The Future of Workplace Learning
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Countless companies today are promoting and facilitating lifelong learning opportunities for their employees and contributors. Amid a broader social reckoning about race and equity, inclusion’s critical role in creating a learning environment is under a brighter spotlight. Wayfair, an e-commerce company specializing in home goods, has actively embraced inclusion initiatives — even at a work-from-home distance.
With a background in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) across industries, including higher education, banking, and health care, KeyAnna Schmiedl joined Wayfair in 2019, becoming the company’s global head of culture and inclusion in 2020. Schmiedl considers DEI to be inherently interconnected with organizational development, and this perspective informs her systemic and strategic approach to effecting positive change.
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Deborah Milstein, associate editor at MIT Sloan Management Review, spoke with Schmiedl about her work on culture and inclusion. What follows is an edited and condensed version of their conversation.
MIT Sloan Management Review: Where do culture and inclusion fit in your organization, and where do you think they should fit?
KeyAnna Schmiedl: People are making the connection that diversity, equity, and inclusion are not a set of initiatives that operate in a silo. It only works when you’re talking about informing the policies, practices, and procedures of what happens at work every day — and, depending on your business, how you interact with your customers, how you represent your stakeholders and suppliers, and so on.
For me, it naturally makes sense that DEI is foundational to everything that happens at work, and it’s how companies build a culture of inclusion. Being able to marry culture and DEI more tightly is how colleagues understand why I show up in learning and development [L&D] or talent acquisition meetings — that it makes sense for me or my team to be there.
In a way, we operate more like consultants, as opposed to some of the traditional thinking around HR: “Come in, do this for us, execute this training, and that will solve our problems.” In DEI and L&D, we’re executing initiatives, yes, but we’re also acting as consultants for the business to assume accountability for delivering shared outcomes.
Ultimately, when leading DEI or L&D initiatives — like any other business initiative — somebody needs to be accountable for it.