Photo: Forto

Talking DEI, recruitment, and workplace trends with new Forto CPO Tammy Arnaud

Tammy Arnaud recently became Forto’s Chief People Officer (CPO), taking over the company’s people strategy for 750 employees across 17 locations in Europe and Asia. Arnaud now oversees areas including talent acquisition, people & operations, learning & development, rewards and people analytics. In addition, she has been tasked with “advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives” as well as bolstering employer branding.

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Arnaud is entering the supply chain technology industry following 5 years at Uber, most recently in the position of head of HR for tech employees in the EMEA region.

Her arrival in the space comes at a time of notable change; AI is influencing workplace practices, some big name tech firms have announced layoffs, hybrid working models are evolving, and new generations are beginning to make an impact on the way companies communicate and operate.

Amid these developments, players in the supply chain technology space are having to vye for talent with companies from across the tech spectrum. This places significant emphasis on offering a unique value proposition for current and prospective employees, something Arnaud is well aware of.

How can companies in the supply chain tech space shape their offer to attract the kind of talents they need? How is generational change influencing working environments and practices? Why might some companies be suffering from workplace toxicity, quiet quitting or high staff turnover?

To get answers to these questions, and take a deep dive into the workplace trends shaping modern-day tech firms, we took the opportunity to quiz the new Forto CPO herself.

Trans.INFO: How does the employee vs employer bargaining power dynamic look like at this moment in time? There seems to have been some significant shifts in recent years.

Tammy Arnaud: I think you have more of a balance now. There were a lot of changes in the market last year, especially the tech market for developers and software engineers.

Many of the big tech companies did some restructuring in the last couple of years so a lot of talent are looking for different opportunities now. That being said, when you’re thinking about the top tech talents out there, they have jobs. So ultimately what’s going to matter to them is your value proposition: what makes your company stand out and what it has to offer.They can pick and choose what suits them best in terms of development.

For instance, what exactly are they going to be working on? Is it meaningful enough, or is what they call tech debt – essentially implementing quick fixes but not innovating or creating optimal and sustainable code?

As a company trying to attract the very best talent, we need to ask ourselves how far we’re willing to go with our value proposition. Then we target our group.

There are lots of great people out there; Europe is fertile ground for that. At the same time, you have some big hubs getting established across the globe for tech talent. Companies are getting smarter about where to go for these professionals, not only bringing them to their HQ, but also trying to establish hubs closer to where they are located. For example, Forto opened a Tech hub in Turkey last year. We’ve already hired 15 people and are currently ramping it up. Establishing presence in locations with high volumes of tech talent certainly helps with attraction and retention of these talents.

Are there circumstances where a DEI strategy may result in reverse discrimination?

The reverse discrimination position is debatable, depending on who you talk to. From my angle, and considering Forto and the sector it operates in, I don’t think we’re going to focus on that. The logistics and freight forwarding industry is a predominantly masculine industry with women and other groups being underrepresented. On the logistics side, when you look at the numbers from 2021 and 2022, roughly 41% of the positions that you have in the industry are filled with women. Forto is at 43% at the moment, putting us on par with the industry.

I think a challenge is to have more women in positions of leadership. In the industry, only 15% of Executive Leadership Team or C-level positions are occupied by women. My appointment as Chief People Officer illustrates Forto’s commitment to diversity, both embracing and going beyond gender, to include nationality and industry background as I hail from Latin America and have worked in many different industries including Food & Beverages, Energy, Education and Tech.

I think companies must try to understand if something is preventing women from getting leadership positions, and if so, what. To do this, they can start by looking at the top of their recruiting funnel to make sure they go after diverse candidates from the beginning. Once candidates start being shortlisted, make sure you have diversity among them.

You can also look into things like, who’s being promoted, what’s the rate of promotion for men versus women? What’s the velocity of that promotion? There may be an unconscious bias there that should be addressed. When you have the data to back that up, there’s a valid argument for taking action.

What is your view on diversity quotas?

Establishing quotas is one of the many routes a company can pursue to improve diversity. But in an industry such as logistics and freight forwarding, I prefer a more holistic approach whereby you work to guarantee that your value proposition for employees resonates with the diverse groups you want to attract.

For example, does your workplace offer the flexibility needed for employees to care for their family? So, whatever lifestyle they have, can they do their best work through the platforms and working conditions you offer? Do people feel safe to be their authentic selves in your work environment without fear of discrimination? At Forto, we have 62 nationalities working together across 17 different locations. One could argue that we are very diverse already. But that’s only one of the many dimensions that we are looking at. It is also fundamental to ensure the company’s policies and processes are equitable and inclusive so, irrespective of background, everyone feels they have a fair shot.

Even the wording of job postings becomes an important factor. Some job descriptions can dissuade candidates from a diverse background from applying. For instance, there’s research that’s found that certain words resonate more with men. Women, for example, tend to not apply for roles if they feel they’re not qualified enough, whereas men are more likely to take a risk by applying for a job they don’t feel fully qualified for. So if you want to attract more female talent, you may need to rewrite your job descriptions in ways that resonate more with women.

How do the working preferences of different generations differ, and how are companies adapting their working culture to lend themselves to prospective young talent?

Millennials are already in positions of high leadership within organisations. At Forto, roughly half of our ELT is composed of Millenials. In some countries, Gen Z already represents up to a third of the working population. They tend to be more driven by value, as well as what a company stands for beyond making a profit.

Is the company making money in a responsible way, socially, environmentally, and economically? Prospective Gen Z employees will look at these things. Companies nowadays are a lot more exposed and vulnerable to social media coverage and cancel culture. If you don’t take care of your brand, not just employer branding, but also your business brand, you are taking a big risk.

It could take a lot of effort to recover from a cancellation or a boycott. You do see some cases of employees getting disgruntled and going to social media to talk about companies. So we must be more careful about practices.

Older generations have a different approach to work, more of a transactional sort of relationship. Nowadays, we live in a world where personal and work life are pretty intermingled. As a result, people give more but also require more from their employers. They seek philosophical alignment and sometimes even political alignment. Especially for younger generations, questions arise like “am I driving value for society?”

How can we have these different generations working together in a way that’s efficient and fosters a nice work environment for everyone? At Forto, we have people with decades of experience in the logistics and freight forwarding industry working side by side with digital natives. As a company, we need to think about how to cater to these different demographics. You want to avoid indexing on one generation to the detriment of the others.

How does this tie in with employee branding?

It’s very important in this day and age; people think about organisations through the lens of a brand. Marketing, back in the 70s and 80s got really smart about using data to understand target consumers and their behaviour, and then using that for strategy. In HR, we are on a similar journey with analytics. Who is the professional that I need? What kind of skills do I need and where are the people with those skills? What do I have to do as an organisation to resonate with them?

If we think about Gen Z, their means of communication is social media. They don’t pick up the phone or shoot emails, but they will text and engage with you through social media. So if that’s the people that I need, I must learn how to communicate with them and go where they are.

Forto is a tech company in an industry that’s very traditional. We have a proposition that’s meant to disrupt this industry in a positive way, to bring better customer service, be more efficient, and ship things across the globe in a way that’s as easy as sending out an email. That’s pretty much our mission and vision. So how do I package this in a way that younger generations will be excited about?

Where do I go? Social media, LinkedIn. But what do I put out there? Well, I have to be responsible. Obviously we care about sustainability because it’s the right thing to do, so we can talk about what we’re doing to offset emissions across all modes of transport for instance. They also want to hear about DEI. Is the company responsible as an organisation and does it care about elevating all members of society, giving people equitable opportunities to success? If you’re not, then most likely they’re going to go somewhere else as they have choices.

Also, what is it that’s going to set the company apart? Authenticity is very important. The best brands are authentic as they spell out what they are, what they stand for, and what they’re not. I’m very passionate about employer branding because I think it does make a massive difference when it comes to supporting the organisation and attracting the people it really needs.

Our focus is on branding ourselves in such a way that people aspire to have Forto on their resumes. A measure of success for me would be for tech talents to really aspire to work at Forto and have the Forto brand on their resume. Also for tech talent already working here to be headhunted because of Forto having a reputation for high-density talent. Then it’s up to me and the leadership to work hard to ensure our employees don’t pick up the phone. Or if they do pick up the phone and talk to these people, for them to say they’re happy here.

Why might a company be experiencing abnormal staff turnover, and what should be done about it?

I would take a hard look at the numbers. If you have high attrition, you need to understand where it’s coming from and what the root cause is. Is it something that can be traced directly, or is it a combination of factors? If it’s the latter, you’ll have a harder time trying to understand which of those factors correlates the most with this attrition.

Engagement surveys can be a way to pulse how people feel in this organisation. When you have these surveys in place, periodically you get the results. You can see how people feel about working in your company, what’s resonating well with them, and what’s causing pain. Then you can double down on what’s really causing that pain.

Try to understand who the detractors are and why these people became detractors in the first place. Is there any correlation between the pain points and the people that are becoming disengaged? Could there be any correlation with the leaders of these employees?

Is there anything on the communication side of the company that should be fine tuned? Sometimes companies don’t communicate well even if they communicate a lot. Frequent communication doesn’t really guarantee a message coming across as intended.

So when you look at your data on engagement, on employee sentiment, overall satisfaction, and their intent to stay, you’ll have a better idea of where to focus.

On the other hand, I’d add that although companies tend to get worked up about attrition, it’s not necessarily always a bad thing. Some natural attrition ought to be expected. If you are an organisation going through a transformation, obviously you’re going to have people that have been with you up to a certain point that may not buy into the transformation. It’s natural that these people will leave. As an organisation, if you really want to prioritise, you need to think about what we call regrettable attrition: among the people leaving, who are the ones leaving that you would rather keep? If you need to start addressing attrition, look at those. What is it that you could have done differently to keep these people with you?

What is your view on the return to office mandates that some companies have introduced in the last years?

I am very pragmatic when it comes to this whole discussion about returning to the office. To me, the question is, what exactly does it solve? If I need to be able to attract the great talent I mentioned to you before, I need to know what these people want. Based on that, we decide the policy to put in place. What we see and hear is that people want flexibility. If I say that I want them in the office Monday-Friday like it typically was pre-pandemic, we’d be causing ourselves harm.

Admittedly, there is good research that’s found that when people work together in the same physical environment, they tend to collaborate better. You have more synergies and more innovation coming from this kind of interaction; it’s almost intuitive. However, you can also build relationships and collaborate online. It’s a matter of bringing the best of both worlds, so the main driver should be the people that you need to attract.

I sometimes feel companies are thinking about their real estate investments when they try to bring people back into the office. If you’re trying to justify this investment via office mandates, It probably won’t pay off.

Companies should cater to the talent they’re seeking and find a middle ground. You can go hybrid and try to figure out what works best. Maybe you want people coming in 2-3 days a week. Perhaps you want to rely on people’s judgement and common sense while promoting the fact you want more people in the office to foster culture.

Also, if you want to attract diverse talents, think about where people live. Not everybody is super close to the office locations that companies have. You have caregivers with caregiving arrangements in place. So if you implement some form of strict office mandate, chances are you’re going to disrupt that person’s life. Moreover, from a company perspective, you don’t want to burden yourself with a policy that’s so complex it requires a lot of time and effort to monitor.

Also, what do you do if people are not complying? Are you going to penalise them, and if so, how? How can you tell employees they won’t be promoted if they don’t go to the office enough? What would that do to your employer branding and your ability to attract and retain? There are many things to consider when discussing return to office mandates.

People have had hands-on experience working 100% remotely because of the pandemic. You cannot take this back. It’s stayed with us and has changed the way we work fundamentally. So first and foremost, why not make your office environment nice enough so people actually want to go there?

How can office design help here then?

There’s lots of office design innovation today due to the changes happening in the workplace. We went from everyone having their own cubicle to open space, which was borne out of economic reasons, but also from people liking to interact. Some people have complained that they are unable to focus, but that has been addressed to an extent with meeting rooms, quiet spaces and phone booths.

Nowadays office design is about what’s best to foster cooperation, collaboration and innovation. We want people to get together in smaller groups to have discussions and brainstorm ideas. If you’re not going to the office every day, when you are in the office, you’ll be trying to catch up with colleagues in person. So what kind of space would make it easier for people to get together and collaborate? That’s what office design is about today; thinking about the office as a more social, interactive place. This is what we had in mind when designing our new HQ building in Berlin.

If you have spaces that are conducive to this kind of cooperation, then you’re getting what you need out of the people being in the office.

If there is a hybrid system, how can companies ensure that their remote workforce doesn’t feel neglected?

When an organisation says it’s going to stand by a hybrid model, it needs to be prepared to enforce this model in an equitable and inclusive way. In other words, it cannot discriminate against people that are remote versus people in the office. It could be that meaningful projects are allocated more often to people that are present in the office. So it pays to look at the data here and proactively work on the unconscious biases that may arise.

Having a hybrid approach is more complex, but also pays off more. Leaders need to know how to deal with these two segments of their teams. The way they present and how they interact during hybrid meetings should also take the remote audience into account. Managers should allocate an equitable amount of time to team members that are remote too. If that’s not the case, there could be a bias that must be tackled to uphold the promise of being a hybrid workplace. Otherwise, people will feel penalised by working remotely and may leave because their work is not conducive to their development.

Providing the means to allow remote employees located further away from the office to go there fairly frequently can also help. For example, some of our European colleagues based outside of Germany are able to come here a couple of times a month. So when I am hunting for prospective employees for positions at Forto, they don’t need to live within commuting distance from the office. This means I’m not restricted to the local talent pool.

Why do some workplaces become toxic, and what actions can be taken to address toxicity?

Why do certain places become toxic? There are many reasons, but a common theme would be the leadership, the quality of it, or the lack thereof. When you have the wrong leadership in place, you really create a lot of incentives for toxicity. One problem is when people have a big drive to get results at the expense of everything else.

That’s why the culture of the company is paramount. Companies ought to be intentional about their values and principles that influence how they operate and are held accountable. It cannot be lip service. People know when they’re being misled, especially from their leadership. So if you’re saying that you do the right thing, you better do it.

Bad leadership for sure creates toxic workplaces. Bad leaders usually don’t care much about how things get done as long as results are achieved. Organisations need to ask themselves how such people actually came to positions of leadership. What does it say about the company and its values?

It takes a lot to clean up a toxic workplace and turn it around. Additionally, it takes a lot of time, effort and money for people to trust your brand. Word of mouth accelerates when people are impacted by a bad leader. When they leave the organisation, they go into the market and they dissuade others from going to their former workplace.

It pays to ensure you’re upholding your values and have the right leaders. Companies that want results cannot achieve them to the detriment of their culture. Otherwise, you’re shooting yourself on the foot.

FInally, what about ‘quiet quitting’? Why might some companies be experiencing this phenomenon?

When you think about the term quiet quitting, it concerns people who are disengaged and not producing their best work. They’re pretty much turning up and doing the bare minimum.

Companies want productivity and efficiency, so obviously they can’t be happy with quiet quitting. Nevertheless, let’s take a step back and think about this from an employee’s perspective. What kind of employee-employer relationship is in place? Is it a heavily transactional one in which the employee feels they’re not getting their fair share and are thus responding accordingly?

If a company is too transactional with its employees, then it should also expect them to behave in a very transactional way. Basically, if it’s going to be like, “this is what I’m paying you to do, and this is what I expect you to do,” then employees may say, “great, but for the kind of work that you’re expecting me to put in and the stress is causing me, you’re not paying me enough”. We don’t want to get to that point.

For younger generations, it’s not so much about this transactional relationship. They want to feel like they belong. So living up to the company culture really speaks volumes, and decreases the likelihood that people will quiet quit because they’ll be engaged.

Employees become disengaged when they don’t feel like they’re working on something meaningful, when they don’t feel like they’re developing themselves, or when they feel like they’re being treated unfairly or their contributions are not being fully acknowledged. So it’s up to the companies to understand if they’re coming across as being too transactional. If they are, then people will respond to incentives and therefore it’s worth looking at what incentives are being put into place. With this in mind, we have put in place a range of best practices including quarterly team building events, employees’ groups activities e.g. Women and Black at Forto, breakfasts with C-levels, and we’re also carefully reviewing all of our people practices focusing on increasing engagement and recognition.