Brian Reaves spent most of his career as a software engineer. But five years ago, he began applying his math and computer science skills to a very different job.
“As a young Black man growing up in a socio-economically depressed environment in South Central Los Angeles, this topic in some form has been part of my life,” Reaves says about issues related to diversity. He is now chief belonging, diversity & equity officer at UKG, a global provider of HCM and workforce management solutions.
Reaves now considers himself both a software engineer and a diversity, equity and inclusion professional, two careers that he says have dovetailed well. HRE spoke with him about his perspective and how his former and current positions coincide.
HRE: How are the responsibilities of your current job and a software engineer similar?
Reaves: As a software engineer, I dealt with conflicts and business problems and (I) used software. I think of DEI as a complex business problem but now I use strategies and tactics. You need tremendous operational rigor, transparency and accountability. You have to leverage people to be successful. So, they share a lot of the same principles but I believe I bring an engineering mindset to DEI. You still have to test things, make investments and motivate people.
HRE:Can you point to a specific engineering skill that helps you in your current role?
Reaves: I always led remote and global teams and innovated in a remote environment across geography, time zones and cultures. As people move more toward a hybrid work environment, they now have to build muscle on how to motivate people they don’t see every day or just see virtually and build exceptional innovations that are hybrid in nature. They have to master something they didn’t have to before COVID. That is something very familiar to me.
HRE:What led you down this career path?
Reaves: The majority of people I grew up with were either incarcerated or didn’t see their 21st birthday on Earth. Through the love of my family and investments they made in me and my education, I had a different path. I get to be at the tip of the spear with regards to designing strategies and tactics for going after the expanded talent pools or engaging underrepresented groups. In the role I have now, I can make that the norm where everyone can be empowered with skills so they can be leveraged and engaged and rise.
HRE:What’s your impression of how COVID-19 has changed the nature of DEI or HR?
Reaves: If you think about analytics, it started out with hindsight. What happened and why did it happen? Now, it’s foresight or perspective. How can you make that great thing happen over and over? I think the same thing is happening in DEI in HR. It used to be more hindsight—dealing with day-to-day issues to ensure the train was running on time. The future of HR is evolving into something that’s even more strategic and will explain why issues exist and then predict what will happen if some underlying issues don’t change. It’s innovating with prescriptive strategies and tactics. HR actions will be better created to specifically move companies to where they want and need to be.
HRE: What attitude or mindset do people entering DEI need to adopt?
Reaves: Do not accept the status quo. Know that the role you’re playing is strategic and figure out innovative people strategies in order to add value to a company. A lot of people in my role are coming from other parts of the business. Be broad-based. Change the game and look at things differently. It will help you be more successful, whether it’s in HR or the DEI profession.
HRE: Although you’ve only served in your current job for five months, what have you achieved?
Reaves: I figured out strategies and tactics that will move the bar. I worked with the rest of the organization about where we want to be and laid out a multi-year strategy for us to get there, which caused us to inspect every HR motion we have. It’s not about fitting people into existing boxes. It’s unlocking the potential of every individual … and building new boxes. That’s where this profession needs to go. How do you unlock the potential of everyone and make them feel like they belong?
HRE:You’re passionate about the have-nots in this world. How do you plan on helping them?
Reaves: I view myself as someone who is helping move the people agenda forward in concert and partnership with more traditional HR people. I want to create a world where, if you’re willing to lean in and do the necessary things, then you’ll have the types of opportunities I had that created generational changes with regards to life outcomes. That’s why I do this and have so much passion for it. That’s why I know we must get this right. For me, this is the final chapter of a story I would have wanted to write from the beginning.