The Best Innovations Come From Teams That Bring Diverse Mindsets And Life Experiences From Varied Genders, Ethnicities, Sexual Orientations, Education Levels
I had the pleasure of interviewing Kim Davis, Executive Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer at NFP. Kim leads the HR team, which creates, implements and supports NFP’s administrative and strategic employee programs, as well as ensures that NFP attracts, engages and retains top talent. With more than 25 years of HR strategic oversight experience, she partners with business leaders to continuously ensure that the programs empower NFP employees to live their healthiest, most fulfilling and well-rounded lives within a people-first culture.
What is your “backstory”?
I am a wife, mother, grandmother and HR executive. I have been in the HR profession for 25+ years. Throughout my tenure, I have been leading HR teams to connect employees’ engagement and productivity with the business objectives of each company. I am also an entrepreneur, having founded my own HR/Benefits consulting company that was later purchased by NFP. As a single mother of two, for many years it was a balancing act between work, school and raising my children. I was far from perfecting this trifecta, but I learned how to pivot quickly and forgive myself for not being “perfect” at any one thing. I believe my journey has helped to make me resilient, adaptable and committed to work hard toward the goals that I set for myself. Those are important skills in the workplace, especially the workplaces of today that are under constant transformation. My experiences have also prepared me to lead the board of a women’s nonprofit, Global Women 4 Wellbeing (GW4W), whose mission is to help women around the globe be the strongest and healthiest leaders, women, mothers and people they can be.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began at NFP?
This past winter we learned firsthand the importance of flexibility and levity. Our partners in advancing women leaders and creating awareness to unconscious bias, Paradigm 4 Parity and Linkage, asked if we would work with them on a pilot of unconscious bias training for some of our senior leaders. This program was going to be taped by 60 Minutes as part of an episode discussing gender pay parity and unconscious bias. We were absolutely interested in the training and the opportunity to weigh in on the importance of these issues. Awareness trainings are a crucial starting point for people to not only begin to become aware of biases, but to “interrupt” biases that may lead to inequality in hiring, promoting, performance evaluations, etc. Fully on board, we worked on a schedule for Linkage, a training company out of Boston, and the 60 Minutes crew to come to NFP’s headquarters offices in NYC. The timing to tape and air the piece was tight — and only made more challenging by this winter’s series of nor’easters. Yet another large nor’easter was set to hit the city that very day of taping. A few of our senior leaders weren’t able to get into the office, so we had to get some other leaders prepared to attend. We started earlier than anticipated to get folks on their way home before the storm was set to intensify. Ultimately Linkage and the 60 Minutes crew all made it in and we had a fantastic training. Everyone was in good spirits and intently engaged while the storm swirled around outside. While the lead subject of the episode was Salesforce and the work they have done around gender equity, you will see Ellen Kullman, co-chair of Paradigm 4 Parity, Jill Ihsanullah from Linkage and a few brief glimpses of our leaders in training on that April 15, 2018 episode. Bottom line: You have to be flexible and able to pivot in business and in life. We all proved we could do that and still tackle an important subject with commitment, passion and good humor.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Our company stands out because the people we have at every level of our organization are committed to each other, the communities they live in and the clients they serve. Last year when the hurricanes hit Florida, Texas and Puerto Rico, our employees wanted to know what they could do to help their communities and the employees that were in those areas and affected by the storms. Employees in Texas offered up their time and resources, and a few even offered up their homes for people who had lost everything. Puerto Rico was the hardest hit, and we came together as a company to assist in several different ways. Our private equity owner Madison Dearborn Partners had another company in Puerto Rico that was also affected. We partnered with that company to secure a plane just days after the hurricane to fly down basic necessities like water, batteries, battery-operated fans and other supplies. These were sent over to the two companies’ employees to help them and their families.
NFP started a charitable donations fund a few years ago for similar reasons called NFPGives. It allows our employees at any time to donate toward events (mostly catastrophic ones). Then we use the fund to help our employees. Across NFP, our employees exemplified the height of compassion, raising over $25,000, which NFP then matched, to acquire additional resources for our Puerto Rico office. Not only did we work with Sam’s Club and FedEx to send 10 pallets of nonperishable foods and personal grooming items, but we also planned a party for the employees and families for the annual celebration of Three Kings Day. We provided food, presents for the children and games for everyone to come together and enjoy themselves, when there was not a lot of joy to be found on the island. It’s these kind of Peoplefirst, people-centric values that our company lives by every day that make our company stand out.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now?
We are in the process of developing an exciting project to bring true grassroots programs to life within our diversity and inclusion program. We have done quite a bit of work on gender parity and advancing women leaders, and we believe we have the capabilities to go much further. To be inclusive of not just gender, but all underrepresented populations, we have formed a Peoplefirst Advisory Board that consists of 20 members — chosen from every area of the business, at all levels, all genders, and ethnicities — to set strategy for what we believe our D&I program can accomplish. We had 110 people nominate themselves and, because of the high quality of the nominations, had a very difficult time selecting our first 20-member board. This board just had its kickoff meeting where we worked with our partner, Global Diversity Marketing, to create a baseline of knowledge around diversity and inclusion. The board is tasked with understanding and advocating for these issues, removing barriers, and enabling all employees to advance within the organization. Our CEO, Doug Hammond, has been our executive sponsor and the greatest supporter of these programs. Once the Advisory Board sets our strategy for the next 18–24 months, we will then create our resource groups, four pillars of impact that any employee can participate in. These resource groups are set to address diversity and inclusion in the four key areas of employees, clients, our communities and our vendors/partners. We look forward to setting our work streams within each group and continuing our journey of building a Peoplefirst, people-centric workplace and world that we live in.
What advice would you give to other HR leaders to help their employees to thrive?
Engagement comes from living your core values every day and embodying those values in a workplace culture. I strive to create workplaces that everyone can find a place within. I encourage employees to actively participate in recommending and implementing solutions that bring together the people and the culture. When there is that kind of transparency and mutual respect, people can come together and achieve a great deal.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?
There are a few people that I will always be grateful to for helping me to become who I am today. Some showed me the type of person that I never wanted to become, and some showed me how a great leader acts even when no one is watching. In my experiences, a great leader can guide you to the right answers without telling you what they are and offers support when things don’t go as planned. I had an HR leader when I worked at the GE Travel Center in Phoenix, AZ, Sue Moe, who taught me two important things:
1. Trying and failing is better than not trying at all.
2. Consider all sides of a subject before you determine the path forward.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I have found ways to give back through community giving, mentoring others and working for gender equality and diversity and inclusion objectives within the businesses I have served. I foresee a whole chapter in the next stages of my life where I find time to get even more involved with helping others. I also find purpose in being a member of organizations that help women find safety, that support education that will allow them to earn a living wage and that help build the confidence they need to be their best selves.
Can you share the top five ways that increased diversity can help a company’s bottom line.
1. Outperform competitors: Metrics have shown that companies that embrace gender diversity tend to outperform other companies by 15%, and when diversity and inclusion is applied within a business, those businesses have shown to outperform other companies by 35%. All said, business success and business impact are clearly valued outcomes that every business should be eagerly working to achieve.
2. Diversity in innovation: The best innovations are coming from teams that bring diverse mindsets and life experiences from varied genders, ethnicities, sexual orientations, education levels, etc. This enables projects or products to be more diverse and encompassing of the people that will use the products/services.
3. Minimizing the talent pool: With the lowest unemployment rate in 10 years, if a company is not working to build an environment that is inclusive of many different faces, they are minimizing the pool even further. For instance, 60% of all college degrees are being awarded to women. If a company isn’t actively working to build and foster an environment that is supportive and open to women, they are reducing their talent pool by 60%.
4. Retaining top female leaders: We are finding that women who are having children and raising families are also more likely to remove themselves from the talent pool when they’re in their prime career growth trajectory. Losing these women or not acknowledging them as they return to work will have a similar effect to a reduced candidate pool. Similarly, it will negatively impact diversity in innovation if a subset of the population is not being actively engaged. Offering maternity leave with pay and transitional services for going out and returning to work can have a significant impact on retaining these women in the talent pool. Additionally, offering programs that show schedule and location flexibility, daycare and after-care access will help these women manage their family and professional lives simultaneously.
5. Being representative of your clients: American demographics are shifting, becoming more racially and ethnically diverse than ever. By 2030 Caucasians will no longer be the majority ethnic group in the U.S. This means that the faces of leaders and employees within organizations are changing too, and it is important that our workforce be representative of our clients and their workforces. Ensuring everyone has a voice at the table will significantly increase value for clients, as products and offerings will integrate an understanding of their motivations, values and experiences.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?
I am all about resilience in life, so my life lesson quote would be “It’s better to try and fail than not to try at all. Failure sparks innovation and resilience.”
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?
I would love to have lunch with former First Lady Michelle Obama. I admire the work she does for women. I think that there are many times within a girl’s life where she needs support and encouragement to become a strong, resourceful and resilient woman. While I could name many women I admire who are working toward these same goals, I saw an honesty and elegance in the way Michelle Obama brought these areas together. I’d love to discuss how we could consolidate different initiatives to bring skills and resources to young women everywhere to build knowledge, confidence, resilience, adaptability and strength (physically and mentally). This will help women lead their most successful lives, and elevate many more women into various leadership roles throughout the world.