home possible for families nationwide.