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Faces of HR: Monica Davis on Commitment, Collaboration, and Collective Action

Analysis  |  By HR Daily Advisor  
   August 21, 2023

'My approach is rooted in the belief that diversity is not just about representation, but also about creating an environment where individuals can thrive, contribute their unique perspectives, and reach their full potential.'

This article was first published on August 17 2023, by HR Daily Advisor, a sibling publication to HealthLeaders, and has been adapted for HealthLeaders.

Human resources (HR) leaders in healthcare can learn and take valuable information from HR leaders in other sectors. In this article, read how one leader leads with unwavering determination and a passion for creating lasting change.

After graduating from Florida Memorial University with a degree in communications, Monica Davis intended to pursue a career in journalism. It was her childhood dream: telling stories that mattered. However, when an opportunity to work in HR presented itself, Davis’s curiosity wouldn’t let her pass it by.

Monica Davis

“I’ve learned that what drew me to journalism is the same thing that motivates me in my work in HR, and that’s a drive for justice,” she recently shared with HR Daily Advisor.

Fifteen years later, Davis hasn’t looked back, allowing her passion for understanding people and their unique experiences and perspectives to propel her forward in the field of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB). According to Davis, working in HR has been the most rewarding decision she’s ever made.

“My career has been defined by a relentless pursuit of equity, equality, and empowerment,” Davis says. “As an Afro-Latina, my firsthand experiences of workplace othering have motivated me to endeavor to prevent others from experiencing the same. With a background in HR management and extensive experience in organizational and leadership development, I have dedicated my professional journey to creating inclusive and equitable workplaces that celebrate diversity and foster belonging.”

Over the course of her impressive career, Davis has worked with myriad organizations, including the Miami HEAT and CHG Healthcare, where she helped drive cultural transformations and implemented DEIB initiatives that dismantled systemic barriers.

“My approach is rooted in the belief that diversity is not just about representation, but also about creating an environment where individuals can thrive, contribute their unique perspectives, and reach their full potential,” Davis explained. “I have had the honor of working closely with influential figures and activists like Ruby Bridges. Their journeys have inspired me to amplify marginalized voices and advocate for policies that ensure fairness and equal opportunities. I strive to build bridges between people of different backgrounds, encouraging dialogue and collaboration to create workplaces that reflect the rich tapestry of our society.”

Currently, she serves as the Director of Talent Experience, DEIB at software development company EngageSmart, where she leads with unwavering determination and a passion for creating lasting change.

In our latest Faces of HR, meet Monica Davis.

Who is/was your biggest influence in the industry?

I am immensely inspired by the inimitable Michelle Obama. Of course, she doesn’t formally work in HR or DEIB per se, but her initiatives as first lady and as a public advocate and thought leader promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion have been an invaluable influence on me. She embodies the values I hold dear: compassion, empathy, and the belief that every individual can make a difference. Her commitment to creating a more equitable society, particularly through her work to improve education and empower young girls and women, has been instrumental in shaping my own approach as a DEIB leader. Mrs. Obama’s ability to connect with people from all walks of life, listen to their stories, and advocate for change is truly inspiring. She reminds me that our work goes beyond boardrooms and spreadsheets. The HR field is about enhancing and celebrating the lived experiences and aspirations of real people.

What’s your best mistake, and what did you learn from it?

One significant mistake I made early in my career ultimately taught me one of the most important lessons I’ve learned as an HR and DEIB professional, and that’s the value of ceding control. As a highly driven person who is passionate about making an impact, I believed that if I wanted something done right, I had to do it myself. I underestimated the power of collaboration, and I often found myself shouldering a disproportionate amount of responsibility and trying to tackle everything on my own. While I’m proud of my hard work and ingenuity during this period, it was also unsustainable for me and limiting for my projects. I learned that no one person has all the answers or possesses all the skills needed to succeed. Today, I prioritize building strong, collaborative teams informed by multiple perspectives and skill sets, and I recognize that success is not a solo act but a collective effort.

At EngageSmart, collaboration is in everything we do in the HR department and beyond. This approach is especially important when it comes to areas like DEIB so that we ensure every voice is represented in the programs, policies, and practices we implement.

What’s your favorite part about working in the industry? What’s your least favorite part, and how would you change it?

My favorite part about working in the DEIB industry is the opportunity to make a meaningful impact on individuals and organizations. Witnessing the transformation of workplace cultures brings me a lot of joy and fulfillment. Whether it’s working to implement new cultural initiatives across the NBA or hearing my EngageSmart team members share how they take advantage of flexible work hours to coach their kids’ sports teams, it’s incredibly rewarding to see the positive ripple effects that DEIB initiatives have on people’s lives, enabling them to thrive and reach their full potential. My least favorite part of this industry is the persistence of systemic barriers that hinder progress toward true equality and inclusion. Addressing deep-rooted biases, dismantling systemic inequities, and driving lasting change require ongoing active effort and perseverance. This is why I am committed to showing up every day and using my voice boldly to push for positive change. 

It sounds like, through your experience, you really care about people, and you want to help them feel safe and comfortable, which is important in the industry. Please elaborate here.

As an Afro-Latina, I deeply understand the profound impact of representation and the significance of belonging. Throughout my career, I have experienced firsthand the feelings and challenges of being an “only” in certain spaces. That’s why I’ve made it my mission to work toward a future where others do not have to face those same obstacles. Ultimately, my goal is to empower individuals to reach their full potential and contribute their unique talents to the collective success of an organization. I believe that when people feel safe, supported, and comfortable, they can unleash their creativity and work productively toward innovation, leading to positive outcomes for individuals, organizations, and the customers those organizations serve.

How can HR most effectively demonstrate its value to the leadership team?

For those of us in HR, its value is obvious. But for broader leadership, the proof of HR’s value—and even more specifically DEIB’s value—is in the numbers. Data bears out the fact that inclusive practices spark innovation, foster collaboration, and enhance organizational performance. At EngageSmart, we conduct annual employee surveys to measure the success of the programs, benefits, and policies that we’ve implemented and use feedback from those surveys to guide us in our future planning. Another message that resonates with the C-suite is around talent. DEIB is invaluable when it comes to attracting and retaining top talent, improving brand reputation, and mitigating risks associated with discrimination or exclusion, which further emphasizes its value to the leadership team.

Where do you see the industry heading in 5 years? Or, are you seeing any current trends?

In the next 5 years, I anticipate DEIB will continue gaining momentum and be recognized as an integral element of organizational strategies, not just a “nice-to-have.” Increasingly, organizations are recognizing the importance of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging as drivers of innovation, productivity, and overall success. I’m confident that DEIB will continue evolving as a critical force in shaping workplaces that are truly inclusive.

What are you most proud of?

I’m most proud of the impact I have had on individual people’s lives, both in the workplace and out, and the transformative changes I have facilitated within organizations. As a mom, my achievements hold even deeper meaning for me because I feel like I am doing my part to make the world a better place for future generations. Seeing individuals’ personal and professional growth brings me immense pride and fuels my determination to continue making a difference. It’s a reminder that the work we do today has the power to shape a more equitable world for our children and those yet to come.

Do you have any advice for people entering the profession?

My advice for those entering the HR and DEIB profession is to approach your work with a commitment to lifelong learning. I always say that I am a student first. Embrace humility, and actively seek diverse perspectives, as this will deepen your understanding and ability to foster inclusion. Build strong relationships with individuals across different backgrounds, and listen attentively to their experiences. Recognize that progress takes time and perseverance, so be patient and resilient in the face of challenges. Stay informed about current trends, research, and best practices in DEIB, and continuously seek opportunities for professional development. Finally, remember that true impact comes from collaboration and collective action, so actively seek partnerships, and cultivate networks of like-minded individuals.

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