RX Global's Ray Rhodes on Creating Impactful DEI Programs That Matter

February 14, 2022

Look around at many organizations these days, and you’ve probably noticed a fair share launching corporate programs dedicated to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI), an umbrella term for policies, programs, strategies and practices that promote the representation and participation of individuals of different ages, races and ethnicities, abilities and disabilities, genders, religions, cultures and sexual orientations. But to drive an authentic culture of inclusion and belonging, it takes a special person who can not only lead the charge but also remain passionately committed to creating meaningful and lasting change. 

Enter Ray Rhodes, global director of inclusion and diversity at RX Global, who was appointed to the position in April 2021 after many years of intensive engagement with DEI programs in his previous roles. After initially joining RX in 2007 as U.S. director of human resources, he has since launched an array of important initiatives and programs focused on promoting unconscious bias awareness, team psychological safety, equality allyship and inclusive leadership – issues near and dear to his heart.

“My background in human resources and talent development has given me insights into navigating programming that allows our colleagues to progress their careers and reach their full potential within the organization,” Rhodes says. “My motivation has always been to do everything within my power to make others shine…you must be “other-focused” to do this work. You simply cannot make any significant impact if you are unable—or unwilling—to see outside of your own perspective.” 

TSNN had the pleasure of speaking with the inaugural 2021 TSNN DEI Leadership Award honoree about RX’s dynamic DEI program and its accomplishments, how DEI programs can play a crucial role in advancing workplace inclusivity, and why more organizations and events should consider making acceptance and inclusion a priority going forward. 

When and why did you start the DEI program at RX, and what is its mission?

While in my previous learning and talent development role at RX, I had the good fortune of leading communication effectiveness programs for our people over the years and seeing first-hand how inclusive behavior—or lack thereof—can make or break a team. Our highest performing teams, with the highest levels of engagement, were those who took the time to really get to know the wiring of each member of the team. Experiencing these benefits and successes, I began seeking ways of helping our people find comfort and safety in bringing their authentic selves to their roles. 

As an out, gay person, I had the perfect opportunity to launch our first Employee Resource Group (ERG), RXUS Pride. Our mission was to create a safe space for people in the LGBTQ+ and Ally community to support one another through education events, community outreach and social activities that allowed our colleagues to feel a sense of safety and acceptance within our “work family.”

The year 2020 brought intense levels of emotions to our people over incidents of racial injustice in the U.S., and our business responded with the formation of our Global Race and Ethnicity Committee. I served as the HR advisor for this team, which did outstanding work providing education, support and community for the people of RX around matters of racial equity, resulting in the launch of our second U.S. ERG, the African Ancestry Network. The work we began with our ERGs and the Global Race and Ethnicity Committee highlighted the need for broader Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging (DEI&B) programming across our business. These experiences gave me a different outlook on my career and my own personal purpose and obligation to drive acceptance and inclusion within a business that I absolutely love. 

When I was appointed to the global director of inclusion and diversity role, I quickly learned that there were quite a few like-minded colleagues out there who were ready to roll up their sleeves and join in on this important work! We have a small army of volunteers across the globe who are on a mission to drive our culture of DEI&B throughout the business and to use our unique business model to make a difference within the communities we serve. 

What has the program accomplished so far, and what are its goals going forward?

Our immediate goal was to ensure our executive leaders understood what we were doing well and where there were opportunities for our organization to do better in terms of cultivating a strong culture of DEI&B. We’ve analyzed all available diversity data, listened to feedback that we’ve received from our people through I&D surveys, and developed some meaningful and achievable priorities for 2021 and 2022—with a vision of where we intend to be by 2025 top-of-mind.  

Crucially, in launching our refreshed brand identity and new culture code, we have universally adopted “inclusive” as one of our key strengths and this behavior, or “value,” is now embedded within our learning and development courses and forms a key part of our performance evaluations.

Currently, our key focus is employee engagement in our collective I&D strategy. We operate in over 19 countries, so having employees in each market invested in and providing local cultural context to this work is critical. We’ve formed a 40-member Global Inclusion Council, composed of colleagues from each country, who serve as an advisory board to RX around DEI&B programming. We have also formed Global Diversity Committees representing Disability, Gender, LGBTQ+, Age Diversity, and Race and Ethnicity, all focused on developing and delivering programming that will help us achieve our global inclusion goals for each of these diversity dimensions. And we continue launching ERGs in local markets, so we have the opportunity to provide focused, local support and community as our employees express the need. We have over 150 employees who have volunteered to serve in these DEI&B leadership roles across the business!

We’ve also launched a bi-monthly internal global I&D newsletter and SharePoint site that enables us to keep our colleagues informed about important DEI&B programs taking place across the business. Transparent communication is essential to opening doors for candid and safe conversations about who we are, and our values as a business. 

While delivering unconscious bias awareness workshops to our people-leaders in each country was a key priority in 2021, we are turning our focus to psychological safety in 2022, and will begin offering team workshops, beginning with our executive and senior leadership teams throughout the organization. Our goal is to create a culture of safety on our teams, where every colleague is able to reach their full potential by being empowered to express their ideas, bring their unique backgrounds and talents to their work and receive recognition for their contributions to the business.  

What constitutes a successful DEI program, and why should more event-related organizations consider starting one?

DEI programming must begin with an organization getting in touch with who they are and who they aspire to be. There should be no guessing about what you’re doing well and where there may be opportunities for you to do better, so look at your data. Are you a reflection of the communities you serve? Do your people feel safe, seen and heard? Ask them and assess their responses. Themes will emerge that will help you prioritize where you should begin. Set measurable goals with an aim to advance them over time. 

Engagement of your executive and senior leaders is not optional. Executive endorsement, sponsorship and engagement in DEI&B programming is essential to driving true culture change. Empowering colleagues at all levels to lead and drive DEI&B initiatives is an invaluable development tool and inspires grassroots support for impacting culture change.

As an industry, we have a unique opportunity to make a real difference in advancing businesses and communities that may historically be underrepresented at our events. How many times have we attended conference panels and seen the same profiles and perspectives presented on the stage? How well are black-owned, LGBTQ+-owned, women-owned and people with disabilities-owned businesses represented on our show floors? Do we strive to make our events a safe and inclusive space and experience for people of all backgrounds? 

It’s important for us to get our respective houses in order internally, and then turn an intense focus externally to incorporate DEI&B into our event strategies, adding richness and value to the experiences we create, inclusive of a broader audience.

How can organizations create meaningful DEI programs that aren’t just about “checking off boxes” or good PR?

The concept of introducing DEI&B programming to a business for the sake of good PR or ticking boxes is disingenuous and futile. If the heart and values of an organization are not in the right place, attempts at promoting DEI&B programming will not only flounder, they will also backfire. Employees and customers have a keen eye for authenticity and accountability, and making hollow commitments without walking the talk never works. Failure to recognize and appreciate the adversity that a person or a community of people have faced and conquered over time—simply because of who they are—and devaluing the journey that has brought them to our respective doorsteps is a product of privilege. 

The fact that I can be “out” in my workplace, and that my colleagues know and love my partner and our daughter, makes me excited to do my best work for my company. I know what it is like to have to leave a big piece of who I am at the office door and feel like I needed to pretend to be someone I wasn’t for the sake of fitting in at work. I’ve met with people working in other business cultures where they felt unsafe wearing important religious head coverings to work or observing required prayer times, who were overlooked for advancement opportunities because of their natural hair type, who felt unsafe disclosing a disability for fear of having the quality of their work scrutinized. I’ve met with amazing women who left critical roles when their voices were silenced in team meetings, while male counterparts were credited for their work. 

This is reality. These are real people who have incredible skills and talent to contribute when their whole selves are valued. Creating a work environment where all the beautiful things that make us unique and diversity of thought are celebrated is not a tick-the-box exercise. It’s about human kindness, unbound perspective, thoughtful strategy, respectful leadership and the growth and retention of your most valuable asset: your people. 

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