Alicia Barker, COO of Staffing 360 Solutions and a member of the company’s board of directors, has been an advocate for diversity and gender equality throughout her career. However, she is the first to admit that George Floyd’s murder was a wake-up call. Even so, “in the days after Floyd’s murder, we said nothing,” Barker recalls. “And that was wrong.” When a colleague called to ask her for guidance about how to respond to employees who were upset about the company’s silence, Barker realized the harm they had done and committed to setting things right.
In the three years since, Barker has led Staffing 360 Solutions in efforts to weave DE&I values into everything the company does. “We started with talking together about difficult subjects,” she explains. Not wanting to pressure members of underrepresented groups in the company to take the lead, Barker started by sharing her own experiences with mental illness and gender discrimination. “That was scary,” she says, “being vulnerable and removing barriers between my personal life and my life as an executive.”
Some of the company’s achievements under her watch include investing in over 1,000 hours of DE&I training, creating inclusive imagery for recruiting materials, establishing prayer rooms in response to employee requests, publishing a monthly newsletter that explores topics related to DE&I and launching “taste the culture” events that create a greater sense of belonging and understanding. To expand its impact beyond itself and hold itself accountable, the company has established partnerships with PwC’s CEO Action and with 20/20 Change, a UK-based organization focused on moving young people from underrepresented groups into employment.
In terms of challenges, Barker admits there are people who still need convincing that DE&I is worth the investment. “We are asking people to step out of their comfort zone, and that is not always easy,” she says. Also, she recognizes they have a long way to go, especially on including people with physical disabilities. But, knowing that they have already made real change keeps her motivated. “We have lots more to do, but I am very proud of what we have accomplished.”
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