HR’s Rising Stars: Driving global diversity success at Alight

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Xan Daniels has enjoyed a 20-year career at Alight Solutions (formerly part of Aon Hewitt), a cloud-based human capital technology and services provider. She’s the driving force behind this global organization’s diversity, equity and inclusion strategy, and her expertise has powered this dynamic company to attract, advance and retain diverse talent worldwide.

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Before her current role, Daniels, one of this year’s HR’s Rising Stars, led Alight’s test management practice. She jokes that she believed she would retire as the “queen of testing,” but in 2020, her colleagues called on her to fill a role that illuminated some of her other professional skills. Daniels accepted the award last week at Human Resource Executive‘s Elevate People, Ignite Change (EPIC) conference in Las Vegas.

A new leadership calling

Prior to taking on her current role, Daniels co-led the org’s global inclusion council, which advises and recommends inclusion and diversity priorities to the company’s executive leadership team. Based on this role and other relevant experience, in the fall of 2020, she was asked to take on the full-time position as Alight’s global inclusion and diversity leader to play a pivotal role in developing related policies.

With a population of over 18,000 employees in more than 20 countries, Daniels says that inclusion work is “urgent and relevant and important” to a global workforce that is vastly distributed. She says that employees and candidates want to know that the organization’s purpose aligns with their values and how they view themselves.

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As a member of the HR leadership team, Daniels collaborates with colleagues in other areas, such as talent acquisition, total rewards and communications, to ensure that inclusion and diversity are not afterthoughts but are solidly integrated into departmental processes. She is charged with delivering on Alight’s promise of “bringing action to words,” helping Alight and its customers celebrate differences in an environment where everyone feels valued, respected and supported.

Increasing diverse impact

Xan Daniels, Alight, on diversity
Xan Daniels, Alight

Daniels says that in the area of inclusion and diversity, many HR efforts currently focus on two key aspects: creating an environment where one can be one’s authentic self and fostering a sense of belonging. Both of these continue to be top priorities for Alight; however, the team also places a strong emphasis on measuring and increasing impact. 

Daniels points out that it’s often habitual for business leaders to “check the boxes” on diversity and inclusion without considering whether they were necessary or if they could have been done more purposefully. “So, we are starting to be really focused on impact and ensuring that we’re not just going through the motions, but at the end of the day, people are better for it,” says Daniels.

Inclusive communication

Daniels is dedicated to ensuring Alight’s hiring process and other employee communications use inclusive and clear language. “Sometimes, the words that we use make total sense for those of us for whom English is our native language, but they can mean something totally different when translated,” she says. 

“We have to be careful that we’re not using words that could mean so many different things when they are translated either on paper or digitally or in someone’s head,”  says Daniels. Instead of HR jargon, she advises the use of “natural language” that is more in tune with the way that people talk to one another, a way of communicating that is less likely to be mysterious or mistranslated by employees.

Daniels says this philosophy also applies to the talent acquisition process. She and her team create job advertisements with high readability while avoiding gendered language or an overwhelming list of requirements. Daniels finds that candidates often exclude themselves from applying based on the tone of the job listing, even if they could be a great fit for the role.

The Rising Star says this mindfulness extends beyond crafting the job advertisements to driving “real dialogue with hiring managers” about what traits and skills are necessary to successfully fill each position.

Benefits 101

Daniels emphasizes supporting her team members as they grow their careers and “be great at who they are” and what they do for Alight. “I take it personally that we have to set people up for success,” she says.

In 2023, Daniels played a key role in coordinating a “Benefits 101” session for students at the National Black MBA Annual Conference. This program, led by four top leaders from Alight, educated students about crucial aspects of financial and medical benefits. She says that the sessions empower students to make confident enrollment-related decisions and encourage them to think about benefits in the context of total compensation.

Motivated by this success, Daniels plans similar sessions at Georgia State University and four other institutions: the University of Central Florida, Morehouse College, Johnson C. Smith University and Chicago State University.

Personal passions

Alight is a stigma-free company when it comes to mental illness, says Daniels, and as a board member for the Illinois chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), she finds a connection between her contributions at work and her ability to support this nonprofit organization. 

“One of the things I’m very passionate about when working with NAMI is to bring conversations around mental health and mental illness to the workplace because they’re not the same,” Daniels offers. She believes one of the reasons people are so hesitant to talk about mental illness is because they conflate mental health with mental illness.

When asked about a key piece of advice she keeps in her back pocket, Daniels tells HRE that she recalls times when she tried to emulate other people or use their words or presentation style: “And, you know, I wasn’t very good at being them, but I’m great at being me.” 

She says that if she could turn back time 20 years to the day she started at Alight, this Oscar Wilde nugget would be the advice she would give herself: “Be yourself because everyone is taken.”

Dayana Falcon of ESPN and Xan Daniels of Alight Solutions
Xan Daniels, right, with fellow HR’s Rising Star Dayana Falcon of ESPN celebrate their wins at the EPIC conference at the Bellagio in Las Vegas. (Photo courtesy Dayana Falcon)

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