There’s No Off Season in DE&I

Marvin Davenport portrait

The following post was published today by Marvin Davenport, Vice President, Chief Diversity Officer at VSP Global:

“You’re only as strong as your weakest link.”

Growing up playing basketball, this motto meant a lot to me and it’s something I carry with me to this day.

Teams, where everyone is focused on the same goal—bringing different strengths, styles and experiences—are where I thrive. When it comes to my work with diversity, equity and inclusion, I see parallels with the court, too: the importance of coaching, access to good equipment, the ability to practice, grow and hone your skills.

And, most importantly, sometimes it’s just about being given the opportunity to play in the game.

The Rookie Years

I didn’t start out in DE&I.

With an undergrad in management information systems, I began my career with Walmart, writing code and programming interactive voice response systems for call centers. After I got involved with the company’s Black Associate Resource Group, eventually holding a leadership role, I saw an opportunity and decided to pivot.

DE&I is a much more difficult equation to solve than most people think. Dedicating my career to DE&I appealed to my instincts as a computer programmer, where I tried to solve for the unexpected. In many ways, DE&I, like Information Systems, can be a challenging but rewarding career path; and so, a lifelong passion was born.

The Playbook Evolves

Over the past 10 years, I’ve supported DE&I across industries—from retail to aerospace to cloud computing. In that time, the work has evolved, as has corporate America’s focus on connecting DE&I more deeply into aspects of its business.

Historically, programs have been driven by resource groups, programming, awareness, education—all important components of a successful DE&I strategy that are still relevant today. But we’re also seeing more intentionality with weaving diversity into marketing, customer service, procurement and client outreach, too.

We’re becoming data driven, with eyes on scorecards and metrics. We’re also focusing on the talent gatekeepers at any organization—the talent acquisition teams and hiring managers who directly impact who we bring onto our court and who we bench.

2020: A Full-Court Press

As a DE&I practitioner, I’m not alone in saying 2020 was exhausting.

It was encouraging to see so many organizations step up to meet the historic social events of last year with action plans to improve DE&I within their own walls. But for those of us who had been dedicating our careers to this work—often wanting for resources to enact sustainable strategies—it was frustrating to only now be given the attention and support we needed.

Peers departed their organizations or moved into roles outside of DE&I because of that exhaustion. Others chose to double down, because the work became more important than ever.

Even I had to stop and reevaluate: Was I done with it?

But then, another opportunity came into view.

Changing Teams

Last June, VSP Global’s CEO Michael Guyette released a statement that acknowledged the complex racial injustices in our country and committed to action to better support a more diverse, equitable and inclusive workplace.

Part of that work involved the immediate hiring of a Chief Diversity Officer.

I’ve always had VSP Vision Care insurance throughout my career and in researching the company, I found a culture that aligned with my values, too. So, I applied and throughout the interview process I was encouraged by what I saw.

As many companies scrambled last year to set up DE&I strategies with little to no foundations, VSP already had a solid foundation—and a runway for growth and development. Beyond that, I saw a values- and purpose-driven culture, with a blend of long-tenured employees and fresh voices.

In September 2020, I joined the roster.

A New Season

Throughout the organization’s 66-year history, our commitment to enhancing the lives of our employees, members, eye care professionals and communities has not wavered.

Mike Guyette and our Chief Human Resources Officer, Kristi Cappelletti-Matthews, were intentional about building on that foundation first. And crucially, they ensured I had the access and the resources to be successful, which is not always the case for new DE&I leaders.

Since joining the company, I’ve collaborated with cross-functional leaders to integrate DE&I not only into our lines of business, but into our leaders’ responsibilities, too. Together, rooted in common values and purpose, we’re creating the infrastructure necessary to make our strategy sustainable.

Our initial accomplishments include:

  • Aligning leaders and employees around our DE&I strategy, goals and shared definitions
  • Defining our DE&I program for our stakeholders—from doctors, to members, to our broader communities—and creating a scorecard to help measure progress
  • Creating a baseline for sense of belonging in our workforce and identifying areas of focus
  • Increasing and formalizing DE&I-related development opportunities
  • Reorienting all eight of our Business Resource Groups (BRGs) to directly contribute to key business strategies and establishing a new Women’s BRG
  • Setting aggressive goals to improve our supplier diversity metrics and taking a deep dive into our existing suppliers to ensure we’re maximizing our tracking

You can view our progress through Q1 of this year here; we’re committed to sharing updates moving forward.

In my first season on the team, I’ve witnessed first-hand how VSP values player development and isn’t afraid to change the playbook when necessary. By encouraging authentic conversations, providing the right growth opportunities and helping every person understand the value they bring to the team, VSP remains a championship contender—both as an employer and a business partner of choice.

So, there’s no off season in DE&I.

Each of us needs a game plan, the right coaching, and we’ve got to put in the practice every day.

*whistle blows*

Now let’s get to work.

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