Driving diversity and cultural inclusion in the workplace

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Driving a culture of inclusion

In the era of digital transformation, how can HR departments transform to be people-focused, rather than process focused? Michelle DiTondo, former CHRO for MGM Resorts, sits down with Rey Bouknight, strategic advisor at SocialChorus, to discuss the keys to fostering a culture of inclusion, making employees feel like they belong, and moving beyond diversity training to a true behavioral shift.

Video Transcript

Rey:

Thank you, Rachel, and hello everyone, it’s great to have you all here for another exciting session. I’m so delighted to be joined here today with one of my favorite people in the world, Michelle DiTondo. Michelle is principal consultant for Avion Consulting, and former chief human resources officer for MGM Resorts. Now, MGM is a global entertainment brand that is widely recognized for its DEI efforts within their company and throughout the community. Michelle is known for leading MGM’s culture transformation and helping the company pull out some pretty difficult times. Her work in DEI has continued beyond MGM as she now helps other companies foster cultures of inclusion. Thank you, Michelle, for joining us today, it’s always great to see you.

Michelle DiTondo:

Thank you so much for having me, Rey, I’m excited to talk about one of my favorite topics today.

Rey:

Yes. Now, before we get into the questions that I’ve prepared, I want to encourage everyone and the audience to join in on this fireside chat. If you have a question, go ahead and put it in the Q&A box on the right hand side of your screen. Let’s make this a conversation that we’re all part of. Now, Michelle, before we talk about the recent study you’ve done on DEI in the workplace, I want to have others have a chance to understand your career journey. Now, from helping to lead MGM out of the 2008 recession, to supporting MGM employees following that tragic Las Vegas mass shooting, you have really helped MGM navigate some difficult times. And what I want to know is, one, tell us a little bit more about your professional experience, and then how has that helped you understand culture?

Michelle DiTondo:

Sure. So, I’m fortunate enough to have had a pretty diverse career path, right out of college, I jumped right into human resources and started my career working for the federal government. So, learned a lot about culture in that first role. I was there for three or so years before I went to financial services, and was in financial services for a number of years, starting with American Express. At the time in the early to mid ’90s, American Express was really known as a trailblazer diversity and inclusion initiative. So, I was at American Express and met really my first mentor of my career, followed her to another financial services organization.

And after that, when I finished graduate school, I went into consulting. While I was working in consulting, I had the benefit of an incredible learning opportunity where I worked across multiple industries with big Fortune 100 Companies globally. After that was when I got into gaming and hospitality joining Caesars Entertainment, and then eventually, MGM Resorts where I spent the last 15 years before going back into consulting, which I truly love.

One of the things that I have gathered from working from industries, from the federal government, to financial services, to hospitality is, the one thing that they all have in common is that regardless of your role in an organization… So, if you’re the head of investment banking, or if you’re a retail employee, or if you’re a housekeeper in a mega resort, every single person, regardless of industry and role, wants to feel important to their organization. And that was one of the things that I’ve always taken with me throughout my career, and that I tried to put into place while at MGM Resorts.

Rey:

Right. Thank you. Now, MGM is known for diversity today, but that hasn’t always been the case for the gaming industry. So, what I want to know is, as an Asian-American woman who has navigated a largely male dominated industry, what has your personal DEI journey been like?

Michelle DiTondo:

Well, I mentioned my first and possibly my most significant mentor of my career was the head of human resources for the Travelers Cheque group at American Express, which is where I started as a human resources generalist. [Althea Dubrul 00:04:43] was a black female in a very senior level role at American Express, and this was in Salt Lake City. So, Salt Lake City is over 95% Caucasian. And at the time, when I was working in the federal government, when American Express had this position open, Althea told her team, “We will fill this role with a minority.” And so, they embarked on their search to find a minority person of color HR generalist, and mind you, this is probably 1994-ish, to fill that role. I was fortunate enough to have heard about the role, applied, and started working for Althea.

She was my most significant mentor because she stretched me in a way that I’d never been stretched even to this day. She made me uncomfortable every single day in that role. One of the things that I remember, a story about her was… 26 year old HR generalist, and she sent me in her place. She was a senior vice president, head of human resources for one of the divisions, sent me to New York City in her place with all the other heads of human resources in American Express… So the head of HR in the card group, the head of HR in the travelers group. So, I go to this meeting as an HR generalist and terrified that I was going to make her look bad. And the one thing that she said to me as I was preparing to present for our group in this meeting was that, “Everyone in that room has more experience than you, no one in that room is smarter than you.”

And that’s something that I’ve always taken with me as I’ve come across other situations where I felt uncomfortable, or stressed, or question whether or not I was capable of doing a role. That’s one thing… I think the confidence that I built working for her served me well in senior leader roles. The other thing, I think, that served me well is working for five years in consulting before going into the hospitality and gaming industry. Those years taught me a lot about how to influence others who don’t directly report to you.

So, as a consultant, I worked with a lot of senior leaders in really well-established Fortune 100 organizations, and as a fairly young and emerging professional, I had to figure out how to influence people who were more senior than me, who were often Caucasian men in positions of power. But I had to develop those influence skills, which also served me well when I got into gaming and hospitality, and as I progressed through more and more senior level roles the more I found myself being either the only person of color, or the only female, or one of the few in a room. So, confidence and the ability to influence others were things I think along my journey that really served me well as I moved into the C-level role.

Rey:

Yeah. You touched on something there that representation matters. And often, representation is the product of having executive sponsor, someone who could serve as your ally, and help to open up those doors that might often be a challenge to be opened, because they believe in what you’ve had. And I could speak to that myself, I’ve seen that time and time again having met individuals, including you, Michelle, who have served that executive sponsorship role, so just hugely important, and how companies can find ways to cultivate that within their organization, I think supports that culture of inclusion.

Michelle DiTondo:

Absolutely.

Rey:

Yes. Something I want to dive into as well is, you recently published a white paper based on the idea of defining moments… Which I hope you’ll go into a little bit more today. And this was also based on a survey that you had conducted about DEI in the workplace. Now, I will tell you that there was a statement at the beginning of that white paper that kind of caught me off guard that it might strike up some debate. And you say in that white paper that the investment in diversity training isn’t paying off. So, please explain to us what you mean by that.

Michelle DiTondo:

Well, there were a couple of things, I think, that drove me to dive deeper into the current issue of diversity inclusion, and where we find ourselves today, so I think multiple things intersected. Moving out of that C-level role, and having some space to really think about what I wanted to learn, and what I wanted to dive deep into, combined with the pandemic giving me all of this time… So, typically, I think, consulting would be on the road most of the time and working with clients, and especially for the first half of the pandemic, we had some time to really develop content, I had time to do some research. I launched a public survey that asked questions about what the workplace is like today.

And I think right around that time, I think a lot of our clients were trying to deal with the issue of diversity and inclusion, and the tensions around discussions around race due to George Floyd being killed, and so I think it was just a current topic and multiple things intersected that really drove me to want to learn more about where we are today with diversity and inclusion. So, launched a survey, over 400 people across all industries participated. And one of the key findings that I kind of had a feeling this would be one of the key findings, but it was much more pronounced than I thought it would be, was that out of all the participants across all genders, across all ethnicities, only 45% of the participants felt like their company’s diversity training had a positive impact on them, or had a positive impact on the workplace.

For me, that was surprising because of how much energy, and how much time and resources, and actually money we put towards diversity training. So, that was kind of the foundation for the research that followed that, which was, if our current diversity training isn’t working, what is working? And that was the focus of the white paper. So, the current diversity training… And this is what I experienced throughout my career, many organization focus on bias training.

And while bias training is an important component, think about a bias as a belief. All of us have developed beliefs about everything in our lives throughout the course of years and years, and in my case, decades and decades and decades of experience of our families, of school, where we lived, all of those things create our beliefs, which sometimes are biases that impact the way that we perceive others, or the way that we treat others.

I think that expecting a full day, a two day, a three day training, maybe sometimes it’s a couple of hours, expecting that training… Which might make you more aware of your bias, expecting a training like that to change years and years and years of beliefs is pretty impossible. I’ve likened it to… We have a couple of psychologists in our firm and we’ve talked a lot about, how do you change, from a psychology standpoint, beliefs that people have about themselves, or other things? So, fear of heights, how do you change that? You just don’t have a two hour session and say, “Stop being afraid of heights.” You do a number of different actions, you execute on behaviors over a period of time, to end up changing that belief. So, I feel like while bias training can be valuable, I don’t think that bias training alone is making a difference in the board place when it comes to diversity and inclusion.

Rey:

Yeah. I think that’s a fair point. But it’s surprising because it’s something that, I think, most companies have, that diversity training once an employee joins, and at times, I think it might be just companies checking the box, right? They don’t really think through, what are the next steps beyond that? And I think some of the results in your survey shows that much more needs to take place. And some of these results I found to be pretty disheartening, and I just wanted to share this with the group. In your survey, you found that only 43% of women of color felt like they were valued, versus more than 75% of Caucasian women and men. So, that’s one.

And then, there’s another one that really jumped out, that when you surveyed individuals about whether they felt like they belonged, only 50% of women of color felt like that was the case, versus more than 76% for Caucasian women and men. And I would say that looking at those numbers, that would suggest much more needs to happen. And it’s disheartening to see that there’s such an issue when it comes to this related to women of color at work. So, what are some of your thoughts about that?

Michelle DiTondo:

Yeah. So, I think this was the gap in that result, was the thing that I found most surprising in the research that we did. And you use the word disheartening, I think also kind of shocking, that there was that big of a difference for women of color in organizations. So, here’s my perception. And one of the things that we did in the survey as well was ask about stories when you felt valued, or you felt like you were dismissed or devalued. So, people wrote lengthy, lengthy stories as part of this survey. And one of the things I did was just go through and analyze and categorize these stories into groups of behaviors that either made people feel valued, or feel like they weren’t valued.

So, I think what happens with women of color that’s different from other groups, even Caucasian women at work, is that when you go into a meeting room into the workplace, your first day of work, into a conference, there’s always… If you’re a underrepresented employee, you always have the tendency to think about, how many people in this room look like me? And any person of color, any woman would tell you the same thing, that when you go into a meeting room, you think, there are 15 people in this meeting room and only two other women, or there are 50 people here and only three people of color.

I think for women of color, you have two burdens that you’re thinking of in the back of your head, how many women are in the room? And also, how many people of color are in the room? So, unlike other populations, women of color carry these two burdens that impact how safe they feel to express their point of view, that affect how empowered they feel, how confident they feel to voice their opinions. And so, I think women of color carry a burden that other groups don’t necessarily carry with them into the workplace every day. Now, when it comes to feeling valued and belonging, the research that we did… So, one of the items that we asked was, “Do you feel valued by your organization? Do you feel safe by your organization?” And we did some regression analysis to find out which behaviors most strongly correlated with feeling valued.

So, which behaviors in organizations… And the survey had tons and tons of leader behaviors, which behaviors drive whether or not you feel valued? The single greatest driver, incredibly a strong correlation to feeling valued, was I’m asked for my opinion on issues that affect me. So, when we go back to the discussion that we had around the current diversity training not having an impact because it’s focused on beliefs, our point of view based on the research that we did over the summer was that, focus on very specific behaviors that everyone can take regardless of your beliefs, focus on very specific behaviors that we know from our research make people feel like they’re valued by the organization, and that they belong.

So, the strongest correlated behavior was asking others for their opinion or point of view on issues that affect them. There are also other items that are strongly correlated dealing with, I feel recognized for good work that I do. So, we have four or five behaviors that we teach during our diversity and inclusion training that are actionable regardless of beliefs, that every leader and every individual in an organization can take, they can develop routines, and regular behaviors to drive these feelings of value and inclusion in the workplace.

Rey:

I remember us talking about a story of how this could be applied on a practical level, that I think would help reinforce those behaviors, especially that you’re expecting related to leaders. Could you just explain just so we take it from a concept and give individuals an idea what some key next steps could be to help their leadership make those who are feeling that they’re not valued more valuable, or those who feel like they don’t belong like they do in fact belong?

Michelle DiTondo:

So, there are a couple of really very specific things you can make part of just your regular leadership routine. So, for example… And especially, keeping women of color in mind. If you’re a leader that has a regular staff meeting, or meetings where you’re brainstorming solutions to a problem, or initiatives to implement, oftentimes, the voices around the table that are the most confident, that are the most outgoing, or the most charismatic, tend to be the voices that are heard. All of us have been in those meetings where there was one person who always has a point of view on everything, and they’re comfortable sharing it, they have confidence. And so, oftentimes, they tend to be one of the few points of view that are heard.

So, if you’re a leader, making it a habit, before you finalize any decision, to just go around the table and make sure that every single person in that room has an opportunity or a space to give you their thoughts, or their point of view on the decision you’re about to make. Someone can always pass, but giving them the space to say, “We’re about to make this decision, I want to go around the table, and everyone tell me what you’re thinking,” gives everyone the opportunity to express their point of view, and gives them a safe space. That’s one thing that leaders can do to ensure that people on their team feel valued, because their point of view is being heard.

Rey:

Yeah, I think that’s a great point, and it reinforces something that Malcolm Gladwell said yesterday during the opening keynote when he shared the case study related to Teen Vogue, that it’s important to make individuals feel like they are included, and one way you’re able to do that is simply bringing them to the table to help to put the process of making decisions, and asking them what their point of view is. So, it’s interesting that you’re tied exactly to what Malcolm said the other day as well.

Now, something else I want to tie into this conversation, and then shortly, we’ll address a couple of other questions, then we’ll go into Q&A related to the audience, is when you first joined MGM Resorts as the CHRO, employee engagement and how employees felt was one of your top areas of focus. And one of the first steps you took to ensure that it stayed a top focus was to take the company through a massive HR transformation, moving it away from what you would say is a process focused company to a people focused company. And looking back at your career, I would say, this is probably one of the central aspects of your legacy at MGM. Why was it so important for you to move MGM in this direction from the very beginning of your time as the CHRO? And then, how did this help to foster a more inclusive culture?

Michelle DiTondo:

So, kind of first and foremost, I think, my time in American Express early on in my career really reinforced to me that HR leaders, or those that are engaged, if you’re in communications, with driving employee engagement, have and need a critical spot at the table. And so, that was my initial thinking going in, was that HR leaders are as critical to the business as the CFO, the COO. And so, going into the role with that perspective, on my second day, I had a meeting with our CEO, and Jim told me… The first thing he said was, “I want to focus on having one company with one culture.”

At the time, we had multiple business units which… Our business units are Bellagio, and MGM Grand, and Luxor, and Excalibur, and all of our properties, they were run almost completely independently like separate resorts, separate business units, Jim early on said, “One company, one culture, and I want to be performance driven that makes our high-performers feel valued, that we drive retention with our top performers.” And so, with that edict of what I was being charged with as a CHRO, I started to look at, what did I need to enable that over a period of time? And we started with looking at just process and efficiency in the organization. So, we started to centralize, we looked at new HR systems so that we could all work on the same platform.

We started to centralize functions that were more process oriented, things like payroll and compensation, employment, getting people hired into the organization. We started to do those first, because there was less emotion around those, and really they were those processes that people just wanted to work well. They didn’t have a lot of passion around how those things happened, as long as they worked well for them. The reason why we did that is because initially, I thought… We spent, as an HR group, about 75% of our time on process, and about 25% of our time on engagement, and I thought, if we really wanted to be focused on engagement and culture, we needed to improve how we performed 75% of our work, so that we could focus more time, resources, budget on the 25% that I really thought mattered to driving employee engagement, which in turn would drive guest and customer satisfaction.

So, that’s how we initially started to focus on that, and it was a several year journey of starting to think about, what could we do more efficiently? How do we centralize this? Because again, I was told, “One company, one culture.” And one thing that’s important for one company, one culture, was consistent messaging, consistent branding, consistent communication to employees across the entire organization regardless of where you worked, or what your role is.

Rey:

Yeah. So, a couple of things related to that, and we’re talking about fostering a culture of inclusion. You’re not able to foster one if you’re spending 75% of your time on process and not the people. I think that’s absolutely central to this, is when it comes to culture and involving culture, it has to be people-centered. So, that’s one takeaway as far as why it was so important for that HR transformation to take place.

And you talked about the importance of communications related to culture, which at SocialChorus, we entirely agree with and understand. And I remember that transformation and communications was part of that HR transformation.

Michelle DiTondo:

It was.

Rey:

And it was SocialChorus that helped to support that transformation and allowed us to centralize those communications. So, a question I have is… Especially understanding many of the audience are SocialChorus customers or prospects, what do you think the SocialChorus platform can do to help companies create that culture of inclusion?

Michelle DiTondo:

Well, I think for us, it was… Initially, we sought out SocialChorus because we wanted to have that consistent messaging across the organization. From an inclusion standpoint, our employee population was very diverse, but the greatest driver behind us seeking a solution like SocialChorus was that, out of our, at the time, 88,000 employees, 90% of our employees were hourly, and 75% of those hourly were part-time. And so, even if you’re in a manager role, when you’re working in hospitality, you aren’t sitting at a desk. And so, we needed to reach all of those employees without being able to go through a desktop, because they were out servicing our customers, they’re on the casino floor dealing Blackjack, serving drinks, cleaning rooms, checking people in.

And so, SocialChorus was a way for us to include all of those employees, whether you sat at a desk in our corporate offices, or you’re on the floor servicing customers, or your part-time and might only work a couple of days a week, we were able to reach all of those employees with the same communication at the same time. Again, being able to be a part of issues that affect you includes both knowing what’s happening as well as being able to give your point of view. SocialChorus allowed us to also get content from those who are on the floor. So, employees or leaders who were out working with our customers every day could also share content with us to let us know what was going on in the organization, that we might not be missing.

So, people were recognized that might not be recognized because their leader didn’t see what they did, their peer saw what they did and posted a story about it, or shared a story about them, that we could then share across the organization. So, being able to get communication and information in a timely way to that diverse population of employees, as well as being able to hear back from them, what they liked, what they wanted to hear more of, what they saw happening in the organization, was one of the reasons why we felt like a tool like SocialChorus was imperative to our employee engagement culture, and in the end, diversity inclusion initiatives.

Rey:

Exactly. So, including employees in the conversation, through the tool, making it a two way communication instead of just top-down. And then, you said something interesting as well, is recognizing the behaviors that you are encouraging among your leaders and your employees, which… There’s the aspect of DEI there, that following training, or based upon the values that your company has established, the SocialChorus tool can help reinforce those behaviors through all kind of mechanisms, including recognition. So, I love how you put that.

Now, I have one last question, then we’re going to turn to questions from the audience. So, if you have not submitted your question in the Q&A box, please go ahead and do so. But, Michelle, I have to say this, and this is one of the reasons why you’re one of my favorite people in the world, is that you’re really one of the big reasons why I’m now at SocialChorus, because you are one of the biggest proponents at MGM for us to purchase SocialChorus. And had you not been, I may, perhaps, probably would not have met the SocialChorus team. So, you’re the reason why I’m with SocialChorus today. Now tell me, what led MGM to choosing SocialChorus as that platform to help it transform its communications, and what impact did you see it have on the company?

Michelle DiTondo:

So, we had started… Because of all the things I mentioned, the challenges with communicating through essentially email or paper to that diverse employee population, was why we started to look for a tool. We ended up looking at a few vendors, there were a couple of other vendors in this space, and I think we ended up with SocialChorus because they were the best partners with us. We had some unique needs… And I’m sure every customer thinks that they have unique needs, but we felt like we had this unique employee population with unique needs that we needed to address, as well as being able to kind of both sharing stories about our culture, as well as urgent communications that needed to get to employees to help them manage their day.

So, SocialChorus was the most flexible, they were the best partners. They were responsive when we needed information for them, or we had requests to be able to adapt certain things, and so that’s why we chose SocialChorus. I think what happened after that was surprising to all of us. So, we spent most of our onboarding time developing a pipeline of content to share that we thought would be engaging, because we really thought, we need to get people on board right away. So, once we launched, the adaption, I thought, was really surprising.

And one thing that we learned was that, despite feedback that we heard that a lot of our hourly employees might not be technically savvy, they had smart phones, they were used to using social media tools like Facebook or Instagram, and so they understood the concept of being able to see content, use, share their own content, and then like or comment on content that was shared with them. And so, the adaption and the ability to communicate to them quickly was noticed and realized pretty fast.

Rey:

Great. Thanks, Michelle. Well, now let’s turn to some of the questions that we have received through the Q&A box. First question I see, this individual says, “The paper sounds interesting, our organization is doing bias training now, is there a way to get a copy of the paper?” So, Michelle, how could individuals who are following see the white paper?

Michelle DiTondo:

And actually, probably, the easiest way without navigating a website link is just… On my LinkedIn profile, it’s posted in the featured area of my LinkedIn profile, and is a PDF. So, you can go there directly and get it. My LinkedIn profile is Michelle (Bray) DiTondo.

Rey:

Right. Thanks, Michelle. Another question, this is from Emily, “How did you get your non-desk employees to adopt the mobile app? Do they have company issued phones, or did you rely on employees opting in?”

Michelle DiTondo:

We relied on employees opting in, and one of the things that we had a practice of… We had cafeterias on every property, and so we would hold events whenever we launched anything, whether it was open enrollment for benefits, or the launch of our SocialChorus app, which we called LEO. So, when we launched LEO, we held events in employee dining rooms, and we had contests. So, we did things like, if you download the app, you’re entered into a contest to win two Golden Knights tickets. The NHL was very new in Las Vegas, and so there were some drivers like that that encouraged employees to download the app. So, we did some communication engagement initiatives, as well as head contests for them to opt in. And it was on their own personal devices.

Rey:

Yeah. Personal devices, it wasn’t mandatory. And if I can add a couple of things as well is, because we recognized those frontline employees were really the employees that embodied the brand of MGM, we prioritized the entire experience really around them. And that came to content, we’ve pulled our employees ahead of time making sure that we had a strong sense of what they wanted in the app, and the type of content that would really resonate with them. And I think that was a key aspect of making sure that they understood that this was an investment in them, as well as the entire employees, and it provided that incentive for them to adopt the mobile app, because they understood that this truly was for them, and it was great value to them as well. Thanks Emily. Another question from Cheryl, “What actionable things can leaders do to make this a lasting and authentic change?”

Michelle DiTondo:

This is similar to what we did at MGM Resorts when we drove this culture change was, we identified the behaviors that we wanted leaders to execute upon pretty regularly, so things like… In the research that we did, the behavior is, ask others for their point of view. There were different behaviors that we identified as our competencies at MGM Resorts, but we put those behaviors in everything that we did with leaders, so there was a lot of clarity. First, we train them, so we said, “Here are your expectations as a leader, and what we expect you to do.” For MGM, there were some behaviors that were essentially, treat our employees like you treat our guests. So, we had those behaviors, but then they became part of the performance review, so people were given regular feedback around how they perform those behaviors.

And for senior leaders, performing those behaviors became part of our bonus process, because it was part of our performance review, and so it ended up impacting your reward over the course of the year, so there was accountability. And whether or not you can make it part of a compensation system, or performance review, I think senior need to demonstrate the behaviors and need to be part of it. They need to hold people accountable for, and reward those who perform the behaviors regularly, and hold those accountable who work against those behaviors in the organization. So, role modeling and accountability are keys to any type of culture transformation, or diversity inclusion initiative.

Rey:

Right. Thanks, Michelle. Here’s a question from Alex. Alex says, “When you think about the benefits of DEI in any organization, have you considered how those efforts impact the bottom line, or are tied to external marketing efforts?”

Michelle DiTondo:

From 1991, I’m a huge fan of the research that was done in the early ’90s at Harvard Business School around the service profit chain, and so I think it still resonates today in that, if employees feel like they’re valued and important, they make your guests feel like they’re valued and important, or they put in discretionary effort into their jobs. So, the way that I characterize this at MGM Resorts was, if you walked up to a security officer at any of our properties and ask for directions to a restaurant, a security officer could say, “Walk down that hallway and turn left,” and absolutely be performing their job. They fulfilled their obligation, that’s part of their job description, assist customers, be polite, “It’s down that hallway and turn to the left.”

Discretionary effort from that same security officer, if they feel valued, and they feel like they belong and they’re important to the organization, that security officer might say, “It’s an incredible restaurant, are you celebrating something tonight?” If they can, “Let me walk you there.” And while they’re walking someone there, talk about if it’s their first time at that property, or their first time in Las Vegas, that type of behavior makes the customer or the guest feel like they’re welcomed and they’re valued. And in the end, that drives increased purchasing, loyalty, and revenue. That applies also to non-guest facing jobs, so doing more than what’s expected is a result of feeling valued.

Rey:

Exactly. And related to external marketing, because I was part of this effort as well in the space of DEI for MGM is that, it was important to demonstrate to our customers that we prioritize DEI. So, it wasn’t just something that we were checking off the box, but it was something that was embedded throughout the entire company in order for them to feel valued. That they would see in our marketing efforts individuals that looked like them, or were from the same background as them as well. So, that’s a key thing too, is being able to articulate that there truly is a bottom line. At the end of the day, it’s the right thing to do. However, I think customers are expecting it, and I think investors are expecting it as well. Another question, this is-

Michelle DiTondo:

Absolutely agree.

Rey:

Yeah. This is from Kelly, “Is there a research that you know of surrounding inclusion and opinions in the transgender, women of color, or gender nonconforming?”

Michelle DiTondo:

Not off the top of my head, I don’t know of a research right now that I could refer you to. I do think that it’s a super interesting topic to think of, because when you think of the traditional bias training that’s happening in organizations, and I talked about the burden that women of color or people of color have when walking into the workplace, and how that impacts how valued you feel, or how safe you feel in an organization, I think initially, the biases are often based on outward appearances. So, what you look like drives what people think about you.

So, one reason why I think LGBTQ employees are underrepresented in the workplace, and definitely, they’re impacted by how valued they feel based on how their coworkers treat them… However, being LGBTQ isn’t often visible, initially, when you first see someone, it’s something that you discover as you get to know them. So, I do think it’s super interesting to think about how once that diversity, or their gender affiliation, or sexual orientation is discovered, how that might change how their coworkers treat them. I think that would be a separate body of research, but would be really interesting to explore and to think through.

Rey:

Agreed. Just a few additional questions. And I think this next one is important because if we’re fostering a culture of inclusion, and we want to see success there, then we have to have metrics that demonstrate whether we’re going the right path. So, I love this question, “Do you use KPIs to measure diversity, inclusion, and belonging? And if so, which ones?”

Michelle DiTondo:

I think that a lot of companies do employee surveys. I think the value out of the public survey that we did was that there was no fear of anonymity, or of retaliation for being candid about your feedback. So, there might be some type of bias when people are completing an internal survey, but I do think that doing that same analysis… Most surveys have items around, do you feel valued in the organization? Do you feel safe to express your point of view? These are common items that are in any employee engagement survey. I think doing some analysis though across ethnicities and gender, I think is where you’ll find out if there are differences in how people feel in the organization based on their representation. So, it’s doing that-

Rey:

[crosstalk 00:42:19].

Michelle DiTondo:

… added analysis if you already have an employee survey.

Rey:

Yeah, exactly. Don asks, “How did you get employees not at their desks to share their stories?” So, I’m guessing through user-submitted content, what was the process for that?

Michelle DiTondo:

Well, I mean, we did have an approval process built in because we had so many employees, and so they would submit a story through the SocialChorus app, that the post had to be approved by the communication team. But people were able to… Just like any other social media app, they were able to take a picture, put a story, and then submit it to be posted. And the team that Rey led was responsible for reviewing those as quickly as possible to be able to post them. Given our diverse… We had thousands and thousands of employees, really, the only thing that they were screening for was anything that was inappropriate to share at work, but otherwise, most stories were shared. And people could do that on their smartphone. We also had employee kiosks in the back of the house, if someone didn’t have a phone, but that was such a small percentage that most shared through their phone.

Rey:

And I remember that we would regularly put call to actions to employees to share different things. And I remember, related to our service behaviors that we were expecting all employees to do, we would tell managers and employees, “If you see an employee going above and beyond to demonstrate those behaviors, take a picture and share the story related to it.” And what that did, it drove pride within our employees, it made employees feel recognized, then it also tied to our business priorities by, again, reinforcing those behaviors and those things that we were really looking for our employees to do in order to deliver on the brand of the company.

And here’s one last question, and then let’s wrap up, this is a really good one, and I think this is a great way to summarize the conversation today. “What is the next step for a company after bias training?” And I’ll add a little bit to this, what would you consider, or what would be your one piece of advice to those companies who recognize that they have to do more, that they have to go beyond just training?

Michelle DiTondo:

So, next step after bias training, I think, you need to focus on leader behaviors, starting with the people who feel safest in the organization, the people who feel most empowered to step in when unfair things happen, the people who feel the most confident in sharing their point of view. Oftentimes, those tend to be senior level Caucasian men in the organization. And statistically, through our research, they feel much more confident, much more safe in the organization. And so, you need to start with giving them specific behaviors that they should execute upon on a regular basis, implement those behaviors, train people on them, talk about success stories when those behaviors are executed upon, and how they make people feel, that gives some type of reward for following through on those behaviors.

But identify those behaviors, talk about them frequently, share stories of success, that’s when real change is going to happen in the organization. And you could do that after bias training, which increase awareness, focus on specific behaviors.

Rey:

Great. Well, thank you, Michelle for joining us today, we are at time. I appreciate you taking the time to share all these insights. I think you have given many individuals some key next steps on how they can cultivate inclusion within their company. I would also thank everyone who joined in the audience and submitted questions, we appreciate your engagement, this has been a wonderful conversation. Anything you would like to leave with us, Michelle?

Michelle DiTondo:

No. I’m so appreciative to talk about this. I know for those people in the audience that are driving culture change and employee engagement, it’s often tough to do… A story, when I started with MGM Resorts, and I always tell this story, a person on my first day said, “Hey, congratulations on your new role as CHRO.” I said, “Thank you so much.” He said, “That job is going to be like dragging a dead horse through mud.” And I’ve told that story so often because culture change and employee engagement is hard work, but it’s so incredibly rewarding at the end that I wouldn’t have changed the 15 years of MGM Resorts and the nine years as CHRO for anything in the world, because it was so rewarding.

Rey:

Well, thank you, Michelle. And I think others would agree that the time at MGM and the product has been an amazing story for MGM. So, thanks for sharing that with us today. We are now going to toss the stage back over to Rachel to discuss the next steps for today’s conversation. Thank you again everyone for joining us today.

 

Expand Transcript

Video Transcript

Rey:

Thank you, Rachel, and hello everyone, it’s great to have you all here for another exciting session. I’m so delighted to be joined here today with one of my favorite people in the world, Michelle DiTondo. Michelle is principal consultant for Avion Consulting, and former chief human resources officer for MGM Resorts. Now, MGM is a global entertainment brand that is widely recognized for its DEI efforts within their company and throughout the community. Michelle is known for leading MGM’s culture transformation and helping the company pull out some pretty difficult times. Her work in DEI has continued beyond MGM as she now helps other companies foster cultures of inclusion. Thank you, Michelle, for joining us today, it’s always great to see you.

Michelle DiTondo:

Thank you so much for having me, Rey, I’m excited to talk about one of my favorite topics today.

Rey:

Yes. Now, before we get into the questions that I’ve prepared, I want to encourage everyone and the audience to join in on this fireside chat. If you have a question, go ahead and put it in the Q&A box on the right hand side of your screen. Let’s make this a conversation that we’re all part of. Now, Michelle, before we talk about the recent study you’ve done on DEI in the workplace, I want to have others have a chance to understand your career journey. Now, from helping to lead MGM out of the 2008 recession, to supporting MGM employees following that tragic Las Vegas mass shooting, you have really helped MGM navigate some difficult times. And what I want to know is, one, tell us a little bit more about your professional experience, and then how has that helped you understand culture?

Michelle DiTondo:

Sure. So, I’m fortunate enough to have had a pretty diverse career path, right out of college, I jumped right into human resources and started my career working for the federal government. So, learned a lot about culture in that first role. I was there for three or so years before I went to financial services, and was in financial services for a number of years, starting with American Express. At the time in the early to mid ’90s, American Express was really known as a trailblazer diversity and inclusion initiative. So, I was at American Express and met really my first mentor of my career, followed her to another financial services organization.

And after that, when I finished graduate school, I went into consulting. While I was working in consulting, I had the benefit of an incredible learning opportunity where I worked across multiple industries with big Fortune 100 Companies globally. After that was when I got into gaming and hospitality joining Caesars Entertainment, and then eventually, MGM Resorts where I spent the last 15 years before going back into consulting, which I truly love.

One of the things that I have gathered from working from industries, from the federal government, to financial services, to hospitality is, the one thing that they all have in common is that regardless of your role in an organization… So, if you’re the head of investment banking, or if you’re a retail employee, or if you’re a housekeeper in a mega resort, every single person, regardless of industry and role, wants to feel important to their organization. And that was one of the things that I’ve always taken with me throughout my career, and that I tried to put into place while at MGM Resorts.

Rey:

Right. Thank you. Now, MGM is known for diversity today, but that hasn’t always been the case for the gaming industry. So, what I want to know is, as an Asian-American woman who has navigated a largely male dominated industry, what has your personal DEI journey been like?

Michelle DiTondo:

Well, I mentioned my first and possibly my most significant mentor of my career was the head of human resources for the Travelers Cheque group at American Express, which is where I started as a human resources generalist. [Althea Dubrul 00:04:43] was a black female in a very senior level role at American Express, and this was in Salt Lake City. So, Salt Lake City is over 95% Caucasian. And at the time, when I was working in the federal government, when American Express had this position open, Althea told her team, “We will fill this role with a minority.” And so, they embarked on their search to find a minority person of color HR generalist, and mind you, this is probably 1994-ish, to fill that role. I was fortunate enough to have heard about the role, applied, and started working for Althea.

She was my most significant mentor because she stretched me in a way that I’d never been stretched even to this day. She made me uncomfortable every single day in that role. One of the things that I remember, a story about her was… 26 year old HR generalist, and she sent me in her place. She was a senior vice president, head of human resources for one of the divisions, sent me to New York City in her place with all the other heads of human resources in American Express… So the head of HR in the card group, the head of HR in the travelers group. So, I go to this meeting as an HR generalist and terrified that I was going to make her look bad. And the one thing that she said to me as I was preparing to present for our group in this meeting was that, “Everyone in that room has more experience than you, no one in that room is smarter than you.”

And that’s something that I’ve always taken with me as I’ve come across other situations where I felt uncomfortable, or stressed, or question whether or not I was capable of doing a role. That’s one thing… I think the confidence that I built working for her served me well in senior leader roles. The other thing, I think, that served me well is working for five years in consulting before going into the hospitality and gaming industry. Those years taught me a lot about how to influence others who don’t directly report to you.

So, as a consultant, I worked with a lot of senior leaders in really well-established Fortune 100 organizations, and as a fairly young and emerging professional, I had to figure out how to influence people who were more senior than me, who were often Caucasian men in positions of power. But I had to develop those influence skills, which also served me well when I got into gaming and hospitality, and as I progressed through more and more senior level roles the more I found myself being either the only person of color, or the only female, or one of the few in a room. So, confidence and the ability to influence others were things I think along my journey that really served me well as I moved into the C-level role.

Rey:

Yeah. You touched on something there that representation matters. And often, representation is the product of having executive sponsor, someone who could serve as your ally, and help to open up those doors that might often be a challenge to be opened, because they believe in what you’ve had. And I could speak to that myself, I’ve seen that time and time again having met individuals, including you, Michelle, who have served that executive sponsorship role, so just hugely important, and how companies can find ways to cultivate that within their organization, I think supports that culture of inclusion.

Michelle DiTondo:

Absolutely.

Rey:

Yes. Something I want to dive into as well is, you recently published a white paper based on the idea of defining moments… Which I hope you’ll go into a little bit more today. And this was also based on a survey that you had conducted about DEI in the workplace. Now, I will tell you that there was a statement at the beginning of that white paper that kind of caught me off guard that it might strike up some debate. And you say in that white paper that the investment in diversity training isn’t paying off. So, please explain to us what you mean by that.

Michelle DiTondo:

Well, there were a couple of things, I think, that drove me to dive deeper into the current issue of diversity inclusion, and where we find ourselves today, so I think multiple things intersected. Moving out of that C-level role, and having some space to really think about what I wanted to learn, and what I wanted to dive deep into, combined with the pandemic giving me all of this time… So, typically, I think, consulting would be on the road most of the time and working with clients, and especially for the first half of the pandemic, we had some time to really develop content, I had time to do some research. I launched a public survey that asked questions about what the workplace is like today.

And I think right around that time, I think a lot of our clients were trying to deal with the issue of diversity and inclusion, and the tensions around discussions around race due to George Floyd being killed, and so I think it was just a current topic and multiple things intersected that really drove me to want to learn more about where we are today with diversity and inclusion. So, launched a survey, over 400 people across all industries participated. And one of the key findings that I kind of had a feeling this would be one of the key findings, but it was much more pronounced than I thought it would be, was that out of all the participants across all genders, across all ethnicities, only 45% of the participants felt like their company’s diversity training had a positive impact on them, or had a positive impact on the workplace.

For me, that was surprising because of how much energy, and how much time and resources, and actually money we put towards diversity training. So, that was kind of the foundation for the research that followed that, which was, if our current diversity training isn’t working, what is working? And that was the focus of the white paper. So, the current diversity training… And this is what I experienced throughout my career, many organization focus on bias training.

And while bias training is an important component, think about a bias as a belief. All of us have developed beliefs about everything in our lives throughout the course of years and years, and in my case, decades and decades and decades of experience of our families, of school, where we lived, all of those things create our beliefs, which sometimes are biases that impact the way that we perceive others, or the way that we treat others.

I think that expecting a full day, a two day, a three day training, maybe sometimes it’s a couple of hours, expecting that training… Which might make you more aware of your bias, expecting a training like that to change years and years and years of beliefs is pretty impossible. I’ve likened it to… We have a couple of psychologists in our firm and we’ve talked a lot about, how do you change, from a psychology standpoint, beliefs that people have about themselves, or other things? So, fear of heights, how do you change that? You just don’t have a two hour session and say, “Stop being afraid of heights.” You do a number of different actions, you execute on behaviors over a period of time, to end up changing that belief. So, I feel like while bias training can be valuable, I don’t think that bias training alone is making a difference in the board place when it comes to diversity and inclusion.

Rey:

Yeah. I think that’s a fair point. But it’s surprising because it’s something that, I think, most companies have, that diversity training once an employee joins, and at times, I think it might be just companies checking the box, right? They don’t really think through, what are the next steps beyond that? And I think some of the results in your survey shows that much more needs to take place. And some of these results I found to be pretty disheartening, and I just wanted to share this with the group. In your survey, you found that only 43% of women of color felt like they were valued, versus more than 75% of Caucasian women and men. So, that’s one.

And then, there’s another one that really jumped out, that when you surveyed individuals about whether they felt like they belonged, only 50% of women of color felt like that was the case, versus more than 76% for Caucasian women and men. And I would say that looking at those numbers, that would suggest much more needs to happen. And it’s disheartening to see that there’s such an issue when it comes to this related to women of color at work. So, what are some of your thoughts about that?

Michelle DiTondo:

Yeah. So, I think this was the gap in that result, was the thing that I found most surprising in the research that we did. And you use the word disheartening, I think also kind of shocking, that there was that big of a difference for women of color in organizations. So, here’s my perception. And one of the things that we did in the survey as well was ask about stories when you felt valued, or you felt like you were dismissed or devalued. So, people wrote lengthy, lengthy stories as part of this survey. And one of the things I did was just go through and analyze and categorize these stories into groups of behaviors that either made people feel valued, or feel like they weren’t valued.

So, I think what happens with women of color that’s different from other groups, even Caucasian women at work, is that when you go into a meeting room into the workplace, your first day of work, into a conference, there’s always… If you’re a underrepresented employee, you always have the tendency to think about, how many people in this room look like me? And any person of color, any woman would tell you the same thing, that when you go into a meeting room, you think, there are 15 people in this meeting room and only two other women, or there are 50 people here and only three people of color.

I think for women of color, you have two burdens that you’re thinking of in the back of your head, how many women are in the room? And also, how many people of color are in the room? So, unlike other populations, women of color carry these two burdens that impact how safe they feel to express their point of view, that affect how empowered they feel, how confident they feel to voice their opinions. And so, I think women of color carry a burden that other groups don’t necessarily carry with them into the workplace every day. Now, when it comes to feeling valued and belonging, the research that we did… So, one of the items that we asked was, “Do you feel valued by your organization? Do you feel safe by your organization?” And we did some regression analysis to find out which behaviors most strongly correlated with feeling valued.

So, which behaviors in organizations… And the survey had tons and tons of leader behaviors, which behaviors drive whether or not you feel valued? The single greatest driver, incredibly a strong correlation to feeling valued, was I’m asked for my opinion on issues that affect me. So, when we go back to the discussion that we had around the current diversity training not having an impact because it’s focused on beliefs, our point of view based on the research that we did over the summer was that, focus on very specific behaviors that everyone can take regardless of your beliefs, focus on very specific behaviors that we know from our research make people feel like they’re valued by the organization, and that they belong.

So, the strongest correlated behavior was asking others for their opinion or point of view on issues that affect them. There are also other items that are strongly correlated dealing with, I feel recognized for good work that I do. So, we have four or five behaviors that we teach during our diversity and inclusion training that are actionable regardless of beliefs, that every leader and every individual in an organization can take, they can develop routines, and regular behaviors to drive these feelings of value and inclusion in the workplace.

Rey:

I remember us talking about a story of how this could be applied on a practical level, that I think would help reinforce those behaviors, especially that you’re expecting related to leaders. Could you just explain just so we take it from a concept and give individuals an idea what some key next steps could be to help their leadership make those who are feeling that they’re not valued more valuable, or those who feel like they don’t belong like they do in fact belong?

Michelle DiTondo:

So, there are a couple of really very specific things you can make part of just your regular leadership routine. So, for example… And especially, keeping women of color in mind. If you’re a leader that has a regular staff meeting, or meetings where you’re brainstorming solutions to a problem, or initiatives to implement, oftentimes, the voices around the table that are the most confident, that are the most outgoing, or the most charismatic, tend to be the voices that are heard. All of us have been in those meetings where there was one person who always has a point of view on everything, and they’re comfortable sharing it, they have confidence. And so, oftentimes, they tend to be one of the few points of view that are heard.

So, if you’re a leader, making it a habit, before you finalize any decision, to just go around the table and make sure that every single person in that room has an opportunity or a space to give you their thoughts, or their point of view on the decision you’re about to make. Someone can always pass, but giving them the space to say, “We’re about to make this decision, I want to go around the table, and everyone tell me what you’re thinking,” gives everyone the opportunity to express their point of view, and gives them a safe space. That’s one thing that leaders can do to ensure that people on their team feel valued, because their point of view is being heard.

Rey:

Yeah, I think that’s a great point, and it reinforces something that Malcolm Gladwell said yesterday during the opening keynote when he shared the case study related to Teen Vogue, that it’s important to make individuals feel like they are included, and one way you’re able to do that is simply bringing them to the table to help to put the process of making decisions, and asking them what their point of view is. So, it’s interesting that you’re tied exactly to what Malcolm said the other day as well.

Now, something else I want to tie into this conversation, and then shortly, we’ll address a couple of other questions, then we’ll go into Q&A related to the audience, is when you first joined MGM Resorts as the CHRO, employee engagement and how employees felt was one of your top areas of focus. And one of the first steps you took to ensure that it stayed a top focus was to take the company through a massive HR transformation, moving it away from what you would say is a process focused company to a people focused company. And looking back at your career, I would say, this is probably one of the central aspects of your legacy at MGM. Why was it so important for you to move MGM in this direction from the very beginning of your time as the CHRO? And then, how did this help to foster a more inclusive culture?

Michelle DiTondo:

So, kind of first and foremost, I think, my time in American Express early on in my career really reinforced to me that HR leaders, or those that are engaged, if you’re in communications, with driving employee engagement, have and need a critical spot at the table. And so, that was my initial thinking going in, was that HR leaders are as critical to the business as the CFO, the COO. And so, going into the role with that perspective, on my second day, I had a meeting with our CEO, and Jim told me… The first thing he said was, “I want to focus on having one company with one culture.”

At the time, we had multiple business units which… Our business units are Bellagio, and MGM Grand, and Luxor, and Excalibur, and all of our properties, they were run almost completely independently like separate resorts, separate business units, Jim early on said, “One company, one culture, and I want to be performance driven that makes our high-performers feel valued, that we drive retention with our top performers.” And so, with that edict of what I was being charged with as a CHRO, I started to look at, what did I need to enable that over a period of time? And we started with looking at just process and efficiency in the organization. So, we started to centralize, we looked at new HR systems so that we could all work on the same platform.

We started to centralize functions that were more process oriented, things like payroll and compensation, employment, getting people hired into the organization. We started to do those first, because there was less emotion around those, and really they were those processes that people just wanted to work well. They didn’t have a lot of passion around how those things happened, as long as they worked well for them. The reason why we did that is because initially, I thought… We spent, as an HR group, about 75% of our time on process, and about 25% of our time on engagement, and I thought, if we really wanted to be focused on engagement and culture, we needed to improve how we performed 75% of our work, so that we could focus more time, resources, budget on the 25% that I really thought mattered to driving employee engagement, which in turn would drive guest and customer satisfaction.

So, that’s how we initially started to focus on that, and it was a several year journey of starting to think about, what could we do more efficiently? How do we centralize this? Because again, I was told, “One company, one culture.” And one thing that’s important for one company, one culture, was consistent messaging, consistent branding, consistent communication to employees across the entire organization regardless of where you worked, or what your role is.

Rey:

Yeah. So, a couple of things related to that, and we’re talking about fostering a culture of inclusion. You’re not able to foster one if you’re spending 75% of your time on process and not the people. I think that’s absolutely central to this, is when it comes to culture and involving culture, it has to be people-centered. So, that’s one takeaway as far as why it was so important for that HR transformation to take place.

And you talked about the importance of communications related to culture, which at SocialChorus, we entirely agree with and understand. And I remember that transformation and communications was part of that HR transformation.

Michelle DiTondo:

It was.

Rey:

And it was SocialChorus that helped to support that transformation and allowed us to centralize those communications. So, a question I have is… Especially understanding many of the audience are SocialChorus customers or prospects, what do you think the SocialChorus platform can do to help companies create that culture of inclusion?

Michelle DiTondo:

Well, I think for us, it was… Initially, we sought out SocialChorus because we wanted to have that consistent messaging across the organization. From an inclusion standpoint, our employee population was very diverse, but the greatest driver behind us seeking a solution like SocialChorus was that, out of our, at the time, 88,000 employees, 90% of our employees were hourly, and 75% of those hourly were part-time. And so, even if you’re in a manager role, when you’re working in hospitality, you aren’t sitting at a desk. And so, we needed to reach all of those employees without being able to go through a desktop, because they were out servicing our customers, they’re on the casino floor dealing Blackjack, serving drinks, cleaning rooms, checking people in.

And so, SocialChorus was a way for us to include all of those employees, whether you sat at a desk in our corporate offices, or you’re on the floor servicing customers, or your part-time and might only work a couple of days a week, we were able to reach all of those employees with the same communication at the same time. Again, being able to be a part of issues that affect you includes both knowing what’s happening as well as being able to give your point of view. SocialChorus allowed us to also get content from those who are on the floor. So, employees or leaders who were out working with our customers every day could also share content with us to let us know what was going on in the organization, that we might not be missing.

So, people were recognized that might not be recognized because their leader didn’t see what they did, their peer saw what they did and posted a story about it, or shared a story about them, that we could then share across the organization. So, being able to get communication and information in a timely way to that diverse population of employees, as well as being able to hear back from them, what they liked, what they wanted to hear more of, what they saw happening in the organization, was one of the reasons why we felt like a tool like SocialChorus was imperative to our employee engagement culture, and in the end, diversity inclusion initiatives.

Rey:

Exactly. So, including employees in the conversation, through the tool, making it a two way communication instead of just top-down. And then, you said something interesting as well, is recognizing the behaviors that you are encouraging among your leaders and your employees, which… There’s the aspect of DEI there, that following training, or based upon the values that your company has established, the SocialChorus tool can help reinforce those behaviors through all kind of mechanisms, including recognition. So, I love how you put that.

Now, I have one last question, then we’re going to turn to questions from the audience. So, if you have not submitted your question in the Q&A box, please go ahead and do so. But, Michelle, I have to say this, and this is one of the reasons why you’re one of my favorite people in the world, is that you’re really one of the big reasons why I’m now at SocialChorus, because you are one of the biggest proponents at MGM for us to purchase SocialChorus. And had you not been, I may, perhaps, probably would not have met the SocialChorus team. So, you’re the reason why I’m with SocialChorus today. Now tell me, what led MGM to choosing SocialChorus as that platform to help it transform its communications, and what impact did you see it have on the company?

Michelle DiTondo:

So, we had started… Because of all the things I mentioned, the challenges with communicating through essentially email or paper to that diverse employee population, was why we started to look for a tool. We ended up looking at a few vendors, there were a couple of other vendors in this space, and I think we ended up with SocialChorus because they were the best partners with us. We had some unique needs… And I’m sure every customer thinks that they have unique needs, but we felt like we had this unique employee population with unique needs that we needed to address, as well as being able to kind of both sharing stories about our culture, as well as urgent communications that needed to get to employees to help them manage their day.

So, SocialChorus was the most flexible, they were the best partners. They were responsive when we needed information for them, or we had requests to be able to adapt certain things, and so that’s why we chose SocialChorus. I think what happened after that was surprising to all of us. So, we spent most of our onboarding time developing a pipeline of content to share that we thought would be engaging, because we really thought, we need to get people on board right away. So, once we launched, the adaption, I thought, was really surprising.

And one thing that we learned was that, despite feedback that we heard that a lot of our hourly employees might not be technically savvy, they had smart phones, they were used to using social media tools like Facebook or Instagram, and so they understood the concept of being able to see content, use, share their own content, and then like or comment on content that was shared with them. And so, the adaption and the ability to communicate to them quickly was noticed and realized pretty fast.

Rey:

Great. Thanks, Michelle. Well, now let’s turn to some of the questions that we have received through the Q&A box. First question I see, this individual says, “The paper sounds interesting, our organization is doing bias training now, is there a way to get a copy of the paper?” So, Michelle, how could individuals who are following see the white paper?

Michelle DiTondo:

And actually, probably, the easiest way without navigating a website link is just… On my LinkedIn profile, it’s posted in the featured area of my LinkedIn profile, and is a PDF. So, you can go there directly and get it. My LinkedIn profile is Michelle (Bray) DiTondo.

Rey:

Right. Thanks, Michelle. Another question, this is from Emily, “How did you get your non-desk employees to adopt the mobile app? Do they have company issued phones, or did you rely on employees opting in?”

Michelle DiTondo:

We relied on employees opting in, and one of the things that we had a practice of… We had cafeterias on every property, and so we would hold events whenever we launched anything, whether it was open enrollment for benefits, or the launch of our SocialChorus app, which we called LEO. So, when we launched LEO, we held events in employee dining rooms, and we had contests. So, we did things like, if you download the app, you’re entered into a contest to win two Golden Knights tickets. The NHL was very new in Las Vegas, and so there were some drivers like that that encouraged employees to download the app. So, we did some communication engagement initiatives, as well as head contests for them to opt in. And it was on their own personal devices.

Rey:

Yeah. Personal devices, it wasn’t mandatory. And if I can add a couple of things as well is, because we recognized those frontline employees were really the employees that embodied the brand of MGM, we prioritized the entire experience really around them. And that came to content, we’ve pulled our employees ahead of time making sure that we had a strong sense of what they wanted in the app, and the type of content that would really resonate with them. And I think that was a key aspect of making sure that they understood that this was an investment in them, as well as the entire employees, and it provided that incentive for them to adopt the mobile app, because they understood that this truly was for them, and it was great value to them as well. Thanks Emily. Another question from Cheryl, “What actionable things can leaders do to make this a lasting and authentic change?”

Michelle DiTondo:

This is similar to what we did at MGM Resorts when we drove this culture change was, we identified the behaviors that we wanted leaders to execute upon pretty regularly, so things like… In the research that we did, the behavior is, ask others for their point of view. There were different behaviors that we identified as our competencies at MGM Resorts, but we put those behaviors in everything that we did with leaders, so there was a lot of clarity. First, we train them, so we said, “Here are your expectations as a leader, and what we expect you to do.” For MGM, there were some behaviors that were essentially, treat our employees like you treat our guests. So, we had those behaviors, but then they became part of the performance review, so people were given regular feedback around how they perform those behaviors.

And for senior leaders, performing those behaviors became part of our bonus process, because it was part of our performance review, and so it ended up impacting your reward over the course of the year, so there was accountability. And whether or not you can make it part of a compensation system, or performance review, I think senior need to demonstrate the behaviors and need to be part of it. They need to hold people accountable for, and reward those who perform the behaviors regularly, and hold those accountable who work against those behaviors in the organization. So, role modeling and accountability are keys to any type of culture transformation, or diversity inclusion initiative.

Rey:

Right. Thanks, Michelle. Here’s a question from Alex. Alex says, “When you think about the benefits of DEI in any organization, have you considered how those efforts impact the bottom line, or are tied to external marketing efforts?”

Michelle DiTondo:

From 1991, I’m a huge fan of the research that was done in the early ’90s at Harvard Business School around the service profit chain, and so I think it still resonates today in that, if employees feel like they’re valued and important, they make your guests feel like they’re valued and important, or they put in discretionary effort into their jobs. So, the way that I characterize this at MGM Resorts was, if you walked up to a security officer at any of our properties and ask for directions to a restaurant, a security officer could say, “Walk down that hallway and turn left,” and absolutely be performing their job. They fulfilled their obligation, that’s part of their job description, assist customers, be polite, “It’s down that hallway and turn to the left.”

Discretionary effort from that same security officer, if they feel valued, and they feel like they belong and they’re important to the organization, that security officer might say, “It’s an incredible restaurant, are you celebrating something tonight?” If they can, “Let me walk you there.” And while they’re walking someone there, talk about if it’s their first time at that property, or their first time in Las Vegas, that type of behavior makes the customer or the guest feel like they’re welcomed and they’re valued. And in the end, that drives increased purchasing, loyalty, and revenue. That applies also to non-guest facing jobs, so doing more than what’s expected is a result of feeling valued.

Rey:

Exactly. And related to external marketing, because I was part of this effort as well in the space of DEI for MGM is that, it was important to demonstrate to our customers that we prioritize DEI. So, it wasn’t just something that we were checking off the box, but it was something that was embedded throughout the entire company in order for them to feel valued. That they would see in our marketing efforts individuals that looked like them, or were from the same background as them as well. So, that’s a key thing too, is being able to articulate that there truly is a bottom line. At the end of the day, it’s the right thing to do. However, I think customers are expecting it, and I think investors are expecting it as well. Another question, this is-

Michelle DiTondo:

Absolutely agree.

Rey:

Yeah. This is from Kelly, “Is there a research that you know of surrounding inclusion and opinions in the transgender, women of color, or gender nonconforming?”

Michelle DiTondo:

Not off the top of my head, I don’t know of a research right now that I could refer you to. I do think that it’s a super interesting topic to think of, because when you think of the traditional bias training that’s happening in organizations, and I talked about the burden that women of color or people of color have when walking into the workplace, and how that impacts how valued you feel, or how safe you feel in an organization, I think initially, the biases are often based on outward appearances. So, what you look like drives what people think about you.

So, one reason why I think LGBTQ employees are underrepresented in the workplace, and definitely, they’re impacted by how valued they feel based on how their coworkers treat them… However, being LGBTQ isn’t often visible, initially, when you first see someone, it’s something that you discover as you get to know them. So, I do think it’s super interesting to think about how once that diversity, or their gender affiliation, or sexual orientation is discovered, how that might change how their coworkers treat them. I think that would be a separate body of research, but would be really interesting to explore and to think through.

Rey:

Agreed. Just a few additional questions. And I think this next one is important because if we’re fostering a culture of inclusion, and we want to see success there, then we have to have metrics that demonstrate whether we’re going the right path. So, I love this question, “Do you use KPIs to measure diversity, inclusion, and belonging? And if so, which ones?”

Michelle DiTondo:

I think that a lot of companies do employee surveys. I think the value out of the public survey that we did was that there was no fear of anonymity, or of retaliation for being candid about your feedback. So, there might be some type of bias when people are completing an internal survey, but I do think that doing that same analysis… Most surveys have items around, do you feel valued in the organization? Do you feel safe to express your point of view? These are common items that are in any employee engagement survey. I think doing some analysis though across ethnicities and gender, I think is where you’ll find out if there are differences in how people feel in the organization based on their representation. So, it’s doing that-

Rey:

[crosstalk 00:42:19].

Michelle DiTondo:

… added analysis if you already have an employee survey.

Rey:

Yeah, exactly. Don asks, “How did you get employees not at their desks to share their stories?” So, I’m guessing through user-submitted content, what was the process for that?

Michelle DiTondo:

Well, I mean, we did have an approval process built in because we had so many employees, and so they would submit a story through the SocialChorus app, that the post had to be approved by the communication team. But people were able to… Just like any other social media app, they were able to take a picture, put a story, and then submit it to be posted. And the team that Rey led was responsible for reviewing those as quickly as possible to be able to post them. Given our diverse… We had thousands and thousands of employees, really, the only thing that they were screening for was anything that was inappropriate to share at work, but otherwise, most stories were shared. And people could do that on their smartphone. We also had employee kiosks in the back of the house, if someone didn’t have a phone, but that was such a small percentage that most shared through their phone.

Rey:

And I remember that we would regularly put call to actions to employees to share different things. And I remember, related to our service behaviors that we were expecting all employees to do, we would tell managers and employees, “If you see an employee going above and beyond to demonstrate those behaviors, take a picture and share the story related to it.” And what that did, it drove pride within our employees, it made employees feel recognized, then it also tied to our business priorities by, again, reinforcing those behaviors and those things that we were really looking for our employees to do in order to deliver on the brand of the company.

And here’s one last question, and then let’s wrap up, this is a really good one, and I think this is a great way to summarize the conversation today. “What is the next step for a company after bias training?” And I’ll add a little bit to this, what would you consider, or what would be your one piece of advice to those companies who recognize that they have to do more, that they have to go beyond just training?

Michelle DiTondo:

So, next step after bias training, I think, you need to focus on leader behaviors, starting with the people who feel safest in the organization, the people who feel most empowered to step in when unfair things happen, the people who feel the most confident in sharing their point of view. Oftentimes, those tend to be senior level Caucasian men in the organization. And statistically, through our research, they feel much more confident, much more safe in the organization. And so, you need to start with giving them specific behaviors that they should execute upon on a regular basis, implement those behaviors, train people on them, talk about success stories when those behaviors are executed upon, and how they make people feel, that gives some type of reward for following through on those behaviors.

But identify those behaviors, talk about them frequently, share stories of success, that’s when real change is going to happen in the organization. And you could do that after bias training, which increase awareness, focus on specific behaviors.

Rey:

Great. Well, thank you, Michelle for joining us today, we are at time. I appreciate you taking the time to share all these insights. I think you have given many individuals some key next steps on how they can cultivate inclusion within their company. I would also thank everyone who joined in the audience and submitted questions, we appreciate your engagement, this has been a wonderful conversation. Anything you would like to leave with us, Michelle?

Michelle DiTondo:

No. I’m so appreciative to talk about this. I know for those people in the audience that are driving culture change and employee engagement, it’s often tough to do… A story, when I started with MGM Resorts, and I always tell this story, a person on my first day said, “Hey, congratulations on your new role as CHRO.” I said, “Thank you so much.” He said, “That job is going to be like dragging a dead horse through mud.” And I’ve told that story so often because culture change and employee engagement is hard work, but it’s so incredibly rewarding at the end that I wouldn’t have changed the 15 years of MGM Resorts and the nine years as CHRO for anything in the world, because it was so rewarding.

Rey:

Well, thank you, Michelle. And I think others would agree that the time at MGM and the product has been an amazing story for MGM. So, thanks for sharing that with us today. We are now going to toss the stage back over to Rachel to discuss the next steps for today’s conversation. Thank you again everyone for joining us today.

 

Video Transcript

Rey:

Thank you, Rachel, and hello everyone, it’s great to have you all here for another exciting session. I’m so delighted to be joined here today with one of my favorite people in the world, Michelle DiTondo. Michelle is principal consultant for Avion Consulting, and former chief human resources officer for MGM Resorts. Now, MGM is a global entertainment brand that is widely recognized for its DEI efforts within their company and throughout the community. Michelle is known for leading MGM’s culture transformation and helping the company pull out some pretty difficult times. Her work in DEI has continued beyond MGM as she now helps other companies foster cultures of inclusion. Thank you, Michelle, for joining us today, it’s always great to see you.

Michelle DiTondo:

Thank you so much for having me, Rey, I’m excited to talk about one of my favorite topics today.

Rey:

Yes. Now, before we get into the questions that I’ve prepared, I want to encourage everyone and the audience to join in on this fireside chat. If you have a question, go ahead and put it in the Q&A box on the right hand side of your screen. Let’s make this a conversation that we’re all part of. Now, Michelle, before we talk about the recent study you’ve done on DEI in the workplace, I want to have others have a chance to understand your career journey. Now, from helping to lead MGM out of the 2008 recession, to supporting MGM employees following that tragic Las Vegas mass shooting, you have really helped MGM navigate some difficult times. And what I want to know is, one, tell us a little bit more about your professional experience, and then how has that helped you understand culture?

Michelle DiTondo:

Sure. So, I’m fortunate enough to have had a pretty diverse career path, right out of college, I jumped right into human resources and started my career working for the federal government. So, learned a lot about culture in that first role. I was there for three or so years before I went to financial services, and was in financial services for a number of years, starting with American Express. At the time in the early to mid ’90s, American Express was really known as a trailblazer diversity and inclusion initiative. So, I was at American Express and met really my first mentor of my career, followed her to another financial services organization.

And after that, when I finished graduate school, I went into consulting. While I was working in consulting, I had the benefit of an incredible learning opportunity where I worked across multiple industries with big Fortune 100 Companies globally. After that was when I got into gaming and hospitality joining Caesars Entertainment, and then eventually, MGM Resorts where I spent the last 15 years before going back into consulting, which I truly love.

One of the things that I have gathered from working from industries, from the federal government, to financial services, to hospitality is, the one thing that they all have in common is that regardless of your role in an organization… So, if you’re the head of investment banking, or if you’re a retail employee, or if you’re a housekeeper in a mega resort, every single person, regardless of industry and role, wants to feel important to their organization. And that was one of the things that I’ve always taken with me throughout my career, and that I tried to put into place while at MGM Resorts.

Rey:

Right. Thank you. Now, MGM is known for diversity today, but that hasn’t always been the case for the gaming industry. So, what I want to know is, as an Asian-American woman who has navigated a largely male dominated industry, what has your personal DEI journey been like?

Michelle DiTondo:

Well, I mentioned my first and possibly my most significant mentor of my career was the head of human resources for the Travelers Cheque group at American Express, which is where I started as a human resources generalist. [Althea Dubrul 00:04:43] was a black female in a very senior level role at American Express, and this was in Salt Lake City. So, Salt Lake City is over 95% Caucasian. And at the time, when I was working in the federal government, when American Express had this position open, Althea told her team, “We will fill this role with a minority.” And so, they embarked on their search to find a minority person of color HR generalist, and mind you, this is probably 1994-ish, to fill that role. I was fortunate enough to have heard about the role, applied, and started working for Althea.

She was my most significant mentor because she stretched me in a way that I’d never been stretched even to this day. She made me uncomfortable every single day in that role. One of the things that I remember, a story about her was… 26 year old HR generalist, and she sent me in her place. She was a senior vice president, head of human resources for one of the divisions, sent me to New York City in her place with all the other heads of human resources in American Express… So the head of HR in the card group, the head of HR in the travelers group. So, I go to this meeting as an HR generalist and terrified that I was going to make her look bad. And the one thing that she said to me as I was preparing to present for our group in this meeting was that, “Everyone in that room has more experience than you, no one in that room is smarter than you.”

And that’s something that I’ve always taken with me as I’ve come across other situations where I felt uncomfortable, or stressed, or question whether or not I was capable of doing a role. That’s one thing… I think the confidence that I built working for her served me well in senior leader roles. The other thing, I think, that served me well is working for five years in consulting before going into the hospitality and gaming industry. Those years taught me a lot about how to influence others who don’t directly report to you.

So, as a consultant, I worked with a lot of senior leaders in really well-established Fortune 100 organizations, and as a fairly young and emerging professional, I had to figure out how to influence people who were more senior than me, who were often Caucasian men in positions of power. But I had to develop those influence skills, which also served me well when I got into gaming and hospitality, and as I progressed through more and more senior level roles the more I found myself being either the only person of color, or the only female, or one of the few in a room. So, confidence and the ability to influence others were things I think along my journey that really served me well as I moved into the C-level role.

Rey:

Yeah. You touched on something there that representation matters. And often, representation is the product of having executive sponsor, someone who could serve as your ally, and help to open up those doors that might often be a challenge to be opened, because they believe in what you’ve had. And I could speak to that myself, I’ve seen that time and time again having met individuals, including you, Michelle, who have served that executive sponsorship role, so just hugely important, and how companies can find ways to cultivate that within their organization, I think supports that culture of inclusion.

Michelle DiTondo:

Absolutely.

Rey:

Yes. Something I want to dive into as well is, you recently published a white paper based on the idea of defining moments… Which I hope you’ll go into a little bit more today. And this was also based on a survey that you had conducted about DEI in the workplace. Now, I will tell you that there was a statement at the beginning of that white paper that kind of caught me off guard that it might strike up some debate. And you say in that white paper that the investment in diversity training isn’t paying off. So, please explain to us what you mean by that.

Michelle DiTondo:

Well, there were a couple of things, I think, that drove me to dive deeper into the current issue of diversity inclusion, and where we find ourselves today, so I think multiple things intersected. Moving out of that C-level role, and having some space to really think about what I wanted to learn, and what I wanted to dive deep into, combined with the pandemic giving me all of this time… So, typically, I think, consulting would be on the road most of the time and working with clients, and especially for the first half of the pandemic, we had some time to really develop content, I had time to do some research. I launched a public survey that asked questions about what the workplace is like today.

And I think right around that time, I think a lot of our clients were trying to deal with the issue of diversity and inclusion, and the tensions around discussions around race due to George Floyd being killed, and so I think it was just a current topic and multiple things intersected that really drove me to want to learn more about where we are today with diversity and inclusion. So, launched a survey, over 400 people across all industries participated. And one of the key findings that I kind of had a feeling this would be one of the key findings, but it was much more pronounced than I thought it would be, was that out of all the participants across all genders, across all ethnicities, only 45% of the participants felt like their company’s diversity training had a positive impact on them, or had a positive impact on the workplace.

For me, that was surprising because of how much energy, and how much time and resources, and actually money we put towards diversity training. So, that was kind of the foundation for the research that followed that, which was, if our current diversity training isn’t working, what is working? And that was the focus of the white paper. So, the current diversity training… And this is what I experienced throughout my career, many organization focus on bias training.

And while bias training is an important component, think about a bias as a belief. All of us have developed beliefs about everything in our lives throughout the course of years and years, and in my case, decades and decades and decades of experience of our families, of school, where we lived, all of those things create our beliefs, which sometimes are biases that impact the way that we perceive others, or the way that we treat others.

I think that expecting a full day, a two day, a three day training, maybe sometimes it’s a couple of hours, expecting that training… Which might make you more aware of your bias, expecting a training like that to change years and years and years of beliefs is pretty impossible. I’ve likened it to… We have a couple of psychologists in our firm and we’ve talked a lot about, how do you change, from a psychology standpoint, beliefs that people have about themselves, or other things? So, fear of heights, how do you change that? You just don’t have a two hour session and say, “Stop being afraid of heights.” You do a number of different actions, you execute on behaviors over a period of time, to end up changing that belief. So, I feel like while bias training can be valuable, I don’t think that bias training alone is making a difference in the board place when it comes to diversity and inclusion.

Rey:

Yeah. I think that’s a fair point. But it’s surprising because it’s something that, I think, most companies have, that diversity training once an employee joins, and at times, I think it might be just companies checking the box, right? They don’t really think through, what are the next steps beyond that? And I think some of the results in your survey shows that much more needs to take place. And some of these results I found to be pretty disheartening, and I just wanted to share this with the group. In your survey, you found that only 43% of women of color felt like they were valued, versus more than 75% of Caucasian women and men. So, that’s one.

And then, there’s another one that really jumped out, that when you surveyed individuals about whether they felt like they belonged, only 50% of women of color felt like that was the case, versus more than 76% for Caucasian women and men. And I would say that looking at those numbers, that would suggest much more needs to happen. And it’s disheartening to see that there’s such an issue when it comes to this related to women of color at work. So, what are some of your thoughts about that?

Michelle DiTondo:

Yeah. So, I think this was the gap in that result, was the thing that I found most surprising in the research that we did. And you use the word disheartening, I think also kind of shocking, that there was that big of a difference for women of color in organizations. So, here’s my perception. And one of the things that we did in the survey as well was ask about stories when you felt valued, or you felt like you were dismissed or devalued. So, people wrote lengthy, lengthy stories as part of this survey. And one of the things I did was just go through and analyze and categorize these stories into groups of behaviors that either made people feel valued, or feel like they weren’t valued.

So, I think what happens with women of color that’s different from other groups, even Caucasian women at work, is that when you go into a meeting room into the workplace, your first day of work, into a conference, there’s always… If you’re a underrepresented employee, you always have the tendency to think about, how many people in this room look like me? And any person of color, any woman would tell you the same thing, that when you go into a meeting room, you think, there are 15 people in this meeting room and only two other women, or there are 50 people here and only three people of color.

I think for women of color, you have two burdens that you’re thinking of in the back of your head, how many women are in the room? And also, how many people of color are in the room? So, unlike other populations, women of color carry these two burdens that impact how safe they feel to express their point of view, that affect how empowered they feel, how confident they feel to voice their opinions. And so, I think women of color carry a burden that other groups don’t necessarily carry with them into the workplace every day. Now, when it comes to feeling valued and belonging, the research that we did… So, one of the items that we asked was, “Do you feel valued by your organization? Do you feel safe by your organization?” And we did some regression analysis to find out which behaviors most strongly correlated with feeling valued.

So, which behaviors in organizations… And the survey had tons and tons of leader behaviors, which behaviors drive whether or not you feel valued? The single greatest driver, incredibly a strong correlation to feeling valued, was I’m asked for my opinion on issues that affect me. So, when we go back to the discussion that we had around the current diversity training not having an impact because it’s focused on beliefs, our point of view based on the research that we did over the summer was that, focus on very specific behaviors that everyone can take regardless of your beliefs, focus on very specific behaviors that we know from our research make people feel like they’re valued by the organization, and that they belong.

So, the strongest correlated behavior was asking others for their opinion or point of view on issues that affect them. There are also other items that are strongly correlated dealing with, I feel recognized for good work that I do. So, we have four or five behaviors that we teach during our diversity and inclusion training that are actionable regardless of beliefs, that every leader and every individual in an organization can take, they can develop routines, and regular behaviors to drive these feelings of value and inclusion in the workplace.

Rey:

I remember us talking about a story of how this could be applied on a practical level, that I think would help reinforce those behaviors, especially that you’re expecting related to leaders. Could you just explain just so we take it from a concept and give individuals an idea what some key next steps could be to help their leadership make those who are feeling that they’re not valued more valuable, or those who feel like they don’t belong like they do in fact belong?

Michelle DiTondo:

So, there are a couple of really very specific things you can make part of just your regular leadership routine. So, for example… And especially, keeping women of color in mind. If you’re a leader that has a regular staff meeting, or meetings where you’re brainstorming solutions to a problem, or initiatives to implement, oftentimes, the voices around the table that are the most confident, that are the most outgoing, or the most charismatic, tend to be the voices that are heard. All of us have been in those meetings where there was one person who always has a point of view on everything, and they’re comfortable sharing it, they have confidence. And so, oftentimes, they tend to be one of the few points of view that are heard.

So, if you’re a leader, making it a habit, before you finalize any decision, to just go around the table and make sure that every single person in that room has an opportunity or a space to give you their thoughts, or their point of view on the decision you’re about to make. Someone can always pass, but giving them the space to say, “We’re about to make this decision, I want to go around the table, and everyone tell me what you’re thinking,” gives everyone the opportunity to express their point of view, and gives them a safe space. That’s one thing that leaders can do to ensure that people on their team feel valued, because their point of view is being heard.

Rey:

Yeah, I think that’s a great point, and it reinforces something that Malcolm Gladwell said yesterday during the opening keynote when he shared the case study related to Teen Vogue, that it’s important to make individuals feel like they are included, and one way you’re able to do that is simply bringing them to the table to help to put the process of making decisions, and asking them what their point of view is. So, it’s interesting that you’re tied exactly to what Malcolm said the other day as well.

Now, something else I want to tie into this conversation, and then shortly, we’ll address a couple of other questions, then we’ll go into Q&A related to the audience, is when you first joined MGM Resorts as the CHRO, employee engagement and how employees felt was one of your top areas of focus. And one of the first steps you took to ensure that it stayed a top focus was to take the company through a massive HR transformation, moving it away from what you would say is a process focused company to a people focused company. And looking back at your career, I would say, this is probably one of the central aspects of your legacy at MGM. Why was it so important for you to move MGM in this direction from the very beginning of your time as the CHRO? And then, how did this help to foster a more inclusive culture?

Michelle DiTondo:

So, kind of first and foremost, I think, my time in American Express early on in my career really reinforced to me that HR leaders, or those that are engaged, if you’re in communications, with driving employee engagement, have and need a critical spot at the table. And so, that was my initial thinking going in, was that HR leaders are as critical to the business as the CFO, the COO. And so, going into the role with that perspective, on my second day, I had a meeting with our CEO, and Jim told me… The first thing he said was, “I want to focus on having one company with one culture.”

At the time, we had multiple business units which… Our business units are Bellagio, and MGM Grand, and Luxor, and Excalibur, and all of our properties, they were run almost completely independently like separate resorts, separate business units, Jim early on said, “One company, one culture, and I want to be performance driven that makes our high-performers feel valued, that we drive retention with our top performers.” And so, with that edict of what I was being charged with as a CHRO, I started to look at, what did I need to enable that over a period of time? And we started with looking at just process and efficiency in the organization. So, we started to centralize, we looked at new HR systems so that we could all work on the same platform.

We started to centralize functions that were more process oriented, things like payroll and compensation, employment, getting people hired into the organization. We started to do those first, because there was less emotion around those, and really they were those processes that people just wanted to work well. They didn’t have a lot of passion around how those things happened, as long as they worked well for them. The reason why we did that is because initially, I thought… We spent, as an HR group, about 75% of our time on process, and about 25% of our time on engagement, and I thought, if we really wanted to be focused on engagement and culture, we needed to improve how we performed 75% of our work, so that we could focus more time, resources, budget on the 25% that I really thought mattered to driving employee engagement, which in turn would drive guest and customer satisfaction.

So, that’s how we initially started to focus on that, and it was a several year journey of starting to think about, what could we do more efficiently? How do we centralize this? Because again, I was told, “One company, one culture.” And one thing that’s important for one company, one culture, was consistent messaging, consistent branding, consistent communication to employees across the entire organization regardless of where you worked, or what your role is.

Rey:

Yeah. So, a couple of things related to that, and we’re talking about fostering a culture of inclusion. You’re not able to foster one if you’re spending 75% of your time on process and not the people. I think that’s absolutely central to this, is when it comes to culture and involving culture, it has to be people-centered. So, that’s one takeaway as far as why it was so important for that HR transformation to take place.

And you talked about the importance of communications related to culture, which at SocialChorus, we entirely agree with and understand. And I remember that transformation and communications was part of that HR transformation.

Michelle DiTondo:

It was.

Rey:

And it was SocialChorus that helped to support that transformation and allowed us to centralize those communications. So, a question I have is… Especially understanding many of the audience are SocialChorus customers or prospects, what do you think the SocialChorus platform can do to help companies create that culture of inclusion?

Michelle DiTondo:

Well, I think for us, it was… Initially, we sought out SocialChorus because we wanted to have that consistent messaging across the organization. From an inclusion standpoint, our employee population was very diverse, but the greatest driver behind us seeking a solution like SocialChorus was that, out of our, at the time, 88,000 employees, 90% of our employees were hourly, and 75% of those hourly were part-time. And so, even if you’re in a manager role, when you’re working in hospitality, you aren’t sitting at a desk. And so, we needed to reach all of those employees without being able to go through a desktop, because they were out servicing our customers, they’re on the casino floor dealing Blackjack, serving drinks, cleaning rooms, checking people in.

And so, SocialChorus was a way for us to include all of those employees, whether you sat at a desk in our corporate offices, or you’re on the floor servicing customers, or your part-time and might only work a couple of days a week, we were able to reach all of those employees with the same communication at the same time. Again, being able to be a part of issues that affect you includes both knowing what’s happening as well as being able to give your point of view. SocialChorus allowed us to also get content from those who are on the floor. So, employees or leaders who were out working with our customers every day could also share content with us to let us know what was going on in the organization, that we might not be missing.

So, people were recognized that might not be recognized because their leader didn’t see what they did, their peer saw what they did and posted a story about it, or shared a story about them, that we could then share across the organization. So, being able to get communication and information in a timely way to that diverse population of employees, as well as being able to hear back from them, what they liked, what they wanted to hear more of, what they saw happening in the organization, was one of the reasons why we felt like a tool like SocialChorus was imperative to our employee engagement culture, and in the end, diversity inclusion initiatives.

Rey:

Exactly. So, including employees in the conversation, through the tool, making it a two way communication instead of just top-down. And then, you said something interesting as well, is recognizing the behaviors that you are encouraging among your leaders and your employees, which… There’s the aspect of DEI there, that following training, or based upon the values that your company has established, the SocialChorus tool can help reinforce those behaviors through all kind of mechanisms, including recognition. So, I love how you put that.

Now, I have one last question, then we’re going to turn to questions from the audience. So, if you have not submitted your question in the Q&A box, please go ahead and do so. But, Michelle, I have to say this, and this is one of the reasons why you’re one of my favorite people in the world, is that you’re really one of the big reasons why I’m now at SocialChorus, because you are one of the biggest proponents at MGM for us to purchase SocialChorus. And had you not been, I may, perhaps, probably would not have met the SocialChorus team. So, you’re the reason why I’m with SocialChorus today. Now tell me, what led MGM to choosing SocialChorus as that platform to help it transform its communications, and what impact did you see it have on the company?

Michelle DiTondo:

So, we had started… Because of all the things I mentioned, the challenges with communicating through essentially email or paper to that diverse employee population, was why we started to look for a tool. We ended up looking at a few vendors, there were a couple of other vendors in this space, and I think we ended up with SocialChorus because they were the best partners with us. We had some unique needs… And I’m sure every customer thinks that they have unique needs, but we felt like we had this unique employee population with unique needs that we needed to address, as well as being able to kind of both sharing stories about our culture, as well as urgent communications that needed to get to employees to help them manage their day.

So, SocialChorus was the most flexible, they were the best partners. They were responsive when we needed information for them, or we had requests to be able to adapt certain things, and so that’s why we chose SocialChorus. I think what happened after that was surprising to all of us. So, we spent most of our onboarding time developing a pipeline of content to share that we thought would be engaging, because we really thought, we need to get people on board right away. So, once we launched, the adaption, I thought, was really surprising.

And one thing that we learned was that, despite feedback that we heard that a lot of our hourly employees might not be technically savvy, they had smart phones, they were used to using social media tools like Facebook or Instagram, and so they understood the concept of being able to see content, use, share their own content, and then like or comment on content that was shared with them. And so, the adaption and the ability to communicate to them quickly was noticed and realized pretty fast.

Rey:

Great. Thanks, Michelle. Well, now let’s turn to some of the questions that we have received through the Q&A box. First question I see, this individual says, “The paper sounds interesting, our organization is doing bias training now, is there a way to get a copy of the paper?” So, Michelle, how could individuals who are following see the white paper?

Michelle DiTondo:

And actually, probably, the easiest way without navigating a website link is just… On my LinkedIn profile, it’s posted in the featured area of my LinkedIn profile, and is a PDF. So, you can go there directly and get it. My LinkedIn profile is Michelle (Bray) DiTondo.

Rey:

Right. Thanks, Michelle. Another question, this is from Emily, “How did you get your non-desk employees to adopt the mobile app? Do they have company issued phones, or did you rely on employees opting in?”

Michelle DiTondo:

We relied on employees opting in, and one of the things that we had a practice of… We had cafeterias on every property, and so we would hold events whenever we launched anything, whether it was open enrollment for benefits, or the launch of our SocialChorus app, which we called LEO. So, when we launched LEO, we held events in employee dining rooms, and we had contests. So, we did things like, if you download the app, you’re entered into a contest to win two Golden Knights tickets. The NHL was very new in Las Vegas, and so there were some drivers like that that encouraged employees to download the app. So, we did some communication engagement initiatives, as well as head contests for them to opt in. And it was on their own personal devices.

Rey:

Yeah. Personal devices, it wasn’t mandatory. And if I can add a couple of things as well is, because we recognized those frontline employees were really the employees that embodied the brand of MGM, we prioritized the entire experience really around them. And that came to content, we’ve pulled our employees ahead of time making sure that we had a strong sense of what they wanted in the app, and the type of content that would really resonate with them. And I think that was a key aspect of making sure that they understood that this was an investment in them, as well as the entire employees, and it provided that incentive for them to adopt the mobile app, because they understood that this truly was for them, and it was great value to them as well. Thanks Emily. Another question from Cheryl, “What actionable things can leaders do to make this a lasting and authentic change?”

Michelle DiTondo:

This is similar to what we did at MGM Resorts when we drove this culture change was, we identified the behaviors that we wanted leaders to execute upon pretty regularly, so things like… In the research that we did, the behavior is, ask others for their point of view. There were different behaviors that we identified as our competencies at MGM Resorts, but we put those behaviors in everything that we did with leaders, so there was a lot of clarity. First, we train them, so we said, “Here are your expectations as a leader, and what we expect you to do.” For MGM, there were some behaviors that were essentially, treat our employees like you treat our guests. So, we had those behaviors, but then they became part of the performance review, so people were given regular feedback around how they perform those behaviors.

And for senior leaders, performing those behaviors became part of our bonus process, because it was part of our performance review, and so it ended up impacting your reward over the course of the year, so there was accountability. And whether or not you can make it part of a compensation system, or performance review, I think senior need to demonstrate the behaviors and need to be part of it. They need to hold people accountable for, and reward those who perform the behaviors regularly, and hold those accountable who work against those behaviors in the organization. So, role modeling and accountability are keys to any type of culture transformation, or diversity inclusion initiative.

Rey:

Right. Thanks, Michelle. Here’s a question from Alex. Alex says, “When you think about the benefits of DEI in any organization, have you considered how those efforts impact the bottom line, or are tied to external marketing efforts?”

Michelle DiTondo:

From 1991, I’m a huge fan of the research that was done in the early ’90s at Harvard Business School around the service profit chain, and so I think it still resonates today in that, if employees feel like they’re valued and important, they make your guests feel like they’re valued and important, or they put in discretionary effort into their jobs. So, the way that I characterize this at MGM Resorts was, if you walked up to a security officer at any of our properties and ask for directions to a restaurant, a security officer could say, “Walk down that hallway and turn left,” and absolutely be performing their job. They fulfilled their obligation, that’s part of their job description, assist customers, be polite, “It’s down that hallway and turn to the left.”

Discretionary effort from that same security officer, if they feel valued, and they feel like they belong and they’re important to the organization, that security officer might say, “It’s an incredible restaurant, are you celebrating something tonight?” If they can, “Let me walk you there.” And while they’re walking someone there, talk about if it’s their first time at that property, or their first time in Las Vegas, that type of behavior makes the customer or the guest feel like they’re welcomed and they’re valued. And in the end, that drives increased purchasing, loyalty, and revenue. That applies also to non-guest facing jobs, so doing more than what’s expected is a result of feeling valued.

Rey:

Exactly. And related to external marketing, because I was part of this effort as well in the space of DEI for MGM is that, it was important to demonstrate to our customers that we prioritize DEI. So, it wasn’t just something that we were checking off the box, but it was something that was embedded throughout the entire company in order for them to feel valued. That they would see in our marketing efforts individuals that looked like them, or were from the same background as them as well. So, that’s a key thing too, is being able to articulate that there truly is a bottom line. At the end of the day, it’s the right thing to do. However, I think customers are expecting it, and I think investors are expecting it as well. Another question, this is-

Michelle DiTondo:

Absolutely agree.

Rey:

Yeah. This is from Kelly, “Is there a research that you know of surrounding inclusion and opinions in the transgender, women of color, or gender nonconforming?”

Michelle DiTondo:

Not off the top of my head, I don’t know of a research right now that I could refer you to. I do think that it’s a super interesting topic to think of, because when you think of the traditional bias training that’s happening in organizations, and I talked about the burden that women of color or people of color have when walking into the workplace, and how that impacts how valued you feel, or how safe you feel in an organization, I think initially, the biases are often based on outward appearances. So, what you look like drives what people think about you.

So, one reason why I think LGBTQ employees are underrepresented in the workplace, and definitely, they’re impacted by how valued they feel based on how their coworkers treat them… However, being LGBTQ isn’t often visible, initially, when you first see someone, it’s something that you discover as you get to know them. So, I do think it’s super interesting to think about how once that diversity, or their gender affiliation, or sexual orientation is discovered, how that might change how their coworkers treat them. I think that would be a separate body of research, but would be really interesting to explore and to think through.

Rey:

Agreed. Just a few additional questions. And I think this next one is important because if we’re fostering a culture of inclusion, and we want to see success there, then we have to have metrics that demonstrate whether we’re going the right path. So, I love this question, “Do you use KPIs to measure diversity, inclusion, and belonging? And if so, which ones?”

Michelle DiTondo:

I think that a lot of companies do employee surveys. I think the value out of the public survey that we did was that there was no fear of anonymity, or of retaliation for being candid about your feedback. So, there might be some type of bias when people are completing an internal survey, but I do think that doing that same analysis… Most surveys have items around, do you feel valued in the organization? Do you feel safe to express your point of view? These are common items that are in any employee engagement survey. I think doing some analysis though across ethnicities and gender, I think is where you’ll find out if there are differences in how people feel in the organization based on their representation. So, it’s doing that-

Rey:

[crosstalk 00:42:19].

Michelle DiTondo:

… added analysis if you already have an employee survey.

Rey:

Yeah, exactly. Don asks, “How did you get employees not at their desks to share their stories?” So, I’m guessing through user-submitted content, what was the process for that?

Michelle DiTondo:

Well, I mean, we did have an approval process built in because we had so many employees, and so they would submit a story through the SocialChorus app, that the post had to be approved by the communication team. But people were able to… Just like any other social media app, they were able to take a picture, put a story, and then submit it to be posted. And the team that Rey led was responsible for reviewing those as quickly as possible to be able to post them. Given our diverse… We had thousands and thousands of employees, really, the only thing that they were screening for was anything that was inappropriate to share at work, but otherwise, most stories were shared. And people could do that on their smartphone. We also had employee kiosks in the back of the house, if someone didn’t have a phone, but that was such a small percentage that most shared through their phone.

Rey:

And I remember that we would regularly put call to actions to employees to share different things. And I remember, related to our service behaviors that we were expecting all employees to do, we would tell managers and employees, “If you see an employee going above and beyond to demonstrate those behaviors, take a picture and share the story related to it.” And what that did, it drove pride within our employees, it made employees feel recognized, then it also tied to our business priorities by, again, reinforcing those behaviors and those things that we were really looking for our employees to do in order to deliver on the brand of the company.

And here’s one last question, and then let’s wrap up, this is a really good one, and I think this is a great way to summarize the conversation today. “What is the next step for a company after bias training?” And I’ll add a little bit to this, what would you consider, or what would be your one piece of advice to those companies who recognize that they have to do more, that they have to go beyond just training?

Michelle DiTondo:

So, next step after bias training, I think, you need to focus on leader behaviors, starting with the people who feel safest in the organization, the people who feel most empowered to step in when unfair things happen, the people who feel the most confident in sharing their point of view. Oftentimes, those tend to be senior level Caucasian men in the organization. And statistically, through our research, they feel much more confident, much more safe in the organization. And so, you need to start with giving them specific behaviors that they should execute upon on a regular basis, implement those behaviors, train people on them, talk about success stories when those behaviors are executed upon, and how they make people feel, that gives some type of reward for following through on those behaviors.

But identify those behaviors, talk about them frequently, share stories of success, that’s when real change is going to happen in the organization. And you could do that after bias training, which increase awareness, focus on specific behaviors.

Rey:

Great. Well, thank you, Michelle for joining us today, we are at time. I appreciate you taking the time to share all these insights. I think you have given many individuals some key next steps on how they can cultivate inclusion within their company. I would also thank everyone who joined in the audience and submitted questions, we appreciate your engagement, this has been a wonderful conversation. Anything you would like to leave with us, Michelle?

Michelle DiTondo:

No. I’m so appreciative to talk about this. I know for those people in the audience that are driving culture change and employee engagement, it’s often tough to do… A story, when I started with MGM Resorts, and I always tell this story, a person on my first day said, “Hey, congratulations on your new role as CHRO.” I said, “Thank you so much.” He said, “That job is going to be like dragging a dead horse through mud.” And I’ve told that story so often because culture change and employee engagement is hard work, but it’s so incredibly rewarding at the end that I wouldn’t have changed the 15 years of MGM Resorts and the nine years as CHRO for anything in the world, because it was so rewarding.

Rey:

Well, thank you, Michelle. And I think others would agree that the time at MGM and the product has been an amazing story for MGM. So, thanks for sharing that with us today. We are now going to toss the stage back over to Rachel to discuss the next steps for today’s conversation. Thank you again everyone for joining us today.

 

Expand Transcript

Video Transcript

Rey:

Thank you, Rachel, and hello everyone, it’s great to have you all here for another exciting session. I’m so delighted to be joined here today with one of my favorite people in the world, Michelle DiTondo. Michelle is principal consultant for Avion Consulting, and former chief human resources officer for MGM Resorts. Now, MGM is a global entertainment brand that is widely recognized for its DEI efforts within their company and throughout the community. Michelle is known for leading MGM’s culture transformation and helping the company pull out some pretty difficult times. Her work in DEI has continued beyond MGM as she now helps other companies foster cultures of inclusion. Thank you, Michelle, for joining us today, it’s always great to see you.

Michelle DiTondo:

Thank you so much for having me, Rey, I’m excited to talk about one of my favorite topics today.

Rey:

Yes. Now, before we get into the questions that I’ve prepared, I want to encourage everyone and the audience to join in on this fireside chat. If you have a question, go ahead and put it in the Q&A box on the right hand side of your screen. Let’s make this a conversation that we’re all part of. Now, Michelle, before we talk about the recent study you’ve done on DEI in the workplace, I want to have others have a chance to understand your career journey. Now, from helping to lead MGM out of the 2008 recession, to supporting MGM employees following that tragic Las Vegas mass shooting, you have really helped MGM navigate some difficult times. And what I want to know is, one, tell us a little bit more about your professional experience, and then how has that helped you understand culture?

Michelle DiTondo:

Sure. So, I’m fortunate enough to have had a pretty diverse career path, right out of college, I jumped right into human resources and started my career working for the federal government. So, learned a lot about culture in that first role. I was there for three or so years before I went to financial services, and was in financial services for a number of years, starting with American Express. At the time in the early to mid ’90s, American Express was really known as a trailblazer diversity and inclusion initiative. So, I was at American Express and met really my first mentor of my career, followed her to another financial services organization.

And after that, when I finished graduate school, I went into consulting. While I was working in consulting, I had the benefit of an incredible learning opportunity where I worked across multiple industries with big Fortune 100 Companies globally. After that was when I got into gaming and hospitality joining Caesars Entertainment, and then eventually, MGM Resorts where I spent the last 15 years before going back into consulting, which I truly love.

One of the things that I have gathered from working from industries, from the federal government, to financial services, to hospitality is, the one thing that they all have in common is that regardless of your role in an organization… So, if you’re the head of investment banking, or if you’re a retail employee, or if you’re a housekeeper in a mega resort, every single person, regardless of industry and role, wants to feel important to their organization. And that was one of the things that I’ve always taken with me throughout my career, and that I tried to put into place while at MGM Resorts.

Rey:

Right. Thank you. Now, MGM is known for diversity today, but that hasn’t always been the case for the gaming industry. So, what I want to know is, as an Asian-American woman who has navigated a largely male dominated industry, what has your personal DEI journey been like?

Michelle DiTondo:

Well, I mentioned my first and possibly my most significant mentor of my career was the head of human resources for the Travelers Cheque group at American Express, which is where I started as a human resources generalist. [Althea Dubrul 00:04:43] was a black female in a very senior level role at American Express, and this was in Salt Lake City. So, Salt Lake City is over 95% Caucasian. And at the time, when I was working in the federal government, when American Express had this position open, Althea told her team, “We will fill this role with a minority.” And so, they embarked on their search to find a minority person of color HR generalist, and mind you, this is probably 1994-ish, to fill that role. I was fortunate enough to have heard about the role, applied, and started working for Althea.

She was my most significant mentor because she stretched me in a way that I’d never been stretched even to this day. She made me uncomfortable every single day in that role. One of the things that I remember, a story about her was… 26 year old HR generalist, and she sent me in her place. She was a senior vice president, head of human resources for one of the divisions, sent me to New York City in her place with all the other heads of human resources in American Express… So the head of HR in the card group, the head of HR in the travelers group. So, I go to this meeting as an HR generalist and terrified that I was going to make her look bad. And the one thing that she said to me as I was preparing to present for our group in this meeting was that, “Everyone in that room has more experience than you, no one in that room is smarter than you.”

And that’s something that I’ve always taken with me as I’ve come across other situations where I felt uncomfortable, or stressed, or question whether or not I was capable of doing a role. That’s one thing… I think the confidence that I built working for her served me well in senior leader roles. The other thing, I think, that served me well is working for five years in consulting before going into the hospitality and gaming industry. Those years taught me a lot about how to influence others who don’t directly report to you.

So, as a consultant, I worked with a lot of senior leaders in really well-established Fortune 100 organizations, and as a fairly young and emerging professional, I had to figure out how to influence people who were more senior than me, who were often Caucasian men in positions of power. But I had to develop those influence skills, which also served me well when I got into gaming and hospitality, and as I progressed through more and more senior level roles the more I found myself being either the only person of color, or the only female, or one of the few in a room. So, confidence and the ability to influence others were things I think along my journey that really served me well as I moved into the C-level role.

Rey:

Yeah. You touched on something there that representation matters. And often, representation is the product of having executive sponsor, someone who could serve as your ally, and help to open up those doors that might often be a challenge to be opened, because they believe in what you’ve had. And I could speak to that myself, I’ve seen that time and time again having met individuals, including you, Michelle, who have served that executive sponsorship role, so just hugely important, and how companies can find ways to cultivate that within their organization, I think supports that culture of inclusion.

Michelle DiTondo:

Absolutely.

Rey:

Yes. Something I want to dive into as well is, you recently published a white paper based on the idea of defining moments… Which I hope you’ll go into a little bit more today. And this was also based on a survey that you had conducted about DEI in the workplace. Now, I will tell you that there was a statement at the beginning of that white paper that kind of caught me off guard that it might strike up some debate. And you say in that white paper that the investment in diversity training isn’t paying off. So, please explain to us what you mean by that.

Michelle DiTondo:

Well, there were a couple of things, I think, that drove me to dive deeper into the current issue of diversity inclusion, and where we find ourselves today, so I think multiple things intersected. Moving out of that C-level role, and having some space to really think about what I wanted to learn, and what I wanted to dive deep into, combined with the pandemic giving me all of this time… So, typically, I think, consulting would be on the road most of the time and working with clients, and especially for the first half of the pandemic, we had some time to really develop content, I had time to do some research. I launched a public survey that asked questions about what the workplace is like today.

And I think right around that time, I think a lot of our clients were trying to deal with the issue of diversity and inclusion, and the tensions around discussions around race due to George Floyd being killed, and so I think it was just a current topic and multiple things intersected that really drove me to want to learn more about where we are today with diversity and inclusion. So, launched a survey, over 400 people across all industries participated. And one of the key findings that I kind of had a feeling this would be one of the key findings, but it was much more pronounced than I thought it would be, was that out of all the participants across all genders, across all ethnicities, only 45% of the participants felt like their company’s diversity training had a positive impact on them, or had a positive impact on the workplace.

For me, that was surprising because of how much energy, and how much time and resources, and actually money we put towards diversity training. So, that was kind of the foundation for the research that followed that, which was, if our current diversity training isn’t working, what is working? And that was the focus of the white paper. So, the current diversity training… And this is what I experienced throughout my career, many organization focus on bias training.

And while bias training is an important component, think about a bias as a belief. All of us have developed beliefs about everything in our lives throughout the course of years and years, and in my case, decades and decades and decades of experience of our families, of school, where we lived, all of those things create our beliefs, which sometimes are biases that impact the way that we perceive others, or the way that we treat others.

I think that expecting a full day, a two day, a three day training, maybe sometimes it’s a couple of hours, expecting that training… Which might make you more aware of your bias, expecting a training like that to change years and years and years of beliefs is pretty impossible. I’ve likened it to… We have a couple of psychologists in our firm and we’ve talked a lot about, how do you change, from a psychology standpoint, beliefs that people have about themselves, or other things? So, fear of heights, how do you change that? You just don’t have a two hour session and say, “Stop being afraid of heights.” You do a number of different actions, you execute on behaviors over a period of time, to end up changing that belief. So, I feel like while bias training can be valuable, I don’t think that bias training alone is making a difference in the board place when it comes to diversity and inclusion.

Rey:

Yeah. I think that’s a fair point. But it’s surprising because it’s something that, I think, most companies have, that diversity training once an employee joins, and at times, I think it might be just companies checking the box, right? They don’t really think through, what are the next steps beyond that? And I think some of the results in your survey shows that much more needs to take place. And some of these results I found to be pretty disheartening, and I just wanted to share this with the group. In your survey, you found that only 43% of women of color felt like they were valued, versus more than 75% of Caucasian women and men. So, that’s one.

And then, there’s another one that really jumped out, that when you surveyed individuals about whether they felt like they belonged, only 50% of women of color felt like that was the case, versus more than 76% for Caucasian women and men. And I would say that looking at those numbers, that would suggest much more needs to happen. And it’s disheartening to see that there’s such an issue when it comes to this related to women of color at work. So, what are some of your thoughts about that?

Michelle DiTondo:

Yeah. So, I think this was the gap in that result, was the thing that I found most surprising in the research that we did. And you use the word disheartening, I think also kind of shocking, that there was that big of a difference for women of color in organizations. So, here’s my perception. And one of the things that we did in the survey as well was ask about stories when you felt valued, or you felt like you were dismissed or devalued. So, people wrote lengthy, lengthy stories as part of this survey. And one of the things I did was just go through and analyze and categorize these stories into groups of behaviors that either made people feel valued, or feel like they weren’t valued.

So, I think what happens with women of color that’s different from other groups, even Caucasian women at work, is that when you go into a meeting room into the workplace, your first day of work, into a conference, there’s always… If you’re a underrepresented employee, you always have the tendency to think about, how many people in this room look like me? And any person of color, any woman would tell you the same thing, that when you go into a meeting room, you think, there are 15 people in this meeting room and only two other women, or there are 50 people here and only three people of color.

I think for women of color, you have two burdens that you’re thinking of in the back of your head, how many women are in the room? And also, how many people of color are in the room? So, unlike other populations, women of color carry these two burdens that impact how safe they feel to express their point of view, that affect how empowered they feel, how confident they feel to voice their opinions. And so, I think women of color carry a burden that other groups don’t necessarily carry with them into the workplace every day. Now, when it comes to feeling valued and belonging, the research that we did… So, one of the items that we asked was, “Do you feel valued by your organization? Do you feel safe by your organization?” And we did some regression analysis to find out which behaviors most strongly correlated with feeling valued.

So, which behaviors in organizations… And the survey had tons and tons of leader behaviors, which behaviors drive whether or not you feel valued? The single greatest driver, incredibly a strong correlation to feeling valued, was I’m asked for my opinion on issues that affect me. So, when we go back to the discussion that we had around the current diversity training not having an impact because it’s focused on beliefs, our point of view based on the research that we did over the summer was that, focus on very specific behaviors that everyone can take regardless of your beliefs, focus on very specific behaviors that we know from our research make people feel like they’re valued by the organization, and that they belong.

So, the strongest correlated behavior was asking others for their opinion or point of view on issues that affect them. There are also other items that are strongly correlated dealing with, I feel recognized for good work that I do. So, we have four or five behaviors that we teach during our diversity and inclusion training that are actionable regardless of beliefs, that every leader and every individual in an organization can take, they can develop routines, and regular behaviors to drive these feelings of value and inclusion in the workplace.

Rey:

I remember us talking about a story of how this could be applied on a practical level, that I think would help reinforce those behaviors, especially that you’re expecting related to leaders. Could you just explain just so we take it from a concept and give individuals an idea what some key next steps could be to help their leadership make those who are feeling that they’re not valued more valuable, or those who feel like they don’t belong like they do in fact belong?

Michelle DiTondo:

So, there are a couple of really very specific things you can make part of just your regular leadership routine. So, for example… And especially, keeping women of color in mind. If you’re a leader that has a regular staff meeting, or meetings where you’re brainstorming solutions to a problem, or initiatives to implement, oftentimes, the voices around the table that are the most confident, that are the most outgoing, or the most charismatic, tend to be the voices that are heard. All of us have been in those meetings where there was one person who always has a point of view on everything, and they’re comfortable sharing it, they have confidence. And so, oftentimes, they tend to be one of the few points of view that are heard.

So, if you’re a leader, making it a habit, before you finalize any decision, to just go around the table and make sure that every single person in that room has an opportunity or a space to give you their thoughts, or their point of view on the decision you’re about to make. Someone can always pass, but giving them the space to say, “We’re about to make this decision, I want to go around the table, and everyone tell me what you’re thinking,” gives everyone the opportunity to express their point of view, and gives them a safe space. That’s one thing that leaders can do to ensure that people on their team feel valued, because their point of view is being heard.

Rey:

Yeah, I think that’s a great point, and it reinforces something that Malcolm Gladwell said yesterday during the opening keynote when he shared the case study related to Teen Vogue, that it’s important to make individuals feel like they are included, and one way you’re able to do that is simply bringing them to the table to help to put the process of making decisions, and asking them what their point of view is. So, it’s interesting that you’re tied exactly to what Malcolm said the other day as well.

Now, something else I want to tie into this conversation, and then shortly, we’ll address a couple of other questions, then we’ll go into Q&A related to the audience, is when you first joined MGM Resorts as the CHRO, employee engagement and how employees felt was one of your top areas of focus. And one of the first steps you took to ensure that it stayed a top focus was to take the company through a massive HR transformation, moving it away from what you would say is a process focused company to a people focused company. And looking back at your career, I would say, this is probably one of the central aspects of your legacy at MGM. Why was it so important for you to move MGM in this direction from the very beginning of your time as the CHRO? And then, how did this help to foster a more inclusive culture?

Michelle DiTondo:

So, kind of first and foremost, I think, my time in American Express early on in my career really reinforced to me that HR leaders, or those that are engaged, if you’re in communications, with driving employee engagement, have and need a critical spot at the table. And so, that was my initial thinking going in, was that HR leaders are as critical to the business as the CFO, the COO. And so, going into the role with that perspective, on my second day, I had a meeting with our CEO, and Jim told me… The first thing he said was, “I want to focus on having one company with one culture.”

At the time, we had multiple business units which… Our business units are Bellagio, and MGM Grand, and Luxor, and Excalibur, and all of our properties, they were run almost completely independently like separate resorts, separate business units, Jim early on said, “One company, one culture, and I want to be performance driven that makes our high-performers feel valued, that we drive retention with our top performers.” And so, with that edict of what I was being charged with as a CHRO, I started to look at, what did I need to enable that over a period of time? And we started with looking at just process and efficiency in the organization. So, we started to centralize, we looked at new HR systems so that we could all work on the same platform.

We started to centralize functions that were more process oriented, things like payroll and compensation, employment, getting people hired into the organization. We started to do those first, because there was less emotion around those, and really they were those processes that people just wanted to work well. They didn’t have a lot of passion around how those things happened, as long as they worked well for them. The reason why we did that is because initially, I thought… We spent, as an HR group, about 75% of our time on process, and about 25% of our time on engagement, and I thought, if we really wanted to be focused on engagement and culture, we needed to improve how we performed 75% of our work, so that we could focus more time, resources, budget on the 25% that I really thought mattered to driving employee engagement, which in turn would drive guest and customer satisfaction.

So, that’s how we initially started to focus on that, and it was a several year journey of starting to think about, what could we do more efficiently? How do we centralize this? Because again, I was told, “One company, one culture.” And one thing that’s important for one company, one culture, was consistent messaging, consistent branding, consistent communication to employees across the entire organization regardless of where you worked, or what your role is.

Rey:

Yeah. So, a couple of things related to that, and we’re talking about fostering a culture of inclusion. You’re not able to foster one if you’re spending 75% of your time on process and not the people. I think that’s absolutely central to this, is when it comes to culture and involving culture, it has to be people-centered. So, that’s one takeaway as far as why it was so important for that HR transformation to take place.

And you talked about the importance of communications related to culture, which at SocialChorus, we entirely agree with and understand. And I remember that transformation and communications was part of that HR transformation.

Michelle DiTondo:

It was.

Rey:

And it was SocialChorus that helped to support that transformation and allowed us to centralize those communications. So, a question I have is… Especially understanding many of the audience are SocialChorus customers or prospects, what do you think the SocialChorus platform can do to help companies create that culture of inclusion?

Michelle DiTondo:

Well, I think for us, it was… Initially, we sought out SocialChorus because we wanted to have that consistent messaging across the organization. From an inclusion standpoint, our employee population was very diverse, but the greatest driver behind us seeking a solution like SocialChorus was that, out of our, at the time, 88,000 employees, 90% of our employees were hourly, and 75% of those hourly were part-time. And so, even if you’re in a manager role, when you’re working in hospitality, you aren’t sitting at a desk. And so, we needed to reach all of those employees without being able to go through a desktop, because they were out servicing our customers, they’re on the casino floor dealing Blackjack, serving drinks, cleaning rooms, checking people in.

And so, SocialChorus was a way for us to include all of those employees, whether you sat at a desk in our corporate offices, or you’re on the floor servicing customers, or your part-time and might only work a couple of days a week, we were able to reach all of those employees with the same communication at the same time. Again, being able to be a part of issues that affect you includes both knowing what’s happening as well as being able to give your point of view. SocialChorus allowed us to also get content from those who are on the floor. So, employees or leaders who were out working with our customers every day could also share content with us to let us know what was going on in the organization, that we might not be missing.

So, people were recognized that might not be recognized because their leader didn’t see what they did, their peer saw what they did and posted a story about it, or shared a story about them, that we could then share across the organization. So, being able to get communication and information in a timely way to that diverse population of employees, as well as being able to hear back from them, what they liked, what they wanted to hear more of, what they saw happening in the organization, was one of the reasons why we felt like a tool like SocialChorus was imperative to our employee engagement culture, and in the end, diversity inclusion initiatives.

Rey:

Exactly. So, including employees in the conversation, through the tool, making it a two way communication instead of just top-down. And then, you said something interesting as well, is recognizing the behaviors that you are encouraging among your leaders and your employees, which… There’s the aspect of DEI there, that following training, or based upon the values that your company has established, the SocialChorus tool can help reinforce those behaviors through all kind of mechanisms, including recognition. So, I love how you put that.

Now, I have one last question, then we’re going to turn to questions from the audience. So, if you have not submitted your question in the Q&A box, please go ahead and do so. But, Michelle, I have to say this, and this is one of the reasons why you’re one of my favorite people in the world, is that you’re really one of the big reasons why I’m now at SocialChorus, because you are one of the biggest proponents at MGM for us to purchase SocialChorus. And had you not been, I may, perhaps, probably would not have met the SocialChorus team. So, you’re the reason why I’m with SocialChorus today. Now tell me, what led MGM to choosing SocialChorus as that platform to help it transform its communications, and what impact did you see it have on the company?

Michelle DiTondo:

So, we had started… Because of all the things I mentioned, the challenges with communicating through essentially email or paper to that diverse employee population, was why we started to look for a tool. We ended up looking at a few vendors, there were a couple of other vendors in this space, and I think we ended up with SocialChorus because they were the best partners with us. We had some unique needs… And I’m sure every customer thinks that they have unique needs, but we felt like we had this unique employee population with unique needs that we needed to address, as well as being able to kind of both sharing stories about our culture, as well as urgent communications that needed to get to employees to help them manage their day.

So, SocialChorus was the most flexible, they were the best partners. They were responsive when we needed information for them, or we had requests to be able to adapt certain things, and so that’s why we chose SocialChorus. I think what happened after that was surprising to all of us. So, we spent most of our onboarding time developing a pipeline of content to share that we thought would be engaging, because we really thought, we need to get people on board right away. So, once we launched, the adaption, I thought, was really surprising.

And one thing that we learned was that, despite feedback that we heard that a lot of our hourly employees might not be technically savvy, they had smart phones, they were used to using social media tools like Facebook or Instagram, and so they understood the concept of being able to see content, use, share their own content, and then like or comment on content that was shared with them. And so, the adaption and the ability to communicate to them quickly was noticed and realized pretty fast.

Rey:

Great. Thanks, Michelle. Well, now let’s turn to some of the questions that we have received through the Q&A box. First question I see, this individual says, “The paper sounds interesting, our organization is doing bias training now, is there a way to get a copy of the paper?” So, Michelle, how could individuals who are following see the white paper?

Michelle DiTondo:

And actually, probably, the easiest way without navigating a website link is just… On my LinkedIn profile, it’s posted in the featured area of my LinkedIn profile, and is a PDF. So, you can go there directly and get it. My LinkedIn profile is Michelle (Bray) DiTondo.

Rey:

Right. Thanks, Michelle. Another question, this is from Emily, “How did you get your non-desk employees to adopt the mobile app? Do they have company issued phones, or did you rely on employees opting in?”

Michelle DiTondo:

We relied on employees opting in, and one of the things that we had a practice of… We had cafeterias on every property, and so we would hold events whenever we launched anything, whether it was open enrollment for benefits, or the launch of our SocialChorus app, which we called LEO. So, when we launched LEO, we held events in employee dining rooms, and we had contests. So, we did things like, if you download the app, you’re entered into a contest to win two Golden Knights tickets. The NHL was very new in Las Vegas, and so there were some drivers like that that encouraged employees to download the app. So, we did some communication engagement initiatives, as well as head contests for them to opt in. And it was on their own personal devices.

Rey:

Yeah. Personal devices, it wasn’t mandatory. And if I can add a couple of things as well is, because we recognized those frontline employees were really the employees that embodied the brand of MGM, we prioritized the entire experience really around them. And that came to content, we’ve pulled our employees ahead of time making sure that we had a strong sense of what they wanted in the app, and the type of content that would really resonate with them. And I think that was a key aspect of making sure that they understood that this was an investment in them, as well as the entire employees, and it provided that incentive for them to adopt the mobile app, because they understood that this truly was for them, and it was great value to them as well. Thanks Emily. Another question from Cheryl, “What actionable things can leaders do to make this a lasting and authentic change?”

Michelle DiTondo:

This is similar to what we did at MGM Resorts when we drove this culture change was, we identified the behaviors that we wanted leaders to execute upon pretty regularly, so things like… In the research that we did, the behavior is, ask others for their point of view. There were different behaviors that we identified as our competencies at MGM Resorts, but we put those behaviors in everything that we did with leaders, so there was a lot of clarity. First, we train them, so we said, “Here are your expectations as a leader, and what we expect you to do.” For MGM, there were some behaviors that were essentially, treat our employees like you treat our guests. So, we had those behaviors, but then they became part of the performance review, so people were given regular feedback around how they perform those behaviors.

And for senior leaders, performing those behaviors became part of our bonus process, because it was part of our performance review, and so it ended up impacting your reward over the course of the year, so there was accountability. And whether or not you can make it part of a compensation system, or performance review, I think senior need to demonstrate the behaviors and need to be part of it. They need to hold people accountable for, and reward those who perform the behaviors regularly, and hold those accountable who work against those behaviors in the organization. So, role modeling and accountability are keys to any type of culture transformation, or diversity inclusion initiative.

Rey:

Right. Thanks, Michelle. Here’s a question from Alex. Alex says, “When you think about the benefits of DEI in any organization, have you considered how those efforts impact the bottom line, or are tied to external marketing efforts?”

Michelle DiTondo:

From 1991, I’m a huge fan of the research that was done in the early ’90s at Harvard Business School around the service profit chain, and so I think it still resonates today in that, if employees feel like they’re valued and important, they make your guests feel like they’re valued and important, or they put in discretionary effort into their jobs. So, the way that I characterize this at MGM Resorts was, if you walked up to a security officer at any of our properties and ask for directions to a restaurant, a security officer could say, “Walk down that hallway and turn left,” and absolutely be performing their job. They fulfilled their obligation, that’s part of their job description, assist customers, be polite, “It’s down that hallway and turn to the left.”

Discretionary effort from that same security officer, if they feel valued, and they feel like they belong and they’re important to the organization, that security officer might say, “It’s an incredible restaurant, are you celebrating something tonight?” If they can, “Let me walk you there.” And while they’re walking someone there, talk about if it’s their first time at that property, or their first time in Las Vegas, that type of behavior makes the customer or the guest feel like they’re welcomed and they’re valued. And in the end, that drives increased purchasing, loyalty, and revenue. That applies also to non-guest facing jobs, so doing more than what’s expected is a result of feeling valued.

Rey:

Exactly. And related to external marketing, because I was part of this effort as well in the space of DEI for MGM is that, it was important to demonstrate to our customers that we prioritize DEI. So, it wasn’t just something that we were checking off the box, but it was something that was embedded throughout the entire company in order for them to feel valued. That they would see in our marketing efforts individuals that looked like them, or were from the same background as them as well. So, that’s a key thing too, is being able to articulate that there truly is a bottom line. At the end of the day, it’s the right thing to do. However, I think customers are expecting it, and I think investors are expecting it as well. Another question, this is-

Michelle DiTondo:

Absolutely agree.

Rey:

Yeah. This is from Kelly, “Is there a research that you know of surrounding inclusion and opinions in the transgender, women of color, or gender nonconforming?”

Michelle DiTondo:

Not off the top of my head, I don’t know of a research right now that I could refer you to. I do think that it’s a super interesting topic to think of, because when you think of the traditional bias training that’s happening in organizations, and I talked about the burden that women of color or people of color have when walking into the workplace, and how that impacts how valued you feel, or how safe you feel in an organization, I think initially, the biases are often based on outward appearances. So, what you look like drives what people think about you.

So, one reason why I think LGBTQ employees are underrepresented in the workplace, and definitely, they’re impacted by how valued they feel based on how their coworkers treat them… However, being LGBTQ isn’t often visible, initially, when you first see someone, it’s something that you discover as you get to know them. So, I do think it’s super interesting to think about how once that diversity, or their gender affiliation, or sexual orientation is discovered, how that might change how their coworkers treat them. I think that would be a separate body of research, but would be really interesting to explore and to think through.

Rey:

Agreed. Just a few additional questions. And I think this next one is important because if we’re fostering a culture of inclusion, and we want to see success there, then we have to have metrics that demonstrate whether we’re going the right path. So, I love this question, “Do you use KPIs to measure diversity, inclusion, and belonging? And if so, which ones?”

Michelle DiTondo:

I think that a lot of companies do employee surveys. I think the value out of the public survey that we did was that there was no fear of anonymity, or of retaliation for being candid about your feedback. So, there might be some type of bias when people are completing an internal survey, but I do think that doing that same analysis… Most surveys have items around, do you feel valued in the organization? Do you feel safe to express your point of view? These are common items that are in any employee engagement survey. I think doing some analysis though across ethnicities and gender, I think is where you’ll find out if there are differences in how people feel in the organization based on their representation. So, it’s doing that-

Rey:

[crosstalk 00:42:19].

Michelle DiTondo:

… added analysis if you already have an employee survey.

Rey:

Yeah, exactly. Don asks, “How did you get employees not at their desks to share their stories?” So, I’m guessing through user-submitted content, what was the process for that?

Michelle DiTondo:

Well, I mean, we did have an approval process built in because we had so many employees, and so they would submit a story through the SocialChorus app, that the post had to be approved by the communication team. But people were able to… Just like any other social media app, they were able to take a picture, put a story, and then submit it to be posted. And the team that Rey led was responsible for reviewing those as quickly as possible to be able to post them. Given our diverse… We had thousands and thousands of employees, really, the only thing that they were screening for was anything that was inappropriate to share at work, but otherwise, most stories were shared. And people could do that on their smartphone. We also had employee kiosks in the back of the house, if someone didn’t have a phone, but that was such a small percentage that most shared through their phone.

Rey:

And I remember that we would regularly put call to actions to employees to share different things. And I remember, related to our service behaviors that we were expecting all employees to do, we would tell managers and employees, “If you see an employee going above and beyond to demonstrate those behaviors, take a picture and share the story related to it.” And what that did, it drove pride within our employees, it made employees feel recognized, then it also tied to our business priorities by, again, reinforcing those behaviors and those things that we were really looking for our employees to do in order to deliver on the brand of the company.

And here’s one last question, and then let’s wrap up, this is a really good one, and I think this is a great way to summarize the conversation today. “What is the next step for a company after bias training?” And I’ll add a little bit to this, what would you consider, or what would be your one piece of advice to those companies who recognize that they have to do more, that they have to go beyond just training?

Michelle DiTondo:

So, next step after bias training, I think, you need to focus on leader behaviors, starting with the people who feel safest in the organization, the people who feel most empowered to step in when unfair things happen, the people who feel the most confident in sharing their point of view. Oftentimes, those tend to be senior level Caucasian men in the organization. And statistically, through our research, they feel much more confident, much more safe in the organization. And so, you need to start with giving them specific behaviors that they should execute upon on a regular basis, implement those behaviors, train people on them, talk about success stories when those behaviors are executed upon, and how they make people feel, that gives some type of reward for following through on those behaviors.

But identify those behaviors, talk about them frequently, share stories of success, that’s when real change is going to happen in the organization. And you could do that after bias training, which increase awareness, focus on specific behaviors.

Rey:

Great. Well, thank you, Michelle for joining us today, we are at time. I appreciate you taking the time to share all these insights. I think you have given many individuals some key next steps on how they can cultivate inclusion within their company. I would also thank everyone who joined in the audience and submitted questions, we appreciate your engagement, this has been a wonderful conversation. Anything you would like to leave with us, Michelle?

Michelle DiTondo:

No. I’m so appreciative to talk about this. I know for those people in the audience that are driving culture change and employee engagement, it’s often tough to do… A story, when I started with MGM Resorts, and I always tell this story, a person on my first day said, “Hey, congratulations on your new role as CHRO.” I said, “Thank you so much.” He said, “That job is going to be like dragging a dead horse through mud.” And I’ve told that story so often because culture change and employee engagement is hard work, but it’s so incredibly rewarding at the end that I wouldn’t have changed the 15 years of MGM Resorts and the nine years as CHRO for anything in the world, because it was so rewarding.

Rey:

Well, thank you, Michelle. And I think others would agree that the time at MGM and the product has been an amazing story for MGM. So, thanks for sharing that with us today. We are now going to toss the stage back over to Rachel to discuss the next steps for today’s conversation. Thank you again everyone for joining us today.

 

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