Correction: Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Micron is looking at gender orientation and gender identity in its diversity goals. The company is not at this time due to difficulty in reporting.
Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) officers have been cropping up in coastal companies for the past few years, but they’re beginning to appear in the Mountain West as well, with Micron Technology and Zions Bank each announcing such positions in the past few weeks.
Micron has hired Sharawn Connors as vice president of diversity and inclusion, based in San Jose, while Zions Bank has hired Neelam Chand as diversity and inclusion officer, based in Salt Lake City. Both are expected to improve the organizations’ diversity efforts company-wide, including in Idaho.
With Idaho’s low unemployment rate and lack of skilled workforce, companies are looking to expand their hiring pools, as well as attract a broader range of customers. In addition, studies have shown that diverse companies tend to be more successful.
“It’s an ethical and moral obligation, but it’s also very good for business outcomes,” Chand said.
Jay Larsen, president and CEO of the Idaho Technology Council, said he keeps an eye on these types of positions.
“Companies locally are very focused on building a strong, diverse workforce,” he added.
Banking and technology are both industries that have been criticized as lacking diversity. As recently as this month, the House Financial Services Committee released an analysis finding that big banks, in particular, were lacking in sexual and racial diversity. Similarly, major technology companies such as Google have been releasing annual reports to promote workforce diversity.
Chand’s primary role for now is internal education and awareness, such as crafting trainings and workshops to facilitate conversations around bias, stereotyping and inclusive language.
“Eventually, we’ll focus on clients, but we want to get our employees to look at their work through a DEI lens,” she said, such as helping human resources staff recognize unconscious biases when interviewing candidates.
Zions is focusing primarily on racial and sexual diversity, as well as veterans and the disabled, but the company is working on what it wants to do on gender orientation and gender identity, Chand said.
“There’s a lot of conversations we’re having internally,” she added.
So far, Zions doesn’t have diversity representation goals for hiring employees, Chand said.
“It’s super important, but the vision for leadership is to make sure our culture internally is inclusive before we think about recruiting,” she said. “We want to make sure we’re fostering a space of inclusion.”
Chand reports to an executive vice president, who reports to the Chief Financial Officer at Zions. While DEI is typically tied to HR, “this makes a statement that it is very important and high priority,” she said.
In contrast, Connors reports to April Arnzen, senior vice president of HR, and the company’s emphasis is on increasing diversity in employee representation.
“Over time, we’re looking for at least year-over-year progress in representation and making sure we have an inclusive environment, so people can bring their full self to work,” Connors said.
While Micron has had a DEI team for several years, the company soon realized the position needed to be elevated, Arnzen said.
“It has to be integrated in everything you do,” she said. “It can’t be a separate layer onto your people strategy.”
Like other major technology companies, Micron produces an annual report on its diversity goals, which thus far is focused primarily on sexual and racial diversity. The company is not looking at gender orientation and gender identity at this time because of the difficulty in reporting, Connors said. The 2019 report will come out in October, and there may be information by then about the diversity and inclusion strategy she’s developing.
In particular, Micron is looking for additional sources for employee recruitment, such as sites for mothers with technical degrees who took time off and want to return to work.
“It’s very nichey,” Arnzen said. “You don’t run into them. You have to be really intentional.”a