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Podcast: ADP’s Martha Bird on the Post-Pandemic Dynamics of Work

Mark Feffer: Welcome to PeopleTech, the podcast of the HCM Technology report. I’m Mark Feffer.

Today, I talk with Martha Bird, business anthropologist at ADP Innovation Lab. Her job is to make sure that the human element is accounted for when new digital products are designed, so that, for example, software intended to tackle a specific HR problem can be put to use by HR staff in the real world as they go about their actual work. I began by asking Martha how she thought the COVID-19 pandemic would impact the way people work.

Podcast: #HRTech after #COVID-19: “Things that would normally take months or maybe even years to implement are now talking weeks to turn around.” @ADP #HR #HRTribeCLICK TO TWEET
Martha Bird: Well, I think this is such a huge topic. One of the things I think about is imagine that we’ve been working largely in the U.S. with a very, very low unemployment rate. Now all of a sudden there’s this massive degree of unemployment. Now, in the past when there’s been a tight labor market, certain policies are put into place in order to attract the talent that you want. Now, when you have a flood of unemployed people, what is that going to look like in terms of those mechanisms? I don’t know. But to me that’s a consideration, right? It’s that we’ve gone from very robust, healthy unemployment to a very, very high degree of unemployment from healthy employment. So I think that’s going to be an interesting thing to monitor that’s around talent and talent acquisition.

I think also it’s going to be about the discussion around urban and rural, right? So if people are working more remotely, what does that look like for the person who lives in a rural space who has not had access to perhaps the same economics of job that one would have in a larger metropolitan area. And so if it’s indeed the case that people will begin to work more remotely, that can open up a whole, I think potentially positive economics for rural areas and rural workers. So that’s going to be, I think, very interesting.

And then I think there’s also going to be, for employers, much greater awareness now of really what health actually means in terms of the economy. So, a healthy society, and I mean healthy as in well-being, I think is directly corollary to the economy being robust.

So I think there’s a lot of things going to be continued from where we are now. I certainly hope that’s the case. I hear such wonderful stories about people reaching out with altruistic intent and I think that’s just the way we need to go. But you also hear the stories of individuals vying for advantage. And so my hope is that those will not be the ones who will continue to influence our consciousness as humanity.

Mark Feffer: You work for ADP, obviously, your customers are employers and they make certain demands on you. What new demands do you think you’re going to start to hear? Are the priorities going to shift among what employers expect out of their technology solutions?

Martha Bird: Well, I think this whole… To carry on, on the mobile trajectory is going to be key, right? Because that’s all part of the story, about remote. I think too that there’s going to be… I think there’s going to be, at least for ADP and for those in our industry, there is an expectation that we stay completely agile when it comes to major legislative activities related to the COVID-19. And one of the things that I’m aware of is that indeed we are actually keeping up with these things. And that’s no small matter when you think of all the municipalities, jurisdictions, state and federal level legislation to be able to do that and to be able to provide our clients with security of knowing that we are the most up to date on those matters.

So, that’s about speed, right? And it’s about being able to do things pretty quickly. Things that would normally take months or maybe even years to implement, you’re talking weeks now to turn that around. So I think probably this expectation around speed will continue across a lot of industries.

The other thing too, Mark, that I think is really interesting is this collaboration that’s going on between corporations in order to get things done. So, I think about the ventilator situation where there’s just a dire need for those and the largest producer of ventilators is partnering with GM or with Ford in order to switch the production lines in order to make ventilator and doing open source sharing of designs. I’m hoping, personally, that that will become not simply a response to an extremis, but something that maybe could be continued once this settles down a little bit.

Mark Feffer: My last question is, what is the biggest single dramatic change you expect to see in the workplace after the dust has settled?

Martha Bird: There’s so many things. I guess for me, because I’m an anthropologist, I’m thinking really about the way that we interact with our fellows. I hope that if nothing else this allows us to reset ourselves and to understand that it’s incredibly important to exercise respect, honesty, a decency and kindness, that we are all actually part of the family of humans here, and that everything is connected. And I think that wouldn’t be a bad takeaway, in my view, if people could come to terms with embracing that. And unfortunately it takes something as dire as this situation, but to me that would be a positive outcome.

Mark Feffer: Martha, thank you.

Martha Bird: Thanks, Mark.

Mark Feffer: Martha Bird is a business anthropologist at ADP’s innovation lab. And this has been PeopleTech from the HCM echnology report. To keep up with HR technology, visit the HCM Technology report every day. We’re the most trusted source of news in the HR tech industry. Find us at www.hcmtechnologyreport.com. I’m Mark Feffer.

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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.