Episode 285: The Role of the CHRO and DEI With Whitney Bennett

Today’s podcast is part of a series on the Workology Podcast focused on the role and responsibilities of the Chief Human Resources Officer, or CHRO. The CHRO (sometimes called VP of Talent or Chief People Officer) is an executive-level role that deals with managing human resources, as well as with organizational development and implementing policies of change to improve the overall efficiency of the company. I want aspiring CHRO’s to know what type of skills and experiences they need to grow into a future CHRO role along with hearing from senior HR leadership how they are partnering and collaborating with their executive peers. 

Episode 285: The Role of the CHRO and DEI With Whitney Bennett (@WhitneyBennett

I spoke to Whitney Bennett, VP of Talent & Culture at CallRail. With a decade of experience in human resources, Whitney is passionate about fostering a diverse and inclusive culture where people are excited about the work they do and the teams they’re working with. 

I asked Whitney how she began her HR career. “I have always worked in a startup environment. I think it’s a great way to grow and try a bunch of different hats to see what you like…I was in an admin role for a company of about 50 people and a human resources role opened up. I asked if I could do it, they said ‘sure’ so I got certified with my PHR and joined SHRM. From there I was promoted to HR manager, then director, then I left to move over to CallRail as HR Director and about a year later I was promoted to VP of Talent & Culture.”

“I am a big believer that the way the rest of the leadership team interacts with the head of HR will inform how the rest of the company perceives the HR team as a whole. When done well, HR can be an excellent partner for the leadership team and help them navigate the challenges of a growing business.”

“I think if 2020 taught us anything, we’ve got to be adaptable.” - Whitney Bennett, VP of Talent & Culture at @CallRail #CHRO #DEI #WorkologyPodcast Click To Tweet

We talked about what skills HR professionals need in order to move into a leadership role. “I think adaptability and empathy are some of the most important requirements. I think HR in the media has been made into a caricature of a person who makes everything hard and is the police and loves policies and documentation. I love a good policy and I love documentation, but you have to be able to see the person behind it.”

The Concept of Psychological Safety in DEI

CallRail’s culture centers on respect and creating a space for people to bring their full selves to work, earning the company recognition as a Top Workplace in the USA for 2021. I asked Whitney about her work in creating and implementing DEI initiatives with CallRail. “DEI is something we started leaning hard into in late 2019. We had committed to everyone in our organization that they would go through an inclusivity course and we would build on that. We got through two or three rounds of employees before the pandemic happened and we put everything on pause because we thought we’d be back in no time. Then the social justice movements of the summer started and we knew we couldn’t wait any longer. We’re fortunate that we had a great culture manager in place. I think that along with the fact that we were already working on DEI gave us a foundation to build on.”

“We really leaned into being an antiracist organization right away. I think maybe we went too fast at first and really overwhelmed people in a time that was mentally heavy, and possibly we didn’t have a clear direction. So we leaned into listening to our employees, we got some feedback, and now in 2021 we honed into creating a foundation of psychological safety. Once we feel like we’re good there, we’ll expand and build on that foundation.”

Whitney explained that CallRail is a somewhat introverted organization. “And we were putting people into groups and asking them to talk about really loaded subjects and I think we just needed to pull back a bit and get people to a safe place so they felt comfortable having those more public conversations with each other.”

I asked Whitney to talk more about the concept of psychological safety. “Everyone knows the benefits of having a diverse workforce. A variety of perspectives leads to a variety of ideas, there’s increased creativity and productivity. However, I don’t think you can reap those benefits if your employees don’t feel safe in voicing their opinions and sharing their ideas. It was clear this summer…and in the resulting social justice movements, that our Black employees were hurting. We wanted to make sure CallRail was not adding to that hurt.”

It was a CallRail employee that opened the space for dialogue about race. Whitney said that “on Slack, one of our Black employees said ‘here’s my experience, here’s how I’ve interacted with the police, here’s how I’ve been discriminated against.’ I think it was eye opening for our white employees. And for our Black employees, it helped make them feel safe. We want to build an organization where people feel comfortable bringing their full selves to work and you can’t do that if you don’t have psychological safety.”

The fact that Black employees were willing to share experiences – especially since it’s not their responsibility to educate others about discrimination, racism or allyship – says a lot about the culture at CallRail. “I really appreciate that CallRail calls us Talent & Culture. It’s not just human resources, they really are concerned about the full employee experience. Even if someone doesn’t stay with the company forever, we want to create a community of support for CallRail internally and externally.”

It’s interesting to delve into how a role like CHRO whose experience more closely connects them to the strategy and operations of the overall business works with the rest of a company leadership team, especially around DEI, culture and employee wellness. I appreciate Whitney taking the time to share her knowledge and experience with us.

Listen to the full podcast for more, including how Whitney and her team at CallRail shifted to remote work and focused on mental wellness during the pandemic, how the company’s employee resource groups are structured, and her tips for eliminating bias in the hiring process.

Connect with Withney Bennett.

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES

Whitney Bennett on LinkedIn

CallRail Careers Page

CallRail on Twitter

– CHRO Job Description

Episode 283: The Role of the CHRO and Talent Management

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Jessica Miller-Merrell

Jessica Miller-Merrell (@jmillermerrell) is a workplace change agent, author and consultant focused on human resources and talent acquisition living in Austin, TX. Recognized by Forbes as a top 50 social media influencer and is a global speaker. She’s the founder of Workology, a workplace HR resource and host of the Workology Podcast.

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