Q&A with Jackie Glenn: Helping Women and Others Reach Their Workplace Potential

October 30, 2019 at 6:41 pm

Jackie Glenn

Jackie Glenn worked as an HR employee and executive for 30 years, helping companies understand diversity in hiring and the many other components that go along with a more diverse workforce. She left her executive position last year and now coaches women on how to navigate workplace challenges, as well as speaking and writing on diversity and related topics.

How did your journey as an immigrant to the U.S. and your climb to the executive ranks lead you to value diversity and inclusion in the workplace?

My experience with diversity really began when I came to this country. In Jamaica, all of my role models and mentors looked like me and sounded like me, so I did not really experience any type of bias until I came to the United States.

I didn’t start out intending to get into diversity; I ended up falling into it as I moved from working as a nanny to fulfill my green card obligation to working in a hospital as a unit clerk and beginning to experience unconscious bias. The bias was unintended but still impacted my view of the working world. I was the first face that patients saw when they got onto my floor and I had a lot of direct patient care, answering call buttons and directing families to the rooms for visitation. Later, I was promoted to HR, and these experiences led me to focus on diversity and educating people about how differences of all kinds can make work experiences better for everyone.

There’s a saying in the technology sector that diversity drives innovation, and it’s true. When you have a diverse group of people around the table, studies have shown that you get more innovation, and who wouldn’t want innovation?

How do you define diversity and inclusion?

I like to say that diversity is who we are as human beings. When they hear diversity, many people think of race and gender. But there’s so much intersectionality in the word “diversity”: gender, racial, ethnic, disability, LGBTQ, religion, and so forth. So diversity is just whatever makes us different from each other, what differentiates us. Some differences are visible, and some are invisible.

In my teaching, I always use a concept called the Iceberg Slide, because there’s what you see, and then there’s the invisible diversity that you can’t see. For example, I have a bionic knee, a knee replacement, and you can’t really see that from just looking at me. I have a particular faith, I’m a mom and a grandma, and you can’t tell those things from just looking at me either.

So diversity is being invited to the dance, and then inclusion is being asked to dance. In other words, companies may hire diverse employees, but do they include them in discussions, in decisions, and in the formation of policies and company culture? Do the diverse hires get invited to lunch? Do co-workers reach out to them to form friendships? Those things are what inclusion is all about.

Then I’ll go a step further and add equity to the equation. Companies can have diversity and inclusion, but if employees are not treated equitably, there’s something missing. Equity means you get to participate in making the playlist, so to speak. You don’t just get to listen. If there isn’t equity, if diverse employees don’t get to participate in the process, then they will not stay, which eventually leads to a retention issue.

What does a Global Chief Diversity Officer do?

A Global Chief Diversity Officer is someone who sets the strategy for the organization and works with leaders to plan and implement that strategy with regard to diversity, inclusion, and equity worldwide. There is also an educational component that works to educate partners and clients about initiatives in these areas so that all of our employees understand the business imperatives of diversity, inclusion, and equity.

Tell us what inspired you to write your book, Lift as I Climb: An Immigrant Girl’s Journey Through Corporate America.

Everywhere I travel, which has been to 90+ countries so far, the first thing people want to know is how I came to this role. I found myself telling people the same story and also talking about what I call Jackie’s Gems, which are 10 core values I have learned and live by in my life and work. Someone along the way suggested that I write my story down and publish it as a book, and I also included stories from 10 immigrants from different countries that embody or describe the 10 gems as well.

“Lift as I climb” is a phrase that comes from my efforts to always look back as I journey and lift up other women to come along with me. I think it’s something all women should do as they climb up the corporate ladder. I want people to understand that it doesn’t cost you anything to lift other people up, and it’s not going to take away from you to help others.

How did you come up with the 10 gems that you included in the book?

The 10 gems describe how I personally and professionally navigate life in corporate America. They help me remain authentic, help me be resilient, exhibit self-awareness, and inform how I take responsibility for my work and life. I grew up with these values; my mom taught a lot of them to me, and they are a big part of how I got to be where I am today.

How do diversity and inclusion lead to growth and profitability for companies?

Demographic studies indicate that by the year 2030, Caucasians will no longer be the majority in the United States. Companies that want to hire the best and brightest will have to have a diverse workforce because the best and brightest won’t work in a workplace that is not diverse. Companies’ growth and profitability are increasingly tied to their ability and willingness to hire diverse workers, include them in the workplace in real ways, and treat them equitably with their existing employees.

How does one-on-one coaching with women fit into your overall vision of diversity and inclusion?

Coaching is something that I’ve always done as an executive, but as time goes on, more and more women have approached me with the need for help in their own journeys. I turned it into a business when I left my executive role last July because I really feel the need to build the next generation of women to navigate their professional lives in corporate America. I’ve always had a coach myself, and it has always served me well, so I want to help women in any way that I can. You know, I work with mostly women, but if a man came to me and said he needed some coaching, I would not turn him away either.

Do talent assessments fit into HR best practices for diversity and inclusion? If so, how?

I think everyone should get a talent assessment. As someone who spent many years in HR, I believe talent assessments are huge as a way to identify leadership potential and skills, as well as help people figure out where they will function best in their workplace. It’s a foundation we can use to get the conversation started and try to figure out what we can focus on as an employee begins to work in a particular job.

When I come into an organization, I also do an organizational assessment because I don’t really know what an organization needs without looking closely at it and analyzing it to see what the strengths and weaknesses are. I see talent assessments in kind of the same way. People have their perspectives on other people, which can sometimes be biased in some ways, but talent assessments are objective and give a clear picture of the employee to see what they need and where they might need help.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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