‘This Work Is Not For The Faint Of Heart’

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Cox Enterprises’ Jami de Lou on building the kind of culture that creates meaningful DEI change.

At Cox Enterprises, an Atlanta-based media conglomerate whose brands include Autotrader, Kelley Blue Book and Cox Homelife, the pandemic has only intensified efforts at enhancing diversity, equity and inclusion.

Jami de Lou, director of inclusion and diversity, says giving employees a sense of purpose is more critical than ever. She spoke with StrategicCHRO360 about the steps Cox has taken to achieve that goal, from embarking on a special “listening” effort, to setting specific DEI milestones, to working to create an empathetic culture.

How has America’s reckoning with social justice, along with having a remote workforce during the pandemic, affected how you have approached your role in DE&I for Cox Enterprises?

As a company with a long history of supporting inclusion, diversity and equity (ID&E), we’re not starting from zero, but instead building on our past and seeing what more we can do. Like all companies, the pandemic certainly added challenges. It also galvanized our leadership and accelerated our efforts. I had the unique experience of joining Cox during the pandemic and saw firsthand how we value every voice, which is at the heart of accelerating ID&E.

We wanted to start by listening, but knew we needed to do that in a way that was balanced across employee levels and locations. Our solution was to use video platforms that allowed us to create face-to-face interactions and opportunities for everyone’s voice to be heard. The discussions were not only peer-to-peer, but also employees to company leaders and vice versa. Everyone was welcome to share their experience and thoughts on the past, present and future of ID&E at Cox. And the conversations were extremely powerful.

From those conversations and others within the company, we prioritized new actions to further elevate our commitment to ID&E. These included financial contributions, the creation of new company goals and the development of volunteer activities. For example, we set an enterprise-wide goal to improve executive people of color (POC) representation 50 percent over the next five years. Additionally, we committed to spend more than $1 billion with diverse suppliers by 2026. These new goals emerged as a part of an enterprise-wide ID&E strategy that was realistic and actionable; it required robust research and analysis.

Fortunately, we have an internal website dedicated to ID&E as well as employee engagement around wellness, sustainability and community service. Through this site, we provided numerous opportunities for employees to get involved, such as joining one of our employee resource groups (ERGs) and participating in various initiatives and volunteer opportunities. We currently have eight ERGs with chapters across our divisions focused on driving ID&E through education, professional development, business and market insights and community engagement. Our ERGs are amplifiers of employee voices to help Cox drive not only our ID&E strategy but also our purpose to build a better future.

Employee feedback on our approach has been very positive and we will continue to listen and remain flexible to ensure we stay in tune with the diverse needs of our employees, customers, suppliers and the community. 

Your company has transformed quite a bit in the past five years. Could you describe what this has meant for you and the individuals who recruit and retain for the Cox Enterprises organization?

The products and services we provide, and the industries we work in, have continued to evolve since Cox Enterprises was founded in 1898.  Since taking the helm in 2018, our president and CEO Alex Taylor has continued to build on our purpose: Empower People Today to Build a Better Future for the Next Generation. That’s our WHY, our reason for being.

And because HOW we support our customers, communities and each other is just as important as WHAT we achieve, we unveiled guidelines about what this means from both a professional and personal standpoint. Things like “Do the right thing. Always.” and “Lead by example” are not just words on a wall, they have an active role in how we conduct business, relate to each other and work with our communities.

From my perspective, and I imagine from those who join us, you feel the purpose lived out in the work we do and in how we connect with each other. Are we the only purpose-based company? Of course not, but it is energizing working for people like the Cox family who strive to make the world better.

From the ID&E perspective, our actions include casting a wide net for diverse talent, promoting diversity in our interview panels and slates, partnering with diverse professional organizations, colleges and universities, supporting and investing in civil rights groups, diverse suppliers and business owners and much more. Our goal is to engage in tangible efforts that will have a positive impact on people’s lives. It feels good to work for a company committed to championing inclusion and dedicated to driving sustainable change in the world.

Given today’s climate, what is the biggest piece of advice you’d give someone going into a human resources role?

Balance building relationships with learning the business and understanding its needs and its mission. Doing both hand in hand will help you assemble key partners to drive impactful change. There is no one-size-fits-all approach—but bring your unique talents and partner with those around you. Establish yourself as a trusted partner and resource.

Lead with empathy, as it builds trust. It takes an intentional approach to help build a culture of inclusion where everyone can bring their full self to work. And displaying cultural competence and adaptability are critical to making an impact.

Those of us in the people business help shape culture, which is a collection of behaviors and values that define who we are. This is how you get the best out of your employees, and in the case of Cox, how we come closer to building a better future.

What role can those in your field play in shaping the future strategic imperatives and culture of an organization?

ID&E professionals are strategic partners within our organizations and play a critical role in helping drive change. We don’t own all of the process and practices, but we partner alongside those that do. If we are working effectively with the right positioning, we serve as consultatory entities within the business that partner across the organization to embed ID&E into the entire ecosystem. We bring an accurate reflection of the challenges, the voice of employees and best practice supported with as much data and empathy as possible. We are change agents.

This work is about systemic and human behavioral change. There is an art and a science to helping hold on to the best of culture and evolving it to ensure it is actualized by everyone.

This work is not for the faint of heart. It requires a range of skills and a depth of subject matter expertise, but also deep resiliency and empathy. Hats off to all the inclusion warriors doing this critical work, and the organizations who are doing the important work to position us for effective impact.

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