Episode 337: The Difference Between Equity and Being Equal With Dawn Frazier-Bohnert

Welcome to the Workology Podcast, a podcast for the disruptive workplace leader. Join host Jessica Miller-Merrell, founder of Workology.Com as she sits down and gets to the bottom of trends, tools, and case studies for the business leader, HR, and recruiting professional who is tired of the status quo. Now here’s Jessica with this episode of Workology.

Episode 337: The Difference Between Equity and Being Equal With Dawn Frazier-Bohnert

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:00:26.55] Welcome to the Workology Podcast, sponsored by Upskill HR and Ace The HR Exam. This podcast is part of a series on the Workology Podcast focused on DEI and HR. This episode is powered by Align DEI and Ginger.com. Diversity, equity, and inclusion are not new ideas in the HR and corporate arenas, but in recent months, the importance and significance of DEI in the workplace has gotten leaders throughout corporate America to think about what doing the right thing in our community looks like. For many of us in HR, this means we’re not taking our DEI initiatives to stakeholders. It means that they’re coming directly to us and they’re looking for answers and we must be ready to respond. Today, I’m joined by Dawn Frazier-Bohnert. She is the Executive Vice President of Global Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Officer at Liberty Mutual Insurance. In this role, she is responsible for leading the design, development, and implementation of Liberty Mutual’s global DEI strategy and programs. Throughout her career, Dawn has held a number of HR leadership positions, including at Global Novations, a Korn/Ferry International Company; The Gillette Company; IBM; Fidelity Investments; and Millennium Pharmaceuticals. She has served on the Women’s Network Advisory Board for the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce and most recently, has been recognized in Diversity Woman Magazine’s “The Elite 100” Black Women Leaders list. Dawn, welcome to the Workology Podcast.

Dawn Frazier-Bohnert: [00:01:58.17] Thank you, Jessica. I’m pleased to be here with you.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:02:00.87] You have worked in HR leadership for the past 20 years. How did your early career experience in HR lead you to working in DEI?

Dawn Frazier-Bohnert: [00:02:11.32] Good question. So thank you. I have to say that my interest in DEI started well before my career started in HR, and it’s because I really came by it quite, quite naturally. I was born into a military family, air force, and for those of you who know what that’s like, that means that you early on learn that you have to move almost every two years. And I did up until age 15, and that gives you a different kind of life experience. You learn to be the new kid, always probably standing out a bit and so well before there were definitions of belonging and inclusion, back in my day, I was experiencing what it felt like to not be, you know, asked to sit with folks in the cafeteria or to be the new kid who didn’t have the right clothes on or a different accent. So I came by, you know, this desire to do this work because I experienced what it felt like not to be part of a group. And I think that just naturally carried into my HR experience.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:03:22.44] And you’ve also been in HR leadership in general, and we talked about that when I was kind of talking about your bio as well as a specialist in DEI. I wanted to ask you, what is the difference in these roles in your experience?

Dawn Frazier-Bohnert: [00:03:39.51] Another great question, Jessica, I, I would say there should be no difference in the roles and I’ve been in, you know, HR forever, as you’ve just shared. And I think that’s been that’s one of our opportunities. And I would say one of our challenges as HR practitioners. We are responsible for the growth, the advancement, the development, you know, of our employees and to apply a DEI lens and understanding how to do that, how to think about the systems or the policies or programs that we put in place is essential to be doing so with the DEI lense. So I am a proponent that says, you know, our talent leaders, our HR folks have to build the skill. It is not something that you do outside or that you leave to the DEI practitioners who may have spent more time in-depth and understanding, you know, the various concepts. For me, it is part of the responsibility of us as HR leaders.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:04:38.70] What does DEI or D&I mean to you and your company? I’d specifically love to know more about the new commitment to equity as part of your DEI initiatives.

Dawn Frazier-Bohnert: [00:04:51.09] Yes. You know, when I, when I started at Liberty, you know, which is almost nine years ago with the support of our senior leaders, you know, we worked hard in my team to really put the right foundational pieces in place, and a lot of that was really broadening the definition of diversity and really helping people understand how inclusion was a necessary partner to this work. And so while we were doing things to look at systems and access, we really weren’t focusing on equity in the same way as we are now. Last year, as we were rolling out our DEI plan, we knew it was important to really emphasize the focus on equity. When people were reading about it, a lot about it, you know, in, at the various media, and we wanted to help people understand that equity was an essential part of this, of this DE&I grouping that without it, we might be focusing on understanding all the dimensions that make us who we are and that we are multidimensional people from the diversity perspective and understanding how it was so important to manage and leverage all of that wonderful diversity. But without equity, we wouldn’t be focusing on our systems, the institutional changes that needed to be examined and often dismantled that in order for us to continue to succeed, we really needed to look at that. And so it’s been an educational process as we’re helping people understand what equity is. And then it’s not just about being equal. Some people are confused in that way, but really about looking at access. So looking at do, do all of our employees feel like they have the opportunity to advance and grow in their career? And that has been really helpful. I think for many to understand again the differences, but how they all work together. D, the E, and the I, for us to make the kind of change that we want, we want to make going forward.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:06:55.06] This is fascinating because I haven’t thought, or I guess in, in all the podcasts that we’ve done on the DEI series, we haven’t had anybody explain equity in quite this way, but it absolutely makes sense because systems and processes and ways of doing things aren’t always equitable or inclusive of everybody.

Dawn Frazier-Bohnert: [00:07:19.49] Oh, that’s so good. Not that we would intentionally ever create something that way, especially those of us in HR whose job is to look and be the stewards of that. And at the same time, often you’ll look at, at a particular program that may have been built at a time, a different time that continues to be part of your program or your organization that you find is no longer actually giving access to all. And therefore then it needs to be changed. And so, you know, many practitioners will look at doing audits and looking at their entire organization to ensure that there is easy, easy and equitable access for all folks that you don’t have hurdles that some people have to jump in order to get the same opportunity. So it has to be ongoing. You know, it’s something you have to keep revisiting and looking at to ensure that it really does stay equitable for all people.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:08:16.96] So true, and I was talking actually earlier today, prep call with a head of learning and development for a large organization. She was talking about using DEI and looking at and reassessing their old or previous training programs and systems and really putting that equity eye on everything that, that they’re doing and how they distribute, create the content, follow up. It touches every part.

Dawn Frazier-Bohnert: [00:08:50.74] Absolutely. So yeah, I applaud whoever that was you’re talking with. That is exactly the way we want to be, you know, doing that self-examination of our organizations to ensure we’re creating that openness and those that equity.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:09:05.26] Which is no small feat. So it’s a lot.

Dawn Frazier-Bohnert: [00:09:10.30] It is a lot. So I do not mean to suggest that it is easy because I think you’re absolutely right. And often it does touch on areas that may be the things that have been so dear to an organization. Maybe the things that they have really felt made them who they are. So you really do have to be able to take an objective eye to step back and assess and recognize that some things do have to change in order for the organization to really meet, you know, the obligations, the objectives, the goals that they’ve set for themselves to create a more inclusive space for all.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:09:44.62] Can you tell us a little bit more about the unique DEI programming and learning that you and your team have created for your company? I’d love an example of your Inclusion in Action series.

Dawn Frazier-Bohnert: [00:09:57.46] Oh, I always love to talk about this program because it has made such a big impact on our organization. So we, like many organizations, you know, you start, you know, your DEI journey, you start at awareness building and we spend a lot of time, and continue to, looking at building our employee base and leaders understanding of all the dimensions that make up diversity. And you also recognize that you can’t just stay at an awareness stage. You really have to move to action. And that is how we came up with the name, Inclusion and Action. We really wanted to help folks understand that their behaviors, their interactions with others were the things that would help us create an inclusive, a stronger, inclusive organization. So we needed to give them tools and guidance so that they could actually begin to understand and then practice. And that’s what the Inclusion in Action e-learning video series is all about. It’s self-paced. It includes nine modules that really help employees and leaders relate to real scenarios, workplace scenarios and give them an understanding of how they can cultivate and strengthen better work relationships, more productive communication with folks, especially across different. And it was so successful that we ended up actually commercializing it. So let me give you an example, though, of what one of those nine might be. We often talk about trying on as an example of an opportunity to slow yourself down and try on another individual’s experience.

Dawn Frazier-Bohnert: [00:11:40.75] We used to talk, you know, years ago about stepping into someone else’s shoes to get an understanding of where someone else might be coming from and get outside of your own, your own perspective, your own thinking. So that’s one example. Try on. And that’s been really helpful. Another example of the nine, we talk about step up and step back. Sometimes, especially if you’re someone who’s got a lot of ideas and maybe more, you know, extroverted, you always are the first one to share. Well, sometimes we might say to that person, You know what? You could step back, give room for someone else to share their ideas and to be able to step up and actually maybe be a little bit more courageous. So those are just two examples of these nine that are embedded in a scenario that people can see and understand and then practice. And we’re so pleased, as I said, about the impact of this, of this e-learning series that we did commercialize it and all of the proceeds that we get from the sale go to a nonprofit that we are partnered with here in Boston called more than words. So we feel like, you know, selling this helps others develop their own inclusive skills, but also benefits some young folks who, who could use the support. So it’s, it’s a win-win on several levels.

Break: [00:13:11.76] Let’s take a reset. This is Jessica Miller-Merrell and you were listening to the Workology Podcast sponsored by Upskill HR and Ace The HR Exam. We’re talking about diversity, equity, and inclusion with Dawn Frazier-Bohnert, the EVP of Global Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion officer at Liberty Mutual Insurance. This episode is part of our DEI series, and it is powered by Align DEI and Ginger.com.

Break: [00:13:36.84] Every employee has different mental health needs, from preventive behavioral health coaching to therapy and psychiatry. Ginger offers effective, convenient mental health care for any level of need. All from a smartphone. Learn more. Visit Ginger.com.

Using DEI Metrics to do better in HR

 

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:13:55.29] One of the areas I wanted to make sure that we touched on is talking about so many of the intangibles that are at the intersection of HR as well as DEI. I wanted to ask you to share about how do you think we can use DEI metrics to help us do better?

Dawn Frazier-Bohnert: [00:14:15.27] Yes, absolutely. We, you know, Liberty Mutual is a data-driven organization, so data is so important, it really helps us drive the business. And so, you know, I liken that to how we use data, in the same way, to help us understand where we are so that we can do course corrections if need be. I would also say that data isn’t the only part of this, you know, this process, so we do look at the information that helps us understand our hiring, you know, our advancement, our turnover rate, all of those things, and we know that we need to get underneath that to understand really get insight. The data only tells us maybe there’s an opportunity to delve deeper, but we need to hear from our employees. So we look at qualitative data and we examine the employee sentiment, which is also really important to kind of marry, you know, with our metrics. We also do focus groups and pulse surveys. Many of the things that many of us do in the HR space is a way to help us understand what are we seeing when we look at those numbers. You know, what are, what do those, what does that data tell us about, you know, maybe the programs that we are delivering, if they’re having impact, or if we need to do something else. So I think measuring data, looking at your guideposts, your milestones to determine whether or not you are progressing is essential. And I think that there’s more to do beyond just looking at your numbers because the numbers only tell us so much.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:15:51.52] How about gender diversity. Can you tell us about your work in the gender and equality space, especially working with men as allies?

Dawn Frazier-Bohnert: [00:16:02.44] Yes, absolutely. You know, our, I mentioned earlier that we rolled out a DEI plan last year, and you know, part of that plan includes some aspirational goals to increase the representation of women and people of color at all levels of, of our organization in the US by 2025 and beyond. And I think that’s really helped us in many ways become more focused because we know that this is important for our ongoing growth. And at the same time, prior to the plan, we knew as we were rolling out our employee resource groups, we have seven, that we needed to bring together folks across the enterprise and developed one of our seven women and allies employee resource group. And notice it wasn’t just a women’s resource group, but a women and allies research group, which was really important. And I’m getting to how our men as allies initiative then was sort of born at the same time out of that. Because we know this work, as we all say, is not just women’s work. We really need men and women together looking at these opportunities and these issues to be more effective together. And so our men as allies work actually started around the same time where we were reaching out to men and especially, at the time, white men to help them be part of this work so they could see the impact they could have to help us strengthen our organization. And we started, you know, small. We started with a council and then we had our own site where men and women were asked to join and talk across the various issues that we saw in the organization.

Dawn Frazier-Bohnert: [00:17:56.66] And we ended up building a plan towards having a summit. And I will tell you in 2018, if you remember back then the MeToo movement was really taking on a lot of steam, and a lot of men and women were feeling lots of different ways about what was happening. Many men were saying, “I’m not going to look left or right, I’m just going to keep my head down kind of buried and not do anything that would sort of bring attention to me in this gender space.” So I am grateful that we were launching our summit, which brought over 400 men and women together, kicked off by our CEO and many other senior leaders. And we were having these conversations. We were not waiting for what was happening around the world. We were actually in many ways ahead of it, which actually positioned us well for the challenging conversations that continued. And as you all know, there were many, but I’m proud that we were ahead of it, recognizing there was work for us to do so that when things started popping up in the newspaper and we saw a lot of the, you know, the varying positions being shared, you know, our men and women already had language. We were already starting to talk about some of these challenges, and I think that helped us better position us as we were moving forward with dealing with some of these really challenging issues. Our men as allies work continues. I’m grateful to say they are a strong part of our overall strategy as we know we need everyone in this work helping us move forward.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:19:36.95] Thank you for sharing. I feel like your men as allies program and conference and the work that you’ve done in this area is such a great example that so many other HR leaders and organizational leaders can take and, and maybe model one, at their own.

Dawn Frazier-Bohnert: [00:19:57.67] I hope so, I’m glad that you think so. I would say there is a feeling amongst, you know, other DEI practitioners, that if we are doing this work, we do want to share because if we’re all doing our best to improve our own environments, we do hope that that, you know, impacts our communities. It impacts everyone and who, how wonderful would that be if we all feel like we’re creating a world where there is, you know, greater equity and that people are feeling included and a part, you know, of this work that we’re all doing together? So it’s not as if we’re trying to hoard it. We’re trying to share what is working for us, and hopefully we will then learn from others what they’re doing as well.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:20:40.12] I love that, and that is really the spirit of this whole DEI podcast series is just to dive in and have more of these conversations so that we can share and learn from each other. I’ll link this in the show notes, but can you tell us about the ERGs at Liberty Mutual? We haven’t seen a lot of focus on the ERG side on disabilities when it comes to diversity, and I think that yours is an interesting snapshot of what ERGs could look like for others.

Dawn Frazier-Bohnert: [00:21:12.70] Yes, absolutely, we have seven, as I mentioned. Seven in total is part of the employee resource family. We call them ERGs at our company and Able is our newest ERG. So Able is focused on individuals with, with disability and caretakers and allies, which is an important strategy, the ally that runs across our organization. We’re just really, really excited because it took us a while to get to where we are with Able. And I think often companies have to do work with their legal departments to get comfortable because of some of the complexity around the disability. So it’s something that we, you know, that we have worked with our legal department and our HR folks so that we could launch and we’re just very excited. The response has been amazing and we have just felt like it’s, you know, created a lot of energy because disabilities run across all dimensions of diversity. So it’s been another wonderful way to bring our employees to this work. A lot of energy has been created, so we have some great plans ahead, and I’m really looking forward to helping the organization build their own skill and understanding of the opportunities for, for people to learn about the many different ways that disabilities are a part of our organization. You know, so many people don’t feel comfortable sharing or they’re invisible. So a lot of education is in store for all of us as we learn more about how we can be more effective together in this space.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:22:58.81] Another thing I have asked a couple of our podcast guests is this conversation that I’ve been having a lot recently about getting comfortable being uncomfortable in relation to leadership and kind of the conversations that we as HR and DEI leaders are, are having more and more with members of the leadership team. I wanted to ask you, what is your approach to this when working with business leaders?

Dawn Frazier-Bohnert: [00:23:24.64] I know it’s not a great tagline, is it? Get comfortable with being uncomfortable, but it is so true. And you know what? We help people try to help people understand is that, you know, think about when you’re trying on a new, you know, a new sport, a new exercise, a new anything, you know, learning a new language. It is uncomfortable being, you know, not knowing and maybe faltering a bit. But until you practice, until you get better, you know, that you’re in that space of having to stretch and grow. And I would say that that’s the same thing in the DEI space because there’s always more to learn. There’s always more. I mean, no one, including those of us who’ve been in this space for a long time, know everything, and things change. And so I think there’s, you know, it does require some, you know, humility and recognition that you’re going to continue to grow and learn and you’re going to make mistakes. And part of this work is learning how to come back from them and help people understand that you’re trying. But it is, it is, the statement is true. It is part of, I think, the challenges as leaders for many of us, you know, perhaps have been, you know, we’ve been recognized for what we do know. And so to be in a space where now you have to, to really put yourself in a vulnerable place that you don’t know can be part of that discomfort. But honestly, you get used to it, you do get used to it and you do get used to recognizing that making the mistake and coming back from it is part of the process of growth.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:24:59.98] Absolutely. I think of them as like learning opportunities and learning moments.

Dawn Frazier-Bohnert: [00:25:04.15] Absolutely. I’ve had a lot of them and continue to have a lot of them as I go forward.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:25:10.48] Same here. I think that’s really what being a human being is, is all about growth.

Dawn Frazier-Bohnert: [00:25:18.79] I agree.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:25:21.04] Well, Dawn, it has been a pleasure and I wanted to say thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us today here on the Workology Podcast. Where can people go to learn more about you and then the work that you and Liberty Mutual are doing?

Dawn Frazier-Bohnert: [00:25:35.53] Great question and would love to hear from folks. So you can certainly check out LibertyMutual.com. I’m also on LinkedIn, so I’m happy to have you reach out to me in that way as well. Always wanting to grow my network. So I appreciate any, any feedback or questions.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:25:54.01] Absolutely. Thank you again, Dawn. It has been wonderful and so many good nuggets and wisdom that we can take away and hopefully apply and learn from it at our organizations.

Dawn Frazier-Bohnert: [00:26:04.96] Thanks, Jessica. I really enjoyed it.

Closing: [00:26:07.39] Conversations about leadership and culture are extremely important, and I believe that we need to have more of them because those conversations spark change. Get comfortable being uncomfortable. As HR leaders, we can support our company leaders with resources and training that can open up DEI initiatives in a way that sets your company up for long-term success, while also setting an example of what doing the right thing looks like. I appreciate Dawn sharing her experiences with us today on the Workology Podcast. I love so many of her insights, particularly on male allies and her new definition, which I’m running with on equity. Thank you, Dawn, for being a part of it, and thank you to our podcast sponsors. Upskill HR and Ace The HR Exam. The DEI series is powered by Ginger.com and Align DEI.

Closing: [00:27:03.87] Personal and professional development is essential for successful HR leaders. Join Upskill HR to access live training, community, and over one hundred on-demand courses for the dynamic leader. HR recert credits available. Visit UpskillHR.com for more.

Closing: [00:27:20.25] Thank you for joining the Workology Podcast. This podcast is for the disruptive workplace leader who is tired of the status quo. This is Jessica Miller-Merrell. Until next time, you can visit Workology.com to listen to all our previous podcast episodes.

Connect with Dawn Frazier-Bohnert.

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES

 

– Dawn Frazier-Bohnert on LinkedIn

– LibertyMutual.com

– Liberty Mutual ERGs

– Episode 325: Community Building and DEI With Melissa Marshall, VP People & Organization, Banfield Pet Hospital

– Episode 318: Building a DEI Team With Nadine Augusta, Chief DEI Officer at Cushman & Wakefield

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Jessica Miller-Merrell

Jessica Miller-Merrell, SPHR, SHRM-SCP (@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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