By Kara Zone
The quote on Audra Jenkins' email signature is by Serena Williams and states, "The success of every woman should be the inspiration to another. We should raise each other up. Make sure you're very courageous: be strong, be extremely kind, and above all be humble." This quote encompasses my experience when interviewing Audra. She was kind, respectful, interesting, and willing to talk about some tough topics.
Audra Jenkins is the chief diversity and inclusion officer of Randstad US. She is the first CDIO at Randstad and has the opportunity to take her role far.
Kara Zone (KZ): We were told you travel and speak frequently.
Audra Jenkins (AJ):
I do. I just got back from speaking at VMWorld in Las Vegas which was exciting because I received an invitation to speak with VMware about partnership in transforming the lives of underserved women through our Hire Hope program.
KZ: What is the Hire Hope program?
Our Hire Hope program provides career-readiness training and job placement services to underserved and at-risk women. It is executed with the community and corporate partners, like VMware, who are focused on helping women develop the skills necessary to live independently and increase career-related competencies.
KZ: How did you decide that the Hire Hope program was going to be one of the avenues you wanted to tackle at Randstad?
I've always been a supporter and will always be a supporter of the Hire Hope program. Empowering women and inspiring them to find a better life is something that is near to my heart. When I became Randstad's chief diversity and inclusion officer, I became the executive sponsor of the program.
KZ: You're the first chief diversity and inclusion officer of Randstad. What does diversity and inclusion [D&I] mean to you?
I have many thoughts on diversity and inclusion. My official stance is that our success is linked to how we leverage the strength of our differences.
At Randstad, we build upon our core values and represent the diverse employees, clients, vendors, and communities we serve.
A basic definition of diversity is how we look at our demographic description of people we affiliate with. One's affiliation with a particular group can describe and identify each person's diversity.
Inclusion, on the other hand, means belonging and respect.
KZ: Were you always interested in finding a D and I role? And, if you have been, is there a story behind how you became interested in diversity and inclusion?
I've always wanted to work in this field.
I grew up in the south, and as a result of that, I faced discrimination and barriers that I thought would prevent me from advancing to the top of any career. I longed for inclusion.
I had to overcome a lot to go to college and to earn an advanced degree. I had to go beyond the discrimination of my race and gender; it was a host of societal biases coming from a working-class family.
The reason why I'm passionate about this topic is that I grew up in a working-class family. I didn't know I could go to college, for example. I had a counselor pull me aside one day and say, "Hey, what's going on? You haven't been accepted to any colleges. Why aren't you applying?"
That one person taking the time to talk to me about options for college probably changed the whole trajectory of my life.
I would've just had a regular job and went to community college. Nothing is wrong with community college; however that one little nugget gave me the extra encouragement to go on to be better in life. And I recognized that encouragement in the Hire Hope program.
Diversity was a combination of these career choices, my personal experience, my career, and my passion for making the world a little better.
KZ: While you can connect your role with your past, can you explain how you also connect your ideas to Randstad's Hire Hope program? What is the most rewarding part?
The Hire Hope program is probably the toughest but most rewarding part of my job. It's the toughest part because the program deals with things that are not typically found in daily work, such as personal issues like abuse, socioeconomic disparities, and sex trafficking. Most people are not used to dealing with that type of crisis in the workplace.
I have had women tell me that they had to leave their home or others explain that they have no food to give their families. Typically, you wouldn't think that someone in corporate America would be coming in hungry every day.
That's what the Hire Hope program is for: trafficking, homelessness, and those at-risk for exploitation.
We have to use tough love—there is a balance between being a public program, being a good public citizen, and providing life skills. There is a fine line between providing life skills and ensuring the person that they aren't always a victim.
We don't want to focus on their past. We tell the participants, "You're not a victim. You're a survivor. Your circumstances don't define who you are as a person. You can do anything. You don't have to listen to those negative voices anymore."
KZ: When you moved to Randstad in 2008, were you looking for a specific job or were you excited to work with the company?
Moving to Randstad was a natural progression. I worked for many years in HR and talent management. The transition to Randstad was a different path because I started as the client. Then I became the vendor.
I thought it gave me an edge. I could do work from the vendor and the client side, which was powerful. That edge gave me leverage because the vendor may think, "Well, I just saved you x, y, and z, and the clients gonna love this."
KZ: In your biography, you also talk about splitting the role of diversity and inclusion with Randstad internally and externally. Do you have different methods for when you use your diversity internally or externally?
It's the same method, process, and approach but through a different lens.
When discussing "internal roles," we talk about what we do with a strategy around linking diversity in the workplace, marketplace, and business.
In the marketplace, it's what we do externally. So, externally, we focus on branding. We want to be the diverse and inclusive partner of choice. We want to be the vendor of choice when people look for diverse talent and strategy. We want to be the company that is not just talking about diversity but doing diversity.
KZ: What do you see happening in the future with your role at Randstad and the future with even just diversity and inclusion?
I'm excited about my role with Randstad for D and I because we do great work for ourselves and our clients.
In 2017, Randstad appointed me as the chief diversity and inclusion officer. We became the first major staffing company to have a chief diversity and inclusion officer; it was a huge shift. The staffing industry as a whole needs diversity because it's not a major focus. Making that shift was a great investment and a great message externally and internally about our focus on D&I.
Also, in January, I had the opportunity to go to the department of justice (DOJ) and speak at the anti-human-trafficking summit. Representatives from Facebook and UPS were on the panel. The summit was intended to elevate the discussion on trafficking and urge the DOJ to increase efforts stop human traffickers in the United States.
Right now, gun traffickers get stricter penalties than human traffickers. But human trafficking supplies the most money and is a detriment to communities. Human trafficking is a modern-day form of slavery.
KZ: Do you ever work hands-on with the survivors of the human trafficking? Or is your role broader?
And unfortunately, underage child trafficking is the fastest growing. Parents, especially, have to take time to talk to their sons and daughters because it's not just women and girls, it's also boys. Another form of trafficking that is on the rise involves domestic workers.
KZ: How do you see D and I moving forward in the country for the future?
I'm hopeful. We've moved from this slow and steady smolder around D and I issues to an urgent, burning call to action.
Different things pop up; some you would be outraged over. In the past year, there is a magnitude of raging, wildfire passion and an outcry for unity and diversity.
We're at a line of demarcation in history. We've got #MeToo and #TimesUp. With these movements, we're going to see a major shift in public support of diversity like we've never seen before because of all the brave people.
It takes bravery to stand up and say something's not right or something's not working. Bravery is what is needed.
My concern about the future is automation
. I talk about a recent report by the World Economic Forum and how technological advancements will threaten 57% of jobs typically held by women between now and 2026. We don't have many years to go.
We ought to be concerned. I don't want to see huge numbers of women displaced in the marketplace and unemployable. We've got to get serious about what companies are going to do about automation in a meaningful way.
The Hire Hope program is more critical than ever. We've partnered with several great corporations. One of them is a tech company that's helping us introduce the women to technology.
Audra is leading a webinar for WITI on automation in November.
As chief diversity and inclusion officer, Audra Jenkins is responsible for working with Randstad's operating companies to further diversity strategies both internally and externally. With more than 20 years of human resources, diversity, and compliance experience, Audra provides clients across the organization with guidance for effective strategies in diversity, inclusion, veterans, and compliance. Audra also helps run Randstad's Hire Hope program to provide career readiness training and job placement services to underserved and at-risk women, including survivors of exploitation and trafficking.
Audra holds a Master's in Business Administration with a human resources concentration, and a bachelor's in Finance, from the University of North Carolina. A member of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM); she is also a Certified Diversity Professional (CDP), a certified Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR), a SHRM Senior Certified Professional (SHRM-SCP), and a Six Sigma Green Belt. Audra is known for her speaking engagements at diversity conferences and has published white papers in her area of expertise.
Kara Zone is a professional writer, editor, and graphic designer. She is the managing editor of WITI.com and enjoys working remotely. She is a critical thinker and builds departmental systems for companies to use when structuring organizational systems.