Suzanne Schaefer

Senior Manager Global Human Capital, Bain & Company

Culture change that aims to promote inclusivity and mitigate bias has to run all the way through an organization.

After Tuck, Suzanne Schaefer T’02 went into management consulting with Bain & Company, figuring that with such a broad exposure to business, eventually she might connect with a particular industry. To her surprise, she instead felt a strong pull to a practice area, finding a passion for recruiting and talent development that has taken her on a ten-year career in human resources.

As the vice president of Global Campus Recruiting for American Express, Schaefer centralized the company’s global recruiting structure before shifting to a leadership role in Global Diversity and Inclusion.

Now, she is newly back at Bain as a senior manager for Global Human Capital, where she continues to think broadly about how to foster a diverse work force, as well as how to create pathways to success for incoming talent.

Invest in diversity and inclusion. Too many companies think of diversity as simply representation. They need to create an environment where all employees can bring their full selves to work. If you’re trying to hire more women, are the hallways of your company filled with pictures of men? Are the conference rooms all named for men? Do your town hall meetings have women on the stage? These are the subtle-but-important cues that employees notice, and they should reflect the culture you’re trying to create.

Think in verticals. Culture change that aims to promote inclusivity and mitigate bias has to run all the way through an organization. You can’t simply run the leaders through a training session, or punt new policies to junior employees. The employee-manager relationship is the basis of loyalty. At every level, employees need to know that their leaders embrace diversity.

Understand your talents’ values and motivators. Get to know what drives your employees. What do they value? If they are driven by personal economics and money, know that up front, and be very direct about how their results will link to firm performance and their own earning potential. If they care about social good, these are the employees you can tap when pro bono projects come up. When you can align work with what motivates your people, you can deliver fantastic work to your clients.

Connect the dots through the talent lifecycle. Through the recruiting process, we learn so much about people’s strengths, weaknesses, motivators, and preferences. But so often that vital data gets filed away as soon as new employees walk through the door. Rising stars often meet with coaches, but do we ever debrief those people so that the company can benefit too? Don’t drop the insights your HR team gains about employees. Fold those touchpoints in an employee’s lifecycle into their talent development plans.

There’s just something about a true meritocracy. It can be demoralizing when the D and the B+ employees are paid the same. Don’t be afraid to treat your stars like stars. Organizations where talent is actually rewarded based on performance and leaders are given the leeway to reward success will keep their most talented employees happy.

Don’t always turn to the “expert.” If you have someone who’s great at Excel spreadsheets and loves doing them, you’re likely to turn to her each time you need an Excel spreadsheet made. But there’s also a good chance that someone else on your team can do it too, and that the woman who rocks Excel also needs to broaden her skillset. Giving new people a chance can increase the usability of your team. Plus roles can sometimes be rooted in stereotypes—like Asians being good at math and science—when in fact the usual go-to guy is not best suited to his recurring role.

Be conscious about unconscious bias. We are drawn to those like us, but that’s a recipe for homogeneity. Instead of evaluating a job candidate based on gut feeling or what you may have in common, make a list in advance of the key attributes that would make a candidate successful in the role. Then in the interviews, take notes on how each person matches up to the job’s critical criteria.

30 days to create stickiness. Culture change doesn’t happen via one-day workshops. For example, there are differences in the way that men and women communicate. If you’re trying to make sure women’s ideas are being heard and they’re not being interrupted, teams should meet weekly to give each other candid and respectful feedback, and it can’t simply be the women giving feedback to the men. Research shows that new group norms need at least 30 days to take hold.

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