In 2020, global supply chain solutions provider XPO Logistics (NYSE:XPO) created a new position, chief diversity officer, to push its diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) initiatives to the forefront of its business objectives.
With 23 years of experience working within global public companies and two years under her belt as XPO’s senior director of human resources, LaQuenta Jacobs was awarded the new title.
“LaQuenta is a unique talent. She cares deeply about the human aspects of diversity and also knows how to advance cultural development within a public company of XPO’s size,” said CEO Brad Jacobs.
In an interview with FreightWaves, LaQuenta Jacobs discussed the importance of doing this work, both personally and for the greater good of moving the logistics industry forward through DE&I initiatives. She also describes the steps XPO took to get to the inclusive space it is now and gives advice to companies looking to move forward with their own diversity programs.
Questions and answers were edited for clarity and length.
FREIGHTWAVES: What draws you to promoting DE&I initiatives?
JACOBS: “I started my career in human resources roughly over 20 years ago and the work I have done in HR has always had a component of diversity included in it. Whether it is leading a diversity program, leading these initiatives as president of an employee resource group, being a women in leadership champion or being an LGBTQ+ ally, I have always had a component of my job that has been focused on DE&I work.
“I will tell you that I am now at this point in my career where passion and purpose have collided. Until I stepped into this role, I really didn’t know how much of my purpose, professionally and personally, is tied into this type of work. I think that’s the reason why I love doing this work at XPO so much.”
FREIGHTWAVES: How did this position come to fruition at XPO?
JACOBS: “Honestly, it all started with our CEO Brad Jacobs’ unwavering commitment to diversity and inclusion. He is often viewed within our organization, and externally, as an innovative thought leader.
“Specifically honing in on the equity component, he believed that if we promote diversity in the workforce, XPO would have better traction in the industry, those individuals will become better thought leaders, they will connect better with customers and will be able to drive stronger shareholder value.
“We decided to set up this office to focus on fostering innovation and employee engagement and lead our industry with inclusion expertise.
“So last year we started a committee with four primary goals. The first was to understand our organization, who makes up XPO, understand our current metrics and how we wanted to tie diversity into the fabric of our strategy.
“The second was about strengthening our pipeline [of potential employees] and ensuring that we had a brand that could attract diverse talent, whether it was a specific gender, race, LGBTQ+ person, veteran or someone with disabilities.
“Third, we wanted to make sure our brand was going to be known within the industry and within our organization, where someone from a diverse background could come and work, knowing that XPO was fully invested in you bringing your full self to work.
“The last thing was ensuring that we align ourselves with partners that could help us move these initiatives forward because this work cannot be accomplished singularly. It takes a community to do this work. Brad motivated us to build those relationships and partnerships so that we can make an impact for the industry and have XPO set the tone of the industry moving forward.
“I was happy to be on that committee and do some interesting work across the organization. Then the opportunity to interview for this role was presented and I was happy to raise my hand.”
FREIGHTWAVES: What programs and initiatives are you working on right now that have you the most excited?
JACOBS: “There are a couple of exciting things we are doing internally within our organization. One of them is our Grow at XPO program to create growth and development opportunities for our internal employees. We are firm believers that when you change the socio-economic component of someone’s life, you are impacting not just their life but the community around them.
“Through Grow at XPO, we focus on developing midlevel leaders, teaching them components of being an effective leader, how to drive equity and inclusion and how to be adaptive as well. “Then we move those individuals into our leadership programs, which are focused around [one-on-one] time with our executives to give them additional support to understand what their leadership footprint should be and what kind of legacy they want to leave.
“I think one of the greatest things about our programs is that they empower our individual employees to invest in themselves. We understand that there will be turnover and that there will be individuals that choose to grow their careers somewhere else.
“Nine times out of 10, what you find is that when you invest in that talent, you create a connection to the organization and they won’t want to leave. Employees want more than just to come in and do a job every day, they want to feel like they belong and they want to feel included and that is what Grow at XPO and XPO University is about.
“XPO University has a number of classes and programs that give us an opportunity to allow employees to raise their hand at the time that they want to start investing in their careers. Not everyone in your organization will raise their hand at the same time. That’s what equity is, an opportunity to raise your hand at the time that you need it and to have the support there for you at that given time.
“Both of these programs provide access to the best players on our team, those which employees typically would not have had access to before.
“Another initiative that I am focused on is the sustainability of these programs, specifically how we are curating programs with sustainable outcomes. For us it is very important that we measure our success.
“Our sustainability programs focus on defining our processes, using our scorecard and ensuring that we have communicated those outcomes, internally and externally, to hold ourselves accountable to those metrics. The scorecard also includes our ability to attract, retain and develop our internal workforce since a lot of the work we are doing around DE&I is taking care of our own.”
FREIGHTWAVES: October is Global Diversity Awareness Month and many companies are taking the time to see how their suppliers are implementing diversity standards and programs. What type of customer feedback have you been receiving on your DE&I initiatives so far?
JACOBS: “We are seeing an increasing need from our customers to see our environmental, social and governance scorecards. They ask us, ‘What’s your diversity statement?’ ‘What have been your successes from a diversity perspective?’
“It is very important for us to work with customers and service providers who share the same beliefs around diversity, for them to know that we are making that internal investment and that we are investing in our communities and other areas where we can create opportunities for growth. That helps place XPO as an ideal partner in the industry.”
FREIGHTWAVES: Have there been moments since taking this role that you have personally been most proud of the outcomes?
JACOBS: “One of the things that I have been most proud of is our ability to attract, develop and maintain women. As an industry, women make up about 15% of the overall workforce. At XPO, women make up 27.7% of our workforce and for me to have had an impact on driving that has been a phenomenal area of success.
“The second thing I would say is the development of our employee resource groups, where we have created communities and allies within our organization that have driven a sense of belonging for our employees.
“Also, the work we do with our partners like Soles4Souls, the Susan G. Komen breast cancer organization, PFLAG, Lesbians Who Tech and other organizations who are driving this work forward to make a meaningful impact.
“Overall, it has been great being able to create a guide and be able to set the tone in our industry around what this work looks like and to be able to say to our colleagues, partners and other industries that it is an important business strategy and that DE&I has to be a part of your sustainability plan moving forward in order to stay relevant within your market.”
FREIGHTWAVES: What advice would you give to organizations that are looking to become more diverse and inclusive within their own communities?
JACOBS: “I am a firm believer that what gets measured gets accomplished. DE&I goes beyond just saying the right things. It’s about doing the right things, it’s about making the commitment to your employees, and at XPO we have made that commitment to our employees and we put the measurements and tools in place to help us measure the impact of the programs that we are driving.
“XPO is one of the first companies in transportation to have a DE&I office and having that concerted focus around diversity brings it forward to your business plan.
“It is very important for organizations to make this commitment from the top, very much like Brad has at XPO. It even is a part of our organization’s core values: safety, respect and inclusion.
“I would encourage other organizations, even if they are small, to really establish what they want their values to be, align their diversity initiatives to those values and bring your leadership team into the design of those programs so that it becomes an effective part of your business strategy.”