Video shot and produced by Alana Winns and Christian Carew
TIAA, ranked No. 27 on the 2017 DiversityInc Top 50 list, has been a very strong company for diversity and inclusion (D&I) management. Led by Roger Ferguson, one of only three Black CEOs in the Fortune 500, TIAA has been ranked on the DiversityInc Top 50 since 2013.
The company has strong racial diversity and women representation in its workforce, management and leadership ranks. It also has best practices in place to help it recruit, manage and retain a diverse workforce, such as mentoring and employee-resource groups (ERGs). At the center of it all is Ferguson and his leadership team holding stakeholders accountable for results.
It was this accountability that lead to TIAA's breakthrough strategy on connecting D&I management to business impact. At the company's ERG Summit in 2015, Ferguson acknowledged that TIAA's eight ERGs had been doing great work and positively impacting the company's culture and business. But Ferguson thought the groups could do more and he challenged them to create better experiences and outcomes for their clients.
Kyle Kunde, Vice President DCIO Regional Sales Director, Nuveen (a subsidiary of TIAA), was invited to the ERG Summit that year. He was the business lead for military veterans ERG. After Ferguson's challenge, Kunde recalls thinking that the best route to an innovative solution is through a diverse group of folks working through it.
"If we've got five Kyles working on a problem, hopefully we'll get to a solution at some point," Kunde remembered. "But if we brought in others from different backgrounds and perspectives, the likeliness of us coming to an extraordinary innovative solution is much stronger."
While watching the D&I team and ERG members discuss and strategize on ideas, a light bulb went on for Kunde.
Kunde recalled, "We were sitting there and I thought what if we started to harness the power of D&I inside of an incubator solution where we could work with different business entities inside the enterprise. We could overcome group think. We could inject diversity into a number of the projects that our leaders are working through to hopefully get to innovative solutions."
The ball started rolling and the TIAA Incubator was born.
What is the TIAA Incubator
Kunde said the TIAA Incubator is "essentially a think tank." It took the company a year to think through how the Incubator would be structured and operate. Leading the way for the Incubator is a leadership council comprised of one person from each of the company's eight ERGs.
It also includes additional representation from the ERGs. The group strategizes to help leadership and the business entities solve problems.
Kunde explained, "The incubator basically engages with business entities to help create creative and innovative solutions to the problems that they are facing. The problems themselves can really be simple or could be an enterprise-wide, multi-year problem that we are working through."
Natasha Radden, SVP, Human Resources Business Partner, Client Services & Technology (formerly SVP, Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer) added that the Incubator has worked on a number of business challenges so far, from reviewing the approach to the company's advisory model for certain groups and consulting with the internal teams to testing new products.
"The work that has come in has truly varied across the scale," Radden said. "The Incubator has been structured to allow leadership to pull members from each of the ERGs to reflect not only ethnicity and gender, but people who are on alternative work schedules or people in marketing or finance.
"We have people represented across all disciplines and so we get groups that are very diverse, in many different ways, to bring their talents and experiences to respond to the challenges we face."
Kunde added, "Our executive leadership and everyone under them can, when they are working through projects, tap into the Incubator for innovative minds, wealth of experiences and energized employees from all different areas of the organization."
One example of how the Incubator helped the company is when it launched a sophisticated IRA product late last year. The company used the Incubator before going to market to get a feel for what customers wanted and didn't want.
The business teams went through several pilots working side by side with the talent in the Incubator to ensure the product was a good fit.
"The businesses tapped into our intellectual capability, our perspectives, our diverse entity to help them come up with a product that makes sense," Kunde explained.
Participation in the Incubator
As of Q1, the Incubator base is 190 people and growing. Kunde said that the company has six Incubators going right now, each working on a different mid-to high-level project.
"What's cool about the incubator is it's like a start up inside of the organization," Kunde said. "Every year we're upgrading, we're adding new things, we're changing things to become more effective and efficient, to further drive innovation, diversity and inclusion."
There has been so much demand for the Incubator that three project managers were brought in (from ERGs) to help its leadership council. The project managers help the Incubator's leadership council spearhead the efforts. In essence, the Incubator serves as a project consultant to the businesses, similar to how D&I departments at many Top 50 companies serve as D&I consultants to their business units and departments.
"The incubator is now two years old and it took some time to stand up, get the processes in place and create an intake process for the businesses to bring issues to us," Kunde said. "We have projects going on simultaneously often times, we need to go out and solicit more people to come into the Incubator to work on the projects. I've been at leadership meetings where we are discussing a new product or an acquisition and leaders have asked about leveraging the Incubator, 18 months out from introducing the product. That says a lot about what has happened over the two years and how people, how our business leaders are looking at our ERGs and in particular the Incubator."
The Incubator also serves as a talent-development opportunity. It allows talent to be noticed by senior leaders.
Radden explained, "Employees who wouldn't naturally have an opportunity to have audience with our head of retail or the senior leadership team, through the Incubator, have the opportunity to have audience with senior leaders about business and really talk about something that's innovative and creative; and will potentially be one of the next new products that we introduce from that business."
Kunde is one example of this. He lives in Texas, is in sales and went on more than 100 flights last year. Kunde has aspirations of being in a leadership position one day."The Incubator has given me the opportunity to connect with some of the leaders inside of the organization and learn from them," Kunde said. "It is also allowing me to learn skillsets that are difficult to attain by just reading about them. In the Incubator, I get to learn and practice these skillsets. The impact the Incubator has on career development is real."