Article: Ownership of DEI initiatives has to start from the top: Fluent Commerce’s Alex Pusenjak

Diversity

Ownership of DEI initiatives has to start from the top: Fluent Commerce’s Alex Pusenjak

In conversation with People Matters, Alex Pusenjak, Global VP-People & Culture at Fluent Commerce, emphasises the importance of leadership buy-in and accountability for meaningful DEI outcomes.
Ownership of DEI initiatives has to start from the top: Fluent Commerce’s Alex Pusenjak

Alex Pusenjak is the Global VP-People & Culture at Fluent Commerce and is responsible for designing and implementing their people strategy to enable the rapid growth the company is experiencing.  He brings over 10 years of human resources leadership experience to his role at the company, where his focus is to create a world-class onboarding experience, develop a career model framework across the business, implement a competitive global benefits program and ensure diversity, equality, and inclusion. In an exclusive interaction with People Matters, Alex shares his expertise on leading impactful DEI interventions, the critical role of leadership and digital solutions in this endeavour and more.

Here are some excerpts.

What are your DEIB priorities for the year 2022?

At Fluent Commerce, our key DEIB priority for 2022 was continuously educating our employees. An inclusive workplace allows people to perform without inhibitions, and we have always made it a point to ensure that everyone in the workplace feels welcome. We strategised and achieved this by rolling out Unconscious Bias training through our new LMS platform, growing our DEIB committee and commencing DEIB Ted Talk discussions. 

 We are also working towards developing a strategic DEIB roadmap for the future. This will give us a headstart in building an environment where differences are celebrated. It will also give us an overview of what we can achieve in the coming years and how we can create meaningful change.

What are some of the biggest challenges in prolonging sustainable DEI? How can organisations overcome these?

 One of the biggest challenges in prolonging sustainable DEIB initiatives is failing to get leadership buy-in. Leadership engagement in DEIB initiatives may seem like a small step, but it can influence and promote a positive work culture. 

 At Fluent Commerce, we have strong support from our senior leadership team, who have been the sponsor for various DEIB initiatives. An example of how the whole company supported an underprivileged and unrepresented group was during our annual employee summit, 'FluentFest,' where employees prepared over 1,000 meals for a Sydney homeless shelter. 

 Companies across industries also need to prioritise accountability. For example, according to a recent report from Mercer, only 42% of companies in the tech industry have a documented DEI strategy. As companies start to hold themselves accountable, they can foster positive changes.

How have digital solutions been used at your organisation to facilitate DEI initiatives? Moreover, what steps can organisations take to implement D&I initiatives more effectively and measure their impact?

According to a recent report, only 30% of organisations surveyed globally feel that their DEI initiatives are actually effective. Several also reported having trouble managing their DEI programs despite integrating them into their business strategy.

One of the reasons behind this could be that several organisations fall short in metrics and training. For instance, while representation metrics cannot change overnight, companies can make a concerted effort toward training their leaders and employees to understand why representation matters. 

Organisations may also not always consider benefit programs that appeal to a diverse workforce, leaving considerable room for improvement. Fluent Commerce has stayed abreast of digital solutions to foster belonging, collaboration, passion, psychological safety and employee well-being. This has included utilising Lattice for our Global Engagement Survey and ensuring our Employee Assistance Programs have virtual consultation services available. We have also created an Intranet called FluentVerse, which has a dedicated DEIB resource page. 

How do you see the role of leadership in solidifying inclusion? How essential is leadership sensitisation to enabling sustainable inclusion?

Companies across the globe are in different phases of making changes to their policies and changing the fundamental definition of business. As a result, a successful business has now transformed into one that can benefit the employees as much as the other stakeholders.

 Businesses can and should create policies that support DEI initiatives; however, these policies could go amiss without a leader who can understand and implement them rightly. Leadership is often misunderstood as being limited to work, but a good leader should be able to foster and promote changes.

 Training the leaders to ensure inclusion, promote diversity and engage with their team to understand and address challenges should be the core of every business’ DEIB strategy.

 At Fluent, DEIB encompasses the range of policies, values, practices, and strategies used to foster a work environment where our employees can thrive throughout the employee experience. An example of leadership buy-in at Fluent was SLG's involvement in building a transparent salary strategy to reduce compensation bias for our end-of-year performance review cycle.

What are some ways to weave inclusion and allyship support in the flow of work, rather than occasional conversations?

With effort and time, it is possible for organisations to integrate inclusion and allyship into their work environment. Ownership of DEI initiatives has to start from the top. There has to be an active effort toward addressing recruiting, succession planning and other talent-related challenges.

 As the workforce becomes more diverse, leaders and managers should also be assessed based on DEI goals. If they are able to engage with their employees effectively and encourage them to talk about and celebrate their differences, conversations about DEI will eventually become less of an occasional occurrence. 

 Fluent sees allies as important members of the DEIB family. Anyone has the potential to be an ally, and they play a critical role in serving as witnesses, support pillars, resources, and advocates for any of their peers. Because an ally might have more privilege and recognises their privilege, they are powerful voices alongside oppressed ones. During Pride month, we ran a workshop on the importance of allyship and leading through positive action. 

Having a diverse workforce is critical to our business success. Diversity sparks talent, uniqueness and creativity of thought. We welcome everyone from everywhere to help create and maintain a safe, inclusive environment.

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Topics: Diversity, Culture, Employee Relations

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