When it Really Mattered: Inclusive Impact
AlixPartners is a global consulting firm of 2,500 people, specialising in urgent performance improvement, complex restructuring, risk mitigation, and accelerated transformation. They apply behavioural science, strategy, and operational precision to help leaders transform cultures and bring value to their clients when they need it most—or ‘when it really matters’, to reference their brand.
Return on investment
D&I work undertaken by the firm from 2015 to 2019 has paid dividends in many ways, and ensured a strong response to the extraordinary events of 2020.
AlixPartners has embedded inclusion to improve real understanding amongst its own people, and to create new insights to the work they do with clients.
Increased engagement from all levels through engaged leadership opening the culture (improving internal programmes and processes and integration of the firm’s eight employee resource groups) to address systemic inequalities and social cohesion.
AlixPartners has been a values-led consultancy since its founding in 1981, reflecting the beliefs of its founder Jay Alix. ‘Personal respect’ has been a core value in the firm since the start. When Simon Freakley assumed the role of CEO in 2015, he reinforced the principle of embedding D&I even more firmly into everything that AlixPartners does, for its people and in its work with clients.
Simon appointed Cindy Godwin in London as the firm’s first Head of Diversity, Inclusion, and Social Responsibility in 2017, to think deeply about D&I and to find the ‘permanent path’, and we caught up with her in the making of this report to understand the firm’s progress. Cindy has since recruited and passed the D&I role to Elton Ndoma- Ogar in New York, the firm’s first external hire in this space.
Included began working with Cindy and the AlixPartners leadership in 2017, using an adapted model of ‘Understand – Integrate – Lead – Sustain’.
In the ‘Understand’ phase, we worked together to review D&I baselines and build on groundwork laid between 2014 and 2016. The firm’s goal was
to make the firm a Top Place to Work, develop inclusive leaders, engage its employees, and serve its communities.
Included facilitated workshops with leaders throughout the organisation to more deeply understand how to recognise where bias might emerge and to mitigate the impact of bias in critical people processes such as performance management and promotion. D&I governance was strengthened, through a centralised, one-firm D&I framework, supported by taskforces and working groups around the world.
To add depth to the engagement, Included tested the job application process in different regions where AlixPartners has offices to understand the candidate experience at senior and mid-consulting entry points. As a result, The AlixPartners
was able to make improvements to expand its diversity pipeline, increase pass-through rates for diverse candidates, and design a more intentional onboarding programme to support retention.
In the ‘Integrate’ phase, we conducted a deep dive into the perception of the firm’s employees, to assess progress since an initial D&I employee perception study in 2015. Applying our Inclusion Diagnostic, AlixPartners built a deeper quantitative dataset
to understand experiences across its organisation, particularly in regard to psychological safety. This behavioural data, combined with the firm’s diversity demographics, supported leadership education, awareness, and advocacy to improve each employee’s feeling of pride in belonging and commitment to building their career at the firm. AlixPartners also reshaped its annual review, development, and promotion processes, with a particular focus on building D&I commitments into Managing Director roles.
In the ‘Lead’ and ‘Sustain’ phases, D&I commitments were added to employee development plans and embedded into the firm’s learning toolkits for key people processes. Subsequently, the firm’s new Chief People Officer created a D&I Centre of Excellence (CoE) led by Cindy, who added two permanent team members: Chad Schwarz, an internal promotion from the financial advisory team who leads the firm’s eight ERGs, and Elton Ndoma-Ogar, an experienced D&I professional who was the firm’s first external hire. As an example of intentional onboarding, Elton succeeded Cindy as Head of D&I after an eight-month programmatic culture integration. Most excitingly of all, AlixPartners’ have moved the conversation on to include clients and other external partners in their work, through themes related to trust, emotional intelligence, and transformative leadership. Cindy, now the Head of Social Responsibility for the firm, has been able to turn her focus to the firm’s role in society, and the impact it can have on driving sustainable change related to the inclusion and diversity challenges disrupting the world today.
To support the firm’s membership of the World Economic Forum, Cindy has joined its Global Future Council on Systemic Inequalities and Social Cohesion.
Engagement is up across the firm. After establishing its first ERG in 2016, AlixPartners now has eight thriving groups, and membership in these groups has doubled in three years. The ERGs are Asian Leadership Insights and Growth Network (ALIGN); PrideMatters; Black Professionals Network; Hispanics or Latinos of AlixPartners (HOLA); Women’s Empowerment Matters (WE Matters); Working Parents; Military and Uniformed Services Team (MUST); and NextGen. Under Chad’s guidance, the firm hosted its first ERG leadership forum in early 2020, and every ERG subsequently created a 12-month strategic plan in partnership with the firm’s marketing and communications, talent acquisition, and learning and development CoEs, as well as with external affiliations and charities (including London Music Masters, another subject of this report).
Cindy said the firm responded to the Covid-19 pandemic and social justice protests throughout the summer of 2020 with grace, honesty, and dignity, which she attributed to leadership and colleagues applying the D&I principles the firm has been embedding since 2015. Similarly, the ERGs, often working collaboratively with each other, drove cohesion through the firm’s global community by organising events that fostered dialogue about these external events and their impact within the firm, including the Black Professional Network’s ongoing Forum on Race series, which continues to evolve and deepen.
AlixPartners aspires to continue to perpetuate itself as a values-led, people-focused, client-centric organisation, in keeping with the mission set out by its founder and the vision of its leadership. Inclusion is being embedded into the fabric of everything the firm does with the goal of building a workforce that is representative of the diverse world in which we live, and acting as a thoughtful change agent within responsible, committed societies.
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