Verizon: “Diversity is how we achieve success”
Says the telecoms giant’s chief talent and diversity officer, Christina Schelling, in an exclusive UNLEASH interview.
Why You Should Care
Verizon is a human-first employer.
Diversity is seen as a business imperative, not just a HR issue.
Here's the inside track from Christina Schelling, Verizon's newly appointed chief talent and diversity officer.
US telecoms giant Verizon is one of the most admired companies in the world.
According to Fortune’s 2023 rankings, it is 303th overall, but it joins Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, Motorola and Accenture in the number one spot in the computers and communication industry.
Verizon is well known for its fixation on doing better for customers and the wider community, but how does this play out for its over 117,000 employees worldwide?
Christina Schelling, senior vice-president and chief talent and diversity officer at Verizon, tells UNLEASH: “Everything we do, everything we recognize and reward, the choices we make inside and outside of the company are really grounded in the [customer-focused] credo, and the mutual trust between our customer and our employees”.
And this commitment is authentic. Schelling is new to Verizon – she joined from Estée Lauder a year ago: “I’ve worked in a couple of different wonderful places at this place, but this is the only place I’ve ever worked where the credo and the words on the wall aren’t just that”.
To achieve this, Verizon leans into being human-first – “we’re very purposeful that people are human, they have different needs depending on who they are, where they come from” and where they are in their careers.
This plays out when the HR team, and leadership more broadly, is making decisions around learning and development (L&D), benefits, total rewards, wellbeing.
Diversity as a critical business capability
It is, therefore, no surprise that diversity and inclusion is top of mind for Verizon.
For many years, Verizon’s mindset has been (and continues to be) that “diversity is how we achieve success”; the company’s customers and shareholders are diverse themselves, so “it makes sense for us to reflect the diversity of the world and all the power that that means.”
Now, with the creation of a new chief diversity officer role for Schelling, Verizon is committed “to continue to more deeply infuse diversity throughout everything we do for our employees”.
“We’ve been elevating the notion of diversity and inclusion to one of our most critical business capabilities, it is not just a HR thing”.
For years Verizon has set very clear expectations around leadership behavior, but this year, the company went one step further and “added a [new] leadership principle that spells out [their]…accountability for fostering inclusion”.
“Those principles are not just, again, something on the wall to read”; leaders have a responsibility to really get to know their teams, notice which voices are absent from day to day operations.
This work has embedded even more deeply Verizon’s view that “good leadership equals inclusion”.
From diversity to L&D at Verizon
Verizon’s commitment to diversity and inclusion plays out beyond leadership behaviors. In addition to having specific content and curricula around diversity, equity and inclusion, these principles are embedded “in all of our courses as it makes sense”.
Beyond baking diversity and inclusion into L&D content, Verizon is committed to making sure it creates “high quality learning experience for all of our employees regardless of how they identify and who they are”, shares Schelling.
The employer is “super conscious” that people have different learning preferences – “we strive to meet people where they are in a very purposeful way”. For instance, Verizon has created at-home kits that enables people to learn where they feel most comfortable, it has created some trainer spaces in building, implemented immersive learning centers and labs.
According to Schelling, Verizon sees L&D as having real business value. Not only is “a critical engagement indicator for our employees”, “we also recognize that the faster you learn [and] you’re up to speed, the more productive you are, the better for the business and the better you feel about yourself”.
Underlying these L&D commitments is learning experience platform Degreed. For Schelling this partnership, which has been in place since 2019, is a match made in heaven.
Degreed was a very “choiceful decision”; “their values really match our values”. Schelling adds that benefits include “the flexibility of people to own and choose their own path of learning” – these personalization elements helps Verizon meet learners where they are.
Degreed and the Women’s CoLab
Verizon has specifically partnered with Degreed on its Women’s CoLab initiative since 2021. “Degreed is really the perfect fit”, shares Schelling. “They were first to raise their hand to support the initiative”.
The CoLab was formed because Verizon in response to the “disproportionate impact” the pandemic had on women.
“The idea was that huge numbers of women are leaving the workforce, by choice or not, and many of those women will be looking to re-enter the workforce in the future” – but Verizon’s own research, conducted in partnership with Morning Consult, found that many of those women did not feel they had the right skills, or the access to learning, to get up to date.
According to Verizon and Morning Consult’s survey of 2,000 women in the US, 60% who want to re-enter can’t afford the training they need to remain competitive, while 72% were concerned about the difficulty in finding a job that matches their skill set.
“They didn’t have the space or even the connections to continue to upskill and be competitively employable when it was time for them to return”, shares Schelling. And through the Women’s CoLab, Verizon is on a mission to change that.
The Women’s CoLab is a great example of Verizon’s commitment to not just upskill its own workforce, but to give back to the wider community. While employees can participate in the CoLab – and it is promoted internally – it is a free L&D resource for women everywhere.
“Going into this we wanted to [do] good for the world and good for women regardless of whether they work at Verizon or not,” shares Schelling. “We wanted to do something for society; that’s very true to who we are as an organization.”
Returning to being customer obsessive, Schelling adds: “We also recognize that a significant number of women are our customers, [and] our employees – so there’s a business angle there”.
The CoLab is powered by Degreed’s platform, but Luminary supports Verizon with the community building aspect of the initiative. The CoLab isn’t just about solo learning, it also involves events that give participants access to senior leaders at Verizon, including Schelling herself, and beyond.
“We hear very consistently about the connections that we’re able to make, whether it be with partners that we’ve brought on board, whether it be connection with each other, to learning, to career advancement” – and that is the biggest win for Schelling and Verizon.
“The creation of this community, the togetherness and helping each other out, and pushing each other forward is super significant” – and this wouldn’t have been possible without Luminary and its female-focused professional networking platform.
The future of L&D at Verizon
The conversation then moved towards the tight labor market – dubbed the Great Resignation.
Verizon sees the Great Resignation as a moment of reflection – “when you go through lots of different crises – it wasn’t just one – people are reflective and do think about their priorities and their choice very differently”. And a lot of that has played out by wanting to work somewhere that shares their values, and cares about them as a whole person.
While Schelling is clear that Verizon has not been “unaffected” by wider market trends, it has really dialed into and accelerated its existing programs around L&D.
“We are creating really great jobs, roles and career paths that are meaningful and bring people joy”.
Degreed has come out to play here too – it is supporting Verizon with its new Talent GPS product.
Employees can use Talent GPS to create a profile of themselves, their skills and their roles – “it shows them where they are, and the pathways to where they want to be in their next job. As part of that, it highlights different jobs you might want to take along the way, different experiences you want to collect, and the different skills and training to help you get to where you want to go”.
These on-demand skill plans and upskilling resources really personalize career paths for employees – and are a key driver of retention.
“The number one reason people leave is advancement – so this offering around Talent GPS is something that we think is a real attractor. It provides an additional sticking point for people who choose to stay with us”, concludes Schelling.
One testimonial of this in practice comes from one Verizon employee, Jennifer Taylor. Taylor is a principal engineer in the learning and development team and she noted: “Before Talent GPS, I would have said that I never thought I’d be someone who stayed at a company for such a long time.
“I think a lot of people in younger age groups think about moving to a lot of different companies to get a lot of exposure, but I ended up staying because I know there is that exposure.
“I know that we have this new ability to understand what our jobs are like not just across the business, but in the marketplace.”
For Verizon, hiring great people into the organization isn’t the end of the conversation. “We also need to continue to build those great people – and not just build for where they are today, but build for the future”. And the partnership with Degreed is absolutely essential to success here.
The world’s HR conference and expo is back! Don’t miss out on UNLEASH World in Paris this October.
Allie is an experienced business journalist and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.