Beyond Just Talk: How an Emphasis on People and Culture Is Building Business

by RaeAnne Marsh

DEI as a concept is about celebrating and respecting individuals’ differences. Naturally congruent with that effort are differences in the way individual enterprises put that into play with their unique business function and workforce. As the experience of these successful businesses in varied sectors of our community shows, there are many ways to make a difference.

From Purpose to Bottom Line

Using the familiar term “diversity, equity and inclusion,” Duffy Group’s focus on DEI reaffirms the way the company does business, explains Kathleen Duffy, president and CEO of the employment agency. “We use a model called Recruitment Research that enables our recruiters to take a deep dive into our clients’ businesses and thoroughly understand desired candidates and the competitive dive landscape. Throughout the search process, we scour our recruiting practices for unconscious biases. We also help clients examine job descriptions for biases and seek ways to include diverse candidates in each search.”

This focus, she reports, has helped Duffy Group earn a reputation as a go-to source for recruiting diverse candidates. And she cites recent national research that 43% of companies with diverse management report higher profits and 73% of companies with gender-equality practices have higher profits and productivity. “This same national research revealed that 78% of employees believe DEI in the workplace offers a competitive advantage and 35% of the U.S. workforce are Millennials who, as a generation, are driving DEI and demanding proof that it exists in their workplaces,” she adds. And she points to a more personal bottom-line impact as well: “This research plays out in our recruiting efforts and at our own company, with 89% of our employees reporting a positive view of Duffy Group’s approach to DEI, according to finding from a recent internal survey,” she says.

Liz Shipley, Arizona public affairs director for Intel, shares what the program looks like at that tech giant. “At Intel, we highlight our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion through open conversations and using the terms directly,” she says, noting that transparency to Intel’s commitment to DEI further allows the employer to promote its mission and goals clearly to all employees. “Intel’s commitment, as demonstrated through our expansive goals to specific community initiatives, creates value for Intel, our stakeholders and the Chandler community.”

Affirming that Intel understands that today’s greatest challenges require a shared commitment to a plan and meaningful action to advance diversity, equity and inclusion, Shipley says, “The bottom line is that diversity and inclusion are instrumental in driving innovation and delivering a diverse workforce for a strong business growth.”

Terros Health uses the term ‘inclusion, equity and diversity,’” says Stephanie Watson, chief people and culture officer, whose years of working in this area have shown her that an inclusive environment is the best way to identify and get buy-in to issues of inequity and how they need to be addressed – and then, once equity is better established, a company can foster diversity. “Terros Health references these issues in the order we feel they need to be established to yield success,” she says. And she expands on the terminology: “When it comes to our goal for the company, we leverage the terms ‘connection’ and ‘belonging.’ We want our patients, employees and partners to feel connected to the organization and each other. Most important, we want to foster an environment where everyone feels they belong and that they are valued and respected.”

For Terros Health, the bottom line is its support of diverse communities. “The retention of our patients is key to building strong and healthy communities. By creating an environment where patients feel welcome and a sense of belonging, we can drive positive outcomes expected for grantees and payors. This helps us maintain funding for our staff, deliver the best possible care to our patients and support communities across Arizona,” Watson says.

StrataTech Education Group is “dedicated to fostering a culture of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging,” says CEO Mary Kelly, noting DEIB starts in the classroom, where it is integrated into the training the company provides and its importance emphasized from the very beginning. 

“Through our Corporate Social Responsibility partnerships, we create more diverse and inclusive opportunities and bring more underrepresented communities into the skilled trades,” Kelly adds. “Our efforts to promote DEIB in the skilled trades industry have helped to create more equitable opportunities and improved the quality of our training and the skilled trades as a whole.” In fact, these collaborations have enabled StrataTech to help more than 370 students from underserved areas pursue a promising career.

Kelly points to multiple ways StrataTech’s DEIB program is positively impacting the company’s bottom line. “We have seen an increase in student population due to our broader outreach and Gen Z’s commitment to organizations with DE&I initiatives.” She notes her company has gained diverse perspectives that have resulted in EBITDA-positive contributions. “Moreover, we have been able to open up new B2B client opportunities through OcuWeld, our virtual reality welding training program, allowing us to upskill employees remotely.” All of this, she reports, has also increased employee engagement which has led to improved productivity. 

Sundt Construction refers to its program as DEI, but “we certainly include belonging when we are discussing these issues,” says Nicole N. Calamaio, chief human resources officer. “Our program relies on a holistic framework with the following components: leadership alignment, diversity committee, pipeline diversity, education and training, community connections, and measurement,” she explains, noting that, as a general contractor employing more than 2,000 people, Sundt is proud to be a 100% employee-owned and majority-minority company.

Based on data and measurements collected, Calamaio says, “We believe organizations that integrate DEI into their culture not only become more diverse, but more innovative. Innovation and diverse thinking help to drive business results, which benefits every one of our employee-owners.” 

Sundt also takes its belief in the value of DEI beyond its own workforce, placing importance on providing opportunities and support to small, local, disadvantaged, and diverse business enterprises (XBEs). “In turn, the skilled work of our XBE community is often the cornerstone of our projects’ success. We’re proud to work with XBE trade partners through each phase of our projects, contributing to their business growth and prosperity,” says Calamaio.

Making the point that, by partnering with XBE businesses for its projects, Sundt can help bring greater prosperity to the larger business community, Calamaio also notes, “Providing internal and external opportunities makes our DEI program more robust.” 

Creating diverse, equitable and inclusive environments where all feel they belong is the focus at University of Phoenix, according to Julie Fink, VP of human resources. “Our ever-evolving efforts prioritize the needs of our diverse students — as well as our faculty and staff,” she says. “Whether through our active employee resource groups, our community engagement or the regular review of our curriculum for bias and inclusive content, we are continually evolving to ensure our University community members experience an environment where they belong and thrive.”

Fink emphasizes the fact that faculty, students and staff choose to come to University of Phoenix. “Employees and, for the most part, students, can go anywhere,” she says. Answering her own question, “Why do they want to come here?” she explains, “Because they feel like they belong here.” More than 50% of students identify as minority, seven in ten are women; more than 55% of the faculty are women, with 40% identifying as a race other than White; and, on the staff side, more than 60% are female and 57% identify as a race other than White.

“Almost 50 years ago, University of Phoenix began serving those students who were underserved in what was the traditional university system,” Fink says, noting it is a role the university continues to embrace. Observing, “It has been said that DEIB is the right thing to do,” she notes that, at University of Phoenix, “it’s simply what we do. It’s who we are. It’s in our DNA — and every employee and faculty member is our chief diversity officer.” 

“A Rose by Any Other Name …”

Of course, the purpose matters more than the label, and in some organizations, the aspiration is packaged under a different heading.

“We use REI — Race, Equity and Inclusion,” says Nate Rhoton, CEO of one-n-ten, a nonprofit organization that serves LGBTQ youth and young adults. “We have and continue to look for new ways to incorporate REI into the fabric of all we do. The work to do so is a constant and cannot be considered a ‘one and done’ strategy.” 

Last year, one-n-ten added a director of people and culture to its leadership team with the purpose of prioritizing proven experience with implementing DEI/REI strategies in the workplace and building inclusive teams. Sharing, “The investment has proven to be invaluable to our work and staff culture,” Rhoton reports that keeping REI as an inherent value in the organization has helped with attracting and keeping talent — with an incredibly low 3% turnover in full-time employees over the last year. “Employees report they feel more supported, even when having sometimes necessary and difficult conversations,” he says.

At Goodmans Interior Structures, president Adam Goodman eschews labels completely. “At Goodmans, we’re not trying to hit a quota, placate investors or impress customers. We’re simply trying to do right by our employees, so we don’t need to wrap our efforts around a branded term,” he explains. 

The company’s efforts are directed to a demonstrable outcome. “Simply put, we are focused on removing unconscious bias from our hiring and promotion decisions,” Goodman says. The starting point was evaluating the company’s practices and finding a form of unconscious bias called “occupational sorting” that routes people to different career paths based on their race or gender (“Think, ‘boys are doctors, girls are nurses,’ but specific to an industry and/or company,” Goodman explains). To correct this imbalance, Goodmans began implementing objective tools and insights into all talent related decisions that take place at the company — stretching across the entirety of the talent life cycle: recruitment, hiring, onboarding, career development, team dynamics, promotions and succession planning. Says Goodman, “With objective data on an individual’s communication styles, drivers and strengths, we can plot their profile against a particular role’s benchmark profile of high performers.”

Reporting that this “indirectly helps our bottom line by improving our talent attraction and retention,” Goodman characterizes the effort as being, fundamentally, about fairness to the employees. “That kind of commitment is appreciated by both our employees and prospective employees,” he says. “More to the point, this practice is congruent with our corporate value to make our employees a priority in everything we do. This improves the culture to the extent the company does what it says we will do, and it signals to employees that they can trust leadership.”

Living Up to the Promise

Diversity programs are as diverse as the organizations that execute them, built to suit each organization’s individual structure and mission. But a common element in all effective programs is measurement, to ensure the program actually achieves its intended goal.

So, what are their achievements — and what are their benchmarks?

Duffy Group

“Our company has always made DEI a priority, but during the past two years, we put in place additional policies and practices to build a culture of acceptance so that all stakeholders — from employees to clients and business partners — feel comfortable and welcome,” Duffy says.

The company invested in training so team members could become certified diversity recruiters. Currently, its nine certified DEI recruiters are implementing the training companywide. 

In addition to the “Recruitment Research” model described earlier that Duffy Group uses with its clients, the company has stepped up its DEI efforts internally by forming a DEI Committee to address relevant issues and seize opportunities, with a particular focus on inclusiveness. From this has come a variety of actions, ranging from weekly “huddle” meetings with rank-and-file employees to ensure their voices are heard and concerns are addressed to facilitated assessments and team building based on the Enneagram Personality System. 

The company also added two paid flex days to the vacation calendar to support employees celebrating federal and religious holidays such as Passover, MLK Jr. Day and Juneteenth.

To measure engagement and outcomes within her company, Duffy says the company fields surveys with its entire workforce and, each quarter, hosts an interactive session on DEI topics with an outside consultant. As to her clients, she says, “We find that our clients are using focus groups and listening sessions to get ideas, measure outcomes on DEI practices and address DEI issues of the day.” 


“Intel’s commitment to diversity and inclusion is embedded in our purpose to create world-changing technology that improves the life of every person in Chandler and across the globe,” Shipley says, and notes, “It starts with investing in our people and their professional development.” 

One of the ways Intel measures engagement is through an employee inclusion survey. Serving as an opportunity for employees to confidentially share feedback about their inclusion experiences, the survey provides important data used to help Intel develop or tailor programs, track progress and identify gaps and opportunities to meet the goals it laid out for itself in its 2030 “RISE” for inclusivity as well as advancing social, ecological and corporate purpose. “Throughout the implementation of this survey, Intel has been able to adapt to and meet the needs of our employees by identifying new approaches to DEI,” Shipley says. “Outcomes are reported consistently as a tool to further push new initiatives while continuing our growth within the community.” 

Noting Intel’s commitment to investing in the local community, Shipley points to Intel’s Equity in STEAM initiative for Chandler. In collaboration with YWCA Metropolitan Phoenix, Intel is actively working to advance representation for women, underrepresented students and people of color in careers across science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics. Each organization in the cohort is awarded funding of up to $3,000 to inspire underrepresented students to consider careers in STEAM. A variety of funded projects so far have included workforce readiness workshops and mentorship programs for women, learning materials for students and after-school robotics programs. “Through Intel’s Equity in STEAM initiative, local nonprofits and educators are receiving support to advance their mission and be a part of the solution to close racial and gender gaps across our state,” Shipley says.

And Shipley reports that, through these diligent efforts, Intel met its 2020 goal to achieve full representation of underrepresented minorities and women in its U.S. workforce two years ahead of schedule. Furthermore, she adds, “Companywide, Intel also increased annual spending with diverse suppliers and successfully achieved gender and race/ethnicity pay equity in the U.S. In addition, Intel has demonstrated further commitment towards its diversity and inclusion efforts by setting a global RISE strategy, which includes an ambitious workforce goal to exceed 40% representation for women in technical roles and double the number of women and underrepresented minorities in senior leadership by 2030.”

Terros Health

“Connection and belonging is one of the first sessions introduced to new Terros Health new hires on their first day of employment,” says Watson. The company has found this commitment from day one helps the team understand and celebrate differences and use similarities to create bridges. Pointing out that Terros Health receives multiple employee referrals each month, Watson says, “When our diverse workforce feels valued and respected, Terros Health receives referrals from potential new staff members who are looking for a culture where they can belong. Similarly, when our employees represent us in the community, they are ambassadors for Terros Health.”

To measure engagement and outcomes, Terros Health conducts quarterly appreciation surveys and provides a constant reporting mechanism for employees to share their feelings around connection and belonging. These surveys are reviewed every month, and issues are addressed by senior leadership. Terros Health also reviews patient feedback and monitors patient retention. And Terros Health’s executive leadership team engages in staff meetings where employees can share their feedback and ask questions. “Through these sessions,” says Watson, “our leaders can uncover issues and hear employees’ perspective on what is working — or not — firsthand.”

StrataTech Education Group

Reiterating Strata Tech’s commitment to cultivating a workplace culture that values diversity and inclusion and advocates for equitable access to education, support for its employees and life-changing outcomes for its graduates, Kelly shares, “We recently introduced new core values to our organization that enhance our strong, dynamic, collaborative, positive and fun organizational culture. These new core values are focused on the specific behaviors and attitudes to align with our employee interactions, engagements and collaborative, team environment to reach our goals.” 

What that looks like is a “people-first culture” and making a meaningful, life-changing impact on our colleagues, students, employers and the Arizona communities StrataTech serves. Says Kelly, “Our priority is to ensure that all students have the opportunity to reach their fullest potential, and that we provide the necessary support to help them reach success.” 

In addition to local partnerships, StrataTech is leveraging key technological advancements to eliminate barriers in access to education. “Last year, we developed OcuWeld, a groundbreaking virtual reality training program for welding students,” Kelly says, explaining the program is designed to extend access to education in remote or underserved areas, offering students the academic benefits of accessibility, autonomy and amplification while eliminating access, safety and cost concerns.

Last year, StrataTech provided $30,000 in scholarships to five Boys & Girls Clubs of the Valley members and donated $100,000 to Fresh Start Women’s Foundation, a nonprofit that supports women getting back on their feet after suffering poverty, domestic violence and/or homelessness. The company also received a micro-grant from Grow with Google and Partnership with Native Americans to provide Indigenous students with transportation vouchers and alleviate a major obstacle to education many Indigenous students face by living on reservations. “To further our commitment to inclusivity,” Kelly adds, “we developed the Apartment Maintenance Pathway Program in partnership with ARIZONA@WORK, designed to help address the skilled-trades demand throughout the state by preparing participants for entry-level, apartment-maintenance jobs.” The program uses a curriculum focused on maintenance and repair of interiors and exteriors, electrical, plumbing, heating and air conditioning, and appliance repair. 

Using surveys and initiatives to gain insight into employees’ perspectives and experiences, StrataTech is able to form committees that develop action plans on a quarterly basis. “Over the past few years, our employee engagement results have seen a significant increase, showcasing our commitment to listening and acting on our employees’ feedback — thereby aiding in our retention efforts,” Kelly reports. “We track our DE&I initiatives regularly, monitoring employee engagement surveys, exit interviews and feedback from employees and students to identify areas of improvement. This allows us to create an environment where everyone feels respected and valued.”

Sundt Construction

Driving Sundt’s DEI actions are data and feedback gathered via company-wide engagement and climate surveys of all its employee-owners. And a key component in ensuring Sundt’s DEI program’s success is tracking its work with XBEs. “Our construction projects are tracking this information so we can be sure we’re meeting our XBE participation goals on projects and doing our part to optimize our XBE partnerships,” says Calamaio. 

Explaining, “We focus on DEI internally with our employee-owners and externally with our trade partners and suppliers,” Calamaio notes Sundt has a full-time DEI specialist, Tracy Sanders, who is a certified supplier diversity professional, certified small business liaison officer and Inclusion Institute Certified Diversity Practitioner. Additionally, Sundt works closely with a consultant, Dr. Shawn Andrews, a top DEI researcher and instructor. “We’ve had our senior managers engage in DEI training and discussion on topics including implicit bias, microaggressions, psychological safety and David Rock’s SCARF model,” says Calamaio. “These topics are also incorporated into Sundt’s Manager Effectiveness Training, helping every manager in the organization to understand and embed DEI into every layer of Sundt’s culture.” 

“When I teach DEIB, those building blocks help managers and our people understand the type of culture that is most advantageous to the success that we all want to experience every day,” says DEI specialist Sanders. 

Another significant accomplishment Calamaio points to was a revision to Sundt’s application process for its leadership development program. She reports that making it more all-inclusive has doubled the percentage of female and ethnically diverse participants. 

Beyond its DEI Committee, Sundt also has DEI advocates who are the “boots on the ground” in every region where Sundt works. Their role is to spread awareness across the company about the program and help other employees get involved. The newest endeavor is an employee resource group focusing on women in construction, designed specifically to provide resources for women looking to advance their careers in construction as well as provide outreach to women interested in joining construction. 

“Each year that we’ve had the DEI program, we’ve focused on hiring/recruiting more intentionally through a DEI lens. We’ve seen results with more diverse hiring, especially with women,” Calamaio reports. 

In addition to the focus on recruiting and training, Sundt’s internal DEI initiative also focuses on leadership. Noting, “We established our DEI goals, in partnership with our consultant, to align with or exceed key benchmarks, determined through an analysis of industry norms and demographic data,” Calamaio says, “Our progress thus far across combined DEI efforts is making Sundt a more diverse, equitable and inclusive company, and we’re excited for the road ahead.” 

University of Phoenix

The University has a Center for Workplace Diversity and Inclusion Research that serves as the research home for faculty, students and alumni who have an expressed interest or have an existing research agenda related to the topics of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging in workplaces and communities of practice. “The vision of the Center,” says Fink, “is to be the leading generator of impactful research-based publications and presentations that lead to practical and innovative solutions for healthy, all-inclusive organizational cultures.”

In 2021, University of Phoenix created the President’s Advisory Council on Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging, which is led by President Chris Lynne and Provost Dr. John Woods. “The Advisory Council was established to understand the many ways the University has committed to creating a welcome and inclusive environment,” Fink explains. The President’s Advisory Council is a representative, cross-functional body that works to develop and promote strategies that foster a community of inclusion; value diversity of thought, experiences and culture; and lead to a sense of belonging for all. The Council is comprised of six working groups with more than 100 University, faculty, staff and administrators as members. 

Informed by the Council’s Working Groups and the University’s mission and strategic goals, the Advisory Council advises the president of the University and reports on the University’s diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging progress being made in support of the University’s diversity initiatives. Since its launch in June 2020, more than 3,000 University faculty and staff have attended these sessions, many of them multiple times.

And Fink notes, “We have continued our monthly Educational Equity series to create a space for thought-provoking conversations about equity and inclusion in the classroom, workplace and community.” 

Making the point that DEIB programs are just words on a page unless organizations measure and evaluate the effectiveness of what they are trying to do, Fink says, “At University of Phoenix, we systematically measure engagement and satisfaction through employee and faculty surveys. We have engaged with GLINT, a platform that helps organizations increase employee engagement, develop their people and improve business results. On an annual basis, we conduct a robust survey asking employees their views on areas such as understanding our business strategy, communication, collaboration, our culture, development opportunities and their intent to stay, just to name a few. We follow up with pulse surveys focusing on a few specific areas to judge how we are doing.” 

University of Phoenix uses a series of survey questions to scrupulously evaluate the effectiveness of its DEIB strategy. Fink shares some of them: 

  • I feel a sense of belonging at University of Phoenix.
  • I feel comfortable being myself at work.
  • Diverse perspectives are valued at University of Phoenix.
  • I am able to successfully balance my work and personal life. 
  • Our actions are consistent with University of Phoenix’s core values.

The scores are then compared to benchmark data provided by GLINT, and Fink reports that, in every instance where there is data, University of Phoenix scores above the benchmark. “But we don’t stop there,” Fink continues. “We look at the trending of the scores over time to ensure we are improving. These key questions, as well as the almost 7,000 write-in comments from employees, send a clear message as to how we are doing.” 

Improvement is an ongoing purpose. University of Phoenix commissioned The Harris Poll in 2021 to conduct an online survey to better understand their perceptions of disability and online accessibility. It also produced a guide, in collaboration with the University’s Center for Workplace Diversity and Inclusion Research and the Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, on how companies can create effective DEIB programs. 

And the University has received affirmation of its efforts. Fink reports the University applied for and received last year, for the fifth year in a row, the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s recognition as a Best Place to Work for LGBTQ Equality. 

In 2022, the University hosted its first annual Inclusive Leadership Summit and Career Fair, “Creating the Intentional Leader of Today, Tomorrow and Beyond,” that more than 50 University, faculty and staff helped plan and execute the event. Fink reports the summit attracted more than 1,400 attendees from 22 countries, and the virtual career fair featured 35 employers. As this article was being prepared for press, the University was preparing its second summit, for May 2–4, 2023, “Developing a Culture of Belonging that Prioritizes Social & Emotional Well-Being,” with a focus on activating the change required to create diverse, equitable and inclusive workplaces.


One-n-ten implemented an annual employee climate survey to benchmark results year over year to create an action plan for areas we seek or see needed improvement, and Rhoton reports that outcomes include low turnover rates and higher overall employee satisfaction. 

“In the nonprofit space, this can be more difficult to measure,” Rhoton explains, “but, looking at our low turnover rates of full-time staff, the results of our annual employee climate survey and even donors asking about our efforts in this area all point to the work contributing to our operations and overall results.” 

Goodmans Interior Structures

“This commitment to fairness is advancing our purpose ‘to change the community’ because our transparency allows us to be a model for other companies to follow,” Goodman says. He believes that publicly acknowledging unconscious bias in his company serves to challenge other companies to take an honest look at their own practices. In fact, he shares, “Anecdotally, we know we have inspired other local businesses to investigate how unconscious bias impacts their own talent life cycle.” 

Goodman recalls that at the beginning of what he calls “this journey,” his company’s census matched the state’s demographics almost point for point. This fact seemed to lead to the conclusion that Goodmans did not have a hiring problem. But taking a different angle and analyzing compensation by race revealed an imbalance that was vastly different from the company’s overall demographics. “That is when we realized we have a talent-development and career-planning challenge,” he relates, and shares, “We are keeping a close eye on the racial profile of our highest paying jobs to make sure we are successful at eliminating unconscious bias.” 

He underscores the need to not expect immediate results, observing, “It took us 400 years to get into this mess, so it is going to take some time for us to correct it.” But it’s a journey he remains committed to. “As a 69-year-old business, we have the patience and long-term vision to see this correction through to completion,” he says. “We will know we have succeeded when the racial composition of our highest paying jobs reflects the overall demographics of our workforce.” 

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