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Implementing Diversity Training: A Chat with Elisa Vincent, VP of Global Talent Enablement at Skillsoft

As globally distributed teams coordinating efforts using enhanced remote work models become the new workplace fundamentals, as part of the new normal, not only in the tech marketplace but across industries, it is becoming more crucial  for companies and HR teams to create and sustain systemic diversity, equity, and inclusion amid a background of safety, trust, and belonging. Elisa Vincent, VP of Global Talent Enablement at Skillsoft joins us in this QnA to share a few thoughts in this TecHRseries interview.

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Hi Elisa!
We’d love to use this time to know about you: tell us about yourself and your journey so far?

I am Skillsoft’s Vice President of Global Talent Enablement, where I lead strategic initiatives designed to foster the individual and collective success of any organization. My journey to human capital leadership was not a traditional one. I have built a latticed model to my own career path, which has afforded me many opportunities to grow new leadership strengths and skills. But across my journey (and it is far from complete), I have always been anchored in my one true passion: igniting and inspiring growth in people and, through people, organizations, communities, and cultures.

I started my career in international education and study abroad at Boston University. I was responsible for designing, implementing, and leading international leadership development experiences for students and faculty – experiences that enabled research and study of gender equality and equity around the world.  I traveled the world and learned so much about what it looks like and feels like to be in the presence of true leadership – leadership that at its core inspires feelings of trust, safety, confidence, compassion, and motivation all at once.

And then something awesome happened.  I became a mother, and my experience in the workforce, as a young, motivated, female professional, changed significantly.  I reflected on my values, on my goals, on my career path, and made a bit of a pivot.  I recognized that my passion for talent enablement, leadership development, and advocacy for marginalized groups could all come together, and that was not too much to ask for or aspire to.  I became a founding member of the Bentley University Center for Women in Business leadership team, where I served as both consultant and leadership coach for organizational and emerging leaders in various industries.  The experiences gained here led me to corporate human capital management.

Since entering the corporate world, my teams and I have built transformative leadership and business solutions that enable talent development and cultures of inclusion, equity, and belonging.  With the insights I have gained throughout my career, I have been able to design and implement leadership models, learning content, curricula, and experiences with proven success and rapid adoption in diverse markets.

I have loved every moment of my journey.  I consider myself fortunate to find such fulfillment in my work, and to have built a network of people who I deeply admire and respect around me.  I and a proud mother of two.  I serve on the Board of MediaGirls, a non-profit that boosts the self-worth of girls and young women by teaching them to harness the power of media for positive social change.  And I have continued to spend time in the classroom at Bentley University, where I have been an adjunct faculty member.   I firmly believe that the best leaders are students first, who invest in their lifelong learning and enable that journey for others as well.

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How have you seen global tech companies embrace a more diverse culture today and what are some of the key points you would share with a team new at implementing this?

We are operating in times of unprecedented disruption and change.  Global tech companies have an opportunity to inform, transform, and enable global connectedness and equity through their products and services in invaluable ways in today’s market. To truly bring these values to life, it’s important we never lose sight of how valuable it is to create and sustain systemic diversity, equity, and inclusion within a culture of safety, trust, and belonging. When it comes down to it, there are three essential steps for organizations to take action and develop this culture of DEI:

 

  • Acknowledge the journey: Each organization and more-so each individual is on a life-long journey to become more diverse, more equitable, and more inclusive. And this particular journey is not always smooth sailing.  It has its bumps, its obstacles, its stress and disappointments.  Even those of us who plan with the best of intentions make mistakes and need to pivot in order to persevere.  Organizational leaders who acknowledge where they are in your own maturity model and deliver an open and transparent message of evolution to all constituents will be the most successful.   It is also important to consider that we often lump diversity, equity, and inclusion together.  These are all unique attributes. Yes, they are tied together, but they are separate goals that will require specific, distinctive practices to be met. You can be diverse and not inclusive or equitable.  You can be an inclusive and not diverse or equitable. Everyone and every organization needs to start somewhere. When you assess where you are and you are honest about it, you can identify what is most important and create a prescriptive path to both build and scale.
  • Think people and systems: Many of us have fallen into the trap of equating building a diverse, equitable, and inclusive culture to training people on behaviors and best practices. While, learning and development is a key enabler, it takes more to have deeply rooted cultural impact. Our journey requires that we hold our systems, processes, policies to the same level of scrutiny and accountability as our people. If we try to be inclusive in our behaviors, but don’t match those efforts in the way we work and interact with each other, or how we collect and report on data, then we do not have an inclusive culture after all. A very real example that I encountered in an organization was around assessing the diversity of their talent pipeline.  They were looking to determine where and why they had the biggest leaks in their pipeline of talented women.  One of their exit interview questions was: Are you leaving for personal reasons?  The organization realized that there is an assumption in that question that if the employee is leaving for “personal reasons,” the employer can feel comfortable not assuming responsibility for the exit. By deciding that there is really nothing they as an organization could do to retain the individual, they effectively devalued the breadth and depth of what “personal reasons” could mean to people from different backgrounds.  In order to be more inclusive, the organization decided to eliminate that question completely and take full responsibility for why someone would want to leave.
  • Do not go at it alone: Cultural evolution cannot be an HR problem to solve alone. In the spirit of inclusion, ideas, feelings, and perspectives from across the organization have to be involved – whether we are starting on our journey or hitting the refresh button, these are strategic initiatives that need to be ignited and implemented across all levels of an organization. It needs to be instrumental and integral to the development and delivery of the organization’s strategic and operating model. As HR leaders, we set the stage for transformation. We guide it and we enable it, but we must do all of this in close collaboration with all leaders in the organization. HR cannot sustain the culture in the long term if everyone in the organization isn’t on board. What HR can create infrastructure that empower (not silo) champions of DEI. When there is widespread buy-in, diversity, equity, and inclusion can truly become the nucleus of organizational culture. For some organizations, establishing governing bodies like Inclusion Councils that support employee advisory groups and larger operational and educational networks can be the solution to bringing more voices into the conversation.


Tell us about the
Leading Inclusively Leadercamp and the key takeaways and insights from these sessions…

While Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) trainings have been widely offered by organizations, moving beyond training as a check-the-box activity is still a prevalent challenge for the vast majority of organizations. Seeing this need, the Skillsoft team thought now was the perfect time to kick off a DEI Leadercamp series. We held the first session in June. To develop the camp, we partnered with executive coach and renowned author of several books including Diversity Beyond Lip Service, La’Wana Harris to build and deliver a Leadercamp on Leading Inclusively.  This live session saw over 12,000 registrants from 36 different countries, ranging the spectrum of positions in their organizations. The session included live polling and discussions, which gave us a lot of insight into how people really feel about workplace inclusion. Following the camp we developed Skillsoft’s 360 Series – an insight-rich, value-added companion to the session.

We found that the majority of attendees believe learning to talk about race and privilege at work is the number one thing leaders today need to do. Keeping this in mind, the session provided a look at how the way we perceive power, privilege, allyship, and inclusion shape our organizational structure and can leave blind spots for managers who don’t understand what they truly mean. One of the most important learnings from the session came when La’Wana broke down why DEI must be integrated in every step of the employee lifecycle – from recruitment to retirement.

The Leadercamp really drove home the message that genuine diversity, real equity, and meaningful inclusion cannot be achieved overnight (or in an intensive one-hour session). It is a journey that requires care and commitment from all parties. We must learn to leverage our privilege and power to do what’s right, to support the voices of others in our organization and champion the integration of new and diverse voices. We need to be willing to have uncomfortable conversations, to self-assess, and to actively listen.

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What other bigger HR trends do you foresee for the tech marketplace for the near-term?

The HR space is going through a period of much needed disruption and there are a few areas we can expect to see serious change.

  1. Flattening of organizational hierarchies: The way we work is changing, and it has been for a long time. However, the speed of this change has been expedited due to the unexpected global pandemic that has forced a complete shift in how and where we work for many organizations. As we adjust to this new standard for business, we are going to see that organizational hierarchies will continue to flatten and shift. Leadership models are going to transform as organizations strive to become more agile and supportive of collaborative and iterative processes. What does this mean for HR? We will have to re-assess and re-build many of our talent assessments and managerial development infrastructures to support these new operating models.
  2. Regaining a human focus: It might sound cliché, but this “new normal” of ours is going to require we put the human back in HR in real ways. Digital transformation and data science are here to stay. These technologies will continue to grow as a central part of what we do and how we provide value, but so are the leadership qualities of empathy, resilience, compassion, collaboration, and community. These are behaviors, competencies, attributes that have always been valued in the workplace and always will be. While machine learning is the way of the future, it cannot replace coaching, face to face connection, and our fundamental human needs to survive, grow, and thrive.
  3. Democratized learning: The power of learning knows no boundaries. We are lucky enough to be able to seek it and consume it anywhere, any time. As we move towards more flattened organizational models, the way we invest in our employee’s growth and development will need to shift to a more democratized model. No longer will organizations invest only in c-suite or management. It is already becoming clear that curating experiences, networks, and formal learning for everyone across an organization will not only encourage them to want to grow with the company but inspire a growth mindset that will encourage them to prioritize learning throughout their lives – within and outside of the workplace. When learning is administered in a way that is timely, relevant, and ready now, while being both agnostic of level and applicable to individual career journeys, we drive widespread adoption and positive change.

Thanks for your time, Elisa!

Skillsoft delivers online learning, training, and talent solutions to help organizations unleash their edge. Leveraging immersive, engaging content, Skillsoft enables organizations to unlock the potential in their best assets — their people — and build teams with the skills they need for success. Empowering 36 million learners and counting, Skillsoft democratizes learning through an intelligent learning experience and a customized, learner-centric approach to skills development with resources for Leadership Development, Business Skills, Technology & Development, Digital Transformation, and Compliance.

Skillsoft and SumTotal are partners to thousands of leading global organizations, including many Fortune 500 companies. The company features three award-winning systems that support learning, performance and success: Skillsoft learning content, the Percipio intelligent learning experience platform, and the SumTotal suite for Talent Development, which offers measurable impact across the entire employee lifecycle.

Elisa Vincent is Vice President of Global Talent Enablement at Skillsoft where she leads strategic initiatives that foster the individual and collective success of the organization. She has more than 20 years of experience leading and transforming human capital management, leadership development, talent management, organizational design, and diversity, equity, and inclusion across global enterprises.

Elisa began her career in international education and study abroad, where she designed, developed, and led international leadership development experiences for students and faculty — experiences that enabled research and study of gender equality and equity around the world. She was a founding member of the Bentley University Center for Women in Business leadership team, where she served as both consultant and leadership coach for organizational and emerging leaders in various industries. Through her work leading human capital functions, she has built transformative talent development and management infrastructures that enable cultures of inclusion, equity, and belonging. She has designed and implemented leadership models and learning content, curricula, and experiences with proven success and rapid adoption in diverse markets.

Elisa is a thought-leader, certified coach, facilitator, and advocate — designing and delivering inspirational and transformative experiences for leaders at all stages of their careers. She is a TEDX speaker, a community activist, and mentor/coach for under-resourced student populations. As a leader coach, she seeks to inspire and unlock human potential and success in tangible ways. She has founded numerous women’s leadership programs in both the organizations and the communities she serves. Elisa holds a Masters of Education and a Bachelor of Arts from Boston University. She proudly serves on the Board of MediaGirls and is an adjunct faculty member at Bentley University.