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- Alyson Hudson, CIO of Enterprise Workforce Solutions at Prudential Financial
Start today, make progress every day and ask questions! As a leader in the evolving territory of digital inclusion, our latest guest in the Digital Workplace Impact studio invites listeners to challenge mindsets and lead by example in their own organizations.
Alyson Hudson, CIO of Enterprise Workforce Solutions at Prudential Financial, joins Nancy Goebel for a focused and open conversation – one that encourages you to look at digital inclusion through a different lens.
Believing that you can't claim to be inclusive if anyone is left out, Alyson shares her experiences of leading from the front. In her work, she educates and influences others – including technology vendors – so that digital inclusion is truly part of Prudential’s DNA.
An estimated 1 in 4 adults in the US lives life with a disability. Digital inclusion can help unlock opportunities for businesses to benefit from the widest talent pool, while improving the employee experience for all.
The pair delve into the next natural progression of digital inclusion to support employees everywhere, with Alyson sharing advice to help others start or accelerate their efforts in this area. DWG’s latest research also focuses on this subject (download the full report here).
Show notes, links and resources for this episode:
[00:00:00.430] – Alyson Hudson
People don’t always put their hand up and say, I need help because people are so afraid they’ll be discriminated against. So we just have to make it there and available and easy to use so that everybody can have the same experience with the technology and you can’t have an inclusive workplace without handling this. So really, that was a defining moment for me, where digital inclusion became front and centre in everything that I do for myself and my team, because we realised that we had to do a better job.
[00:00:29.450] – Nancy Goebel
Today I had a chance to chat with Alyson Hudson, CIO of Enterprise Workforce Solutions at Prudential Financial. Alyson, a DWG member, is a technology executive who’s been driving the use of technology to new highs, enabling and upskilling, reskilling employee growth, organizational agility and talent through a long list of industry leading digital workplace transformations, including the work that’s underway at Prudential. Importantly, Alyson is also a visible and passionate champion for accessible technology, along with enhanced and inclusive employee experiences. In fact, earlier this year, Alyson was celebrated for her work in this area by an organization called eWOW where Alyson was named a finalist of their 2022 Global Awards for Diversity and Cultural Leadership. And this is an organization that is all about empowering and celebrating women of the world. As part of our conversation, you’ll hear about how and why Alyson and team have made digital inclusion a core part of their digital workplace agenda. Areas of progress to date. Of course, it’s always important to complement that with some of the core challenges and what’s needed next. Along the way, Alyson will share some advice and insights for others on the shared journey, whether at the start or looking to accelerate efforts.
[00:02:12.950] – Nancy Goebel
I thought it was important to introduce Alyson as part of DWG’s series of activities designed to increase focus and attention around digital inclusion. Later this fall, you’ll be hearing about DWG’s new research entitled The Inclusive, Ethical Digital Workplace: How to promote accessible, diverse and inclusive experiences. Why now? Well, heightened awareness of issues related to diversity, inclusion, belonging, the climate crisis, digital overload. They’re all bringing new focus to the nature of our digital workplaces and how we deliver them. Previously thought about as nice to have, these areas are now truly in the spotlight and it’s about time.
[00:03:05.770] – Nancy Goebel
And so promoting accessibility and access for all, fostering cultures where psychological safety and belonging and minimising digital clutter and ensuring that platforms and practices are all based on strong ethical standards are really central to where digital workplaces need to be. And so Shimrit Janes, who is the author of this research and DWG’s Director of Knowledge, will be looking at approaches to promote accessible, diverse and inclusive digital workplace experiences that really do foster the flourishing and wellbeing of all employees. And as always, this research will share a mix of real-world examples and practical advice to digital workplace leaders, their teams and, of course, the stakeholders with whom they work day to day. In the meantime, join me now in conversation with Alyson Hudson. Happy listening.
[00:04:16.730] – Nancy Goebel
Alyson. Welcome to the Digital WorkplaceIimpact studio.
[00:04:21.110] – Alyson Hudson
Thank you so much for having me. I’m so excited to be here today.
[00:04:23.980] – Nancy Goebel
And I’m equally excited to have a chance to catch up with you. Of course, we’ve had a long history together through Prudential Financial, but I’m really curious to dip into some of your current priorities and challenges and then we can branch out our conversation from there.
[00:04:42.890] – Alyson Hudson
Sounds good. One of the top priorities that I’m supporting right now is how to support our employees anytime, any place, in support of our new hybrid work environment. As part of this, we have to be able to connect our fragmented experiences across our key employee-facing systems in an inclusive and accessible way.
[00:04:59.940] – Nancy Goebel
I have to say that the idea of digital inclusion is one that is really getting a lot of focus inside of not only other DWG member organizations, but our wider industry circles as well. So I’m really keen to drill down on this particular area with you and tell me a little bit about what you think that looks like an inclusive digital workplace, and we can delve into how you’re bringing that into its next natural evolution to support your employees at large.
[00:05:40.250] – Alyson Hudson
Absolutely. An inclusive digital workplace, to me, is one where our employees can easily connect to the information they need, when and where they need it, and on any device. It’s to guide employees on the things they need to know, help them to seamlessly navigate their way around a really complex organization. And honestly, to remove the barriers to productivity. It’s got to be accessible, it’s got to use inclusive language. Ultimately, nobody’s left out. Inclusivity, in my mind, is all or nothing. You can’t claim to be inclusive if anybody’s left out.
[00:06:12.350] – Nancy Goebel
And I think you’ve hit on an important point, because digital inclusion is not uniquely about accessibility, it’s thinking about the entire experience end-to-end, and to ensure that employees feel as though they can be engaged and immersed and productive in their workplace presence day to day. And so, thinking about this important area inside of organizations, I guess one of the things that I’m curious to know is whether there’s any sort of internal transformation that was required around the organization’s values, beliefs, behaviors in order to help make digital inclusivity a priority part of the digital workplace agenda.
[00:07:06.250] – Alyson Hudson
Yes. For me, personally, I’m not sure that I would say I went through an internal transformation per se. DEI, for me, has always been a focus. I would say, though, that becoming embedded in taking a company through, becoming WCAG compliant was an eye opener for me. Many companies look at the accessibility from a technology perspective as a risk issue. No one wants to find their company on the front page of the news. That’s devastating to your brand. But as I was going through this journey, it didn’t take me long to start to ask questions about why our company is only focused on externally facing properties. What about our internal employees, our candidates that want to work for us? Some of the learnings that I had during the journey were astonishing. Did you know, according to the CDC, 61 million adults, that’s 26% or one in four in the United States have some type of disability? Now, think about the meetings that you’re on every day, there’s someone in that room, at least one to two, that are suffering from some type of disability. It was mind blowing to me. So through that journey, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to partner with organizations and provided a lot of consulting and education and services around digital accessibility.
[00:08:20.210] – Alyson Hudson
And through that, we hosted some empathy labs. And the empathy labs provided opportunities for all of us to interact with different assisted technologies. They also introduced techniques that allowed us to be in the shoes of people who are differently able than ourselves. And once you experience what that life was like and how to navigate the technology and the things that people had to go through, it really amplified the fact that accessibility around technology really had to be promoted. And you can’t have an inclusive workplace without handling this. So really, that was a defining moment for me, where digital inclusion became front and centre and everything that I do for myself and my team, because we realised that we had to do a better job. People don’t always put their hand up and say, I need help because people are so afraid they’ll be discriminated against. So we just have to make it there and available and easy to use so that everybody can have the same experience with the technology.
[00:09:17.570] – Nancy Goebel
And just looking at your team for a moment in particular, you talked about the role and value of these empathy labs as a way of really helping to put digital inclusion at the heart of the work that’s undertaken. What other sorts of training or focus was required to ensure that the team is thinking about this almost building new muscle in order to incorporate digital inclusion into every aspect of what they do day to day?
[00:09:56.930] – Alyson Hudson
Yeah, there’s a lot of training that’s available. It’s designed, it’s how to develop accessible code, it’s how to test for accessibility. There’s tools that you can leverage, but some of it is actually really just understanding and being able to test yourself and then bringing people with different abilities and to test with you. We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us, but we’re making progress and we’re embedding new approaches daily. There’s a few areas in particular that I want to talk about. So one of the things we’re doing right now is we’re accessibility testing all of our technology with every sprint release. This includes our technology that we’re developing as well as technology that we purchased. Prioritising any findings so that they’re addressed immediately, quickly, in a timely fashion. And we’re also partnering with our vendors to do the same. So we’re still testing for accessibility on products that we’re buying as well as products that we’re created. And if we have findings, we’re sending them out to our partners to make sure that they’re prioritising the findings as well. We’ve also started to add accessibility questions into all of our RFPs. It’s astonishing how many people, particularly technology companies, that are focused on internal facing technology.
[00:11:07.990] – Alyson Hudson
Some people don’t even know what WCAG is, so for us, that’s a deal breaker. So we’re adding that language right at the beginning of the RFP process, and if we have a vendor who either isn’t compliant, doesn’t have a road map to get compliant, or says what’s that? They’re eliminated right out of the gate. So that’s allowing us to prioritise these requirements, really from the very first step of evaluation. We’re also holding firm on contracting language around accessibility, and I know we talk a lot about accessibility here, but it’s really not the only area that we’re focused on around digital inclusion. We’re also piloting some tools that are assisting us to ensure job descriptions are using inclusive language. The beauty of tools like that as well. We’re learning to write inclusive job description. We’re also learning how to write and speak using inclusive language quite soft. So those are those moments that really are magical because you’re really helping people to think differently about the language they use, the vocabulary that they use and how they’re communicating with other people in a more inclusive way.
[00:12:07.660] – Nancy Goebel
And even in unexpected ways. You’re starting to see organizations introduce iconography that is more inclusive as well. And so tackling all of these things are critically important to create a space where everyone feels they can bring themselves to work as whole individuals, because the attributes and thinking that we all bring together is the strength of the organization when you bring it all together. And so I’m pleased to hear that you are in good company these days, with many others holding vendor partners in particular for those with best of breed strategies, to a whole new set of standards, not just from an employee experience point of view, but also from a digital inclusion standpoint. Thinking about relationships with vendor partners, what were some of the biggest challenges that you saw in putting this discussion on the table?
[00:13:12.380] – Alyson Hudson
We do get a lot of pushback from some of our vendors that they just haven’t tackled it yet and they’re not sure where to start, so you always get a little bit of pushback. We just find that educating, sticking to finding a way to meet people in the middle and just help them understand the importance of this. So we’re making progress. Not all vendors are at the same level. We’ve had some huge successes. We had one vendor who has bent over backwards to take care of their findings. They were appreciative, they actually thanked us, they thought they had done a good job, they asked us to share our findings and their response back was, thank you for helping us make our product better, not just for Prudential, but for all of our customers. So I think it’s a journey and you’ll find the vendors are all over the place on the journey, just like most companies are, and most will start to work with you. We’ve had very few that are just flat out refused.
[00:14:06.180] – Nancy Goebel
And so I think a step from what I’m hearing you say, is having the confidence to broach the conversation. To then make it a partnership effort. To then also ensure that there are progressive steps that are being taken. And to share that story so that there is a wider awareness that this is a priority for the organization and that you’re surrounding yourself with the partner organizations that can help support and enable that agenda over time. And so you mentioned that, of course, digital inclusion is not uniquely about accessibility and that you’re taking progressive steps along a number of different paths. What are some of the additional areas that you long to see deeper progress around achieving an inclusive digital workplace?
[00:15:01.850] – Alyson Hudson
Honestly, we just have so much work in front of us. Most of us are in very early stages in this journey. We really need to just remain focused on keeping these topics front and centre. We’ve got to continue to educate and influence others where you can keep this front and centre. You got to celebrate your wins. Every single one you have is a step forward, so you have to make sure to take the time to track your progress and remember that every step forward has a positive impact and just keep working on it. You’re not going to get there overnight, but you can make huge differences every single day.
[00:15:33.790] – Nancy Goebel
And what’s your best advice, Alyson, around ensuring that inclusivity doesn’t fall down the strategic priority list, especially as organizations are starting to think about tightening budgets? We know that there are lots of economic pressures out there and years past there have been some challenges about taking the extra steps to do user testing and user research, broadly speaking. And then accessibility and other aspects of digital inclusion have been under pressure as part of that when previous belt tightening has happened.
[00:16:17.030] – Alyson Hudson
So, I don’t think of inclusivity through that lens at all. Right. It needs to become part of your DNA. The idea is that if you design and develop accessible, inclusive technology out of the gate, there really is no additional cost to remediate it. It’s sort of like security would never compromise security to save money. So if you think about accessibility and inclusivity, it needs to be looked at through that same type of lens. If you embed the practice is to get it right the first time. There really isn’t an additional cost in doing it so accessible technology doesn’t only benefit people with disabilities, it actually benefits every user, provides a better experience for everyone. So I would challenge not to look at it through that lens and look at it through the lens of how do we just embed this in tower every day?
[00:17:01.070] – Nancy Goebel
And I’m so glad to hear you say that, Alyson, because we do know that there’ll be different pressure points going forward and there are just some must-dos/must-haves in our digital transformation agendas. And we know that the pace of change is only going to intensify. And when we look at the fact that there is a long term stay around the hybrid workplace and there is a shortage of talent out there, providing the opportunities for the widest pool of talent is critically important. And then ensuring that that workforce is one that is empowered and enabled and successfully supporting the agenda of the organization at the same time as achieving personal motivation and accomplishment and success is important as well. And digital inclusion is at the heart of helping to support that.
[00:18:03.560] – Alyson Hudson
I could not agree more.
[00:18:05.360] – Nancy Goebel
And so for those listeners who are at the start of thinking about digital inclusion as part of their digital workplace agendas, or are looking to accelerate their efforts around this, what sort of advice would you want to share?
[00:18:24.650] – Alyson Hudson
So I would start by saying you have to internalise the understanding of technology being for everyone, and then you have to design and develop digital experiences with that always top of mind. Only then can you start to make sure you’re really including all of your users. Don’t try to do it all at once. It will be a daunting task. Start with anything new, new technology you’re purchasing, new technology that you’re creating. Start with saying, we’re not going to let anything else leave our development plate or our implementation plate that we can’t comply. So if we start there, you stop the bleeding. Then you can leverage your contract renewals to include accessibility language. So if you’ve got contracts that you’ve had for a long time where you didn’t have accessibility language, contract renewals are a great opportunity to bring those up and start to influence your vendors to work with you. And sometimes you can even negotiate financial penalties for non-compliance. We’ve been able to do that with a handful of our vendors. Then you can start to look backwards and prioritise the technology that touches your employees the most or has the most impact and start there.
[00:19:32.920] – Alyson Hudson
And then little by little through prioritisation, some things will age off. You’ll make those risk based decisions on where you want to invest your time. And then the last thing that I think is the most important is this is not solely a technology problem. This is not something technology is going to solve on its own. You have to also think about the places where is content being published in your organization, making sure you’re training your users around everyday documents to make them accessible. Things like Word, PowerPoint, Excel, how to conduct inclusive meetings or accessible meetings, turning on closed captioning, having interpreters. This is everyone’s problem to solve, and until we all embrace that, we won’t be able to solve it.
[00:20:14.830] – Nancy Goebel
Well, Alyson, I have to say, hearing the focus, the passion, the progressive steps that you and your team have taken and that you’re imparting as advice to others is nothing short of inspiring. I know we’re in our final moments together. Is there anything you were hoping I’d ask for and didn’t as part of this conversation? It’s your chance to spotlight something else that you think is important for our listener base to hear, to think about, to take as a call to action.
[00:20:53.510] – Alyson Hudson
Actually, my question is one for you instead. What steps are you going to take to ensure that this podcast is accessible?
[00:21:00.050] – Nancy Goebel
Well, we already do have a focus on ensuring that by virtue of how we produce transcripts, to allow people to be able to take on our content in written word should they wish to do so. Of course, all of our imagery has its appropriate alt tags along the way, and then we do take a wide view of the kinds of studio guests that we bring into the mix, so that we are ensuring that, much like the workplaces that digital workplace teams are supporting, that we are bringing a wide set of views and conversations to the table, including this one.
[00:21:48.630] – Alyson Hudson
You can’t see me smiling right now, but I’m smiling.
[00:21:52.430] – Nancy Goebel
Well, that’s terrific and I appreciate that you pivoted that’s the first time someone’s actually done that with me. So the challenge was one that made me smile and I’m just loving that. So with that, Alyson, any parting reflections or advice, whether it’s for digital workplace leaders, practitioners or others in our wider industry circles?
[00:22:19.130] – Alyson Hudson
Start today, make progress every day, ask questions. This is new territory. Challenge mindsets and seek help. And most of all, just lead by example.
[00:22:29.960] – Nancy Goebel
That’s a great way to tie this conversation altogether. Alyson, it’s just been delightful having a chance to catch up with you with the backdrop of a very important topic of conversation, and we certainly look forward to following your journey day to day through our member circles and more. I hope you have a great rest of the day and of course, we’ll catch up again soon.
[00:22:55.370] – Alyson Hudson
Thank you. It’s been wonderful to be here.
[00:22:59.150] – Nancy Goebel
Digital workplace impact is brought to you by the Digital Workplace Group. DWG is a strategic partner covering all aspects of the evolving digital workplace industry and boutique consulting services. For more information, visit digitalworkplacegroup.com.
[00:23:13.810] – Alyson Hudson
You got to celebrate your wins. Every single one you have is a step forward, so you have to make sure to take the time to track your progress and remember that every step forward has a positive impact and just keep working on it. You’re not going to get there overnight. But you can make huge differences every single day.
Learn more about DWG and our history, and the benefits of working with us.Read More
Book a free one-to-one consultation to discuss the current status of your digital workplace. Each consultation is followed up with a bundle of useful resources to help get you started.