CATALYSTS INTERVIEW: Joey Spivey
Joey Spivey (He/Him) is the learning and development manager and diversity officer at SHAZAM. His dedication to transforming the way organizations prioritize the employee experience has helped him build a reputation for consultative e-learning and instructional design, engaging facilitation, and impactful organizational development. As SHAZAM positions itself as a leader of inclusive progress in the financial services industry, he’s working to build an employee culture that attracts and retains the best people and provides equitable growth opportunities for all.
Can you give us an overview of your career and how it has evolved?
I started in 2014 at an entry-level position at a health insurance provider in Des Moines. It was my first corporate job. And in an environment like that, you learn a lot very quickly. It allowed me to understand the inner workings & dynamics of an organization, something that I had never been exposed to before, but it opened my perspective to the things that are always at play. There were all these nuanced dynamics, these corporate norms happening simultaneously, which “young Joey” previously had no exposure to.
So I was in that entry-level operational role for about a year in this company before a position opened up on the training team that supported that area. And this was at a point in my career where I was very much trying to do a little soul searching. So I took the leap, learned about it, and stepped into the role. So that was my first introduction into any formal corporate training and development space.
I served in a couple of different types of operational training roles in that organization, which gave me an opening to learn more and more about the impact effective, or ineffective, training can have on an organization. And then, in 2018, I moved to SHAZAM, where I expanded from a consultant role to SHAZAM’s learning and development manager, and now act as our diversity officer.
Can you tell us more about SHAZAM and how its company culture contributes to diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts?
SHAZAM is the only nationwide, independent member-owned debit network processor and core provider. Our mission is to strengthen community financial institutions. So what that means is that member-owned piece allows us to be consistently responsive to the needs of community banks and credit unions. Our goal is to ensure that community financial institutions can stay invested in those communities and provide that opportunity for financial enrichment.
When you take that philosophy and think about diversity, equity, and inclusion at SHAZAM, we believe that strong communities breed the opportunity for equity and inclusion. The stronger our community financial institutions are, the stronger and more equitable the opportunities are in our communities for building wealth for financial success. Our internal culture reflects that as well, and we invest in our people and their communities.
At SHAZAM, we really take pride in staying connected to our community through service. We’re adamant about making volunteering as easy as possible for our employees. We host several on-site and off-site large group volunteer events each year. We also have a volunteer time off benefit that’s available to all SHAZAM employees, allowing them to take time off to serve an organization of their choosing. Normally this is 16 hours per year, but during the height of COVID and even beyond, our VTO time is really unlimited.
As the diversity officer, what initiatives have you implemented while at SHAZAM?
SHAZAM, like many, is in the infancy of what I would consider our formal diversity, equity, inclusion mechanism.
We’re working to embed those practices in everything we do. In the fall of 2020, we formed our first formal DEI committee. This is an employee-led group made up of people all across our organization, from executive leadership to individual contributors. The group’s members represent the diverse lived experiences, beliefs, and professional focuses of SHAZAM’s employees. We focus on three programming areas; employee education, community involvement, and then workplace inclusion.
From an employee education perspective, we’ve revamped how we’re providing employee learning. For example, we’re providing more instructor-led courses on soft skills, professional development, or personal development pieces. Last fall, we collectively participated in the United Way of Central Iowa’s 21-Day Equity Challenge, which gave many of our employees their first introduction to the topics that many members of our community are all too familiar with; bias, systemic racism, privilege, the immigrant and refugee experiences, allyship and more. We’ve been fortunate enough to partner with organizations like the Iowa Asian Alliance and One Iowa to host educational webinars for our employees to help build a greater understanding of the histories and experiences of these communities. Moving forward, we’re excited to really focus on supporting our managers in being effective, empathetic, equity-building leaders driving progress across our teams.
The second piece is community involvement. I mentioned our involvement with the Iowa Asian Alliance and One Iowa from an educational perspective, but we also work to engage meaningfully with these and other organizations. We’re doing a lot of listening in spaces where we’ve previously not been directly engaged so that we can position ourselves to be an ally, truly being the change we want to see. We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel. Through this learning and listening process, we’re working to find our voice in this conversation, and contribute in a way that is authentic to who we are, and what we do. We want to align with and amplify organizations that are already doing this important work and fill in the gaps where we can.
The third piece is workplace inclusion. This will be the standard type of examination or audit that I think every organization has been performing or is performing or really should be performing moving forward. We’re looking at what we’ve always been doing and examining if it relates to being a diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplace. Those can be small tweaks, like gender pronouns in your email signatures. That was a quick win for SHAZAM to implement. We had a couple of employees that had done it, but the fact that we were really templating it was something that I think spoke to the comprehensive view we’re looking at and making sure that SHAZAM is a welcoming and inclusive place and allows people to bring their whole selves to work. We looked back at our hiring documentation, application, and policies and procedures, and we said, “Do we have gendered language? Do we have he/she language throughout these policies? Is that something that we can remove, that we can clarify working with our corporate communications team to craft an inclusive language guide?”
This workplace inclusion focus, for SHAZAM and for many others, is really just about looking at all of those things that you’ve been doing for decades, and asking yourself “Does this reflect who we are? Does this language, do these facilities, do our products and services reflect the diverse, equitable, and inclusive culture we’re building? Are we looking in new places to find talent that can take our company to new heights?”
Those are the three areas that we’re focused on. We’ve had quick or smaller wins in all three of those domains. All of it is a work in progress, and as we secure those wins and get our footing within our organization and our community, that’s where we start to tackle those bigger, more audacious goals that we’re looking forward to. SHAZAM is a unique influencer in the payments industry, which I think positions us to have a tremendous impact on what inclusion in this space looks like
Expanding outside of SHAZAM, how do you share your ideas, sharing your talents outside in the Des Moines community?
Recently, I joined the board of directors for the Merle Hay Neighborhood Association. This public service role is a very new venture for me. I am learning a lot about how the city and local politics work, which has been eye-opening, but the neighborhood is interesting just in the demographic makeup and where it sits in this crooked position between Des Moines and Urbandale and Windsor Heights and Beaverdale.
The neighborhood association, as I’ve come to understand, operates in a couple of different ways. First, it is connecting those people who live in proximity to each other, breeding those innovative solutions, and ensuring that they are together and unified on the needs of our community and our neighborhoods. And then acting as the conduit or the connection to our local officials to help drive that change. And so we have a little bit of an opportunity to advocate for the needs of our neighbors, but we have to make sure that our neighbors all have the same chance to share their voice.
I also serve on the advisory board for Can Play, formerly Courage League Sports and Opportunity on Deck, which provides adaptive and no-cost recreation programming. The organization is doing essential work in our communities. They’re taking barriers like financial limitations or the need for adaptive environments, that so often leave kids on the sidelines, and they’re removing those. They’re creating these spaces where kids, all kids, can develop these essential skills through sports, recreation and leadership development programming. Where they can do what any kid wants to do, play.
I also stay actively involved in area professional organizations like the Central Iowa chapter of the Association for Talent Development and the Technology Association of Iowa. I think being present in these spaces is critical as I continue to develop my own skills and understanding of what’s happening around our state. It’s also been a valuable way to build that network of professionals across area organizations and together we can create ways for area businesses to come together, pool resources, and amplify the impact we’re having in our state.
Initially, what did you envision for your career?
I still don’t know the answer to that question. But I can tell you that, as a kid and through elementary, middle, high school, and into college, I was a performer. I think there are a couple of reasons that I was so energized by that space, but there is really something fascinating that happens when you can bring people together for this shared, emotional experience when there is a space that is reserved for this artistic expression. There is this removal from yourself and insertion into this collective, shared experience.
So I pursued music education at the University of Northern Iowa for two years. Then I transferred to Drake University for a change of scenery. In my junior year though, I think I experienced a lot of the “real world” anxiety many students experience at that time. It forced me to really stop, step back, and examine the path I had been on, and the direction it was taking me, and assess if that was still what I wanted to do. I ultimately made the decision to enter the workforce after that year. And so that was a big shift for me because I had spent a lot of my life so far on one very specific path and was then met with this realization that, I don’t know what the direction is, but I’m going to go in a different direction.
My exploration of the corporate world ultimately led me to where I am today. I took a big leap, embraced the uneasiness, and worked through it. I’m not under any illusion that this was a “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” story, but I think it says something about trusting your gut and taking time to perform that self-audit when things don’t feel like they’re headed in the right direction.
Tell us about any mentors you’ve had?
For the past 4 or 5 years, I’ve had the privilege to call Shawn Meighan a friend and mentor. Shawn came into my previous organization after I had arrived, and I soon found myself reporting directly to him. He was the first leader in that corporate space that really shifted my perspective from training as operational to training as an organizational or people-development function. And that shift opened my eyes to my future career path and passion.
Shawn was ultimately the person that recruited me to SHAZAM for this role I’m in today. He joined this organization a few months before I did, and we’ve spent the last three years building what we’ve always believed can be a world-class learning culture.
He’s been enjoying a well-earned retirement since July of this year. I don’t know that I will ever really appreciate, at least not for a long time, how valuable these past few years have been to be able to serve as really a dynamic duo. I’ve spent the last three years taking full advantage of his one-on-one coaching, and his challenge to develop into a learning and development professional. I don’t think I would be at SHAZAM without his influence, and I certainly would not be in this role that I’m in today. So he had a direct hand in all of that, and I will always be thankful for his guidance and expertise.
What advice would you give to an underrepresented person considering a tech career path or a tech leadership role?
Understanding the broad array of roles that are available in the field of technology is important. There is so much in the field of technology that I think number one is just familiarizing yourself with what those options are, experiment, figure out what aligns with your interest, your skillset. Very different types of personalities have very successful careers in the technology space. Technology is such a ripe field for diversity, equity, and inclusion because it can be so comprehensive. So underrepresented individuals in this space can really pave this way and help tear down these systemic barriers. Technology roles have moved from your traditional network or help desk type positions as individual teams or departments are understanding the value of infusing tech into their practices; human resources, marketing, sales, customer service.
And this is not even technology-specific, but find those leaders, whether in an organization or a community. Find those leaders that see you, that hear you, that want to bring your voice to the table, bring you to the table. There are people that are already in the room where decisions are being made; plug into those people, reach out. Having that executive or senior leader or community leader that will advocate on behalf of your perspective is invaluable.
Lastly, as a general practice, look for places that invest in their people. It’s one thing for an organization to say that diversity is important, but when they talk about equity and inclusion, after that diversity piece, do they show it? Do they have a real history of bringing people in at an entry-level and developing them into leadership roles? What is their employee longevity? Are they building a real community of employees? Are they bringing people in? Are they investing in them? Are they giving them the skills and the opportunity to develop those skills and move upward?
I believe internal career mobility is so important. It’s essential for underrepresented employees in the technology space because there is the most to gain, I think, to benefit from having a real conscious career mobility initiative If organizations aren’t being strategic, if they’re defaulting to what they’ve always done, then you likely see less and less diversity as you move up the organizational chart. All employees benefit from formalized career mobility or development programs, but offering a clear, defined system makes these equitable opportunities for growth and advancement much easier to see and grab.
Why is it important to have people of different backgrounds in technology?
There is no shortage of literature, articles, and think-pieces that speak to the value you get when you have greater representation in a room and a conversation. Organizations are becoming more aware of the default mode of employee referrals, recruiting, and culture fits versus culture adds. It reinforces a lot of what these companies have done for decades. However, when we’re talking about innovation and driving technology advancement, it becomes difficult to do that if you are not an organization that has reflected innovation or change in its DNA.
As you look at a user-focused technology space, human-centric design is becoming the conversation we’re having. We are designing for specific people, specific user stories. And as technology becomes more nuanced, as products and services become more user-driven, more user persona-driven, if you do not have the representation of more markets, more people, more types of users, you’re doing a lot of guessing, and you’re probably excluding yourself from those markets.
If you are an organization that is primarily white men, it’s going to be difficult to design technology that speaks to the needs of women of color, to design an app, to innovate in your space. You do not have to do the guesswork anymore. Do the work, build relationships, be that place that invites diverse experiences, perspectives, and abilities, and offers them growth, offers them that “family feel” every company talks about, offers them equitable compensation. If you do that, you’ll feel the business impacts of those new perspectives. An organization that’s not positioning itself to effectively recruit and retain diverse talent will only find its talent pool, and its market, getting smaller and smaller. Companies ignore diversity at their own peril because frankly, word gets around, and today it’s not uncommon for job candidates to ask very clearly about culture. They ask about diversity and inclusion. Ignoring these is going to be a bad business strategy.
As you look to the future, how would you like to see diverse talent development in Iowa grow?
I would like to see organizations embrace the concept of getting away from traditional practices. And when I say traditional practices, the policies, procedures, and mechanisms have been in place in an organization for years or decades. It’s an exhausting fact-finding mission but examine those things that are creating soft barriers to having an inclusive organization. I think organizations have easy steps ahead of them to become more welcoming and recruit a more diverse talent pool, and set employees up for success.
More often than not, it’s the smallest possible tweaks to the employee experience that enable people to bring their full skillsets into their roles. For example, shifting the employee landscape and the in-office versus remote environment, embracing that personalization of the employee experience means success and value. We’re trying to remove these artificial barriers for success and access in the workplace. Taking away these unnecessary rules and parameters around where and when people can work introduces a broader candidate pool.
As we look five to ten years from now, I would love to see organizations having checked all those classic inclusion boxes as part of their mission and reinforcing the aspect of creating a personalized employee experience that lets people align their values and give their best self to make their unique contributions to a mission they believe in.