Take It from the Top: Audra Jenkins on Turning Culture Into A Business Driver
by Audra Jenkins
Welcome to Take It from the Top, a podcast brought to you by the Recruitment Innovation Exchange (also known as RIX). On Take It from the Top, we interview leaders within the recruitment industry to discuss various pressing topics within the sector.
This week, Audra Jenkins, Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer at Randstad, joins Kendra Cato, Senior Manager of Enterprise Research and Strategy at Bullhorn, to discuss the importance of creating impactful and insightful diversity and inclusion programs and strategies to share with your clients, candidates and team members.
If you enjoy listening to this episode, check out Audra's podcast Diversity Deep Dive, streaming on Apple Podcasts to hear insights and uplifting stories of resilience and perseverance against the odds. Audra shares meaningful dialogue to positively impact diversity and inclusion by dispelling stereotypes, tackling biases, and providing best practices to achieve greater cultural competence. Join Audra and Randstad as they break some glass and disrupt the way we think about diversity and inclusion.
Click on the image to Tweet it.
Welcome to Take It from the Top, a podcast brought to you by the Recruitment Innovation Exchange (also known as RIX). On Take It from the Top, we interview leaders within the recruitment industry to discuss various pressing topics within the sector.
RIX: Hello everyone and welcome to another episode of Take It from the Top brought to you by the Recruitment Innovation Exchange. I'm your host, Kendra Cato, Senior Manager of Enterprise Research and Strategy at Bullhorn and today we have the Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer at Randstad, Audra Jenkins. Audra, thank you so much for joining us. I really appreciate you taking the time and am really excited to learn more about your role and lessons learned.
Audra Jenkins: Thanks, Kendra. Great to be here.
RIX: I'd like to let folks know a little bit more about your background. Can you start by explaining what it means to be a Chief Diversity and Inclusion Office at Randstad?
Audra Jenkins: Sure. There are several hats that we wear. We have our own internal diversity and inclusion that we help support and drive as an organization. And then externally it's what we do in the marketplace around D&I, as well as what we do for our clients. We've got several things going on that a Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer does that’s impactful in the staffing industry.
What it means for us at Randstad is that as a company we truly embrace and demonstrate diversity and inclusion. One of the things I'm really proud of is that Randstad is really the only major staffing company of the big three that has a Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer. For our employees, our talent and our partners, it demonstrates that we're doing the actual work and we're on the same D&I journey that they may be on as well.
RIX: Wonderful. How long has this role been in place?
Audra Jenkins: This role was created in Q4 of 2017. I officially started at the end of 2017.
RIX: Okay, great. Could you tell us a little bit more about your background before getting into recruitment?
Audra Jenkins: Before I started my career, I interned in the finance industry where I worked in securities and finance. I thought I wanted to follow my finance degree, but then I found out I had a passion for working with people and I started working in human resources. I started with benefits because that was linked to finance, and then my role evolved into more of the holistic generalist type of role. And then that evolved into recruitment and talent acquisition, and then, of course, that evolved into working for a large partner with the staffing firms as an organization and learning more about the staffing industry. That's kind of how I entered this industry.
RIX: That's an interesting journey. I actually came from finance as well. Investment banking and my love for people led me to client services and now led me to this role where I get to do incredible things like hanging out with you and learn more about Randstad. So I totally understand.
Audra Jenkins: I love that!
RIX: You've been with Randstad for about 11 years and I was curious how you got from your starting point with Randstad to this role today.
Audra Jenkins: For me, Kendra, it was a natural progression. It was interesting because at the time that I joined I was looking for a step-down. I had newborn twins, it was hard to balance a full workload and have all that leadership trajectory on my path, and focus on my career development. It's hard to do that when you've got new responsibilities at home, a different lifestyle outside of work. I was looking for an individual contributor role and I was trying to hide [both laugh]. I was working on a particular client account and then someone found me out and said, “Oh you really do know diversity and compliance, we want you to run a center of excellence.”
And I thought, oh great. I was trying to get away from all the extra leadership capacity from that perspective...Just kidding [both laugh]. But it was hard to stay away from that. Our CEO recognized that we had a need to focus more internally on diversity and inclusion, and we had a dedicated team linked to the business that's already doing the work, so it made sense. That's how the role evolved into the role it is today. We have a very bold approach and we're trying to make it more visible and be on the forefront in the staffing industry, keep challenging our competitors, challenging our partners, challenging anyone working in this space that you need to make diversity and inclusion a critical part of your strategy and part of your strategic business operations and plans.
RIX: Agreed. That makes sense. It's a perfect segue actually. Our Global Recruitment Insights & Data (GRID) research found that while 59 percent of firms agreed that diverse organizations are more effective than other ones, to your point. But only 41 percent said the recruitment industry has a diversity problem. Why do you think the industry is so divided on diversity?
Audra Jenkins: That's a great question, Kendra. I did look at the study and the GRID research and when you think about this, think about the staffing industry as a whole. If you look at it over the past 10 years, it's really evolved. Randstad in particular, we've evolved from just doing contingent labor to so many lines of business. And we also are very heavy tech focus company. We have the Randstad innovation fund that we invest in tech that impacts our industry. We also have our sustainability, there's a lot of different aspects to our business now. It's far more complex than even 10 to 15 years ago. The other piece of it is that we as an industry haven’t really had a focus on is visible diversity.
The focus has always been, at least globally, on gender diversity. But as you know, good intentions aren't necessary to an excellent outcome. We have to be intentional and be very strategic and focus on what we want to do, what we want to accomplish and how we can make diversity and inclusion impactful to our business, as well as how we can make that visible to our clients, and anyone considering a job opportunity within the Randstad family.
RIX: Indeed, it is so much about making it a focus and making it a priority. Do you have any suggestions for perhaps some smaller firms or other enterprise-size firms who want to prioritize diversity and aren't really sure how to get started?
Audra Jenkins: A great way to get started is talking to your clients because our clients are the target clients that you're looking to go after. From a business perspective, you have to understand how deeply embedded diversity and inclusion are in that organization. Our clients and talent drive the industry to improve more. As more of our corporate partners are linking all aspects of their business and embedding D&I in all areas, they're including that in staffing as part of that we've got to adapt and remain competitive. The other piece of it is we're all fighting for the same pieces of talent. Top talent want to work at organizations where they envision that they actually belong. If you don't see yourself in that organization, which is what diversity and inclusion are about, can you see yourself being part of something bigger than yourself? And if you can't visualize that, then it's going to be really difficult to have D&I as a focus.
A great starting point is talking to your clients to see what they have going on. Maybe work a project with your client to figure out if you can help impact your gender diversity initiative in this piece of line of business as a project by working on specific strategies for that. And then build from there, but you have to start somewhere that's meaningful to your business and everybody's business model is different. And the fastest way to make that relevant in your organization is something that's relevant to us all. Which are your clients and your revenue.
RIX: Is that how you went about implementing your diversity and inclusion strategy?
Audra Jenkins: Mine was a little different. Our CEO actually asked for what would a role like this looks like. I didn't assume that I was going to get the role. They asked my professional opinion of what should the role look like, what should the role do, how would it impact and how it ties to our business. They asked me for the actual strategy upfront before I was in the role. Creating a strategy, a high-level strategy and then presenting it back to my immediate manager, CEO, Rebecca Henderson, and then to our executive committee, which is our North America CEO and direct report, to map out a bold and audacious plan. And so at the time our former CEO, Linda Galipeau, was at the forefront of that and I have to really credit her to wanting to drive this and see this come to fruition.
She was very supportive right off the bat. Right out the gate, it was very refreshing to see how passionate and supportive she was of this role. And then Karen Fichuk came in who succeeded Linda in our organization this year. She's also picked up that helm and became equally as supportive. It matters that starting with the executive level, and getting that executive support early on makes your work a little bit. I'm not saying it makes it easy, but it definitely helps to map out where to put your focus and energies on where to make those quick wins so that you can build up greater support throughout the business at all levels. Starting there was the first place for me, and it was well-received, definitely from the executive level and then we’ve been slowly integrating in the last 18 months to get throughout a whole organization at all levels.
RIX: As you're rolling this out and integrating it from top-down, what are some of the effects you've seen early on? I know it's still fresh, everything's fresh, but what kind of impact on the business, internally and externally, whether it's your talent and or your clients?
Audra Jenkins: Internally the shift is in our thinking and our approach to D&I. For many organizations, people view D&I as a nice-to-have, not a business necessity. And it is necessary for us to do our business to be equally as providing expertise and being a subject matter expert in this arena. Clients are looking at partners, they're looking at people who can speak the language, who know what they're going through. They want to be able to understand the challenges. One of the hats I wear is in sales pursuit. If I have to go and talk to another leader in a sales conversation, you can approach a leader by from the standpoint of, I understand what you're going through. I have been in your shoes, I am going through my own diversity journey and these are some things that helped me.
Having those very frank and concise conversations in the language that the client is accustomed to makes them feel a little more comfortable with partnering with you. That shift internally was the way we think about D&I. It's not a nice-to-have, something that we're doing for ourselves, it should be something that's transformative for our entire business–how we do business. Externally, one of the things that really helped our efforts is that we've garnered a lot of awards in the last 18 months. We're really proud of that work, awards that we felt like we earned and one of the top ones that we earned was a diversity top 50. When you look at diversity, if you talk to diversity practitioners and HR practitioners, getting on that list is the gold standard.
Just to be there with all our large strategic clients, all of our, you know, maybe clients that we're maybe not partnering with, but maybe in sales pursuit of, that's huge for us. And we will always be the first staffing firm on that list. No matter who comes after us. Being a trailblazer, working hard, the support of our leadership has been amazing. And then I also couldn't do this work without my READI crew, which is the Randstad equality and diversity and inclusion, my own team. They inspire me to keep building and keep evolving and keep the pedal to the metal and keep moving forward.
RIX: That's quite an honor, Audra, to be part of something as amazing as being the first staffing firm on this top 50 list, it really speaks volumes to you and your team's efforts. Kudos to you for that, indeed. Something you said had me thinking, I can see how you could become part of sales conversations because it really does add another layer to those consultative sales, which is a trend we're seeing more and more in our industry. How can we turn that and use that to increase the number of female leaders that are in the recruitment industry?
Audra Jenkins: That's something that we need to and it starts with several things. You need to recognize what the challenges are. Some of the challenges for women in the industry, in general, include not having a voice, being thought of differently because they have responsibilities outside of work, such as either caring for family, caring for the elderly, parent being a caretaker, the lack of respect, the baseline of diversity inclusion is respect. If you don't have the basics of the culture, which are at the minimum civility and respectfulness, it is difficult. It's a hard lift to say we're going to bring more women into a toxic culture. It's looking at your culture overall and is it something that women can thrive in?
This is a conversation I have with clients all the time. They want us to come in and to help them with their diversity and inclusion strategies and do strategic work and make recommendations. But we could bring diversity to every recruitment firm, not just us. Any of our partners. We all can bring in diverse talent. The question is, will they stay? Will they just go out the back door because you don't have a culture that will sustain them. First, are you ready? Do you have a culture or are you building a culture that will be accepting of women and respectful of women? That's the first piece of it. And the second piece of it is, once you have that in place or if you don't have that in place, you have to have a strategic action plan to get that in place first because the worst thing you want is to get a phenomenally talented woman, a great leader, and then have them disillusion when they get through the door because they're not being respected. Those are two things you have to have in place to improve before you can even move the needle.
RIX: That makes sense. That kind of segues into my next question. What attitudinal shifts should recruitment agencies take to attract talent from unlikely sources? If you have the culture, you've gotten that in place or you're working in that direction, and now you're ready to hire women or talent from other unlikely sources, how can they help continue to shift that attitude?
Audra Jenkins: In order to shift the attitude, you have to have two things. You have to have a top-down perspective. One of the things I love is, on our journey is we signed the CEO action for diversity and inclusion pledge. PWC is one of the signatory companies that created that. And Tim Ryan, the CEO of PWC said it so eloquently that it starts with the CEO. If your CEO is coming out, being publicly supportive, making the statements, actively engaged with diversity and inclusion, then the leaders under the CEO will fall in line, they will follow suit. And if they don't, then they're probably not going to belong in this industry. When you're not aligned with your CEO and what your CEO is doing or your CEO's vision as an overall company, that's the driving force that's driving what's the action that's happening there.
And then you have to make sure that it's trickling down to the individual contributor. But it starts at the top. It really does mean if you don't have that clear vision, that clear message that this is the culture that I'm trying to create and trying to support as the most senior executive leader of this organization, then it's going to be very difficult for other levels of the organization to make that happen. That having that clear vision, as Tim Ryan said, “It starts at the top.” It really does. And you've got to have that to make that possible for any part of D&I.
RIX: That's so true. I read this recently in Harvard business review, that a leader's number one job is just to have a vision and communicate it clearly, and making sure D&I is part of that vision. I can see how that would be super impactful for our business. Now as a leader yourself, how did you prepare for your leadership role?
Audra Jenkins: Several things. For me, it was about great mentors. Whether they were formal mentors and they didn't know they were my mentor, just learning those lessons early on in my career. Failing, and failing forward. Just taking that, you know, if you fail in something say, “Okay, well maybe that wasn't my strength. I need to figure out how to strengthen myself or leverage somebody who has the strength and partner to make this happen.” And then the other thing too is witnessing other great leaders. We've got a lot of great female leaders in our company. I'm really proud of working at Randstad in that regard. We've got Karen Fichuk, our global North America CEO. We've got Rebecca Henderson, our CEO of Global Businesses. We've got Traci Fiatte, our CEO of Commercial Staffing. There's a lot of great strong female leadership. Just witnessing that is very powerful and inspiring.
And then finally for me, it's also about getting prepared. We all want the C-suite, we want the role, we want everything that comes with that. But if you're not prepared for that, then you could fail miserably and it could damage not only your career but also your brand in the marketplace. Getting prepared and understanding and learning the business is really key as well. Learning everything you can. Helping me work on the operations side of the business, and working with clients helped me to prepare for the role. I would tell myself, “Okay I can do this internally because I've done it for clients a million times.”
RIX: Now you've mentioned with Randstad some of the strong female leadership that's present today, but throughout the history of your career, are there any women or women leaders who inspire you today?
Audra Jenkins: First and foremost, Kendra, the first person that inspired me as a woman was my grandmother. My grandmother didn't have opportunities for a lofty education, but she still went out. She still worked hard and that work ethic carried me throughout my entire career. I remember years ago when I was a little child, I was there playing with my brother and some cousins and sometimes, a lot of times I was the only girl. They used to pick on me, bully me a little bit because I was the only girl. They would take my candy or knock me down on the ground or something like that in a bully, kind of a joking way. And I ran to her and said, "Granny, they're just picking on me."
And I said, "What can I do?" She said, "Well you need to stand up for yourself." And I thought she was going to tell me, oh it's okay, you'll be okay, coddle me. She looked me dead in the eye and said, "They pick on you because you let them pick on you." I said, "Well they're much bigger than me." And she said, "And why is that a problem?" She said, "But you're much smarter." That really inspired me, and I carried that with me throughout my career, throughout my personal life, that it doesn't matter the size of the obstacle or challenge, you have to at least try. You have to do something, you have to take action. And that really helped me. Really, it was very inspiring, my grandmother.
Other people in my career that I've learned from have been people I've worked with. I'll go all the way back to my first real professional job. I was an intern at a financial insurance and brokerage firm, and the receptionist, she really took time and took me under her wing. She knew that was my first big working at a corporate job. She took me to lunch, she made sure that I knew what was appropriate attire, she made sure that I knew what was appropriate conversations in the workplace. I was a college student. I didn't know and didn't have that background or information. But she really took time out to help me navigate, and she didn't have to do that. It wasn't like someone assigned her as a mentor. She just kind of took me under her wing and wanted to see me be successful. All women should do that. We should want to build up all women so that everybody can have an opportunity or a seat at the table.
RIX: I couldn't agree more Audra. I had a mentor in high school turn college internship and the same thing–she just really helped me understand the corporate dynamic early on. And I feel like a lot of my early success, and my ability to manage executive clients was because of those summers spent with her. I'm definitely grateful to her. And to your point, they didn't have to do that. No one asked them to do that, to take that initiative. Younger female starting, whether it's a new industry or you know, maybe younger or not just someone who's new to the industry, especially staffing. These are waters that I'm still learning to navigate two years into this industry. I'm grateful for that reminder. Thank you for that Audra, and I'm going to pay it forward. I try to do that on day to day basis, so I appreciate that.
Audra Jenkins: Also to add to that, Kendra, I know those are everyday people, but that there are people that can model, I mean we don't, I know we look at on the fake rolled of celebrity in Hollywood, and it's not us all propped up image marketing campaign oftentimes. But there are some celebrities that when you listen to their life story, it just touches you in a meaningful way. And there's a couple of people that it's going to sound odd to you, but one of those people is Dolly Parton, for me. You wouldn't think a Chief Diversity Officer thinking, Dolly Parton is a great role model, but if you listen to her story and know how she came from such humble beginnings and she built an empire and a legacy for her family, I think of that all the time.
Am I building a legacy that my children would be proud of? That's what we should all be trying to get to, can we build something that someone can come along after you and build upon that and make it even more successful. People that you can witness that are building legacies out there today, whether it's a celebrity or whether it's somebody that's doing meaningful work. We should, even if it's just somebody who's volunteering in the community that does great volunteerism and great service those are people we should be looking to you as role models, externally as well as internally.
RIX: Absolutely. In fact, I have a friend who's younger than me and comes from social work and just watching her take her experiences and turn it into a program for children the last couple of years, she is such an inspiration because she is making it a priority for her life and letting that be her testament. I find inspiration from her every day. And so it's finding it in different places and having conversations with folks in various fields, which is one of the awesome things about staffing. We have that opportunity to work with clients in various industries and talent from various fields and have those different conversations.
Audra Jenkins: I love that.
RIX: Well Audra, thank you. I really appreciate, once again, you taking the time. I was able to hear you speak at Engage Boston this past June and really enjoyed your session and I'm so grateful that you were able to make this work and join us today. Were there any other comments you wanted to make or questions you may have for me?
Audra Jenkins: I just want to leave with a couple of pieces of advice for any woman out there that feels that struggling, wanting to either strive for leadership or trying to figure out what they want to do next.
Surround yourself with great mentors, That's one piece of advice I want to leave.
Another piece of advice is to walk away from toxic negative people because they will drain you. They will keep you from living your best life. And that's definitely something, it took me some years to learn that, trying to be the fixer or trying to be the person who can fix everything. Women have to take that on a lot, that role a lot, but sometimes you can't fix other adults. They've got to figure it out themselves.
See how you can pay it forward. One of the other challenges for women in any organization, whether it's recruitment or staffing, is that we often believe that there's a myth out there that there could only be one woman at the table. There's room for everybody at the table. Share your knowledge, share your insights. Give somebody a chance, a young leader in your organization or a young intern in your organization, and pay it forward because it's more rewarding. It's equally rewarding for you to share that knowledge and lift someone up as it is the person receiving that. Because then they're going to pay it forward later in their lives when they get further in their careers.
And the final thing I want to leave people with is don't let other people limit you and what you can accomplish. Be bold and it's okay to have a voice. We do have a voice, we deserve a voice. And any woman out there who feels like they don't have a voice, let me tell you, as a strong advocate for you, you do have a voice. Use your voice and use it for good.
RIX: Be bold. I love it. Thank you. That was great, Audra. I appreciate it.
Audra Jenkins: Thanks, Kendra.