In today’s corporate landscape, where companies like Amazon are making headlines with their workplace decisions, the role of Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) has never been more critical. At the forefront of this movement is Michael Matthews, Chief Diversity, Inclusion, and Corporate Responsibility Officer at Synchrony, a consumer financial services company.
With a passion for creating equitable opportunities and a vision for a more inclusive future, Matthews is leading the charge in redefining the corporate approach to D&I.
From Call Center to HR Visionary
Matthews’s journey to the world of HR and D&I is both unique and inspiring. Starting his career as a call center representative, he faced challenges that likely resonate with many. “I struggled to be seen and considered for bigger roles,” he says. “I realized others saw me only as an entry-level associate rather than my potential of becoming a leader.”
This early experience, where he felt overlooked and undervalued, ignited a passion within him. He saw in HR the potential to serve those often left in the shadows who felt undervalued or underserved.
His drive for purpose-driven work was further fueled by personal stories he heard from members of his family. Matthews’s grandfather, despite his qualifications, faced discrimination and racial inequality in metro-Detroit. Yet, he persevered, breaking barriers to become an executive at a time when Black executives were a rarity. These tales of resilience and determination not only shaped Matthews’s “why” but also instilled in him a responsibility to give back, ensuring others had access to opportunities and a platform to shine.
Synchrony’s Unwavering Commitment to D&I
At Synchrony, the value of a diverse workforce is crystal clear. It’s not just about checking boxes; it’s about driving innovation, enhancing performance, and forging deeper relationships with customers.
“To truly drive systemic change, we treat equity, diversity, and inclusion as a business imperative,” Matthews emphasizes. This commitment is deeply ingrained in the company’s ethos, with unwavering support from the CEO, executive leadership team, and Board of Directors. Their mission? To cultivate a culture where employees can be their authentic selves, ensuring everyone has access to opportunities and resources to compete, win, and thrive.
Bridging Gaps with Employee Resource Groups
Synchrony’s dedication to D&I is further exemplified by its eight Diversity Networks+. These voluntary, employee-led groups play a pivotal role in fostering a culture of inclusion. Remarkably, over half of Synchrony’s workforce — more than 9,500 employees — are members of one or more of these networks. Matthews proudly notes, “We included the ‘+’ to our Diversity Networks to encourage all employees globally to partner as an ally and ‘be the plus.’”
These networks are more than just support groups; they’re catalysts for change. They help employees understand that Synchrony is a place where unique identities and perspectives are not only welcomed but celebrated.
“One of the key learnings I’ve had since starting in this role is the importance of transparency,” Matthews shares. This transparency has fostered trust, enabling honest conversations and ensuring that the company’s D&I initiatives are both credible and impactful.
Setting the Gold Standard in D&I Initiatives
Synchrony’s approach to D&I is not just about meeting industry standards; it’s about setting them. The company actively listens to its employees, identifying innovative benefits and programs that cater to their evolving needs. From offering unparalleled flexibility in work arrangements to partnering with behavior change technology company Thrive Global, Synchrony is at the cutting edge of employee well-being.
“We offer inclusive benefits and initiatives to support our diverse workforce and communities,” Matthews points out. Notably, their commitment to pay equity, industry-leading wages, and support for working parents sets them apart in the corporate world.
But it’s not just about employee benefits. Synchrony’s investments in education and community outreach, such as their $50 million “Education as an Equalizer” initiative, underscore their dedication to creating a more inclusive future. Their collaboration with Great Place To Work on the “Great Transformation” research initiative further showcases their commitment to redefining workplace dynamics.
Empowering Diverse Talent
At the heart of Synchrony’s D&I strategy is a simple yet powerful belief: everyone deserves the opportunity to be their authentic self. “We’ve created an environment and culture where 100% of our people can bring their authentic selves to work 100% of the time,” Matthews states. Through initiatives like the Diversity Networks+ and a data-driven strategy, Synchrony ensures that diverse voices are heard and valued.
Supporting the professional growth of its employees is paramount. From leadership development programs to mentorships, Synchrony provides a plethora of resources to help its talent flourish. Matthews emphasizes, “We believe everyone should have access to education and skills training,” highlighting Synchrony’s unwavering commitment to building a diverse workforce for the future.
Cultivating an Authentic and Inclusive Culture
Synchrony’s commitment to fostering an inclusive culture goes beyond corporate initiatives; it’s about creating genuine spaces for dialogue, understanding, and growth. “The ability to be open to feedback and understand different perspectives are just some of the ways we continually foster inclusion,” Matthews elaborates. By empowering employees to engage in candid conversations, whether through surveys, town halls, or the Diversity Networks+, Synchrony ensures that every voice is heard and valued.
One standout initiative is the Global Diversity Experience (GDE), a three-day event that brings together employees, leaders, and board members for immersive learning and community service. Matthews proudly shares, “The conversations and new relationships that continue after the event create an organic network of equity, diversity, inclusion, and citizenship champions.” This event, along with partnerships with national non-profits and academic institutions, underscores Synchrony’s dedication to not just talking about diversity but living it.
Final Thoughts: A Vision for the Future
At Synchrony, the journey toward a more inclusive and diverse workplace is ongoing, driven by core beliefs and a vision championed by leaders like Michael Matthews.
“Building an inclusive culture where our differences are celebrated has always been intuitive,” Matthews reflects. As the corporate world grapples with the challenges and opportunities of D&I, Synchrony stands as a beacon, demonstrating that with commitment, transparency, and a genuine desire to uplift every voice, meaningful progress is not just possible—it’s inevitable.
Lin Grensing-Pophal is a Contributing Editor at HR Daily Advisor.
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