Creating a Diverse and Inclusive Workplace
As Women’s History Month comes to a close, we spoke with Angie Freeman, Chief Human Resources Officer at C.H. Robinson and LeadersUp Board Member, to conclude our series on women leaders helping to bridge the talent divide. With revenues of $13.5 billion and approximately 12,000 employees across the globe, C.H. Robinson is one of the world’s largest third-party logistics providers. Offering a supportive work environment, opportunities for career advancement, and providing incentives that reward success, C.H. Robinson has received more than 12 Best Places to Work awards by the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal.
Currently, Angie leads the company’s global talent strategies and oversees employee relations, benefits, recruiting, learning, and development. Since joining the company in 1998, she has successfully held numerous leadership positions including her current post as president of the C.H. Robinson Foundation, which provides philanthropic support to local and global communities.
To gain insights on the success behind C.H. Robinson’s thriving work environment and lessons learned from her personal career journey, we asked Angie to share a few concrete tips to insure the best diversity and inclusion strategies that will allow the next generation of talent to thrive in the workplace.
As a chief human resources officer, what are your thoughts on the future of our nation’s workforce?
It’s an exciting time to be a talent leader because our workforce is undergoing significant shifts. Smart employers are adapting to those changes, and as a result, have a powerful strategic advantage. Baby Boomers are retiring at a rapid pace and the changing demographics pose a math problem. While X’ers are starting to move into leadership roles, there are not enough of them to replace the departing Boomers, so Millennials and the new Generation Z workers will have to fill that talent gap. Z’s or Post-Millennials make up the most diverse generation in our nation’s history, and have different expectations for their careers. Some research has found that a significant percentage—some say as much as 50% of potential employees in those two generations—say they don’t want to work in a typical corporate role. Instead, they prefer working for startups, doing freelance and contract work, or creating their own businesses. In addition, they also have much more information about job opportunities than the generations that came before them. So if we want to attract and retain the best people, those of us in corporate America have our work cut out for us—in order to have talent to support our future growth plans.
Millennials and Z’s are looking for more transparency, stronger career paths and development opportunities, and want to work for companies who are good corporate citizens. They want to do work that is meaningful. They also have different expectations on benefits, work environments, and a range of perceptions about how long they should stay in a position.
All of this is challenging companies to think differently about talent. To attract and hire this new generation of great employees, businesses will have to revamp their recruitment strategies and consider accessing this generation through new tools and resources. We need to think about this group of talent in new ways—some may not have “traditional” paths, but have experiences that are applicable and valuable. In addition, to retain this generation, companies will need to be creative with how they lead these employees through the benefits, work environment, and responsibilities they offer.
The future for our nation’s workforce is exciting. With new challenges come new opportunities for growth, diversity, and inclusion.
U.S. women account for 48% of the workforce, only 4.8% of Fortune 500 companies. As a woman in C-suite leadership, what do you feel needs to be done to help change this?
In recent years, study after study has shown that companies with diverse leadership teams do better financially. We know that this is more than the “right thing to do.” It has a real and positive impact on the company’s bottom line. The business case is clear, and now is the time to take action.
To make sustainable changes, we have to do more than implement a few diversity and inclusion programs. This conversation needs to happen in all parts of our business, especially as we look at our talent strategies and processes. By infusing D&I into our daily work, we will start to see the systemic changes and cultural shifts that are necessary to move the needle.
Finally, it’s said, “what gets measured gets done.” We have to set clear objectives for this work and then measure our progress.
At C.H. Robinson, we strongly believe that diversity and inclusion is more than an “HR issue”—the entire company must take ownership. This starts at the top, and we are thankful to have the strong support of our CEO, John Wiehoff, and the leadership team.
With that support, we’re able to invest in our people. We have conversations with our employees about their career goals and map out how those goals can be achieved. This may include training opportunities, taking on stretch assignments or new roles, networking, or sponsorship.
What are examples of how C.H. Robinson promotes an inclusive workplace, and how have these practices impacted your company’s success?
I think that creating an inclusive workplace is grounded in our people—the great people we have working for us at all of our 281 offices around the world. We want all of our employees to feel empowered and respected. When we provide a supportive work environment, employees can be more innovative and creative. This leads to better solutions for our customers, carriers, and growers.
To help foster a positive work environment and promote inclusion, we’ve strengthened our onboarding program for entry-level employees. Across North America, we bring new employees together to start creating connections and learning about the company. After two weeks, the employees begin the second phase of the training program where they are coached and mentored for the next six months.
This process helps to ensure that employees understand the value of D&I from the beginning. Trainees address the skills needed to be inclusive and work effectively with people of all backgrounds. They learn how to leverage their individual strengths. This approach allows them to connect with the company and their colleagues from day one. If we can give them the tools to do their job well, they’ll have the ability to be innovative and successful.
As president of the C.H. Robinson Foundation, are you noticing any rising trends in how philanthropy and the private sector are working together to create more diverse workforces?
Across the country, our government, nonprofits, and businesses are increasingly working together to create a more diverse workforce. Businesses recognize they need to invest in the future, which is why companies are working with nonprofits to bridge the talent divide.
At C.H. Robinson, we’re committed to developing future talent by working with organizations like LeadersUp, The BrandLab, BestPrep, and Cristo Rey Network. We helped create a pilot program with LeadersUp to develop a curriculum and framework to recruit, train, and retain diverse talent. The pilot launched successfully in Chicago, and the trainings are now being applied in LeadersUp programs in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle.
Additionally, we provide internships for high school and college students through partner nonprofits. Our employees volunteer by mentoring students, providing homework help, and participating in mock interviews.
What are the top foundational workforce skills you believe every young adult should have entering the workforce?
First and foremost, young adults should have the drive to succeed. They need to have the ability to communicate, learn, analyze, and build strong relationships. They also need to work in a team while delivering independent results. Finally, they should be enthusiastic, persistent, and confident in their approach to work.
What advice do you have for young adults entering the workforce today?
I have four pieces of advice for young adults:
- Find a company that you can be passionate about, and you’ll enjoy going to work every day.
- Be curious. Ask lots of questions, listen to your company’s earnings calls, subscribe to industry blogs and learn to become an expert.
- Network up and down and across your organization. Relationships are important to your success and happiness at work.
- Be prepared to work hard and speak up when you have an idea. Remember, you are responsible for your career—no one else.