Leadership Matters

Perspectives on the key issues impacting senior leaders and their organizations
May 10, 2021

Chase CIO Rohan Amin on the Difficult Conversations Needed to Drive DE&I

This is the second installment of our Engineering Inclusivity series.

Can our people bring their whole selves to work? This was one key question Rohan Amin, Ph.D., CIO of Consumer & Community Banking at JPMorgan Chase, and the bank’s leadership team asked as they examined how to advance diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I). 

Space for uncomfortable discussions

“We’re creating a culture of being able to have difficult conversations,” said Amin. “On the back of everything that happened last year and this year, we started having conversations about what racism is really about, and people shared their personal experiences. When we do things like that, it makes it safe for employees to know they can bring their whole selves to work and have whatever conversations they want to have, as opposed to ‘How are you doing today?’ and the person really wants to say, ‘I’m not doing well because of everything that’s going on,’ but they didn’t feel safe enough to even have that dialogue.” The benefits of these frank conversations have been twofold: Employees of color feel more included and seen, and other employees learn so much more about the issue of racism than they had from years of formal, but much less personal, training sessions.

Broadening the aperture

Hiring from the same places and in the same ways maintains the status quo. To bolster diversity, Chase has been rethinking its typical approach to recruiting, particularly for entry-level talent. The traditional route has been campus hiring, usually from the “best” colleges. Recruiters visited certain schools and scheduled start dates around the academic calendar. While campus recruitment can deliver a degree of diversity, Amin said the bank is looking at breaking the historical barriers to careers in technology, such as degree requirements. He and his team are now looking at recruiting talent from community colleges and “bootcamps” that offer intensive training in areas such as data science and coding, as well as individuals with degrees in other fields and career changers. Chase’s data shows that when looking at these individuals over time, their performance is on par with that of university graduates. “We’re very proud of some of the work we’re doing here to open up the doors and open up the aperture to different types of talent and get them into the firm,” he said. “Not only does it make good business sense, it’s the right thing to do.” 

The inclusion part of the equation

Recruiting more diverse talent is only part of the solution. Retention can often be overlooked, according to Amin, and it speaks to the inclusion part of DE&I and its long-term success. “It’s not just a matter of bringing talent in,” he said. “You have to invest in retention and development of that talent so they become the next set of leaders.” Chase has a program called “Our Journey to Inclusive Teams” for entry- and mid-level leaders to help them understand what is expected of them and the behaviors they should be exhibiting to build a more inclusive workplace. In a remote environment, this can require extra effort. “This year more than other years has probably created greater challenges in regards to inclusion,” said Amin. “But in some ways, the fact that everyone is working remotely is an equalizer and actually drives some of the behaviors people need to be deliberate about. It’s not like I can go past somebody in the next office and have a conversation. You have to be deliberate about engaging in the right behaviors that keep everyone connected within the organization.”

To bring additional accountability to its commitment to inclusion, the bank has started to link compensation of senior leaders to representation goals and inclusive behaviors as evaluated by peers. “This is such an important topic at JPMorgan Chase,” said Amin. “It’s part of the framework for how we think about evaluating our leaders. Plus, every conversation we have about the workforce and how we evolve talent overall, diversity and inclusion is absolutely a foundational component of that dialogue.”

Advice for fellow CIOs on lasting systemic change

What can CIOs do to become catalysts for DE&I, especially those who are not from an underrepresented group? Amin makes this recommendation: Look at your clients. “When we’re trying to develop products for our customers, the diverse teams we have are outperforming the non-diverse teams we have,” he said. “And the reason is very simple: Do we have an employee base that looks like the customers that we serve? And do we have a leadership structure that represents the employees we have?” He also advises his technology peers to be realistic about the scope of the task at hand: “It is not going to be a quick, easy commitment you can check off on your list. This is definitely something you need to be deliberate and intentional about for the long term.”