By Scott Davis, SVP, General Counsel and Member of Allies Acting for Change, Sun Life U.S.
What does it mean to be an ally? True allies show up, stand up and speak up. At Sun Life, we passionately promote a culture of inclusivity and diversity, including several inclusion networks that celebrate our cultural differences and community. But we have an opportunity – and an obligation – to do so much more. The devastating racial injustices we witnessed this past year are not unique to 2020 but proved to be a catalyst for meaningful conversations around racism, bias, and equity. As an employer, we took a deep look at ourselves and decided to make real changes.
An important first step was realizing we needed to have conversations about race in the workplace, even if they are uncomfortable. Like many companies, we had multiple forums in 2020 to promote conversations about conscious and unconscious racial bias. But that was just a start.
We wanted to address diversity much more than we ever had before. So we created a team – Allies Acting for Change (AAC) – a diverse group of employees that operates as an extension of our senior leadership to go beyond admitting our shortcomings to making real, sustainable progress. As our work moved forward, we realized that our success relies on activating our employees into allies, and that white colleagues need to be the major advocates of the changes we seek – prioritizing the perspectives and guidance of our Black colleagues.
Supported by leaders and employees from across the company who stood up to be accountable, the AAC quickly collected data, examined causes, formed a plan and began to carry out action steps formed around four major themes:
Enhancing the manager-employee relationship
We are redesigning how the company supports career development for Black professionals, including career coaching and support for managers to improve the retention of employees of color. We are rolling out an interactive, thought-provoking training called Kaleidoscope, to increase awareness and dialogue on behaviors that support equity and inclusion.
Redesigning our recruitment processes
We examined our hiring practices closely. It was not adequate to simply adhere to a disclaimer: “We do not discriminate against any candidate, regardless of race, religion, culture, ethnicity, or creed.” Non-discriminatory hiring practices don’t address how to increase the number of Black candidates and people of color applying for jobs. We have asked our executives to look within their own networks for more diverse candidates, and are exploring many other pathways to improve, from working with search firms that specialize in Black talent and networking, to partnering with HBCUs. We are also expanding our philanthropic commitments to include issues like health disparity and voting rights, to better reflect the topics of concern among current and future employees.
Building meaningful networks within the company
We are establishing forums to help build connections between senior leaders and Black professionals, and mentoring programs that help people of color expand their networks for career support.
Leveraging and publishing data
We must be our own toughest critics when it comes to reaching these goals, and expect some level of failure in the early stages. We are using data to identify opportunities for improvement and address them immediately. Accountability is essential, so we are being fully transparent with all employees about the data we use to set our performance expectations and progress.
The members of AAC are extremely energized, and determined to help transform our company and the communities around us. We are committed to taking this journey, no matter how difficult. I know as the facilitator of this team – and a white man –my role is to exemplify how strong allies continue to educate themselves, seek out resources and information, and take action to build an environment that is truly inclusive and supportive of career development.
There is no quick fix to improve diversity – not if we want to do it right and create sustained change. We are making allyship a prominent and permanent part of our culture. This will be an ongoing experience from which we will continuously learn and grow. We are confronting the challenges of racism within our institution, our industry, and ourselves, so that we can work toward a more equitable workplace and community.