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Joshua Bellis on improving DE&I through skill-based talent decisions

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Joshua Bellis joins Ligia and Jason on The New Talent Code to share how and why he found his specialization as a diversity and inclusion practitioner and which processes, systems, and mindsets organizations need in order for their diversity programs to actually be successful. He shares how his unique experience with a variety of organizations has shaped his approach to DEI, and he dives into the practical advice on how to integrate DEI beyond acquisition into talent management.

Josh is a Global TA Programs Lead and Head of America’s Recruitment at PTC, a global technology company with over 6,000 employees in 30 countries. He has worked with major brands like Nasdaq and Fox News and, in his free time, lectures at Columbia University.

To begin, Josh shares how he initially became interested in HR, recruitment, and DE&I. As a minority adopted into a white family, the topic of diversity, equity, and inclusion has always been prevalent in his life and family discussions. Then, he shares how he helps organizations address DE&I at scale. As this topic has become somewhat of a buzzword, employees want to see their companies take action in the areas they claim to care about. It’s about shifting culture within the entire company down to every individual employee. Josh encourages organizations to take a step back from recruiting in order to build a hiring process and understand the market they’re operating in and the levers they have available.

Today, the culture shift is affecting every organization – from startups to the largest companies in the country. Managers and leaders are being trained to be open to feedback from all directions. Leaders must start fostering an environment in which employees can share their ideas openly without fear of retaliation. Josh touches on two levers we can lean into in the new world of work. First is decentralizing DE&I and rethinking the traditional DE&I groups. The second is to rethink DE&I out of a strictly social idea, but rather making them into employee resource groups advancing company culture. He addresses the maturity curve of these efforts and how awareness is always the first step. Finally, Josh shares the advantage of the shifting hiring requirements.

Ligia (00:03):
Welcome everyone. To another episode of the new talent code brought to you by me, li and my co-host Jason. Hey Jason. Say hi, Jason.

Jason (00:14):
Hi li how are you?

Jason (00:16):
I’m good. I’m actually super excited. Normally I don’t sleep well and I out of bed, but today I jumped out of bed. I am so excited with our guest Josh Bellis today, long, long time friend. Yes, you’re my friend now, Josh. And why is that? Because every time we talk, I learn so much. I come away. Enlightened. Josh is so humble. He never makes me feel bad for all the ignorant questions I ask around around diversity, equity and inclusion, quite the expert. Let me tell you, so let me brag a little bit about you first, Josh, Josh today is a global TA programs lead and head of America’s recruitment at PTC. For those of you who don’t know PTC, it’s a global technology company with gosh, over 6,000 employees and 30 countries, and my goodness over 1 billion in revenue, quite a large organization, but what’s most impressive.

Ligia (01:07):
And what I love about Josh, he’s worked for some major conservative brands like NASDAQ Fox news, and in his free time, he also lectures at Columbia university on human capital management and integrated talent management strategies. So for those of you out there listening, hi, mom do take one of his courses. I am telling you you’re gonna learn a lot. So let’s kick this off. Welcome Josh. Thank you so much for agreeing to chat with us. So, you know, yeah, no, you know, I’m super excited. We’re gonna learn a lot today, you know that in general, Jason and I talk a lot about non-linear or what we call non-traditional career paths. You know, especially for those people like myself, or like Jason, who, you know, never set out to be doing this job when I was 18. So I’m curious, I know you’ve worked for, as I mentioned before, some really impressive companies. I know you have an passion for this topic. So I wanna know other than being top of mind today and making you in high demand, how did you get started and what was the reason for this specialization? Like why recruitment, why diversity, equity and inclusion?

Josh Bellis (02:18):
So actually my interest in HR started when I was in high school. I I got a side job at McDonald’s where else? And where else, you know, thought I’d be there for three months until something serious came along. And then like, I think I was there for almost six years with, you know, with breaks and college and stuff, but I I was always fascinated by all the, the manage managers, the shift managers who were like, I don’t have someone on fries. I don’t have someone to make sandwiches. I don’t have anyone who knows the station, you know? And I’m like, why don’t you just train more people on more stations and then you’d be fine. So I just took this interest in, like, I, I was like, I’m learning all the stations, you know, mm-hmm and that kind of led to me becoming a crew trainer, a crew chief, like I became a manager soon as I turned 18. Nice. And I, I kind of used a, some of what McDonald’s had already prepared in their very early version of e-learning and created this, this training program. And I taught the managers how to use the program. And then the owner of the franchise asked me to go to all of his six stores and teach each of the groups how to do it. And that was kind of the, the start

Ligia (03:33):
Introduction yeah.

Josh Bellis (03:36):
Continue

Ligia (03:36):
Mini entrepreneur Yeah.

Josh Bellis (03:38):
So,

Ligia (03:39):
And at what point did, did this passion, I mean, how did this evolve, this passion for diversity equity and inclusion?

Josh Bellis (03:47):
I mean, I think, you know, I, I mean, I’m adopted into, you know, so I’m a, I’m a minority adopted into a white family, right. This has been a topic of conversation, little

Ligia (03:59):
Dinner

Josh Bellis (04:00):
Table I was born. Yeah. Yes. So I think, you know, it’s always kind of been there and I think it was just a natural transition into the workplace for me you know, and getting into the workplace and then also finding my comfort zone and actually talking about it and kind of being myself with took a while, honestly. You know, and not, you know, I think some, because the workplaces, maybe they lent themselves more or less to that, but I think it’s also just about my own personal journey and, you know, being comfortable with who I am and feeling like you don’t have to, you don’t have to look like something in order to get where you want.

Ligia (04:40):
Yeah. Now I’m understanding your, your, your passion, but also your degree of empathy for, for other people. Awesome. Well, listen let’s get this started. I know Jason is chomping at the bit Jason himself ran recruiting for UTC for over 11 years and is also passionate about this. Jason, where do you wanna get him started?

Jason (05:05):
I think there’s a lot of things we can talk about your background and your passion is so interesting and also so similar to some of the things I’ve worked on. So I can’t wait to kind of pick your brain and help people learn a few new things, hopefully through the course of our conversation today, you know, the purpose of this podcast is to help individuals crack the new talent code, which is a big part of trying to approach the future with kind of new solutions and new approaches to help us get to where we’re going, because more than ever, you know, how we got here, isn’t necessarily how we’re gonna get there. So I wanted to talk to you a little bit about how do you help organizations really address diversity, equity and inclusion at scale? I mean, for example, we we’ve seen in the last few years with everything going on in the world, there’s been a rise in organizations, investing in diversity and hiring for diversity officers and increasing the executive kind of presence and position of diversity officers. But I know it’s more than just hiring a diversity officer. So how do we kind of put diversity initiatives into diversity programs?

Josh Bellis (06:12):
Yeah, I think it’s really interesting. And of course, you know, you touched on one of my soap boxes, so I’ll try not to stand on it too long but yes, all the companies, you know, hopping on the wave every time there’s a shooting every time, you know, it, get it bubbles up in the media, you can literally look at the job posts and see all these, you know, new diversity roles. And I think what’s happened now is, you know, employees are saying, you know, we’re tired of, we’re tired of hearing about it. Like, what are you doing? And so to your point, I think, you know, yeah, I think the expectation is employees want to hear perspective employees of companies they want to hear from the leadership that they care about it. Number one, but also what are you doing about it? And I think that’s where so many organizations are out there publishing, right?

Josh Bellis (07:01):
They’re saying, this is, this is what we’re doing. And by this year we’re gonna be here. And I think when they make that transparent vow, it really puts our back against the wall to actually focus on it and do something about it. So I think there’s some of that, you know, some organizations who are coming out and being transparent with what those, what those numbers look like or what those initiatives are. But then I think inside the organization, you know, it’s really about a culture shift. And it’s really about making the whole company find what, what they can do to, to advance the diversity initiatives. And I think for too long, it’s just sat with the DEI people. Oh, well, that’s their, that’s their issue to feel, to figure out, right. So for me, you know, I’m not on the diversity team, you know, per se, right.

Josh Bellis (07:51):
But I am responsible for the processes for the top of funnel flow of all of our applicants and it’s my job to make sure or that we have an equitable hiring process. So I think that, you know, sure there are key roles in the organization where people kind of do need to step up and they need to challenge, you know, status quo processes or, you know, why, we’re why we have certain requirements on jobs and things like that. You’re in a position of power to do something. But I also think that down to the individual employee level, you can you can be looking at how your right communications out to your team. Is it in, are you using inclusive language? Are you, you know, are you raising your hand? Are you speaking up when you see something that isn’t right. And in manage roles, I think there’s particular responsibility for people to make sure that it’s not the buddy, you know, the, the old buddy system of, oh, well, you know, I play golf with this guy on the weekend. So that’s who I’m gonna put up for the promotion. Like what, like thinking about, you know, bigger, like what are people driving toward and how are we actually measuring people in our organization and making sure that those are also equitable processes. So I’m going on and on here. But the point is , I think there’s a lot you can do,

Ligia (09:13):
But Josh here, here’s a question and I’m gonna, I’m gonna be devil’s advocate. Right. you can’t improve anything you don’t measure. So the question is, and you touched on something that I’ve been thinking about for a while. I mean, today, of course, it’s illegal. I believe that SCC is going to require that companies report on their diversity metrics going forward so that that’s also a push for companies to get on the bandwagon and, and assess where they’re at. But there are some internal conflicts, like I see both sides of the equation. I’m a hiring manager, I’m under the gun to make my, you know, my goals for the year. And guess what? It’s not that when I interview, I only hire white men, it trying to hire the best candidate. And the reality is it’s a really difficult market right now. It’s taking us three to six months longer than it would’ve before to fill a position. And then I still get pushback. You know, I’ve got this urgency. So how do you balance that? And then the other side of the question, do you think this should be part of performance reviews? In other words, me as a hiring manager, should the diversity of my team be part of my, of my performance review, should it affect my bonus payment?

Josh Bellis (10:31):
Yeah. So I think this, you know, like you’re saying, this is tough, this is really tough up situation because you know, so right now, you know, I’m at a technology company, right? There’s not a, there’s not 50%, you know, female diversity in the engineering pool of talent, you know? So I think there is a huge, it is worth taking a step back, even if that means that yes, you’re hiring slower, but I do think it’s worth taking a step back and actually thinking about what is the available market and what can we realistically hit with that? Cause even when you start talking about like a 10% increase in like underrepresented minorities in a company in a company of a thousand people, that’s really tough. That’s, that’s a lot of numbers cuz not only do you have to hold on to all those people that you currently have, you also have to find new people and bring them in.

Josh Bellis (11:27):
So if you’re having attrition issues and you’re trying to bring them in, that’s really hard. So I would say, you know, yes, take a step back, build a right, understand the market that you’re in, understand the levers that you have available. So like right now with all the remote work, you know, that’s a huge opportunity to increase diversity. If your, if your company is in a place that you you’ve been asking people to come into the office, you know, you’re still, you keep going back to the same pool or you have to dig into your pockets deeper and, and move people to your location. Right. So now there’s opportunity for that. But I do think it’s about building the right processes around recruiting, asking all those questions up front, right? What is this really required of this position? Because I think a lot of times we throw in all these like kitchen sink elements, well, it would be great if they could do this, it’d be great if they could do that.

Josh Bellis (12:22):
And then what you end up with is all these qualified candidates who make it who make it into the process because they do have the baseline requirements, but really the hiring managers only looking at people with the extras. So if the extras are qual are a qualifying part of the role, then put them in the requirements because what you’re doing is you’re watering down the pool for those few, you know, diverse applicants in your process. And then in terms of measurement and holding people accountable, I a hundred percent think that it needs to be part of goals and it needs to be tied to bonus payments because if we don’t have an accountability, we, we don’t have anything at all. So I do think that it’s it, it’s about building the right process. It’s about, it’s about coaching managers, educating them on the right way to go about doing that. So it’s not just like, oh yeah, look at the, this person, you know, fits this description. Let’s hire them. It is about still hiring quality people, but it’s about building this process and making it so that managers, they do have to pay attention to these dashboards. They do have to pay attention to how we’re going and, and, and sourcing these candidates and bringing them into the company.

Jason (13:42):
Well, Josh, I agree a hundred percent with everything you’ve said. I’ve tried to lead this in organizations. I’ve tried to support and develop these programs and organizations. And I agree as well with how difficult and competitive of it is to recruit and find talent, especially in today’s market. But even with all that being said, and even with acknowledging how difficult and competitive it is to find talent, sometimes that’s the easy part. Sometimes the harder part is building an inclusive environment where people wanna stay and also are a aware and encouraged to grow. So I’ve heard you repeat a couple times the word transparency. I’ve also heard you mention kind of maybe proximity with the golf buddy story you shared. But you also talked about the opportunity we have in de and I with remote and hybrid work. So with all that being said, how do you kind of look forward and kind of crack the new talent code to help kind of change the culture or build a culture that’s more inclusive and more encouraging of development, especially in hybrid and remote work environments?

Josh Bellis (14:52):
Yeah, I think, well, this is a hundred percent about culture transformation. And I think even organizations that have had amazing cultures, you know they’ve been very defined. Like if you look at the best, I won’t name all of them, but you know, the best of group there’s lunch in the office and they do your laundry and a missus will stop by your office and it’s all tied around the office. So now we’re all forced right now into thinking about this culture that that’s affecting the smallest of companies and the ones that have had the best reputation along. So everyone’s kind of actually at the same point because what, what you hear often is like, oh, well, culture shift is so hard and it’s gonna, it’s gets so much work and we’ve gotta, you know, reexamine our employer value proposition. And, and yes, some of that is definitely, you know, worth a look if that’s the case.

Josh Bellis (15:45):
But I do think that the culture shift is essential. And, and one thing I think to bring up that I think is the most pivotal when you’re thinking about this culture shift is this, you know, it’s, it’s not a really, I mean, it’s psychological safety, it’s a new term. It’s not, it’s not a new thing though. I’m just spoiler alert. I’m sorry for all those people out there, writing books on psychological safety. But the idea is that we are training managers, we’re training leaders to be open to feedback coming from all directions, right? 360 reviews are no new thing. This is, this is a, this is an age old, you know, method of getting feedback to people. But I do think what you’re seeing is in organizations, we’re leaders are looking for criticism, right. And good criticism, right. Constructive ways of saying, Hey, you know what?

Josh Bellis (16:37):
I don’t know if that’s really the best strategy. Like did you think of doing it this way, providing that environment where employees have the ability to, to share their thoughts openly, without being worried about, oh, is this gonna affect my, you know, mid it’s merit season? Like, is this gonna affect my merit increase? Is this gonna keep me from getting a promotion if I speak up? And I think that’s really where a lot of employees are starting to like throw the flags because the reality is a lot of people, even if it’s never been set, right. No one’s ever said don’t challenge the boss. Right. it’s something that’s a no-no, you know, and so it’s like bosses need to, you know, leadership management need to come out and say, you know what we are, we, what is wrong with this? Poke all the holes in it. You know, so there’s all these there are a lot of great books, you know, there’s a lot of great resources out there about this concept, but I think that’s really the most pivotal thing is the companies that are the furthest on that scale will be the most successful with this culture shift and organizations that continue sort of the same age, old tactics are gonna be the ones that get left behind.

Jason (17:54):
It’s interesting with the opportunity in front of us for just how much appetite there is for potential change, right. As people are trying to put strategies together, and like I said, maybe turn programs into initiatives. Like what are some of the ways you can really, you know, operationalize de and I in an organization, or what are some of the, it’s not a silver bullet or a single solution approach, but what are some of the levers and kind of activities we, we can really kind of lean into and push forward in kind of the new world of work.

Josh Bellis (18:29):
Yeah, I think I’ll, I’ll talk about two things. One would be sort of thinking about decentralizing DEI, right? I mean, I’m not saying that companies should not have a head of DEI, but I am saying that the traditional way that we have, you know, de groups does not lend itself well to making change because they’re sitting in a silo, then you’ve got your talent management team, then you’ve got your talent. Acquisi everyone is like in their own group. But the change that needs to occur is actually within the training program, within the succession planning, within performance management, within acquisition and employer brand, all the other groups that are functioning, they need a DEI expert to be helping to figure out what are the processes that we’re putting in place. And what we’ve done is we’ve put these people sort of in a glass room in the middle of HR, locked the door and they’re like trying, and

Ligia (19:31):
That’s it, we’re done. and now we’re diverse.

Josh Bellis (19:35):
And they’re just like, they’re like miming out, like what needs to happen in these other functions? And they’re trying to influence people, but they have no power of telling me, you know, well, Josh, this is the, this is how the, the recruiting process needs to go in order for it to be equitable. So we need to do decentralize that. The other thing you know, is more of the grassroots, the employee, you know, there’s all these employee resource groups, tons of companies are doing it. I think it’s great. I think we keep doing it, but we need to move it out of being a social alone, social thing alone, right. Where it’s just like, great, like we’re celebrating in, go to Mayo. , you know what I mean? It’s like, that’s great to celebrate these cultural holidays and events and, you know, to celebrate pride in June and all this stuff, but making these groups into business resource groups, which again, it’s not a new term, but it’s been very slow to be adopted.

Josh Bellis (20:32):
And the idea, what are our five biggest challenges we have in the business right now? Why don’t we give, put some of these groups together, you’ve got 12 groups, great. We put two, three groups together. We tell them, Hey, this is our biggest challenge facing the company right now, how do we fix it? And then you put all these different minds of people from, you know, cuz in any of these ERGs, you’ve got already got people from sales, from customer success, from engineering, from all over the place. And they’re coming together and they’re coming up with actual business solutions. All the data’s there to show that diverse organizations, they are more profitable. They’re more successful at holding onto their employees. I mean all the data’s there. So why not take these big problems and put them in these Mo these diverse groups within your organization and see how you can grow it. But

Ligia (21:25):
Josh is on that. Aren’t you essentially saying there’s sort of a maturity curve then I feel like, you know, all the ERGs that started, you know, and I’m, I’m part of a couple of them at our company maybe just started with awareness, which is, is potentially the first step, right? Driving awareness. And yeah, some of it is social and getting together and feeling heard and empowerment. And then maybe this is the natural of, and the next step. And it was something I was gonna ask you about in your experience, cuz I feel like you’ve done this again and again and again, right. Instituted these processes, these structures to, to drive outcomes in all the companies that you’ve been at. Do you see a maturity curve? Do you see this progressing and then are there companies that you, without mentioning any names you think are well, you know, are, are sort of ahead of the curve.

Josh Bellis (22:15):
Yeah. So there absolutely is a maturity curve. You know, you could hire a myriad of consulting companies to show you where you are on the curve. But the reality is yeah, if you’re at zero or sort of negative, which I’ve also seen that yes, you need to just build an ERG, you know, get some employees interested in saying, Hey, I wanna be part of this. That’s absolutely step one. But I think what happens is then it stalls out and so you’ve gotta keep climbing. You gotta keep moving. So absolutely I think awareness. So you know, you, you could build this bottom up or top down. The, the most successful is when the leadership is on board from the beginning. Absolutely.

Ligia (22:59):
Amen. Amen.

Josh Bellis (23:01):
But I’ve also seen employees say, well, we’re gonna have this group and we’re gonna show the leadership why they should care about this. And then they go on a mission to find the data, to, to put together the case, to get the leadership interested and then they continue climbing, but you’ve gotta have the resources like after you get the awareness and the ERG set up, if they don’t have resources, if there’s nothing really behind it, it’s gonna stall out. And to answer the second part of your honestly I think a lot, there are some companies out there, some of the bigger companies, right? That can, they have every diversity tool? No, they’re on every job board. They go to every event. I still don’t think they have it. Right. I think that you do need money. You do need resources. You do need support. Ideally you need someone to run the ERG program who is, that is literally their job because for everybody else, this is just something extra they’re doing. It’s a

Ligia (23:58):
Part-Time thing.

Josh Bellis (23:59):
Yeah, exactly. So you need some hands and you need some dollars, but the dis just coming out and making a statement that we care and we’re gonna hit this goal by this point, you know, I don’t know that you can, you might be able to buy the people, you know, theoretically, by making these ridiculous offers and going to these events, you might be able to buy enough people to hit your goal, but you can’t buy the culture shifts. Mm-Hmm and eventually those people are gonna be spinning out and you’re just gonna be like replacing them, replacing and you’re

Ligia (24:30):
Back in the same place.

Josh Bellis (24:31):
Yeah, exactly. So I don’t think anyone has really figured out, figured it out yet. You know I I’d love to see some somebody challenge me on that, frankly, but I just don’t think anybody is really figured it out. And, and mostly because companies haven’t emphasized this as that important to figure out if they were, we would have figured it out by now, the issue is that it’s seen as fluff still, you know, it’s something that the, you know, people are asking for. So they’re like, yep, we’re doing it. We’re doing this. We’re doing that. We went to this event at we’re good. We’re move we’re we’re going back to doing the other thing. And it hasn’t been made part of embedded in to how we do things. And that’s why it hasn’t, that’s why it hasn’t hit the, the pinnacle yet.

Jason (25:26):
Josh, what, what less question I have for you is when we think about organizations increasingly taking skills-based talent approaches, whether it’s for acquisition or evaluation or performance management, as you said, and we’re talking about managers adjusting to a hybrid or remote working world where it’s all about maybe productivity more than right. And results and achievements versus maybe how and when you work or what you look like while you’re doing it. Right. Do you see this as an, an increased opportunity or advantage for de and I, or are there other things that we should potentially consider or be aware of as things we need to kind of look out for going forward?

Josh Bellis (26:11):
I think it’s a huge advantage because we’re moving away from the things that we traditionally think, make someone qualified, you went to this school, you know? So by virtue of the fact that you may beca skated by at this really top tier university, you are more or qualified than someone who got a 4.0 at some university you’ve never heard of. Right. because you’ve worked at some prestigious organizations, right. So I do think that actually looking at what is, what are the bullet points under that, you know, on someone’s resume. That’s, what’s really important. And I think looking at those transferable skills, because for a lot of underrepresented groups, they don’t have the connections to get into these things. Right. I, you know, look, I grew up in a very middle class family. I could never have gone and done internships in, like I had to work to go back to school next semester. So I can’t tell you how many managers I’ve come across that are like, oh, well that person’s only worked at Starbucks for a year and this person did an eight week internship at Google. So, you know,

Ligia (27:18):
, I grew up, I grew up in entirely different country. Nevermind. Not having connections.

Josh Bellis (27:22):
Yeah. So it, it it’s really, it really is about that. And it really is about unpacking that. And I think for candidates, if they, they don’t even know what skills they have, it’s so funny, you tell people like, okay, write a list of your skills. And they immediately go to technical things. Okay. I know Microsoft, I know, you know, coding language, if I’m an engineer, but they left everything else that they’ve done. They maybe they let a volunteer project. They did all these projects in school. You’re getting skills.

Ligia (27:54):
Maybe they raise children.

Josh Bellis (27:56):
Exactly. So, I mean, so I think there’s a lot here. I think the future, and I think the based, you know, frankly, you know, things that are more artificial intelligence based are actually helping us get away from buoy search. If I need a recruiter right now, I go in I type recruiter and five years experience and you know, X industry. And that is a problem we need to get away from that because how can you be what you’ve never been before? You know, it just doesn’t, it doesn’t work. So I think the skills based approach is absolutely essential to not only finding new talent for organizations, but growing and developing it within companies as well,

Ligia (28:44):
Which is a perfect S segue to my question. My last question for you, Josh along the line of someone had believed in your potential to pursue a different career path than the one you’re in today potentially based on some of those adjacent skills that you have that are difficult to unearth, what other passion would you have pursued? Where, where would you be today?

Josh Bellis (29:06):
Yeah, I, I tell people that I fought , I fought my way trying to get out of this whole industry.

Ligia (29:13):
you’re too good at it.

Josh Bellis (29:15):
And I, I really enjoyed, you know, I did like a minor in education and college, and then I during the financial crisis, I got my master’s in education. I taught in DC public schools. I absolutely loved it. But there was no job available and I ended up, you know, continuing on the path I was already on and here we are. But I, I found ways to, you know, build high school program, you know, high school internship programs and do different things to stay close to the, to the learning space as well as, you know, teaching, as you mentioned. But yeah, I, I think in another life that that was my path.

Ligia (29:57):
You came full circle cuz you started the training at McDonald’s.

Josh Bellis (30:00):
Exactly.

Ligia (30:01):
Excellent. Well, listen, we’ve kind of run out of time, but to be honest, I can tell from Jason’s face, he has a lot more questions to ask you. So we might just have to invite you back to another episode with Josh Bellis. Thank you so much, Josh, for making the time today. This was amazing.

Josh Bellis (30:17):
Thanks so much for having me.

Jason (30:19):
Thanks Josh.

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