The Sustainable MBA

Purpose and retail: LaTrice Ross, Macy's Systems and Technology

LaTrice Ross, Macy's Systems and Technology
LaTrice Ross, manager of diversity and inclusion, Macy's Systems and Technology.

With the recent growth of online retail, traditional brick-and-mortar stores are being forced to innovate in order to stay relevant. This is challenging in an industry that often finds its development teams lacking inclusivity and diversity.

Bard MBA spoke to LaTrice Ross, manager of diversity and inclusion for Macy’s Systems and Technology (MST), on how to address issues surrounding inclusivity and diversity in the workforce. Before joining MST, Ross worked with Step IT Up America, a program designed to train and assist minority women starting careers as IT consultants.

In addition to her work juggling diversity and hiring talent in a tight market, Ross also speaks to the importance of purpose — connecting every day work to a company's long-term vision for a sustainable business.

The following Q&A is an edited excerpt from a Sustainable Business Fridays conversation May 6 by the Bard MBA in Sustainability Program, based in New York City.

Bard MBA: What do you do as manager of diversity and inclusion for MST?

LaTrice Ross: My role here is to ensure that our work environment is one that is inclusive. We have a very diverse workforce, but with our organization, as well as with many other organizations, diversity is something that is easy to meet. The inclusiveness component is where companies struggle.

My goal primarily is to ensure that our culture is one that is inclusive, where employees feel comfortable bringing their "whole" selves to work and still be afforded the opportunities for advancement. It is a fun role because I get to hold what we call leaning into discomfort. I get to engage in those conversations because having those conversations and helping to develop an understanding of cultural differences is one of the primary ways to create an inclusive culture.

Bard MBA: Could you speak to the lack of diversity in the technology sector?

Ross: There is a push to get more minorities and more women into technology and engineering because when you get those unique, varying perspectives, you can be more innovative; you can create smarter technology, create better tools for the diverse culture that will consume that same technology.

That is the value add — the cognitive differences have an impact on how technology moves forward. Any news report that you look at about technology and diversity, there is a documented lack of diversity when it comes to the technology industry. The experiential differences, the life experiences and the age differences all have an impact.

All of our life all aspects are intersections of our diversity; they affect our perspectives. Moreover, when you have a more diverse culture, those individual, unique perspectives serve to provide greater and varying perspectives when it comes to developing new technology, developing new products and developing innovations as a whole. We all know that it is a diverse consumer universe, so we need a diverse pool of employees who are developing those products and services to meet those needs.

Bard MBA: A big part of your work is the MST "Lunch-N-Learns" — what is the focus of these meetings?

Ross: My focus for the first quarter this year has been on how diversity and inclusion drive innovation. Many of the Lunch-N-Learns are unique to this environment and our culture. We all bring perspective, and our views sometimes are different from each other.

In fact, last week we held a Lunch-N-Learn on how creative conflict drives innovation, in which creative conflict occurs from being open to those cultural, cognitive, generational, racial, ethnic and religious differences. The whole purpose of the Lunch-N-Learn is to encourage our community, here at MST, not be afraid of that conflict, that to nurture it so that it spawns technological ingenuity.

We also conduct a session on introversion and extroversion. The focus was on how to ensure that introverts' voices are heard as well as extroverts. Macy’s Systems & Technology employees are about 80 percent introverts.

Bard MBA: How do you see technology and retail evolving?

Ross: Retail and technology is a marriage that won’t be divorcing anytime soon. We all use online resources to shop now. The customer can order something online have it delivered within an hour if they live in an accessible ZIP code.

Geographic location services using your mobile device when you enter a store is being tested as we speak; they can give you specific marketing based on your ZIP code, or other demographics that they may have gathered on you from your mobile device.

Moreover, technology is going to drive the retail culture forward. Some malls are now empty; the reason is that so many people are using online technology. When customers do go to the malls, they usually have a particular item that they want. In my personal experience, I will have items sent to the store because I want to look at it before I make a final transaction.

So I am using technology to be more efficient, more effective and to get the products that I need. The result of that is we are going to see it constantly evolving and challenging the very way we thought we knew how to shop.

Bard MBA: Is this an employees’ market? Are companies willing to pay for qualified candidates?

Ross: I think that statement is partially true. I believe in certain sectors and industries, it is an employee’s market, and others it is not.

In the technology sector, depending on the part of the country that you are in, it is an employee’s market. With Macy’s Systems & Technology, based in Atlanta, Georgia, it is a highly competitive market, and as a result, there are challenges with getting top talent. I think that the focus is on recruiting millennials for many organizations because of their youth, and their innovative thinking.

With that age group and generation, it is not necessarily all about the pay. It is the purpose of the work, and it is also about the benefits that are associated with the work. Especially when it comes to technology, you can do technology anywhere. This is a field where you may not have to come to an office every day.

Occasionally employees can work from home, or work wherever. Those are some of the benefits that top talent are asking for, particularly in the technology sector.

Bard MBA: Do you have any recommendations for books on the subject of change management?

Ross: There are the two resources I would recommend. I am a big proponent of self-awareness, self-development. I think a lot of how we think, a lot of how we approach change has to do with our mindset.

One of my favorite books is by Carol Dweck: "Mindset: The Psychology of Success." It talks about having a "fixed" vs. a "growth" mindset, and the impact of having either. I think that that plays a significant factor in how we grow, and how we develop as professionals. Also, the TED Talk with Angela Duckworth on the topic of grit and resilience.

Being in talent and development for over 20 years, you have to start with a look in the mirror, and I think these resources help you begin to become more self-aware about how you think and how your mindset develops; and how to focus on changing so you can have a more productive and fruitful life. Those are two references that I love to share with people.

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