Silicon Valley Bank Chief Human Resources Officer Chris Edmonds-Waters is in the process of recruiting his institution’s first Chief Diversity Officer, hiring the future head of an expanded team designed to drive internal change and increased external engagement on issues of equity. Edmonds-Waters spoke to The Filament about SVB’s increased investment in DEI, hiring philosophy, and vision for equity-focused client engagement.
When and how did SVB come to the decision to hire a CDO?
We’ve been building up to this role for the last six or seven years. Back in May, one of my colleagues who leads our DE&I efforts and I had discussed the fact that we're at a point in our maturity curve where it's time to hire a Chief Diversity Officer. We hired a consultant to package the pitch to discuss what that role might look like and why now is the time to consider it. And we brought it to Greg Becker, the President & CEO of SVB. He said he was open to it and to give him some time. Shortly thereafter, the George Floyd murder occurred. Greg called me and said, “I think that your thinking was ahead of the times. Let's do it.” We were already having the conversation, but events punctuated that discussion.
How exactly did you start this journey six years ago?
SVB typically has a 93% response rate for employee engagement surveys -- and that’s without us prodding our employees. We're like this petri dish of a Harvard Business Review case study in terms of employee engagement. About six years ago, I realized that despite all of this employee engagement work, we hadn't really tapped into issues around diversity, equity inclusion. Specifically, we didn't have a baseline data set to draw from around the topic. As a result, for the first time in our company's history, we decided to administer a survey designed exclusively around diversity, equity inclusion. That survey and data set became the catalyst for all the work that has followed on in this realm. Interestingly, it was a provocative decision at the time, That became the launching pad, so we weren’t just throwing money at the issue. We were using real data to forge ahead.
What are you looking for in a candidate?
I'm looking for someone that has been a Chief Diversity Officer. I’m looking for someone who has a great voice that can hold the space for the right conversation at the right time; someone who has a sense of gravitas in their presence and how they manage their content. Their values are equally important because we are an extraordinarily values-driven organization. I’m looking for someone who’s going to be additive. I’m not talking about fit. Fit means someone that looks, talks, acts, and walks like me. We want someone who’s additive in terms of their being at SVB. I realize that’s a bit esoteric.
The other important factor is trustworthiness. I want to know that this person can ride shotgun in having and partaking in important conversations. They need to know how to hold information and how to partner and collaborate effectively. There are big expectations for this person. We’re looking for a wildly passionate, seasoned leader who has depth, perception, and wisdom.
And, one imagines, you’ll have very high expectations on day one.
We’re going to pace their entry over the first 12 months accordingly, and ensure they get on board successfully, so that the individual can be impactful.
Can you speak to the decision to hire externally versus promote internally for this position?
I’m looking for the best possible candidate. The job is open internally bu it's probably going to be an external hire, and I'll say why. We need someone that’s seen the movie and been there, so they can direct us. We need someone who can offer wisdom, savvy, and perspective drawn from having done the work before.
We've been working with the executive search firm, Spencer Stuart. We're seeing great candidate flow.
Who will this person report to, and how will they fit into the existing SVB framework?
A lot of companies, even those with the best intentions, acquiesce to this natural disposition where DE&I ultimately is owned by human resources. And that’s not the way to do it because it’s a business imperative. Human Resources departments should maintain accountability around the initiatives but if that's the only part of the corporation that takes responsibility for it, you’re swimming upstream.
Technically speaking, the job reports into me as the Chief Human Resources Officer of SVB. Practically speaking, it can also be kind of a dual line of reporting into the CEO as well, be it dotted line or hard line which we’ll figure out as we need.
In addition to my support and Greg Becker’s support, the CDO will work in step with the executives that take part in the Diversity and Inclusion Executive Steering Committee we launched six years ago. It is made up of executives from across the corporation that serve as the vetting body for programmatic, representation, philosophical questions around our pursuit of DE&I. Those executives will lock arms to support this hire. Those executives are: Chief Operating Officer Phil Cox, SVB Capital President John China ), Chief Marketing Officer Michelle Draper, Chief Risk Officer Laura Izurieta (), and myself, as well as Executive Credit Leader Joan Parsons and Head of Policy Projects and Special Initiatives Tina Sandford.
What will be the initial focus areas for the individual you hire for the position of CDO?
Metrics is one. Equity is another. Previously, we had framed our work around DE&I as being more about inclusion and diversity. The concept of equity is something that's newer for the corporation. We have some work to do to really educate your organization.
The other side of it would be focusing on building out the team. We’re adding two additional heads: a Director in the U.S. and a Director/Senior Manager from the UK who will report into this person. The total team will include six to seven individuals. The overall focus of the job will be more internal than external. We have a target we're heading towards around diversity at the top of SVB. .
That focus on internal change lends itself to a specific kind of hiring.
In my experience, there are two personas that tend to evidence themselves in the CDO world. One is externally focused. They’re big on the speaker circuit and do a great job carrying the company's brand in the marketplace. But that category of player can be very focused on their own personal brand as well. The other persona certainly does some work in the marketplace as a guest speaker on panels, but they're more oriented toward rolling up their sleeves and getting it done. They emphasize internal change and drive that change. That latter persona is who we're looking to hire at SVB.
Even if your recruit a TK pragmatist, it seems like there would be a dual mandate given SVB’s singular position in the market. To what degree with the SVB CDO be tasked with D&I responsibilities in the context of client services? Is SVB going to try and more actively engage its clients on D&I issues?
SVB CEO Greg Becker was on a call a day or two ago with a number of VCs talking about the stance we're taking and he was very candid. He said, ‘It might be difficult for you guys to get on board with this because you’re going to feel the pressure of the industry. But this isn't about being easy. It’s about doing the right thing.’
This job is probably going to be 30% externally focused. In terms of external-facing initiatives, we run a program called Access to Innovation that aims to broaden access to capital, access to talent, and access to relationships with our diverse entrepreneurs. Through this program, we’ve designed programs that are very specifically geared toward underrepresented entrepreneurs. We're very excited about the impact that’s going to have on the marketplace.
For the first time, SVB’s 2020 Global Startup Outlook included questions on diversity in leadership and D&I efforts being made at the company level. Will SVB continue to make those numbers public or attempt to document the state of play within the industry?
We are. The format may change but we are committed to being transparent. There's a couple things we're also inclined to be more public about, like pay gap analysis results in our corporation across various categories of representation. To be honest, it’s not just that we’re doing a noble thing with respect to this data. Statutes in the UK require that we make some of these numbers public, so it makes sense for us to be forthcoming in the U.S. as well.
The stance our executive committee has taken is this: Once you go public, you’re public. To suddenly revert back and stop sharing numbers is a complete non-starter. We’re committed to sharing the data: the good, the bad, the ugly.
In the creation of this role and with other initiatives, what impact do you hope SVB will have on Silicon Valley with respect to D&I?
We’re the big gorilla in the marketplace for doing what we do in the world. We have a huge responsibility to serve as active role models. I hope that we can meaningfully increase representation and create tangible shifts in the marketplace.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.