Diversity has been a popular buzzword and topic in the business world as of late, but how do we elevate it so it’s a crucial part of the foundation of our culture? What should we be striving for in the workplace? How can we make the office more welcoming, inclusive, and supportive? Bri Rodgers of Apex Fintech Solutions (AFS) sat down to chat with us and answer some of those questions.
Can you tell us a little about your current role at AFS?
In September of 2023, I officially took the title of head of culture at Apex, though I’ve been assisting and leading the work in a volunteer capacity for about three and a half years. In this role, I am responsible for culture as well as diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), and corporate social responsibility for AFS.
Before stepping into this role, I worked as the DEI council chairwoman and ran human resources (HR) project management and operations for AFS. This new role felt right as I’m passionate about the work and I’m more than familiar with what the company’s priorities and goals are, especially when it comes to fostering an inclusive and supportive team.
“I go to sleep at night thinking about people I’ve never even met before and across our organization, thinking of ways to make sure their employee experience here is one that is valued, one that is valuable, and one that they can ultimately can walk away feeling like they can say, ‘that was good for me and my career path. That was good for me and personal development. That was good for me and my professional development.‘”
What does your day-to-day look like?
I work closely with our culture council members, who are passionate and dedicated people who work to ensure everyone across AFS is engaged and holding our employee value proposition and core values are held high in all that we do. Together, we promote inclusivity and foster a sense of belonging throughout the organization.
What led you down this career path?
I actually started in project management at an engineering firm. I ended up at AFS when a company I was working for was part of a merger with PEAK6 and AFS. After the businesses merged, I was asked to stay on and run HR and it felt like the right move.
Being a Black woman whose career focused on predominantly white industries really shaped the way I work and communicate as well as the amount of psychological safety I felt at any given time. Oftentimes I was, and oftentimes still am, the only Black person or only Black woman in the room.
I became really passionate about DEI in the midst of the lockdown in 2020. Inclusivity in the workplace has always been something that’s been near and dear to my heart as a diverse member of the workforce, but being at home and watching things happening around the country gave me the chance to evaluate why inclusivity and equity were so important. I ended up hosting a safe space conversation for Black AFS team members to discuss how they were feeling as we were surrounded by so much. That inspired us to form the first employee resource group (ERG) at PEAK6, BRIDGE (Black, resourceful individuals dissolving gaps everywhere).
One thing led to another and I held another safe space discussion and worked to nominate several individuals to an internal DEI council. That’s when I knew this is what I want my career to focus on.
How does the “face of business” look now compared to when you first started your career? What’s improved? What still needs work?
The diversity of our employee base. I think we’re seeing a lot more diversity in general, which is fantastic. But, I don’t think we’re seeing more Black inclusion.
The diversity piece of the puzzle is definitely increasing. We’re seeing many people who are not white men join organizations, but we’re seeing a lot of people who are Black leave organizations. We should be looking at that and asking why. We need to do more than just attract diverse candidates. We need to also look at and evaluate what the table looks like once they get here. Do they actually feel empowered? Do they feel responsible? Do they feel accountable? Do they truly feel visible, valued, and heard?
In what ways has your work improved with a diverse team?
Something about DEI that people often forget is that diversity is so important for diversity of thought. If we all look the same, feel the same, come from the same cultural backgrounds, how boring would that be? We’d be less strategic. Being able to incorporate a bunch of diverse perspectives is super important for continued profitability, which is ultimately why we’re here.
It’s refreshing to have HR professionals encouraging conversations about race and diversity to make a difference. This is a huge step forward. It’s helping to level the playing field and create a safe space where everyone can ask questions, share ideas, and reveal the truest parts of themselves. This is how we move the work forward in the most authentic way possible. We are shaping workplace culture, helping people along on their journey as they learn and grow.
How have co-workers and employers helped you feel supported?
Oftentimes it’s not even the people on my team. DEI can often feel like work that is very thankless. It’s difficult to measure from a success perspective and very anecdotal, but it’s also some of the most personal work you can do in the workplace.
The people who make me feel most supported are the ones who have decided that DEI work is important to them. I can see when the work is near and dear to their heart — and it matters. It’s really exciting to me to see people raising their hands and voices to make a difference in the workplace. They encourage and inspire me to keep moving forward.
In what ways can others offer support to their teams, big or small?
Asking better questions. We often assume we know what other people want or need, and because we’re not always confident in those assumptions, it keeps us stagnant. It holds us back from communicating. We all should be asking questions in every meeting we can, whether it’s one-on-one or town hall style. Take a few moments to ask, “what do you feel like would be a better way to ensure that everybody you work with in this meeting feels most supported?”
Lean in and ask how you can support people. Open up the conversation.
What advice would you give a young person looking to make a difference in their workplace or industry?
Do not give up. If the door gets slammed in your face, find a window. Find a loose baseboard at the foundation. Find a crack in the wall. Figure it out. The reason why DEI work often gets a bad reputation is that people get burned out and they stop. This work is so crucial. Don’t give up and find support for yourself.
I would also advise them to start doing their own research. DEI is still new, it’s not even something you can major in at school yet. Learn what’s working at other organizations, read articles, and join groups. Find what works for you and your organization. You can innovate to make it effective for you.
What are some insights you can offer when it comes to recruiting a diverse team?
Take a look at the bait on the hook. What does your company page or your culture page look like? If you have inclusive language in job descriptions and DEI language, but there’s no proof on the website, you look fake.
You will attract the right candidates by showing them they will be supported and heard at your organization. Start saying what you’re doing in the marketplace to let people know that you’re doing something meaningful to push the work forward.
Thank you, Bri, for a fantastic conversation. We look forward to seeing more great work from you and all of Apex Fintech Solutions.
We are always on the lookout for more passionate people to join our PEAK6 and portfolio company teams. Browse our open career opportunities to see if there is a place for you!