Jenn Labin is Chief Talent & Diversity Officer at MentorcliQ. Jenn has over 15 years of experience in talent development, training and design. Previously, she was the owner of TERP Associates which was recently acquired by MentorcliQ. Combining TERP's expertise with MentorcliQ's award-winning mentoring software to expand mentoring content, training and value for customers. Jenn is the author of Mentoring Programs That Work, a unique approach to building scalable and sustainable mentoring programs. She is a regular presenter at the ATD International Conference, ATD chapters and MentorCom.
Jenn, diversity hiring has many faces, ranging from gender ratios to diversity of thought. What does it mean to you?
It’s a good question because we operate in the technology space and diversity of thought is important to our clients as are all other aspects of diversity hiring. STEM is attracting more women lately which positively impacts the gender ratios and provides much needed expertise to the tech companies desperately looking to hire IT experts. Companies know that a healthy balance having all groups represented boosts creativity and profitability. Hiring veterans, moms and people having different life experiences and ethnic origin results in creative and tolerant teams of people who help each other and together bring the company to the next level.
I know that you have a very unique experience taking the leap from an entrepreneur to an employee. Many recruiters and hiring managers are avoiding candidates having an entrepreneurial mindset as they are perceived as ‘’ dreamers’’ who will always search for something new somewhere else. How does it feel to be an employee again?
Well, I was an entrepreneur and business owner for almost 10 years. MentorclicQ acquired my company and I had the opportunity to join the team. It was a big step as I was used to being a ‘’girl boss’’, managing my own business and having more flexibility as I am also a mother. I have to say, that the last months were fantastic as our CEO recognizes what each and every team member can bring to the table and motivates us to embrace the company culture. From trainings, to video presentations to meetings, we have been provided with everything that’s needed for a team to thrive. People having an entrepreneurial mindset are problem solvers and risk-takers and that definitely adds value to the company regardless if they are the owners or members of the team.
You mentioned veterans. For many companies, it is still not easy to source, hire and retain veterans. Switching careers is never easy but it is especially hard if the career change requires a major transformation in the way people think and act. How does MentorcliQ address this challenge?
That’s true. It’s particularly hard for people transitioning back to the workforce from service. Expecting that they will successfully complete the transition without providing them with the right tools and mentors is unrealistic. Veterans Network is fantastic but there are also other resources and tools that can be utilized. It is also the team members who need to understand how hard it is for the veterans to transition and step into their new roles and be more tolerant to them and provide help and guidance when needed.
Can you name a few tools you are using as this will be of interest to many companies that are facing the same challenge?
We rely mainly on Veterans Mentoring Programs that provide two aspects of mentorship.
Sense of Community
The program creates a peer network of veterans who can share experiences, obstacles and solutions with one another. Many tech companies have open doors policy and the hierarchy may be more or less flat. Approaching the CEO of the company directly, having coffee with the CFO in the kitchen or playing table tennis with the COO is common in the tech world. Initially, these new rules may be confusing to veterans who are used to clear hierarchy and a strict code of conduct.
Developing soft skills, and communication skills in particular, takes time and others may see veterans as introverted, too assertive or even aggressive. Sometimes, the other team members may respond by isolating veterans from team activities. How would you feel if your colleagues are having a beer together after work each Friday and you are never invited? For sure, not good. If this is happening often, it may result in depression or impact the performance of veterans at work. Having a community of peer veterans to share such experiences with and seek advice breaks the circle as others have already experienced the same and may provide guidance.
An advocate or sponsor within the organization is introduced to each veteran. A sponsor is a person who is not a direct manager but has a vested interest and is willing to help. This is the ‘’go to’’ person when it comes to understanding the corporate culture, team dynamics, communication channels and work specifics. Sponsors can help with conflict resolution, provide guidance on best practices or simply be the person to speak and share experiences with when veterans are feeling isolated or not good enough to meet the requirements of their new working environment.
Perfect. A few days ago, I interviewed Katie Kern who shared information about a very interesting city-wide diversity and inclusion initiative of the city of Atlanta. Speaking of that, can you share the best diversity hiring practices that captured your attention?
To me, the most innovative practices are around intentionality and acceptance on the hiring managers’ side. Quite often, there is a lack of understanding that to have a more diverse workforce, they need to tap into new and diverse talent pools and be open-minded. After all, conscious and unconscious bias start with the hiring managers, they are the people who decide which resumes will go on top and which candidates will never be given a chance. Candidates who look, act and speak differently are not to be neglected as they are the people who can bring a fresh look and approach the same problems from a completely different angle.
At MentorcliQ, we work with global enterprise organisations and learn from our customers by looking at what their Diversity & Inclusion Officers are doing and adopting the practices that are applicable and can add value to MentorclicQ. Partnering with the D&I officers of our clients is also something that I am really proud of. The intention is learning and it extends beyond the business relationship. ‘’Walking the walk’’ and assigning mentors to new hires is also a good practice. Our software development team has achieved gender parity which is rare. Our executive team is well-balanced too and everyone has the same career advancement opportunities.