Experian, a multinational data analytics and consumer credit reporting company, hired its first-ever global chief diversity, equity, and inclusion officer, Wil Lewis, in December 2021. He tells Senior Executive | DEI how he leads DEI from two lenses — supporting the company’s internal culture while also supporting underserved communities in the marketplace.
“I think that we as a company have a role in trying to solve real-life problems for people,” says Lewis. “We’re putting our money where our mouth is – not only in resources and individuals like myself, but also in the type of products that we’re producing that we hope will be able to support consumers in a really meaningful way, whether that’s through Experian Boost, which helps the consumer boost their credit scores to gain access, or Experian Auto.”
Lewis’s three strategic DEI goals for 2023 are:
1. Supporting employee belonging.
2. Supporting struggling consumers in the external marketplace.
3. Mobilizing solutions to the communities where customers live and work through community organizations.
At Experian, it all starts with letting employee resource groups (ERGs) drive the conversation.
Read on for an edited excerpt of our exclusive interview with Wil Lewis about Experian’s strategies for supporting their DEI goals — from global “hackathons” that innovate new products to a team of “Mental Health First-Aiders” who support employees’ well-being.
Senior Executive Media: There are eight employee resource groups at Experian. How did the company settle upon those groups?
Wil Lewis: The company doesn’t decide, our employees decide for us. Oftentimes employees come in to us and say: hey, I think there’s an opportunity right here. They want to be a part of organizing a group that helps support them. Sometimes those groups are born out of trauma; something occurred in the external marketplace that prompted them. Other times those employee resource groups are born out of the desire for awareness — for folks to know who I am, see I am here, and this is the impact we’re trying to make.
“I think that we as a company have a role in trying to solve real-life problems for people.”
What’s really exciting for our employee resource groups as we look forward is they’re going to become an increasing part of the development, retention, and growth of employees, and whatever their demographic is that employee resource group is focused on. Also as we look forward into the upcoming year, we’ll be leveraging our employee resource groups as a part of our product strategy as well. As we think about the products that we want to bring to the marketplace, we have a focus group right here inside of our company around employee resource groups right now. We’ll be working with those employee resource groups, leveraging them to bring our overall corporate strategy ideas, thoughts, or suggestions they have around where we should go, but also to test and trial-run some of those products which employee resource groups create along the way.
One of the things that’s really important that we already do, and we leverage our employee resource groups as a part of, is something that we call hackathons. Really what it is, is an opportunity for all of our employees to come up with ideas or thoughts they have around a segment, tool, or product that they think that we can probably leverage to drive forward. The company sets aside funding to support them. [Employees] come and they present their ideas to a panel, the panel then gets to vote on what they think are important, powerful, and helpful opportunities for the organization, and then the winning ideas sometimes get money, get funded, to help develop their product. There are cases where that product then evolves into becoming a mainstay of experiment as well. These are ideas from our ERGs and other employees across the organization that help get us there. To me, it’s a way of really engaging and involving our teammates, and our growth strategy as an organization, but more importantly, involving them in helping make a difference in the world.
“Financial power to all” is one of our mantras, and that’s because at our core from our CEO throughout the organization, there’s this commitment to really say: What are we doing to help others? It’s a conversation I have with the CEO, where I’m asked, tell me how this helps. Tell me tell me how this helps the consumer that you see in the grocery store…If it doesn’t, I’m challenged to ask: Why are we doing that then if it doesn’t actually help someone? I think that’s really exciting. The fact that I’m not pushing up, but instead there’s this business pushing down to drive us in a different way.
Senior Executive Media: Can you share an example of how you’ve seen an ERG have a positive impact on the company’s overall business goals?
Wil Lewis: In the UK we are undertaking a significant amount of work looking at how we can best support disabled communities and those with additional support needs. Last year, Experian UK&I (United Kingdom & Ireland) helped with the launch of Support List, an open-sourced community driven project, which aims to promote discussion between the communities and businesses looking to support the needs of their customers when delivering products and services. Focusing on preferred communication preferences, the list will expand over time to incorporate more needs and disabilities and be used to develop standardized approaches and responses to those who need extra support.
Another example, which actually occurred earlier [in 2022], was through one of our partnerships with a nonprofit organization Out & Equal, which focuses on the LGBT+ population, and our Pride [Network] ERG inside of Experian… One of the things we certainly wanted to do was to continue to identify ways we can support the LGBT community. When LGBT youth have a disproportionate number of people that are expelled from their homes they grew up in when they come out to their parents, they often have distinct challenges with access to finances or even how to live particularly at younger age. With a partnership with Out & Equal and our ERG, we are working together to create tools and resources that will help them be able to overcome some of those challenges that life has thrown in front of them and then also be able to educate them along the way, and now here’s what you can do as you continue to move forward and grow in your in your life. That really is a way that we’re working to try and make a difference in the lives of people who are just trying to be themselves and because they are themselves they’ve been excluded from, in some cases, their families of orientation, and we wanted to do our best to try and help them thrive.
Senior Executive Media: Do Experian’s ERGs have executive sponsorship? If so, how does that work?
Wil Lewis: Each one of our ERGs has an executive sponsor, and in most cases they have two executive sponsors. An executive sponsor tends to be someone of a vice president level or higher at the organization. Their goal is to clear hurdles and roadblocks that the ERG may have along the way. In addition to that, the role of the executive sponsor is also to try and help tie the work that they’re doing to the ERG’s goals, the business goals where appropriate, and then focus on development of our people along the way.
What’s interesting though, is I’ve found that our executive sponsors don’t just give advice from their highchair, but they often roll up their sleeves and get deeply involved in the work they’re doing. Just this morning, I was talking with one of the executive sponsors of our Black-focused ERG, which is entitled Karibu, and she was telling me about the work that she [did] personally, along with the other people in the ERG, to plan efforts around Martin Luther King Day.
Across Experian North America we observed the day with a region-wide day of service. Our Karibu ERG organized volunteer opportunities in-person and virtually to address needs in their communities; everything from career development, recording audio books for children, and creating Martin Luther King, Jr. fact cards in braille. One project we particularly enjoyed was designing free budget templates for consumers in underserved communities; it was especially close to our hearts as our mission is financial inclusion for all, and financial literacy and equitable access to financial tools and resources lead to economic empowerment. To further our support of Dr. King’s mission, Experian has also made a donation to the King Center for Nonviolent Social Change.
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Senior Executive Media: Including events such as MLK day, where does the ERG budget get spent?
Wil Lewis: It depends on the ERG, of course, but their budgets focus on development of their employees in general categories. Development of their members and constituents, helping them achieve what their career goals are, and understanding how to drive that forward. Their budgets also focused on heritage months or celebration, whether it’s Holi for our Indian-focused ERG, or Asian American Pacific Islander month, and driving awareness and connection inside of Experian, but also with helping support external organizations and communities, as well. With that particular group, there’s been a significant amount of focus on Asian hate and how to create an environment where our teammates feel safe internally and have the support resources they need to be safe, both physically and psychologically. But then also what are we doing in communities externally as well?
There’s an event on this idea of Asian hate that is still stuck with me… This employee of ours who is a straight white man happens to have Asian children, and one of his children, a teenager (around 18 to 19 years old), joined us for a discussion here with Experian to share some of his fears. This young man was sharing with us how he worries about his grandmother walking up to the local market in her community because of the things that we’ve all seen on the news or in the media. He worries about his mother, who at the height of some of the Asian things that were going on, his mother would tuck her hair and put a cap on put a mask and sunglasses on trying to hide any features that she may have that people make the site determined that she was Asian, so she can go and do her shopping and not be scared about was gonna happen. When we have young people who are in our lives that have put it like this, it can impact us as employees as we work, to them worrying about family. What was interesting about the connection was not only the impact this young man was having as he worried about his family, but our teammate, a straight white male who was having the same concerns as he worried about his family, as well because this is his family as a part of it.
What we’re trying to do is break through some of the barriers that exist where people have maybe an unconscious bias and you don’t realize it… people may judge you based on the cover, but there’s a whole lot more depth to many of us. What [the conversation] did was it inspired for us within Experian the need to provide additional support, not only around mental health, but around safety and security tools, and resources as well. We increased our mental health support and also drove a campaign to drive awareness of our Employee Assistance Program. We now have a person on my team that’s dedicated to mental health – she’s our mental health manager. We rolled out a program on Mental Health First-Aiders across Experian that’s about 400 or so people, who are volunteers across the organization — we’ve invested in getting them trained and certified through a multi-day training that we take them through and to get them certified as Mental Health First-Aiders. These are employees that are volunteers that are there for immediate support if someone finds themselves in a mental health crisis. Their job as a Mental Health First-Aider is to get [employees] connected to the resources and tools that can help them with immediate effect along the way. We refresh their training on a regular basis.