Guest Editor Magda Yrizarry: “We all have biases”

A Latina talent advocate, Yrizarry works to educate thousands on unconscious bias at Verizon, and clears the way for diverse talent to succeed in tech, one of the fastest-growing industries in America today. In this, her guest editor's letter for our talent issue, she talks candidly about understanding our biases, modeling inclusive behaviors, and more.

Guest editor of our Talent issue, Magda Yrizarry, SVP & Chief Talent and Diversity Officer, Verizon Photo: Noam Galai

We all have biases—and it’s critical to understand that these can actually limit us from reaching our full potential, which has a business impact.

Unconscious bias is common in the workplace, and we know that certain scenarios can trigger unconscious attitudes and beliefs about others. We can’t afford for anyone to feel they have to leave a part of themselves out in order to fit in. We always want to create an environment where we’re helping people be more, and not less. As leaders, we have to be immensely aware of our impact over people—even when our intentions are positive. Biases are part of human nature, and I believe training helps people understand this and appreciate the impact it has on others and on our business.   

As leaders we have to be immensely aware of our impact over people. Help people be more, and not less.

At Verizon, we’ve been able to have a conversation around unconscious bias with thousands of employees, at all levels of the organization. Just recently we had a very senior executive talking at an event about how much “unlock” happened for her because she initially thought, “Why is this important?  I don’t need this training because I don’t have any biases against people.” She’s not alone—many people entered the class with apprehension but left it feeling enlightened with a new understanding about why this conversation is so important.

THE TALENT ISSUE:
LISA PEREZ, PROSPERITY READY

“By focusing on refugees, Lisa is not only giving back to underserved communities, she’s also building a framework that will solve real-world problems. This pilot program is one to watch out for—because it has the potential to transform not only big corporations but entire industries. It will identify and develop the needed capabilities, and make connections to future talent.”

—Magda Yrizarry

The program surprised participants about how much more awareness, openness, and listening is required, and how, by changing a few of their own behaviors, they can actually have an impact and make others feel more included. 

Following the experience, employees reflect on what they can do. One quote that I lean into in terms of my approach to daily life is, “To whom much is given, much is expected.” It reminds me of a need to pay it forward. At times, this could result in disappointment, and that can discourage you from doing more. Sometimes you don’t see the results—you want to be part of systemic work, making big decisions, but in reality you find yourself in a position that is different than what you envisioned. Stay there—that’s where the influence is.

Model the behaviors that you expect inclusive leaders to have. Be willing to be bold and teach people. Be open and willing to listen so that you can understand where others are coming from without defense.

Everyone can be a difference maker.

Those of us who have this pursuit of impact can feel good every single day because every time we look at a person, every time we interact with a person, we see them. We don’t pass by them. That innate part of us that’s saying, “I want to do something for someone,” will feel fed.

Model the behaviors that you expect inclusive leaders to have. Be willing to be bold and teach people. Be open and willing to listen so that you can understand where others are coming from without defense.

We survey employees about our diversity and inclusion efforts, using questions such as, “How proud are you to work at Verizon? Would you recommend Verizon as a great place to work? Do you feel valued and respected?”  I’m proud to say that women and people of color have always been extremely positive in their responses.

THE TALENT ISSUE:
MARTA RAMIREZ, DB SCHENKER

“Digitalization is critical to talent strategy. As evidenced in the tools Marta is rolling out, people are more digital than ever before. Empowering people to match their own skills to specific jobs that also work for their schedules is a smart way to attract and retain talent.”
—Magda Yrizarry

But that doesn’t mean we don’t have work to do. We have to go deeper to keep our workplace positive and inclusive in the context of the societal environment.

This year, I’m most proud of the work that we’ve done to assess, move and develop our talent. There’s a lot of transformation happening at Verizon. Operating models are changing, leadership is changing, and with that comes plenty of opportunity for movement. I’m proud of the way we’ve been able to build a pipeline that is diverse, that is ready for the opportunities that are going to enable this transformation.

Verizon was first to launch 5G. I see the people who built 5G, who are rolling out the fiber enabling 5G, and who deliver amazing experiences for our customers every day. It’s a diverse team of people, and it reflects the diversity of our customer base. We are continuing to have a culture where people are able to contribute, to be valued, to be heard.

We believe we’re uniquely positioned to deliver the promise of the digital world. We have all of the assets to do this, and that includes our people. I’ve been here twenty-eight years, and we have many times been able to reinvent ourselves for the future to put ourselves in a winning position. It’s continuous.

THE TALENT ISSUE:
TROY ACOSTA, SODEXO

“With his global reach, Troy is a ‘net-exporter of talent’ as he continues to share his story in hopes of helping others find unique and fulfilling career paths of their own.”
—Magda Yrizarry

Amidst all of this transformation, we must have the right people. And we must consider what our customers want. We have to digitize the experience inside the business for our employees, as well as outside for our customers.

In today’s workforce, we’ve found that we need a balance of remote people and people who physically sit together. It’s absolutely dependent on the job, and it can also depend on the project.  More and more employees are seeking flexibility and have different work styles, preferences, and needs. Technology enables us to find efficiencies while also making sure we maintain our productivity.       

We’ve found success in pilot programs for remote work—such as our in-house agents, who traditionally have worked in a physical call center. Our customers decide when they need us, so it’s critical that we find unique work solutions to keep up with that demand. 

THE TALENT ISSUE:
TERILYN JUAREZ MONROE, VARIAN

“Terilyn understands that you can’t be a great company without great people. And you can’t deliver superior employee and customer experiences without taking the time to listen, learn, and inspire with purpose. Change is never easy, but by rolling out culture workshops, creating an inclusive environment, and role-modeling, the company will reach more meaningful results.”

—Magda Yrizarry

Being aware of our biases, we have to continue to question the ways of working that we prefer, that we are comfortable with, and that give us the trust and confidence that people are being productive. The world is mobile, and we need to challenge some of our biases and assumptions and evaluate new strategies for our employee base to be able to do their jobs. We might find, as in the case of our in-house agents, it is indeed possible.

This new thinking opens up a lot of possibilities for us to continue in this journey. Which jobs, which projects, which people lend themselves to remote work? We have to be flexible in all directions that way, with an eye to our customers. The customer is at the center of everything we do.

We live in a world where the majority of public discourse is so divisive. Companies are simply microcosms of that world. And even though we have been able to stay the course on diversity and inclusion in the midst of massive transformation, we can’t stop. We need to continue the conversation.