Finding a Home for Diversity at Freddie Mac

Who: Suzanne Richards

What: Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion, Freddie Mac

When: Since June 2011

In what areas do you place special emphasis on diversity and inclusion at Freddie Mac?

Richards: For the first time, each of Freddie Mac’s 14 divisions, working with our office of diversity and inclusion, created its own diversity plan tailored to meet division needs. This will ensure that all levels and areas of the company are making diversity a priority and helping Freddie Mac realize its overall diversity and business goals.

We’ve also ramped up our supplier diversity program to strengthen our business. In 2011, we increased our expenditures with diverse suppliers and vendors by more than 50 percent over the previous year.

Another area of focus for us is our employee network groups (ENGs). After an extensive review of ENG participation and efficacy, we re-launched our ENGs at the end of 2011, with a renewed focus on leadership. All of our ENG executive sponsors are members of the firm’s management committee. By engaging senior leaders to lead the ENGs, we are ensuring effective coaching, mentoring and sponsorship of ENG members, as well as providing an active forum for developing and showcasing the future leaders of Freddie Mac.

What are the biggest misconceptions people have about the diversity industry?

Richards: I think the biggest missed opportunity is not thinking inclusive enough. To a large extent, we still remain focused on the primary dimensions of diversity — gender, race, age, etc. I believe the conversation is much bigger than that. It should embrace a wider variety of differences. It also means focusing on leveraging those differences that are really meaningful in terms of advancing our business goals and our society.

I love the idea that we are evolving beyond the notion of “melting pot” and recognizing the need to truly be inter-culturally competent.

Are there special challenges at the firm that are addressed through diversity and inclusion?

Richards: Strengthening leadership across the company is a top priority for the company — and tapping diverse employees for development and promotion is a core component of this effort. Greater diversity in our leadership is good for business — it stimulates innovative thinking and provides solutions to the challenges and opportunities the company faces.

Today, women and minorities make up half of our management committee. This leadership focus has strengthened how we do business with the addition of new perspectives, talent and experiences. Our development programs such as the Women’s Cohort, Leadership Talent Review and our partnership with the Tuck business school [at Dartmouth College] is helping build a diverse community of high-performing employees with strong leadership skills and the opportunity to advance.

How do you gauge the success of diversity initiatives? What metrics do you use?

Richards: We generally think in terms of leading and lagging indicators. If we focus on impacting the leading indicators — participation in ENGs, quality assessments of training and other programs, number of mentoring relationships — we expect that the lagging indicators — representation, employee engagement — will reveal positive results.

We closely monitor the percentage of women and minorities who are new hires; the number promoted; the composition of our senior leadership team; and the percentage spent with diverse suppliers and vendors.

What role does senior leadership play in diversity efforts?

Richards: Senior leadership is very involved, starting with our CEO, who sets the tone and consistently recommits to our diversity goals and communicates our achievements to employees.

Our chief diversity officer is a senior vice president who reports directly to our CEO and sits on our management committee. This direct reporting relationship ensures the focus we need to make change happen.

Our seven ENGs are sponsored and chaired by management committee members and officers of the company. Our senior leaders are also members of our Executive Diversity and Inclusion Council, our Senior Advisory Committee and our Diversity and Inclusion Steering Committee, the group that guides the progress of our divisional diversity plans, our bottom-up approach to embedding diversity and inclusion in our daily business.