Synchrony's Margaret Keane: Everyone Can Be An Ally to Someone
Synchrony's President and CEO speaks out about diversity
Below is an article originally written by Ellen McGirt, Senior Editor at Fortune Magazine, and published on June 21, 2018. Go to Synchrony's page on PowerToFly to see their open positions and learn more.
I spent a delightful morning with Sallie Krawcheck, Kristy Wallace, and the exceptional team behind the Ellevate Network's annual Action Summit. This year's theme is Mobilizing the Power of Women.
As I mentioned yesterday, I had a chance to talk with Margaret Keane, the President and CEO of Synchrony Financial, to help kickoff the event.
Keane, as one of the few women chief executives in the Fortune 500, has been thinking seriously about how to embed inclusive practices into the company since it spun out of GE Capital in July 2014. It's a touchstone in chaotic times. "I can't change the world," she told the crowd. "But what I can change is how we treat employees inside the company; understanding what they're going through when they walk outside of their house and come to our office."
By way of example, she says, Synchrony was on board early in support of LGBTQ rights, decrying Charlotte's "bathroom law," that excluded gender identity and sexual orientation from anti-discrimination protections. Keane also showed up personally after the police shooting and riots in Charlotte, to participate in candid dialogs with employees there. "As CEOs we can't just assume that what is happening in the outside world doesn't work its way into the office." When asked for advice on how people can handle these tough conversations she says, "I think the word that is missing a lot is kindness."
But now, four years out from Synchrony's IPO, it was a good time to look back and see what's worked. "We had to think about the brand itself, coming out of GE, an iconic brand. Okay, what do we want to be?" Numerous town halls and long executive team meetings later, Keane set on a vision to become a more diverse and welcoming company that better reflected their customer base and the world at large.
She recruited a diverse board, created new inclusion networks like one to support employees with disabilities, and then — in a huge move — opened up all existing resource groups to hourly employees. Keane, who famously began her career in finance in a call center, says that it's made a difference. "We want to be a place where people can grow," she said. Hourly employees are a naturally more diverse group than "professional track" employees, and now have access to a two-year development program called STEP, which offers them training and exposure to other parts of the business. "About 70-75% get promoted out," she says. "It's been a big success, and it's changing the face of our leaders and rewarding people who come to work every day and do a really good job."
We ended on a poignant note.
We all have the power to be allies to each other, she says. "Women in the past didn't always help each other," a natural outgrowth of a competitive system where there was only one seat for a token woman at any given table. "Now, there's a lot of power coming up in the pipeline and I think all of us have a responsibility to each other."
But you have to wave your own flag.
"I'm going to give you one piece of advice. Take that little voice that's in your head, write down what that voice is saying to you on a piece of paper, and then throw the paper away," she said, to immediate laughter. "I think our biggest challenge is ourselves. We tend to constantly question ourselves – am I ready? Am I good enough?"
"Put that voice aside – go for the job, be clear about what you want," she said. "The worst thing that happens is that you don't get this job but you get the next one." And don't overlook the support that's all around you. "There are people close by who want to help you," she said. "Tell them what you want to do."
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Diversity Reboot 2021: The One Hundred Day Kickoff<p><strong>When</strong>: February 1-5, 2021</p><p><strong>Where</strong>: Virtual</p><p><strong>Price to register:</strong> Free!</p><p><strong>Where to register: </strong><a href="https://summit.powertofly.com/" target="_blank">Here</a></p><p>We had to include our own Diversity Reboot on our list of the best diversity and inclusion events to attend in 2021 because we know firsthand how the quality of 100+ expert speakers, the enthusiasm of 10,000 participants, and the cutting-edge tech that enables meaningful virtual networking and job fairs combine to create a truly epic five-day experience. This year, the theme 100 Day Kickoff harnesses the energy of the new government's first 100 days in office to help jump-start personal and professional plans to build more diverse and inclusive workplaces. </p><p>Following the February summit, we'll have a monthly series of smaller virtual summits on topics spanning everything from returnships to LGBTQ+ advocacy, so be sure to stay tuned for updates!<br></p>
The Future of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion 2021<p><strong>When</strong>: February 3-4, 2021</p><p><strong>Where</strong>: Virtual</p><p><strong>Price to register:</strong> Free</p><p><strong>Where to register:</strong> <a href="https://www.hr.com/en/webcasts_events/virtual_events/upcoming_virtual_events/the-future-of-diversity-equity-and-inclusion-2021_kcxf8glq.html#detail" target="_blank">Here</a></p><p>This virtual conference put on by HR.com focuses on how social movements like #MeToo and Black Lives Matter have pushed DEI at work beyond legal compliance and into a major factor of any company or brand's culture, employee engagement, and performance. Topics include how to uncover and resolve pay gaps across your team and hire top-level diverse talent.</p>
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Diversity: How Employers Can Match Words With Deeds<p><strong>When</strong><strong>: </strong>May 19, 2021</p><p><strong>Where:</strong> Virtual</p><p><strong>Price to register</strong><strong>: </strong>Early bird registration is $49 and general admission is $149</p><p><strong>Where to register:</strong> <a href="https://hopin.com/events/may-virtual-conference-diversity-how-employers-can-match-words-with-deeds" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Here</a></p><p>From Day One is hosting monthly conferences in 2021 focused on different ways for companies to foster strong relationships with their customers, communities, and employees. May's half-day virtual event is focused specifically on how companies can make diversity promises that don't fall flat and features workshops, panels, and a fireside chat.</p>
Hire with Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion<p><strong>When:</strong> August 18, 2021</p><p><strong>Where: </strong>Virtual</p><p><strong>Price to register: </strong>$195</p><p><strong>Where to register:</strong> <a href="https://www.hci.org/conferences/2021-virtual-conference-hire-diversity-equity-and-inclusion-august-18-2021" target="_blank">Here</a></p><p>This conference put on by the Human Capital Institute is one of 12 virtual conferences that HCI has planned for 2021. This one focuses on fair and inclusive talent acquisition, including how to attract diverse talent, implement inclusive hiring practices, and addressing bias in employee selection. Other conferences will focus on optimizing talent strategy, engaging employees, and developing your workforce.</p>
Virtual Grace Hopper Celebration 2021<p><strong>When:</strong> September 26-29, 2021</p><p><strong>Where:</strong> Virtual, broadcast from Chicago, Illinois</p><p><strong>Price to register:</strong> Was $799 for regular access to the virtual conference in 2020; 2021 pricing hasn't yet been announced</p><p><strong>Where to register:</strong> <a href="https://ghc.anitab.org/attend/registration/" target="_blank">Here</a>, though 2021 registration wasn't live at the time of writing</p><p>Grace Hopper might be the best-known conference for women in tech. Through keynote presentations, networking sessions, job fairs, and community-building activities, vGHC reached over 30,000 women for their 2020 conference and are expecting even more in 2021! While not a conference focused exclusively on diversity and inclusion, many speakers plan to focus their talks on creating environments for women to thrive in the male-dominated tech field.</p>
Inclusion 2021<p><strong>When:</strong> October 25-27, 2021</p><p><strong>Where:</strong> Virtual and in person in Austin, Texas as of now</p><p><strong>Price to register:</strong> Hasn't yet been announced</p><p><strong>Where to register: </strong><a href="https://conferences.shrm.org/inclusion" target="_blank">Here</a>, though 2021 registration wasn't live at the time of writing</p><p>The Society for Human Resource Management's biggest conference of the year saw 1,200 DEI leaders participate last year; SHRM hopes to see even more come to learn, be inspired, and to walk away with a playbook of implementable strategies to create truly inclusive workplace cultures.</p>
AfroTech 2021<p><strong></strong><strong>When:</strong> November 8-13, 2021</p><p><strong>Where:</strong> Virtual</p><p><strong>Price to register:</strong> Early bird pricing is $149 for individuals and $249 for corporate attendees; regular pricing hasn't yet been announced</p><p><strong>Where to register:</strong> <a href="https://experience.afrotech.com/" target="_blank">Here</a></p><p>AfroTech is a conference hosted by Blavity, a tech media platform for Black millennials. It focuses on emerging tech trends, connecting Black talent with top tech recruiters, and providing networking and educational opportunities, with an overall goal of building a strong Black tech community. Over 10,000 people participated in 2020. While the conference isn't focused specifically on DEI, its main audience of Black tech talent is an important one to understand and to engage at work and beyond, and several speakers plan to focus on issues of race and inclusion at work. </p>
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