Synchrony’s DEI Agenda: Applying Data to Drive Workplace Equity and Funding for Black Founders

Synchrony’s DEI Agenda: Applying Data to Drive Workplace Equity and Funding for Black Founders

Two significant components mark the diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts of consumer financial services giant Synchrony: Elevation of more diverse leaders, including Black executives, to senior management through intentional, data-driven initiatives and the advancement of innovative, game-changing Black startups via strategic investments.

Companies that put teeth behind their workplace equity efforts—versus those that just talk about it—gain favor with employees. In fact, roughly 80% of workers in a recent survey prefer employers that highly regard DEI. Accomplishing that level of satisfaction is not an easy task for scores of corporations when it is hard to enhance what has not been measured. However, Synchrony has made internal progress by using data to help overcome such barriers.

Simultaneously, the company is advancing equity externally by investing in underserved businesses owned by Blacks, women, and other minorities. In fact, it has committed $15 million to venture capital firms led by diverse investment teams.

Data analysis is a game changer for DEI  

Before elaborating on the data, Michael Matthews, Synchrony’s chief diversity, inclusion and corporate responsibility officer, told Black Enterprise in a recent interview on DEI outcomes, “just the way that you think about it and the way that you elevate it makes a difference to your success.”

Matthews talked about how Synchrony had always “leaned into diversity” and had a strong, inclusive culture. But he admitted that Synchrony was not closely examining deeper levels of its own data until about three years ago when he became CDO, and George Floyd’s death became a catalyst for change. So, he examined Synchrony’s diversity efforts to determine what was really under the numbers. One of his questions: “How many of Synchrony’s employees at the VP level and above  were Black or Hispanic?”

Using quantitative analysis across three years to unpack the composition of its diverse representation, Matthews completed an in-depth review with the company’s leadership team and board of directors.

“What we found was we look pretty good, but based on what we thought about our culture, we were pretty stagnant over the years,” he concedes. “We hadn’t been moving the needle, and I thought the hypothesis was that we weren’t leaning in enough in certain areas of opportunity to actually make the difference.”

So, in 2020, the company launched Advancing Diverse Talent, a data analytics initiative that helps pinpoint gaps and opportunities in hiring, retention, and promotion. For the past two years, Matthews says the focus has been on Black and Hispanic talent at the vice president level and higher. His philosophy: “What does not get measured, does not get changed.”

In examining data on a quarterly and annual basis with the CEO and business leaders, Matthews says he found it is vital for Synchrony to “increase opportunities, make sure that we have people who are prepared [and] make additional efforts to ensure that we find people in those demographics to compete and actually win the jobs.”

Matthews explained another critical element is accountability. He stresses that diversity metrics are “tied to our annual bonus for all leaders of the company. So, if you’re not showing year-over-year improvement in the ADT categories, then your bonus will be impacted.”

Providing diverse startups with funding in a challenging market  

Beyond the workplace, Synchrony has also prioritized equity investments to support underserved founders. For example, Zeal Capital Partners was among four venture capital firms that received funding as part of a $15 million commitment in May 2020 to support the company’s efforts to close the venture capital gap.

Jeff Lamour, senior vice president and head of Synchrony Ventures, shared the importance of investing in diverse VCs like Washington, D.C.-based Zeal Capital Partners, led by founder and managing partner Nasir Qadree. For one, the capital from Synchrony provides the lifeblood to Black startups that continue to be woefully underfunded. Qadree notes that just 1.3% of venture capital today is managed by women and people of color. “Close to $70 trillion of alpha is left on the table when we are not proactively sourcing and investing in women and BIPOC entrepreneurs.”

Jeff Lamour, Senior Vice President and Head of Synchrony Ventures, spoke at Money20/20, the largest global fintech event in October 2022. Jeff served on the advisory board of Money20/20’s AMPLIFY program, which aims to move the dial on inequalities within financial services, providing participants access and opportunity within the industry.

Lamour also maintains that at Synchrony’s core, it’s about more than just writing checks. “It’s a great opportunity to support funds (like Zeal Capital) and partner with them in a much more material way,” Lamour said.

Through its financing model, Qadree asserts the Synchrony team is sending a powerful message that there must be systems-level change to ensure there’s more investment in Black-led venture funds and those allocating the limited partner capital into those vehicles. Qadree also values investing partners like Synchrony that go beyond providing capital, sharing their know-how around recruitment, governance, end-user experience, and sales strategy.

Nasir Qadree is the Founder and Managing Partner of Zeal Capital Partners, which invests in diverse management teams reimagining the building blocks of wealth, from education to employment to financial health, that turbocharge economic mobility.

So, what type of companies do Synchrony Ventures look at when it makes investments? Lamour says it invests in entrepreneurs and VC funds with great ideas, driving innovation in markets aligned with the company’s growth strategy, mission, and values. Bottom line: Synchrony Ventures embraces companies it can work with, help bring to scale, and make an industrywide impact.

Zeal Capital is the type of firm that fits the bill. The self-professed “champion of inclusive investing,” the firm also seeks entrepreneurs that “dream big” and focus on building next-generation financial technology and “future of work” businesses, according to its website. Other criteria for investment: strong management teams with “exceptional leadership with diverse skill sets and backgrounds” and partnering with US-based companies “seeking pre-seed, seed, or Series A investments with $200,000 or more in annual revenue.”

In essence, Synchrony Venture and its portfolio of VCs like Zeal Capital want to advance diverse firms that create an impact for under-resourced communities and businesses. Asserts Lamour: “it’s critically important for us to be engaging with [diverse early stage] founders that we know are going to be able to manage through challenging times, manage through the pivots that are required as an entrepreneur.”