Employers experienced unprecedented workforce challenges in 2020 — but instead of setting diversity, equity and inclusion aside, it became an integral part of employers' approaches to address the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and national uprisings. TIAA, led by President and CEO Roger W. Ferguson Jr., exemplified an inclusion-first approach to turbulent times.
'Inclusion and diversity is in the DNA'
The spring and summer of 2020 placed a national focus on gender identity and racial equality.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled June 15 that it's illegal to discriminate in the workplace based on sexual orientation or gender identity under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In response, TIAA announced internally June 24 it would offer even greater support for employees who are transgender, gender non-conforming or who are considering or in the process of transitioning, Corie Pauling, chief inclusion and diversity officer and head of corporate social responsibility at TIAA, told HR Dive in June. The company's updated policy provided more protections for privacy, restroom accessibility, dress and pronouns.
At the same time, employees were adjusting to life amid shelter-in-place orders due to the pandemic and the emotional toll of seeing the cellphone video of the killing of George Floyd by former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin May 25. As national protests began taking place across the country, many Black employees and their allies sought racial justice and equity in their communities and the workplace.
"TIAA's long history and culture of diversity and inclusion is core to the company's purpose and shaped the response to the pandemic and calls for racial justice in a meaningful way," Pauling told HR Dive in an email. In June, the organization launched its "Be the Change" initiative, to raise awareness of racial injustice and support communities in need; "Race Against Racism," inspired by Race Amity Day, an effort in support of The Innocence Project which included more than 1,000 associates' participation; and TIAA's Summer of Service led by the Corporate Social Responsibility team.
|"Be the Change" initiative||# of TIAA employees participating|
|Be the Change - Bias Awareness Challenge||1,937|
|Be the Change - Book Smart Challenge||2,037|
|Be the Change - Family History Challenge||1,813|
|Be the Change - No Assumptions Challenge||1,914|
"TIAA's long history of diversity and inclusion continues to thrive in our incredibly diverse and majority-female board of trustees, a robust supplier diversity program, and commitment to helping underserved communities," Pauling said. "Inclusion and diversity is in the DNA of our company from the first female board member in the 1940s, to the first Black CEO of a Fortune 500 company in the 1980s and to one of only a few Black CEOs in the Fortune 500 today."
Leading by example
Ferguson is "extremely proactive in keeping everyone informed," amid the pandemic, Pauling said; "There is no one better suited to help TIAA navigate this time than Roger Ferguson."
Ferguson has been vocal about TIAA's commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. In regular LinkedIn posts, recent columns and media interviews, he has shared his perspective on what the finance industry and leaders can do to support racial equality. Ferguson's interviews have also focused on increasing financial literacy and decreasing the digital divide among marginalized populations. Ferguson will retire from his current position in March, TIAA said in a Nov. 17 statement.
Pauling noted that at the "height of the recent racial tensions in June," Ferguson and a diverse group of company leaders led a U.S. associate call. It was an "an honest, emotional, truthful conversation on the perspectives of recent tragedies and how TIAA can be the change," she said. "Many associates were thankful that Roger was timely and active in leading these types of racial equality conversations on a corporate level."