Shunda Robinson, 52
Global vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion, GM Financial
Over the past 18 months, amid the COVID-19 pandemic and employee reactions to the killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and others, Shunda Robinson realized her team needed to pivot.
GM Financial's global vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion organized 60 virtual listening sessions over Zoom to create a safe space for employees to discuss their feelings and the struggles with which they were coping.
"It challenged our leaders to step into a place that they normally were not comfortable," said Robinson. "In this environment, you have to be very intentional about connecting with people and engaging people."
The virtual connection points stem from a culture, and a sense of inclusion, that Robinson has been developing since she joined the company in 2015.
When Robinson began working for GM Financial, increasing the number of diverse leaders ranked high on her to-do list. Today, 28 percent of leaders are professionals of color and 35 percent of leaders are women.
In 2020, as part of a GM Financial employee survey, 86 percent of respondents said they feel a strong sense of belonging within the company.
Part of that feeling of inclusion has been driven by a mentoring program Robinson launched in 2016. Back then, 64 mentors and mentees signed up. Today, 800 of GM Financial's nearly 9,000 employees worldwide are part of the program.
"That inclusion piece has to be intentional," she said. "I think mentoring provides that, and I think companies overlook the effectiveness of mentoring and what it can bring in that equity and inclusion space."
The mentorship program is designed to develop careers and increase diversity of thought, background and perspective within GM Financial. Robinson and her team pair mentors and mentees from different departments and with contrasting backgrounds and experiences. Sometimes employees have been matched based on a common personal interest, such as fishing or bowling, Robinson said.
"How do you engage [employees] beyond their everyday job? People want to feel valued," Robinson said. "They want to feel appreciated, and they want to feel like they belong to something."
Robinson also created a DE&I council and employee resource groups. Nearly 90 percent of GM Financial locations have a DE&I council member to help with onboarding, recruiting and advancing a culture of diversity, equity and inclusion, and the employee resource groups — one for working parents and another for female professionals — help employees establish a professional development network.
— Hannah Lutz