Brian Reaves has spent most of his career as a software engineer. But five years ago, he started applying his math and computer skills to a very different job.
“As a young black man growing up in a depressed socio-economic environment in South Central Los Angeles, this subject has been a part of my life in one form or another,” Reaves says of diversity issues. He is now Director of Belonging, Diversity and Equity at UKG, a global provider of HCM and workforce management solutions.
Reaves now sees himself as both a software engineer and a diversity, equity and inclusion professional, two careers he says have gone well together. HRE talked to him about his perspective and how his past and current positions overlap.
HRE: How are the responsibilities of your current job similar to those of a software engineer?
Reaves: As a software engineer, I dealt with disputes and business issues and (I) used software. I see DEI as a complex business problem, but I now use strategies and tactics. You need tremendous operational rigor, transparency and accountability. You have to mobilize people to be successful. So they share a lot of the same principles but I think I bring an engineering mindset to DEI. We still have to test things, make investments and motivate people.
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HRE: Can you list a specific engineering skill that helps you in your current role?
Rave: I have always led remote and global teams and innovated in a remote environment across geography, time zones and cultures. As people move towards a hybrid work environment, they now need to flex their muscles to engage people they don’t see every day or only see virtually and create exceptional innovations that are hybrid in nature. . They have to master something that they didn’t have to master before COVID. This is something very familiar to me.
HRE: What led you to this career path?
Reaves: The majority of people I grew up with were either incarcerated or didn’t celebrate their 21st birthday on Earth. Thanks to the love of my family and the investments they made in me and my education, I followed a different path. I’m on the cutting edge when it comes to designing strategies and tactics to tackle expanded talent pools or engage underrepresented groups. In the role I have now, I can make this the norm where everyone can be empowered with skills so they can be leveraged, engaged and grow.
HRE: What is your impression of how COVID-19 has changed the nature of DEI or HR?
Reaves: If you think about analysis, it started in hindsight. What happened and why did it happen? Now that’s foresight or perspective. How can you make this big thing happen again and again? I think the same thing happens in DEI in HR. It used to be more retrospective – dealing with day-to-day issues to make sure the train was running on time. The future of HR is moving towards something even more strategic and will explain why problems exist and then predict what will happen if some underlying issues don’t change. It’s innovating with prescriptive strategies and tactics. HR actions will be better designed to specifically move companies to where they want and need to be.
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HRE: What attitude or state of mind should people entering DEI adopt?
Rave: Don’t accept the status quo. Know that the role you play is strategic and develop innovative human strategies in order to add value to a company. Many people in my role come from other parts of the business. Be wide. Change the game and look at things differently. This will help you be more successful, whether in HR or in the DEI profession.
HRE: Although you’ve only been in your current position for five months, what have you accomplished?
Rave: I found strategies and tactics that will move the bar. I’ve worked with the rest of the organization to figure out where we want to be and we’ve developed a multi-year strategy to get there, which has led us to inspect every HR move we have. It’s not about fitting people into existing boxes. It’s about unlocking the potential of each individual… and building new boxes. This is where this profession needs to go. How do you unlock everyone’s potential and make them feel like they belong?
HRE: You are passionate about the poor of this world. How do you plan to help them?
Reaves: I see myself as someone who helps push the HR agenda forward in concert and in partnership with more traditional HR people. I want to create a world where, if you’re willing to lean in and do the right things, you’ll have the kinds of opportunities that I’ve had that have created generational shifts in life outcomes. That’s why I do this and I have so much passion for it. That’s why I know we have to get it right. For me, it’s the last chapter of a story that I wanted to write from the beginning.