In the fourth quarter of 2021, IHRIM’s Workforce Solutions Review addressed the topic of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). This issue presented research articles focused on leadership methods to accelerate and achieve diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) goals through effective use of data and technology. This thought-provoking approach to technologies as applied to DEI included AI, social media, data analytics, pulse surveys, social networks, portals, text messages, cloud-based Human Capital Management systems, and metrics to measure outcomes.1 Building on the firm foundation of this research, a year later the question comes to mind “Are organizations using these technologies to achieve diversity, equity, and inclusion? The answer is yes.
Building on the firm foundation of this research, a year later the question comes to mind: “Are organizations using these technologies to support a culture of DEI and if so, how?” The answer is YES. As an example, this article summarizes interviews with Mr. Peter Quigley, President, and CEO of Kelly (previously Kelly Services). The interviews’ contents demonstrate several ways in which Kelly uses many of the principles and tools mentioned in Workforce Solutions Review (Fourth Quarter, 2021) to successfully support and propel DEI initiatives forward. Kelly’s example is instructive as it provides practical insights into how technology can be used to “achieve DEI goals through greater resolve, clearer goals, and a growth mindset approach.” 2
Background on Kelly and Its President and CEO, Peter Quigley
Kelly is a public, American, specialty talent solutions company that operates globally and has been in business for over 75 years. Kelly places approximately 350,000 people every year at all levels in various sectors including financial services, science, engineering, technology, light industrial, and education. This story, however, is about Kelly’s 7,000+ corporate employees.
Before becoming the CEO, Quigley was EVP for Global Staffing and prior to that SVP for General Counsel among other positions spanning 19 years with Kelly. More recently under Quigley’s leadership, Kelly redesigned its business model to exit some industries. Quigley explained that Kelly stopped “trying to be everything for everyone.” Additionally, Quigley led the Kelly organization to invest in modern technologies. Kelly’s technology goal was to enable employees to work from anywhere supported by an IT infrastructure that enabled seamless services from day one. This occurred before the pandemic.
Peter Quigley brings his own brand to Kelly’s culture and views work as a “noble mission.” His perspective on work emerges from his personal story. When he was a child, Quigley remembers, his father left his family. His mother had four children and she had not worked outside of the home since getting married. With her husband out of the picture, she got a temporary job. It was a challenging time in the family’s history, Quigley says, as he witnessed his mother working sometimes two jobs to support a family of five. As time progressed, she got into real estate, and finally marketing. By the end of her career, Peter proudly states, his mother “was extraordinarily successful.” Quigley says, “I’ve seen firsthand how work can change lives. Work can be a transformative, noble endeavor that offers dignity.”
Quigley emphasizes that technology can connect people to work that enhances their lives. “We see application for technology in our business, in the full stream of our operations,” Quigley says.3 So, the question becomes, how does an organization like Kelly approach DEI enabled by technology?
Recent Factors Impacting Kelly’s Approach to DEI
The U.S. workplace has been experiencing major shifts. In the past couple of years:
- Record numbers of women left the workforce, and a record one million women have not returned to the workforce. 4
- There are more than six million young adults between 18 and 28 with work-ready skills who are unemployed or underemployed in the U.S. 5
- 78 million American adults – nearly 33% of our working-age population – have a criminal history which can make it difficult to be hired.6
- Two out of three American veterans are underemployed – even though they have valuable, market-ready technical and leadership skills.7
Kelly was not immune to those trends. While these facts may be daunting, they also offer opportunity. Kelly invested in technology strategies to tap into under-utilized talent resources as part of its business model. At the same time, Kelly designed a robust, multi-faceted, technology-enabled DEI strategy. Quigley outlines a few facets of the company’s DEI strategy, including casting a broader net when hiring, aligning Artificial Intelligence algorithms with DEI goals, using technology and ease of entry to attract talent post-pandemic, training employees to fill skill and education gaps, and more.
Cast a Broader Net When Hiring
The demand for temporary staffing services has never been higher. In today’s labor market, companies define innovation as the ability to reach people. Quigley emphasizes the importance of ensuring more Americans can access employment that enriches their lives. “We intend to relentlessly focus on this aspiration. Unfortunately, we still see far too many barriers in our society that make it hard – or even impossible – for some people, particularly underserved and vulnerable populations, to secure meaningful work.” One way to conquer these barriers is through effective use of technologies to cast a broader net when hiring and be more inclusive.
Recruiting at Kelly relies upon Artificial Intelligence (AI) for vetting candidates. However, AI must be evaluated to ensure that the algorithms reflect an organization’s values. (Trawinski; Fenzig; Sonderling, 2021) At Kelly, AI streamlines the resume screening process by examining submissions for specific job skills and the ability to learn rather than the typical credentials such as education, years of experience, previous titles, etcetera. This opens the aperture for under-utilized talent and breaks down employment barriers.8
Under Peter Quigley’s leadership, Kelly has developed a robust, multi-faceted strategy with the singular goal of opening doors for a broad array of workers, including those who are typically marginalized. Those are women with gaps on their job record, veterans without a degree, people on the autism scale, opportunity youth, non-degreed applicants, and those with a criminal record or as Peter calls them “second-chance workers.”
Use Technology and Ease of Entry to Attract Those Most Affected by the Pandemic
The pandemic did damage to the hiring opportunities, especially for women. Quigley points out, “There are record numbers of women leaving the workforce. This is the biggest change in workforce history…. It would be a tragedy if the gains women have made were lost because of the pandemic.” The U.S. Chamber of Commerce –along with other organizations and experts—corroborated this fact, finding that in April 2022 there were still one million women missing from the workforce.9
To eliminate technology barriers wherever they exist, Kelly has a job portal (MyKellyJobs.com) that is available to all who have computers. However, for those without PCs, the job portal is also easily accessible via smartphone browser. This mobile accessible portal broadens the potential audience of job applicants.
Use Training to Fill Skill and Education Gaps and Promote DEI
Quigley highlights the need for a change in basic assumptions about workers. In effect, Quigley says that the pandemic put the worker in the driver seat. To win the war for talent, the workplace “requires a structural change toward an employee-centric view.” This requires a commitment to employees and their development.
For employee development, Kelly provides innovative and creative learning solutions that allow workers to grow careers and skills at all levels. (Garr, 2021) The training involves individualized learning paths with innovative learning solutions, and the ability to track each learner’s growth. The training is high-touch, interactive and blended (role play, peer-to-peer, virtual, instructor-led lessons, guided work, and regular manager interaction). Kelly’s training maximizes the value of blended learning, while extending learning to many who typically are excluded from such learning opportunities.
Kelly trains its hiring managers to remove unconscious bias from the interview process. There is also an online course that trains hiring managers to look beyond the typical credentials such as education, experience, and previous title to focus on skills and ability to learn. The interview training allows Kelly to include hires often overlooked. Using Kelly’s Equity@Work tool managers can access some of the underemployed individuals mentioned above with Kelly’s internal positions. “Removing education requirements from all corporate requisitions and giving leaders the option to add them (for roles with specific education requirements) levels the playing field,” Quigley explains.10
Create “Meaningful” Jobs
When Peter Quigley first became CEO, he made some immediate changes. Those included selling headquarters real estate, engaging in a sale leaseback arrangement that allows Kelly to focus on growth, and investing in technology for the front line and back office. 11 Kelly invested in an enterprise-wide implementation of a new front-office system that allows Kelly to “plug-and-play” the best technology in support of recruiting and sales activities as well as technology to improve the efficiency, productivity, and speed of all Kelly operations. Additionally, Kelly deployed robotic process automation in the back office.
These technological advances were not intended to eliminate jobs, but to “repurpose workers to work on higher-value work that they enjoy more.” Quigley emphasizes the importance of ensuring employees engage in “meaningful work” that enriches their lives. “We intend to relentlessly focus on this aspiration. Unfortunately, we still see far too many barriers in our society that make it hard – or even impossible – for some people, particularly under-served and vulnerable populations, to secure meaningful work.”
Support Flexible Work
A few years ago, Kelly developed a “progressive, work-from-anywhere mindset” and implemented the IT infrastructure to support that. As a result, when the U.S. went into full lockdown, Kelly was able to continue to provide seamless services to internal employees.
At present, Kelly has shifted to a workplace that permanently supports flexible work. As Quigley states, “We have found that where the work is performed is not as important as the work outcome. Jobs that some thought could not be done remotely have proven that they can be. Additionally, there will be less constrained, less formal work styles.”[i]12 The technologies to support flexible work styles include Employee Self-Service portals, cloud-based HR systems, administration and personal records captured in HRM, PTO tracking, and updated digital security and privacy. (Greene; Jones, 2021) In short, Kelly aims to give people the tools they need to succeed at work regardless of location.
Establish Pay Equity
The best approach to pay equity is by using data analytics to determine equity. (Tarulli, 2021) 20 At Kelly, the methodology used to establish wages is through combined analysis of macro-economic conditions and wage information provided through a combination of market conditions and data from EMSI (an organization that aggregates and analyzes Labor Market information, job postings, profile data, compensation data, and global data). Of course, local and state laws also are part of the mix. Most important, the process of defining jobs by the required skills (rather than previous title, years on the job, or educational pedigree) caused a major shift in the compensation process.
Use DEI Communication Tools
Words matter. They can impact –for better or for worse–internal efforts to maintain a diverse workforce that is equitable and inclusive. Kelly relies upon Textio – a writing-enhancement service – for text analysis, to avoid biased words. This technology ensures that internal materials, communications, and documents as well as websites, and job postings remain untainted by skewed language that portrays a less-than-fair-and-equitable culture. Kelly also uses Textio to analyze job postings and website content to promote inclusive language and foster a culture of belonging.
Identify/Hire a Chief Advocate for DEI
In September of 2022, Kelly created the role of Chief Diversity Officer by promoting from within a Mr. Keilon Ratliff 13 Previously, Mr. Ratliff led the company’s automotive, energy, and finance business. In that role, he worked to expand career opportunities for job seekers with non-violent, non-relevant criminal records. This successful strategy increased one client organization’s talent pool by 20%, reduced turnover by 70%, and increased its diversity rate by 8%.14
In his new role as Chief Diversity Officer, Mr. Ratliff works with the leadership to execute its DEI strategy to make work more accessible to job seekers from underemployed talent groups.15 As is standard best practice, Ratliff will use benchmarking to inform his in-house goals. (Derler & Martin; Berland, Gomez, & Woods) Quigley says of Keilon: “Under his leadership, Kelly will continue fostering a culture of belonging where everyone can thrive and grow its leadership to advocate for equitable and enriching work for all.” Mr. Ratliff earned the 2021 Staffing Industry DE&I Influencers Award in 2021.16
Align Goals with National DEI Initiatives
In 2021, Forbes partnered with market research company Statista to compile an annual list of America’s Best Employers for Diversity. To determine the ranking, Statista surveyed 60,000 Americans working for businesses with at least 1,000 employees. Kelly ranked as one of America’s Best Employers for Diversity by Forbes, demonstrating that Kelly’s efforts in the DEI realm are recognized. 17 Kelly also earned “Gold Status” from WeConnect International for commitment to diversity and inclusion and Global Champion for Supplier Diversity & Inclusion,18 Top 100 Hybrid Companies to Watch, 2022 by Flexjobs, and earned a perfect score on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index. 19 Compared to benchmarks in the industry, Kelly exceeds expectations. (Derler & Martin, 2021)
This is what DEI looks like when implemented with intentionality as part of the overarching technology business strategy: it extends opportunity, widens the pool of talent, and creates a flexible workplace that is diverse and dedicated. Quigley states, “At Kelly, we have an incredible opportunity to knock down barriers to employment and create a more inclusive, equitable and prosperous future.” Kelly has done an excellent job implementing a comprehensive DEI Strategy by “walking-the-talk” for diversity, equity, and inclusion.
 IHRIM. (2021). Accelerating Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Through Data and Technology: Achieving DEI Goals Requires Greater Resolve, Clearer Goals, and a Growth Mindset Approach. Workforce Solutions Review, Fourth Quarter (4th Quarter), 1-28.
2 IHRIM. (2021). Accelerating Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Through Data and Technology: Achieving DEI Goals Requires Greater Resolve, Clearer Goals, and a Growth Mindset Approach. Workforce Solutions Review, Fourth Quarter (4th Quarter), 1-28.
3 Kerr, B., & Fuller, J. (2022). Contingent to Career: Kelly Services’ Peter Quigley on Reinventing Work and Creating Good Jobs [Interview]. Harvard Business School. (January 12, 2022), 1-10. https://www.hbs.edu/managing-the-future-of-work/podcast/Pages/podcast-details.aspx?episode=21750149
4 U.S. Chamber of Commerce, April 27, 2022, https://www.uschamber.com/workforce/understanding-americas-labor-shortage-why-one-million-women-are-missing-from-the-workforce
9 Ferguson, S. (2022, April 27, 2022). Understanding America’s Labor Shortage: Why One Million Women are Missing from the Workforce. Workforce. https://www.uschamber.com/workforce/understanding-americas-labor-shortage-why-one-million-women-are-missing-from-the-workforce
11 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qldoknegmkA. Timestamp 6:00.
12 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qldoknegmkA. Timestamp 20:52.
14 Cision PR Newswire. (2022, Sept 14). Kelly Appoints Keilon Ratliff as Company’s First Chief Diversity Officer [Bio]. https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/kelly-appoints-keilon-ratliff-as-companys-first-chief-diversity-officer-301623686.