Interview with Sejal Patel Daswani, Chief Human Resources Officer at Sunrun
Sunrun successfully launched its internal upskilling program, PowerU; became the first national solar company to achieve 100% pay parity; & achieved strong, diverse representation on its Board of Directors. Catherine recently spoke with Sejal Patel Daswani, former CHRO & current Advisor to the Chief People Officer at Sunrun, about these accomplishments & the numerous diversity & culture focused awards Sunrun has received. Catherine also spoke with Sejal about the specific advice Sunrun has for cleantech companies looking to both hire & retain top diverse talent – from launching PowerU to investing in Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging to forming Employee Resources Groups to pay parity on wage-setting.
Catherine: Hi, I’m Catherine McLean, Founder and CEO of Dylan Green. And today I have with me Sejal Patel Daswani, the Chief Human Resource Officer at Sunrun. Thank you for joining me.
Sejal: Thank you, Catherine, for having me.
Catherine: So say, I want to talk about why you joined Sunrun. Because they know that you’re not necessarily from the clean energy industry. So tell me a little bit about that journey, how it came about.
Sejal: So I joined Sunrun, due to really our mission, as well as our dynamic CEO and leadership team at the time, the team is really working hard on focus, focusing on building a planet run by the sun. And each day, it’s just a daily reminder of how important that mission really is. As a mother of three kids, I just found this mission really, really compelling.
Catherine: It’s great. So I want to talk about diversity, suprise suprise. And one of the areas that I’m quite passionate about is getting diverse talent in and from other parts, like other industries. So our industry is predominantly white. Now, what do you think the key to increasing diversity in clean energy is hiring from outside the industry?
Sejal: So first of all, I think, every effort counts, and the tremendous work that you and your team are doing these are the things that I think comprises the village that’s focused on diversity and inclusion in clean tech. So as an industry, in order to really attract the diverse, as well as new talent into the space, we definitely need to look outside. And we really need to see where we are looking at talent and where they are. And what I mean by this is, there is an abundance of talent. And sometimes you have to stretch in terms of industries or roles that they would be applicable for. And it’s important that we have our ability to really focus on this remote workforce opportunity as well. You know, one of the few gifts of being in this kind of an environment is the whole remote workforce, and really to find the talent and where they reside.
You know, at Sunrun, we also have focused on partnerships. And with partnerships, we try to drive and attract talent. So fairy god boss is one we also have invested in and done or for, we were the first solar partner with skill bridge and Military Spouse Employment Partnership. And this was to really drive and support our veterans hiring. So in addition to just the mindset of remote partnering with great leaders like you in this space, as well as partner partnering with recruit recruiting diverse firms, we expand our network and really create that extensive network of partners. So with this, we’re able to really drive a broader talent pool. And that’s very exciting for us.
I think another key piece is really to be specific about where is there over representation and under representation. As an industry, we absolutely need to have laser focus on attracting and hiring diverse talent from outside of industry. And at many companies, as is the case at Sunrun, we actually have a pretty diverse overall employee population, in terms of race and ethnicity. And we are really working hard on ensuring growth paths for employees at the senior and board levels as well.
Catherine: Well, that is a really big strategy. And it just gives credence to it takes a village. A lot of different methodologies to use in order to achieve a common purpose to come and go. The other area I want to talk about is skill building. So why do you think skill building is so critical to offer growth and development for your employees? Can you share a little bit about how you’re supporting these efforts?
Sejal: Absolutely. I think hiring gets a lot of focus, but retention is just as important. So developing and growing our talent is a key priority for us, hiring diverse talent. And so this year, we have really proudly launched a power you educational and upskilling program. And what it aims to do is it’s designed to allow employees to select the programs that meet their individual career goals and schedule. We had the second highest launch of any company next to Disney. And so again, it just shows the excitement that our employees have for the program. And what it does is it includes high school certificates, degree programs, as well as professional development certificates in order to really bring technical skill programs. Like electrician certifications, or a specific skill building on leadership communication, if you’re a functional leader HR or marketing and comms at no cost to the employee, so it’s an employee benefit that’s rolled out. And these development and growth paths for critical skills, has led to greater retention and engagement for all our employees. So that is one program that we’re really incredibly proud of. Another is that we’ve partnered with McKinsey, in supporting Sunrun employees participate in McKinsey’s connected Leaders Academy. So these are specific cohorts where employees from under representative identities, go through a three month immersion and executive leadership development program. And then there’s also a six month accelerator program for senior managers and managers. And these are phenomenal opportunities for skill building, through well respected international partners. And it really helps that feeling of retention and driving individual growth and career aspirations.
Catherine: You will have won, someone has won, a lot of awards around diversity leadership. In 2020, December 2020, women comprise 44% of Sun runs board of directors, and 50% of the executive management team. These are just staggering figures for a company of your size. Do you think someone has been able to achieve greater DNI as a result of a naturally diverse management team led by female CEO, two female CEOs now! Or is DEI something that Sunrun has been actively working towards as you’re mentioning, or combination of both?
Sejal: It’s definitely a combination of both. Having the commitment at the top has absolutely been critical. And then having the diversity in our leadership team has really helped to recruit diverse talent, because the candidates are able to really see the representation at senior levels.
And they believe that it’s a place that they can also succeed. But culture also goes hand in hand. And if a company’s culture doesn’t value those employees, then you really face kind of a churn or an attrition of those diverse hires. So there’s been a lot of intentionality spent over the last 18 months at Sunrun. And it’s really to improve that sense of belonging for all of our employees. So how are we creating that sense of inclusion and belonging. And we believe that by doing that well, our employees become our best recruiters, we really double down and focus very heavily on strong referral programs. And our goal is to really increase the diverse representation across all levels of the company. So we’re focusing on recruiting, retention, as well as developing our talent internally, and holding our leaders accountable for their team makeup. Otherwise, this type of a priority really wouldn’t happen.
Catherine: So my next question is around pay parity. So Sunrun became the first national solar company to achieve 100% Pay parity in 2018. After signing the White House, equal pay pledge in 2016. Can you tell us a bit about how Sunrun went about achieving this and some of the challenges that you faced?
Sejal: In terms of pay parity it’s now really an accepted standard across and what we do is just rigorous analysis, whether it’s annually after our comp review, we partner externally, in partnership with our great legal team it’s one of those things, that’s a process that we’ve made implicit into everything we do. And it’s something that we review annually to go deeper into, and then if there are any with the cycles, whether it’s promotion, whether it’s pay equity, we really look at it from a diverse lens, and it just becomes kind of the norm and implicit in how we operate.
Catherine: As far as DNI initiatives are concerned, someone seems to have implemented every initiative possible to increase diversity inclusion, such as putting together ERGs, Diversity Council, a talent communities team, internal surveys, new employee programming, and hiring a Head of Diversity. For companies looking to increase DNI what steps would you recommend to them?
Sejal: I think this effort is really multifaceted. And I wouldn’t say we’ve implemented every possible initiative. I mean, this is really a continuous never ending journey. And there are always areas to improve, but I think the team has just done a lot of progress. And hiring a head of DNI in Marcus accord was the first step. And one that I really recommend hiring a Head of Diversity Inclusion, any organization take as a commitment. And while we’re making our workforces more diverse and inclusive, it’s really everyone’s responsibility. And we needed somebody to help provide the direction and lead the initiatives and make sure that the leaders are being held accountable. The second step that we took is really being intentional about finding an opportunity to create that safe environment for employees to come together and share their experiences. We can’t address problems unless employees are willing to share and dialogue. And as a result, the Employee Resource Group, we call them ERGs. They’ve been critical to really driving that culture of belonging and candid conversations. And then finally, I would say you have to make sure everyone understands their role in driving this change. And it specifically includes folks in the leadership position. So we need that commitment from leadership as well as ERGs and talent to make this work of priority in the company.
Catherine: These ERGs, these employee resource groups, are these voluntary things? I’m assuming people hold their hand up for this.
Sejal: Yes, yes, they’re voluntary really, if they’re been stewards in terms of just driving the level of focus on diversity inclusion, we have ERGs across the broad spectrum of communities. You know, everything from veterans, to black and black next. So across the spectrum, we have a women ERG focused on driving women’s initiatives at Sunrun. So across the community spectrum, we have an ERG representing the various employee communities.
Catherine: That’s wonderful. Well, I really appreciate you taking the time and I hope that this is valuable for someone out there listening who’s wanting to implement and is able to implement some of these things into their own company initiatives.
Sejal: Absolutely. This is our commitment and ongoing commitment and it’s work that we’re really passionate about at Sunrun.
Catherine: Thank you so much Sejal.
Sejal: Thank you.