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Two ADP employees having a casual conversation

Does culture really eat strategy for breakfast?

https://eng.lifion.com/yes-culture-does-eat-strategy-for-breakfast-638ae19fc506

Yes, Culture DOES Eat Strategy for Breakfast

Jude Murphy
Jude Murphy

Nov 6, 2019 · 3 min read

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Diverse group of multicultural ADP employees

We All Want to Belong at Work

https://www.adp.com/spark/articles/2019/10/we-all-want-to-belong-at-work.aspx

 

“Finding commonalities and accepting differences is the key to belonging,” said ADP’s business anthropologist, Martha Bird.

When I started to consider belonging at work, I knew exactly who to call — ADP’s business anthropologist, Martha Bird [MB]. Here’s some of our conversation about why belonging matters and what organizations can do to create and sustain a culture of belonging.

HB: Having a sense of belonging seems so important to how we move through the world and how we relate to our work. What is belonging?

MB: Belonging almost strikes people as poetic. It seems like a feeling, so it can resist the critical lens we need to unpack it.

People think of belonging as a psychological state, but it is actually cultural. It’s the notion of being inside or outside and relates to enacted phenomena like what the cultural norms are around us and how we compare ourselves to those norms.

Everything cultural is nested in other things and is influenced by power, resources, how things have been done in the past, and what the expectations are for the people involved.

Kids can feel like they don’t belong because of their clothes. New employees can feel like they don’t belong because of the jargon used in the organization. I’m a social scientist surrounded by tech people and it’s not surprising that my sense of belonging is tested from time to time. Ultimately, I’m privileged to feel I’m part of something bigger than myself.

HB: What makes a culture of belonging? It seems like belonging is relational. It’s partly how I perceive the circumstances and culture, how people already in that culture see it, and what’s actually going on regardless of our individual perceptions and opinions.

MB: There are so many ways to feel like you don’t belong — socially, economically, intellectually, emotionally. It’s that sense of other. To make sense of it, we can look at othering, break it down, and pick it apart to see what’s happening. We identify the discreet instances where someone feels alienated and read the cultural cues about what is happening. This gives us information about the culture.

There is no universal recipe for what makes a healthy culture. There are many good and right ways to do things.

It partly has to do with a culture’s view of the individual and how the individual should relate to others. In the United States, belonging often evokes family, but we also have strong cultural values in individuality and being recognized and valued as an individual. In other cultures, a sense of harmony is highly valued and working toward common goals is more important than individual achievement.

A culture of belonging fundamentally has to do with common goals and values, respect for each other, and a sense of our shared humanity.

HB: How can we help people feel like they belong at work?

MB: We want workplaces where people feel like they can be themselves, but are also working with others to do the work. It’s less about fitting in and more about complementing. There has to be room for difference. It’s like an orchestra where the manager is the conductor and we have all these different instruments playing different parts in the same piece of music. We don’t want just the violins or the tubas. We need all the different sounds, rhythms and harmonies.

Belonging at work starts with leaders modeling the values and behavior for their teams. Is it comfortable to embody those values? Sometimes that means being vulnerable and asking for help.

I recently gave a big speech to a large group of people in a setting where I felt anxious. Walking up to the stage, I decided to tell the audience that and ask for help. So I explained how I was feeling and asked them to tell me, “It’s okay, Martha!” It was great, so I asked them to do it again. And they did! I felt so much better and they were all on my team at that point, because I was vulnerable and asked them to help me in a way they could.

In cultures of belonging, it’s okay to be honest about what’s going on, even if it’s that you don’t feel included.

HB: What are some specific things that managers or leaders can do to foster belonging at work?

MB: At the organizational level, it’s essential to ensure that the values of the organization exist at every level and in every manager without exception. It’s also important to consider how to structure teams and make sure they can communicate effectively, based on where and how people work.

At the team level, good manager training is key. Managers need skills in working with teams, allowing for different views, and figuring out how to handle disagreements and how decisions get made. When people can weigh in on something, there is a sense of being in it together.

It’s important to see each other as people, not work roles. Connecting in person and outside of work makes a difference. We need to tell and know each other’s stories and create opportunities for sharing. Have lunch, have informal video meetings where everyone gets to tell something about themselves. I was in a meeting recently where we all told the story of our names. I learned a lot and felt like the people who heard my story knew me a little better, too.

We need more awareness and cultural consciousness by design. People are fundamentally creative and want to learn. We all have different experiences and different lives.

Finding commonalities and accepting those differences is the key to belonging.

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One person helping another climb up a mountain (all in silhouette)

Mentorship and Allyship: Navigating Toward Diversity and Inclusion

Mentorship and allyship are critical considerations for any business aiming to be viewed as an inclusive, best-in-class workplace.

If there were ever a time to address allyship and mentorship it’s now. Social unrest in response to blatant injustice, specifically toward the Black community, has moved many organizations to new levels of action toward improving diversity and inclusion within the workforce and in communities where those organizations are operating. Companies are asking – What can be done to foster increase diverse demographic representation, nurture the careers of employees from underrepresent groups and create a greater sense of inclusion and belonging?

For organizational leaders, the importance of mentorship and allyship to employee development cannot be understated in addressing these and similar questions.

How Diversity and Inclusion Can Factor Into Mentorship

The importance of mentorship — that is, a formal or informal program that pairs a seasoned professional (a mentor) with another (a mentee) for the purpose of sharing their professional knowledge, skills and experiences — can be demonstrated in a number of ways. In a successful mentorship, a mentor can help their mentee learn the ins-and-outs of a role, department or organization faster and more effectively. A mentorship program can also serve as a way to develop historically underrepresented talent for leadership roles.

From a diversity and inclusion (D&I) standpoint, mentorship can give underrepresented employees exposure to opportunities and create a springboard for future sponsorship. For example, if data demonstrates that women or people of color are not well represented in the ranks of leadership, a mentorship program can be designed with specific development goals, coaching and/or advice on stretch assignments with career progression to more senior leadership roles in mind.

Mentorship, with a diverse lens, can also help foster a culture of inclusion. A mentor and mentee have an opportunity to cultivate a deeper relationship with someone who might be very different from them. So it’s not just about the representation statistics. It’s about literally making space for people to show up in an organization in the fullness of who they are.

At ADP, we are deeply committed to diversity and inclusion. For example, we have specific goals for representation of women and people of color in the executive ranks. We’re also deeply committed to driving associate inclusion and belonging, which allyship and mentorship are integral to.

Mentors are expected to be inclusive leaders by doing the following:

Evaluate their own respective professional networks. Who are the people that help you round yourself out, help you get your job done and help you with your career progression? Assess this group, and if the people in your network are mostly similar to you, you’re likely doing yourself and those you mentor a disservice. As leaders, we are charged with examining our networks in this way and encouraging others to do the same.
Disrupt unconscious bias. While there is no singular definition for this term, unconscious bias is generally thought of as the assumptions a person might unknowingly make about a person or group of people. These biases show up with us every day and we must do the work to ensure our unconscious biases do not impact how we view talent. Mentors should educate themselves on the subject matter and take steps to “disrupt” those unconscious biases.
It’s important that mentors remain vigilant around not letting their biases — unconscious or not — interfere with how they provide guidance to their mentees. Organizationally, ADP has made a commitment to broaden education on unconscious bias. ADP’s CEO, Carlos Rodriguez, signed the CEO Action Pledge in October, 2017. As of this writing, we’ve trained roughly 800 leaders within the organization, and have a goal of reaching all leaders over the course of our next fiscal year. This is being done to create awareness, as well as to provide the tools and resources needed to disrupt unconscious biases.

What Allyship Can Mean for an Organization

In the context of the workplace, allyship refers to support and advocacy for colleagues from underrepresented groups, including LGBTQ+, women, the differently-abled and people of color. Mentorship often focuses on strengthening workplace relationships centered on career progression, and allyship can function similarly. At its core, allyship is about consciously taking steps to eliminate individual and systemic barriers that underrepresented groups face in the workplace.

For example, ADP recently formed a “Men as Allies” network. This initiative will help support mentoring and targeted leadership development programs through greater advocacy and sponsorship for women and people of color. Allyship is critical to business success, as it promotes a culture of inclusion that extends beyond the D&I function where leaders drive performance and innovation through higher engagement and employee belonging.

Business leaders can also create and execute on allyship strategies that make sense for their particular areas of responsibility. These are a must-have, as executive buy-in is necessary for any program — D&I-centered or otherwise — to be successful. A commitment to allyship is a commitment to use your voice and create greater equity in the workplace.

Mentorship and allyship are critical considerations for any business aiming to be viewed as an inclusive, best-in-class workplace. Well-crafted programs driven by executive support and accountability can help organizations achieve this.

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Girls Who Hack group photo

ADP Partners with Girls Who Hack on an all-female Hackathon

Female coders were encouraged to put their own self-doubt aside and to relentlessly pursue their education and dreams.

On a crisp autumn Saturday, 110 students arrived early to the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) campus center in Newark, New Jersey. They gathered to participate in the first-ever ALL-women 24-hour hackathon (where ADP was the diamond-level sponsor). There was a lot of excitement and anticipation in the air, both from the attendees and the Women in Computing Society organizers.

Don Weinstein, ADP Corporate Vice President and Chief Product and Technology Officer, kicked off the hackathon with a rousing keynote speech touting the importance of creating an inclusive work environment.

“I’m proud of ADP’s ability to continue to innovate as we lead the way in supporting the global workforce. Our edge comes from including varied perspectives and talent as demonstrated through events like this one,” Weinstein said. “We genuinely believe that diversity and inclusion will continue to fuel the future of work, and we remain committed to empowering a workforce that truly represents all walks of life.”

Next up was Isabel Espina, Vice President of WorkMarket Product Development (WorkMarket is an ADP company). Isabel shared her inspiring journey through the obstacles she had to overcome as one of a small handful of female engineering college students in a male dominated field. Her experience is familiar and relatable to many women in the STEM field. Isabel described how ADP has supported her career, as a technologist and as a mother, and that helped her find balance between both worlds.

Seema Murthy and Foram Shah from ADP’s enterprise architecture team conducted a very well-received hands-on workshop called Design Your Own API. The students found the material informative and immediately put their real-world coding skills to work in creating their projects. Lisa Schmidt from ADP’s college recruiting team brought a lot of energy and enthusiasm as students visited with her to learn more about internship opportunities at our company.

The judges evaluated the projects and had the difficult task of choosing the top five teams. The top five teams presented their ideas, and each team’s project was evaluated on the quality of the code, design appeal, functionality and creativity.

The first-place team, four NJIT computer science graduate students, created a Sign Language Alphabet Prediction Translator application. The application takes American sign language images, predicts what alphabet the image is depicting, and prints the predicted alphabet along with the confidence score. The use case and inspiration for the team was a fellow classmate who is deaf and mute. The team wanted to create an application for the specially-abled student to communicate more easily with professors and her classmates. This application would eliminate the need for a human translator to help the student make the technical language used in class understandable. The students used Google Cloud Platform’s Auto ML API with Tensorflow and Python for coding. It was a very creative idea!

In addition to winning cool prizes, the first-place team was invited to visit the ADP office to learn about the next generation of award-winning ADP solutions and experience our workplace culture. At the close of the event, I encouraged ALL student participants to put their own self-doubt aside and to relentlessly pursue their education and dreams. I reminded them that they alone have the biggest impact on their own education and career.

Through this Hackathon sponsorship (and the ones we plan to sponsor in the future), and our significant partnership with Girls Who Code focused on closing the Gender Gap in tech, ADP demonstrates our commitment to promoting and supporting women in technology careers.

Learn more about internship and career opportunities at ADP.

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Manjula Ganta Headshot

ADP Women in STEM Profile: Manjula Ganta

Manjula’s mantra: “Don’t focus on fitting in; figure out how to stand out.” After reading about her hard work, success and leadership, you’ll see Manjula walks the talk — and encourages others to do the same.

Growing up, Manjula Ganta wanted to be a doctor. She loved science and biology and was fascinated by how the body works as a machine. But med school was financially out of reach, so she chose a career in mathematics. Manjula’s mother encouraged her and her sisters to learn computers.

“My mother was a visionary and could see technology evolving even before the internet existed,” Manjula said. “From her experiences and struggles as a homemaker, forgoing a job opportunity due to culture constraints, my mom inspired her four girls to be independent and encouraged us to pursue our careers. She is the greatest influence on who I am today.”

From India to Omaha

Manjula grew up in a small town in southern India near Hyderabad. In school, she was very outgoing, smart, and well-rounded – a trait she carried into adulthood and her career. Manjula pursued a bachelor’s degree, majoring in mathematics. She simultaneously enrolled into a Diploma in Systems Management program that introduced her to computers. Manjula later earned her MBA with a major in finance, and graduated as class valedictorian.

She moved to Hyderabad to work for a financial services company as a management trainee. Manjula was quick to learn the intricacies of the business and even as an intern courageously presented her ideas. Soon she had an opportunity to design the development of an integrated app to better manage the company’s branch reports. “Curiosity and rapid technology changes led me to learn relational databases and the integrated enterprise application software,” Manjula recalls.

A few years later, Manjula married her high school sweetheart, who had moved to Omaha, NE. She moved from Hyderabad to Omaha, and they started a family. “It was a big adjustment for me, both culturally and professionally,” Manjula said, “and it took a while to figure out how to balance my career and family.”

Manjula began working in Boston as a Peoplesoft consultant for the state of Massachusetts, going home only every couple of weeks. “It was a very challenging time in my life, being a young mother with a traveling job – staying away from home and my toddler son,” she recalls.

Manjula then worked as a Peoplesoft technical consultant for a project with General Electric (GE) in New York in variety of roles. She successfully implemented various Peoplesoft modules, leading offshore teams. After a few years, Manjula’s husband took a new job and they moved to Atlanta, where she continued to work with GE remotely.

Have grit and break your own expectations – expectations can be a weight on your shoulders.

– Manjula Ganta, Director of Application & Development, GPT

After her nine-year project at GE, Manjula joined ADP National Accounts Services (NAS) Outsourcing (COS) division as a senior business systems analyst. “It was a big shift going from development to a business systems analyst role,” Manjula recalls. “I would still get into the code and give the developers inputs about the issues.” She laughingly added, “I think they got frustrated sometimes, but it also helped improve our communication.”

Manjula’s role soon expanded to managing the same development team across analytics, robotics process automation (RPA) and other web/cloud tools and technologies, and she was tasked with managing diverse virtual teams as a single global team. “I was responsible for helping the team see and execute the vision, removing any roadblocks and partnering with other leaders to make it successful,” she recalls. Manjula’s ability to combine business acumen and technical competency, along with her pragmatic approach, enabled her to be decisive and impactful across the COS business.

Manjula then became the Director of Strategic Initiatives for the NAS Tools & Technology Operations, where she worked on several technology and transformation initiatives to develop, support, and enhance ADP’s internal and client-facing tools.

Manjula says she’s taken this approach throughout her career: “As a thoughtful leader, I strive to create a positive and collaborative work culture with emphasis on employee recognition – helping teams to look beyond their differences. Celebrating associate birthdays, work anniversaries and key project milestones helps everyone feel valued and included.”

Currently, Manjula is a Director of Application Development, Global Product & Technology (GPT), where she takes an even broader responsibility for building ADP’s core products from a technology architecture, design, quality and user experience standpoint, to make them more effective for ADP’s clients.

Developing Self and Others

“ADP has a unique culture in which they put their associates first,” she says. “Prior to ADP, most of my development was self-initiated, but here we have many career development opportunities, mentorship programs, stretch assignments, networking events through employee resource groups, technical workshops, etc. You just need to be motivated and find the time to develop yourself.”

Manjula had the opportunity to enroll in an external Pathbuilders mentorship program. “The program helped me to become more self-aware, building my own personal brand inside and outside of ADP,” she says. Manjula is thankful to the leaders, mentors and sponsors who invested their time by providing her exposure at the business unit level.

Carrying it forward, Manjula helps mentor others at ADP and through various non-profit organizations. She is an active volunteer for Women in Technology based in Atlanta, which helps girls and women succeed from the classroom to the boardroom. Manjula recently joined the ADP GPT Women in Technology Leadership Mentoring Initiative (WiTL) that helps develop a diverse leadership talent pipeline through a formal mentoring program. She also volunteers for the American Heart Association, Special Olympics of Georgia, and leads several ADP business resource group events in the Alpharetta location, creating awareness and raising donations for causes she cares about.

Best Advice

Manjula offers this advice for women starting their careers in STEM: “Have grit and break your own expectations – expectations can be a weight on your shoulders. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes; it’s important to learn. Life is not just about success; it’s also about failure, difficulty, and learning to recover. Focus on the present, stay positive, and keep going.”

Manjula also recommends finding a mentor. “Mentors have helped me realize my worth and have inspired me to speak up, be myself, and encouraged me to take on the next challenge. One of my leaders would say, ‘I wish you had had your voice earlier.'”

“Always find your support system, family, friends or coworkers and don’t be afraid to seek help or delegate,” Manjula said. “You don’t have to be a perfectionist or do it all.”

She is very grateful for her husband, Ranjith, and two sons, Abhitej and Ritvik, who have always supported her career, helped at home, and offered new and different points of view.

“Have fun, no matter how hard things can get. Humor and fun can always make the journey (personal or professional) easier.”

Through all the learning and big changes as an Asian Indian immigrant and a woman in STEM, Manjula’s best advice is: “Don’t focus on fitting in; figure out how to stand out.”

Read about other ADP Women in STEM and learn about careers at ADP.

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Two white butterflies with black markings sitting on two flower buds

Life Lessons from a Butterfly in Troubling Times

Tech & Innovation Blog

Life Lessons from a Butterfly in Troubling Times


Thoughtful advice, Pandemic

It is springtime in New Jersey, says the calendar. A cool, 55-degrees Fahrenheit, says the Weather app. But somehow our world feels to me like it’s frozen in time. Instantly, the world as we knew it came to a grinding halt from a microscopic virus.

Two white butterflies with black markings sitting on two flower buds

It is springtime in New Jersey, says the calendar. A cool, 55-degrees Fahrenheit, says the Weather app. But somehow our world feels to me like it’s frozen in time. Instantly, the world as we knew it came to a grinding halt from a microscopic virus, thrusting us into a sci-fi movie set where the concepts of time—hours, days, weeks, months—begin to blur, and we, the people, have scrambled to find ways to ride out the storm.

With each passing day bringing hope, we accept grace and guidance to truly connect to what matters and be generously more kind, helpful, supportive to understand one another. The virus has not disappeared and faded to a distant memory (how we wish!) Yet, we found the strength to know that this too shall pass.

With the sunshine, a new day begins with bright blue skies, beautiful spring blossoms, and then come the butterflies, a precious gift from nature.

I am sure the butterflies and flowers have been there all along, yet, we have found the time to watch them dance and glide from flower to flower with delicate grace.

While we pause to watch the butterflies, we cannot stop thinking about the prolonged impacts triggered by the pandemic. We are suddenly thrust into an unfortunate economic situation layered with layoffs and furloughs across the globe, friends, family, and people we know at work, or in our connections, impacted.

Especially in the current situation, layoffs, and furloughs are often not personal and are not reflections on individual performance. Please know that as hard as it is for anyone impacted, it can be harder for their employer and their managers who suddenly have to part ways with their people. For both employer and employee, regardless of the duration of association, it is essential to fill that moment of separation with grace and gratitude for shared opportunities and accomplishments.

Yes, emotions run high, and there is pain we cannot wish away. Still, please refrain from burning the bridge or kicking the ladder that helped you climb in your career. It is a small world, after all.

Now more than ever, if you know someone who has lost their job, please extend your grace to connect with them and wish them well on their journey onward.

It only takes a few minutes to reach out. Hearing your voice and knowing you care matters more than you know. Genuine reflections of your kindness will bring them the hope they need to help them in their career journey.

Share opportunities to expand their network connections and maybe even guide them on some easy learning, volunteering, and mentoring opportunities for them to lend a hand to support our bigger community.

We are entering a new world, and in time and together, we, the people, will learn to be agile to adapt and adjust both at work and in our life. For now, stay positive and think of this disruptive time as a break to rest and re-invest in yourself, an opportunity to open to new possibilities. Soon enough, a new day will come with promising sunshine just for you!

Yes, a career is a journey that brings amazing people together to build relationships that last a lifetime through the rest stops, detours, and adventures. Like the butterflies, we have an opportunity to expand our circle of influence and our network. Enjoy the journey and be happy always.

Are you the butterfly caught in a strong wind? If so, exit with grace and gratitude. When the winds calm down, and you start your next flight, Always Believe in Yourself. Know there will be other gardens and wildflower patches that await your arrival when the time is right. In that place, you will once again dance with friends and make your music in your own way.

So, the break is time to Rest, Recover, Recharge, Re-Ignite, and be Ready. Best of Luck!

Stay Connected,
Jyotsna

Jyotsna Manikantan is a Lead Product Manager in Roseland, NJ.

Post originally appeared on LinkedIn. Edited and reprinted with permission.

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overhead view of two women standing six feet apart

The Social Presence of Physical Distance

Natural, cultural, and technical worlds conjoin. All are deeply cultural. How we perceive the nature around us partakes in the imagination of the culture from whence we come. For some a tree is an ancestor, for others a source of heat, for many an unremarkable background feature or some combination of all the above plus others.

As COVID-19 continues to run across the earth like a rushing river with many irregular eddies, I am reminded of our relationships as humans to nature, culture, and technology. I’m reminded of our shared humanity and the diverse range of contexts within which our humanities are embodied and enacted.

Over the past couple of weeks, friends have solicited my perspective on what new social practices driven by these circumstances mean for our shared humanity. As a Cultural Anthropologist working in tech, they figure I should have a strong opinion, or, at the very least, some considered reflections on these and related topics. I have some of each which I’d like to share with you. These are the thoughts that come immediately to mind:

We live in a deeply connected world:

The mappings and modeled projections of the virus that many of us have seen in the news and on social media underscore the connectivity of all living things — viral and human. Unlike the way the “world” is typically conceptualized in the popular imagination as a series of roughly contiguous regional snippets, we are now presented with visualization of a more holistic kind. The world has become a shared space. A space traced out in ever-expanding lines by the spread of disease. A space newly conceived by a growing number of people as transcendent of regional differences and the woefully abundant contagions of xenophobia consequent to “difference” and “othering.”

We should learn from this new view.

Technology has immediate practical and personal importance:

For many of us, “technology” is more real today than it has been in our lifetimes. It touches us more intimately. As a person who publishes on topics variously focused on human and machine partnerships under the broader theme of advanced technologies and human culture, I’ve spilt my share of digital ink on “AI/ai, NLP, ML, data ethics, algorithmic justice” to name a few. Despite my commitment to citing real world examples, much of this writing tends towards the theoretical or, at least, doesn’t tend to the kind of pragmatic utility we associate with DIY projects.

For those of us fortunate enough to be able to do our jobs from home, the practical realities of a strong signal, plentiful cables and adaptors, reliable Wi-Fi, and secure VPNs remind us that technologies, in general, are actual “things” we use to get “stuff” done.

Add the millions of US students now doing their schoolwork remotely and tech as tool in the old-fashioned sense of tool as “a device or implement, especially one held in the hand, used to carry out a particular function” is brought to the foreground. There’s something oddly comforting in the “materiality” of technology used in these intentionally “tool for task” ways.

Materiality or “thingness” of technology will continue to demand our attentions. A current shortlist might include eCommerce algorithms, medical supplies manufacturing automation, logistics and food delivery networks, pharma packaging science, and, of course, the range of physical and digital tools used in medical and research virology.

Rituals matter:

Along with mandates to “shelter in place” and maintain “social distance” comes a greater self-awareness of the role of ritual in our everyday lives. According to the late British Cultural Anthropologist, Victor Turner: “A ritual is a stereotyped sequence of activities involving gestures, words, and objects, performed in a sequestered place….”

I can think of several rituals from my childhood important at the time, yet no longer prominent in my adult life. I am aware that of late some of these practices are beginning to return among my network of friends and family. For instance, as a child there was “play time,” “work time,” and “family time.” Play time was marked by late afternoon bike rides down to the neighboring marina but only after putting on “play clothes.” “Work time” was more or less school—up at 7:30 to catch the bus and home by 3:45 to begin “play time.” “Family time” was always about sitting down to dinner with my Mother, Father, Sister and Brother. I count myself as deeply blessed then and now to have a family with whom I want to share time.

With so many of us at home, notions around time have begun to (re)formalize into discernible moments or rituals. Some are about the practical affair of operationalizing the day’s activities and some about creating a controlled cadence within chaos. Common to these new yet older forms are the use of ritual as a way to provide comfort through repetition or tempo. In my experience, these are akin to Sunday phone calls, pancakes on the weekend, and play clothes. I’ve returned to some of these in recent weeks. Perhaps you have, too? Ask yourself if hearing the voice of someone you love sounds sweeter today than it did a month ago when you might have rather texted.

Practice of the arts of care and science:

I’m reminded daily of my connection to earth, to my communities, to my family and friends and to my fellow humans globally. As I reflect on what we — the Human Family — might learn in the coming months, it is my genuine hope that we will evolve a deeper collective sense of what it means to care for others and our environments. Asked by a student what she considered to be the first sign of civilization in a culture, Anthropologist Margaret Mead replied:

“If an animal in the wild breaks a major bone, they die — they starve, or something else eats them. For an early human to have survived a broken femur, someone else would have had to care for them long enough for the bone to set. They would have been provided with shelter, food, and water over an extended period. Someone would have had to have shown them kindness, compassion, altruism. Kindness, alongside science, remains the cornerstone of medicine.”

Kindness is a ritual I will continue to practice. Imagine the long-term benefits if we learn how to give more of it away. Kindness is part of what makes us human. Perhaps in the coming weeks more of us will have an opportunity to remember in words and through actions what so many of us have forgotten. In my view, that would be a very positive outcome.

Tech & Innovation Blog

Innovating from Within: Leaders from ADP’s Studio 55 on Taking Chances and the Power of Shared Values


HR Technology, Innovation, Pasadena

an ethnically diverse group of men and women from ADP

Imagine transforming a decades-old services company into a technology company ready to serve 1 in 6 Americans. Chris Lavender, Senior Director of Application Development, and Mike Ruangutai, VP, Product Development, had a chance to do just that as part of ADP’s innovation center, Studio 55.

The small, dynamic team powers every part of ADP’s offerings—from payroll to compliance—and is ushering in a new technology platform to serve more than 800,000 ADP customers across the globe. The teammates discuss the impact of their work, their shared love of music, and how strong collaboration will power the future.

*****

When Chris Lavender first got a call about joining ADP, back in 2017, it didn’t seem like the obvious choice. After starting his career in music, he’d spent six years as a developer, engineering manager, and CTO at small and medium-sized startups—a far cry from a 70-year-old company with more than 59,000 employees.

“The stakes were really interesting to me,” he remembers. “I get excited about solving problems that have a massive impact. When you’re that big, though, transitioning from a service company to a technology company is like trying to turn a giant ship. You definitely can’t do it alone.”

Chris considered the opportunity at ADP because he already knew several people on the team—including Mike Ruangutai, who first reached out. The two had worked together several years prior, at a medical billing startup called Kareo, and had stayed in touch ever since. Now, Mike is VP of Product Development at ADP and one of several former Kareo employees working for Studio 55, ADP Pasadena’s in-house innovation incubator helping support the company’s transition to tech. Mike had joined the company a few months earlier, and, like Chris, he’d been well aware of both the challenges and the opportunities facing the team.

“From an engineering perspective, ADP is the perfect petri dish. We have enough resources to experiment with new technologies and build our ideal ecosystem without worrying that any decision we make could be a company-killer,” Mike explains. “And because it didn’t start as a tech company, there’s plenty of fertile ground. There are lots of decisions yet to be made.”

As for the challenges? “Inertia,” Mike says. “Everyone has agreed this is the right move, but that doesn’t make it easy.” When he and Chris started talking, some of the team’s technology was decades old, and many of its practices and processes were in dire need of updating. To make the transition, they needed more people like Chris. “Chris is a unicorn. He’s a great technologist, but also a great leader,” Mike says. “To build an exceptional technology company, that’s who you want on your team.”

Leap of faith

Months earlier, when Mike was deciding to join ADP, he’d asked former Kareo colleagues who’d already done so for their unvarnished view of the company. “I asked them, ‘What are you seeing?’ ‘What do you hope to achieve?’” Now, he set out to answer the same questions for Chris.

“Mike and I have always had a really open, frank relationship, so I knew I could trust him to give me the full picture,” Chris says. “There was no sugarcoating whatsoever.”

And the same was true when Chris met with Mike Plonski, ADP’s SVP of Product Development and the head of Studio 55. “We spent more than an hour together, and he was not messing around—it was almost like he was trying to convince me not to take the job,” Chris laughs. “He wanted to make sure I didn’t have some glossy view of things. That transparency was super attractive.”

So with a clear view of the work he’d be doing—and the support he’d have in the process—Chris decided to accept the position.

“It was a leap of faith. I lived really far away at the time, so I had a serious commute at first,” he says. “But I knew Mike and I worked well together, the footprint was huge, and the problems were really interesting to me. From a technical perspective alone, government compliance is a famously tough nut to crack. On top of that, we needed to change the processes, the flows, the culture. We needed a complete mindset shift.”

Playing in tune

Nearly three years later, Mike says Chris has helped lead the Studio 55 team through just such a shift. “The energy is palpable. There’s a ton of collaboration,” he says. “Teams walk across the aisle to talk with one another; they have lunch together; they problem-solve together.”

One key component has been a shared set of values. “I’ll say it until the cows come home, but it’s really important to me: The team comes first,” Mike says. “We have to help each other be successful—and that includes leaders. It’s our job to set the context, support our team, and then get out of the way.”

For Chris and Mike, that leadership style is informed, in part, by another shared value: their love of making music. Mike studied studio jazz guitar in college; Chris holds a master’s degree in composition, improvisation, and technology, and he also spent a year performing with the Blue Man Group. “Composition and software engineering have so much in common,” Chris says. “You’re creating in the abstract and bringing that into the real world. It’s the same muscle.”

a small group of men holding various musical instruments

Mike, too, sees the parallels. “An engineering sprint or scrum is like the drumbeat, the tempo. Then everything else layers on top of that—our product ideas are the licks and motifs we experiment with; the technologies we use are the notes. And just like you need brass here and strings there, you need different groups of engineers. Watching a team come together on a project is like watching a group of musicians adapting, feeling the groove.”

They’ve found some other kindred spirits on the Studio 55 team, as well—enough to put together a weekly after-work jam session. “We’re super informal, no audition,” says Chris. “It’s just a good way to exercise our brains and use them in a different way.”

Moving the needle

That brainpower will no doubt come in handy over the months and years ahead, as Mike, Chris, and their colleagues continue to work through the challenges that face their team and the rest of ADP. “There’s still some work that needs to be done across the company—we watch carefully for any evidence of silos forming, for example, and strive to get ahead of that,” Mike says. “But Chris and the rest of the leadership team have really moved the needle. Now it’s about nurturing that headway and leveling it up even further.”

Chris agrees. “We’re still turning the ship, but it’s definitely happening. We’ve made insane progress in just a couple of years,” he says. “We have teams working cross-functionally, communicating, getting problems solved—and doing it efficiently, without staying up all night or working on weekends. It’s been really gratifying to see.”

Learn more about ADP’s Studio55 in Pasadena.

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Samantha Ortiz headshot

Diversity and Inclusion in Tech

As a Latina software engineer without a four-year degree in computer science, I’ve been tuned into the divide between what’s considered a “typical” software engineer and myself.
Samantha Ortiz

I was fortunate enough to find a path into programming via the immersive bootcamp, Hack Reactor, which opened me up to a fulfilling career at Lifion, by ADP. I have experienced firsthand the benefits of having balanced representation, and have also seen opportunities where a diverse team would bring more value. Most tech companies face the challenge of finding new ways to approach true inclusivity despite corporate Business Resource Groups, training, and continued discussion around the subject.
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Lifion, by ADP Software Engineers, Jenny Eckstein and Samantha Ortiz, at WECode 2019
WECode 2019
I had the opportunity to attend the Women Engineers Code (WECode) 2019 Conference at Harvard this February, which brought together hundreds of female engineers with leaders in the tech sector. WECode’s goal is to leave attendees with a broadened awareness of new areas within tech, a greater understanding of social impact, and the confidence to influence the communities we are a part of.
Opening the Door
Throughout the keynotes, panels, and talks, there was a common thread of addressing diversity and inclusion, whether within the workplace, the classroom, or beyond. Dara Treseder, CMO of Carbon and previously CMO of GE Ventures and GE Business Innovations, delivered a keynote that walked us through the path to her success. Along her journey, she was blessed with female mentors that lifted her up. Yet, she made a point that although there may be a woman in the room, it does not mean that she will open the door for other women. Although it is an unfortunate, defensive instinct, it does not always stem from a place of malice… it comes from a place of fear. A place that senses the ingrained disparity between female and male representation in the industry, which drives an innate reaction for women to maintain their position and voice. Dara encouraged us to be aware of this, and inspired us to always open the door for fellow women, as it will not drown out our voice; it will drive forward our success, power, and diversity in the workplace.
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Photo by NESA by Makers on Unsplash
Finding the Power Within
A particularly enlightening group of panelists shared how they are able to tackle inclusivity and encourage diversity in their everyday roles. Tiana Davis Kara, Executive Director of Built By Girls, addressed the challenge many women face of who to look up to as they maneuver through their career within the tech industry. Her illuminating perspective flipped this idea on its head, insisting that WE are the ones we have been waiting for. We are the individuals the tech industry wants to step in; as women and minorities, we need to become our own role models. Often, women experience a sense of inadequacy. Tiana encouraged us to channel into our own successes, whether that means giving yourself a pat on the back, or even keeping a book of pride outlining your own achievements to look back on when your confidence isn’t quite there.
Handing Back the Mic
Tiana also shared her approach of “handing back the mic” when we feel a marginalized member of our community has been overlooked. For instance, if we witness someone brazenly interrupted, we should make a concerted effort to give their voice back to them. An effective way to practice this can be along the lines of stating, “Sally, you were saying something?” after the interrupter completes their thought. Being aware of these situations and giving a voice back to people that have it stolen or ignored is a key component to addressing commonplace destructive behaviors in our everyday lives. Kwame Henderson, Product Manager at Tumblr, encouraged us to maintain an optimistic, growth mindset if ever addressing microaggressions, which can run rampant through conversations and can be difficult to address. Knowing you can help evolve a person’s mindset with one conversation is an encouraging place to start.
Culture Fit?
As the panel discussed how to encourage broader diversity during the hiring process, it was noted that many companies interview for a “culture fit” from candidates. However, Kwame illustrated that this is potentially preventing us from including a broader array of candidates. Instead, he suggested rather than asking “does this person FIT our culture,” we ask “does this person ADD to our culture.” This simple, yet powerful shift in thinking can revitalize a company’s hiring practices and inspire the inclusion of a diverse set of individuals to join a team.
Mind of a Programmer === Mind of an Activist
WECode wrapped up with a final keynote by Jessica McKellar, founder and CTO of Pilot, a bookkeeping service, and director of the Python Software Foundation. She focused on how the mind of a programmer actually encompasses the mind of an activist. Having a system and knowing you can change it stimulates a unique way of approaching ingrained problems. Jessica saw a huge opportunity for change within the United States prison system, and she chose to make a lasting impact by teaching incarcerated people how to code through a program at the San Quentin State Prison, building the skill set and hire-ability of her students for a smoother reentry into society after completing their sentences. She also works to reduce the stigma of existing criminal records by encouraging companies to consider graduates of her program for employment. Jessica actively practices what she preaches by hiring people after their sentences for numerous roles at Pilot.
Changing the System
WECode’s inspirational lineup highlighted new ways to consider systemic issues and provided effective approaches to tackling those problems. Whether the system we want to change is within the application we are building, or a societal system that has room for improvement, we can each use our powerful, dynamic perspectives to drive forward impactful change.