Avanade welcomes new Chief Inclusion & Diversity Officer, Hallam Sargeant
- Posted on November 17, 2020
- Estimated reading time 5 minutes
In alignment with our value that “everyone counts,” Inclusion & Diversity has always been a cornerstone of Avanade’s culture. We’re thrilled to welcome Hallam Sargeant as our new Chief Inclusion & Diversity Officer. With over 20 years in Human Resources with a focus on I&D, Hallam’s experience and empathy made him the perfect choice to lead Avanade to be a force for positive change.
How did you start your work within I&D? What drew you to this type of work?
I had spent the vast majority of my career in various HR business partner roles, and around 2011, I was facilitating an annual performance evaluation process where the team was discussing promotions, next assignments, and employee performance ratings. Eight brand directors were present and only one of them was a woman. The team was discussing a young lady who was out on maternity leave as a first-time mom and was due back to work in a few weeks. The other men in the room all agreed that she should come back to what they deemed a safe assignment, with no travel and one that would be easier for her to do. When I asked if anyone had spoken to her to see what she wanted to do, I was met with complete silence. My next question was how can a group of men sitting around a room decide to essentially slow down this young lady’s career trajectory with a “safe” assignment because she was now a mom? No one would have assumed that a new dad would want his career trajectory slowed down, so why do that to a new mom? That was the beginning of my journey in Inclusion & Diversity as an interrupter when I see microaggressions or headwinds being created for others.
In your 20 years of experience, what’s your proudest accomplishment?
It’s tough to sum up two decades of a career into a single accomplishment, but I am most proud of driving programmatic change across recruiting, development and retention of employees. I’m a firm believer that attracting quality diverse talent starts with how you treat your existing talent. I would rather focus on the significant impact of an accomplishment. At one company, year over year, the number of African American employees who left the organization outpaced the number of new African American employees coming in. Picture a revolving door of quality talent exiting your company daily. In partnership with the Learning & Development team, we introduced an efficacy program that has now led to three consecutive years of reduced attrition for the African American employee group. Our efforts not only reduced African American attrition, but significantly improved employee manager relationships and we saw this reflected in the annual survey scores.
Inclusion & Diversity is so complex because it deals with individual experiences but also systemic programming. How do you develop an approach that keeps both in mind?
To effectively straddle both the individual and the systemic implications of I&D, I like to focus on storytelling to connect the head – data and what’s happening at the macro level – with the heart, what our Avanade employees are saying to us. How are these systemic issues personally impacting them? One of the issues with systemic racism is that it results in daily microaggressions against underrepresented groups. I call them those daily taps on the glass that create a constant feeling of exclusion, or that gut instinct that something just isn’t right which often leads to the need to assimilate or remove yourself from a company, job or professional relationship. Sometimes there is a tendency to think, “Those things don’t happen with our employees.” I recently had a senior HR leader at another company tell me she thought those things only happened in the “hood,” and it wasn’t until they hosted fishbowl exercises with their Black employee resource group that she realized these incidents were commonplace regardless of socio-economic or educational standing.
What drew you to Avanade? Why were you excited about coming here?
After having worked in extremely large organizations, I was intent on finding a “smaller” company where my impact on people could be broader, so when Avanade reached out to me, I was eager to learn more. The more I learned, the more I realized what a great opportunity to combine my HR and I&D backgrounds to learn, grow and help influence the Avanade I&D strategy for all employees. This may sound cliché, but everyone involved in my interviews was so open about Avanade’s I&D journey. I could feel how passionate and focused Pam and the leaders were on advancing I&D and living the value of “everyone counts.” This was congruent with what I was looking for in my next opportunity, and here I am!
What is the most important thing people can be doing right now to build a more inclusive culture in their workplace?
This list is just a starting point, but a few things that I’ve found are helpful:
- Give each other grace. Understand that those in the majority who are seeking to join as allies and champions may not be as knowledgeable on what it’s like to be part of an underrepresented group, so give each other the space to ask those uncomfortable questions acknowledging that everyone’s I&D journey looks different.
- For those who are not part of an underrepresented group, do not put your education and learning journey needs on the shoulders of your underrepresented colleagues. The most important thing you can do is to seek out ways to grow your knowledge and understanding in this space. If you can approach a conversation demonstrating that you have taken some initial steps on your own, it becomes a better conversation.
- Recognize that we all have blind spots. One of mine was the impact of hiring processes and systems on persons with disabilities. I was attending a National Organization on Disability event and learned that 80% of individuals on the autism spectrum were either unemployed or underemployed. This data point was new to me. Our I&D team and People with Disabilities employee group were able to use this as a catalyst to develop a neurodiversity pilot program within one of our IT groups. We disrupted our traditional interview and assessment processes, and the team was able to hire outstanding professional talent.