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Centric Bank goes back to school to achieve diversity goals | American Banker


Even the best-intentioned community banks sometimes struggle to meet their diversity targets because they lack the name recognition of big banks or the resources to actively recruit more women and minorities.

But Centric Financial in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania — which earned a spot on the list of Best Banks to Work For this year — was able to revamp its diversity, equity and inclusion program with an assist from a group of Georgetown University graduate students.

When it comes to diversity efforts, “we still have a lot of work to do,” said Christine Pavlakovich, Centric’s chief human resources officer, “but we’re getting there.”

The students, six in all, were pursuing master’s degrees in human resources management and needed to complete a capstone project as part of their degree program. Over two semesters, beginning in the fall of 2020 and finishing in May, they dug deep into the Centric’s DEI profile, researched demographics, advised on recruiting and marketing, and ultimately established a set of measurable goals for the $1.1 billion-asset company.

“They gave us a framework for what diversity, equity and inclusion should look like in an organization our size,” Christine Pavlakovich, Centric’s chief human resources officer, said in an interview.

The 14-year-old Centric is among the many banks reexamining policies around diversity, equity and inclusion — and with good reason. Diversity in the workplace is increasingly a differentiating factor for would-be employees, particularly younger generations. One recent survey conducted by Arizent, American Banker’s parent company, found that 64% of the nearly 500 respondents said they would be less interested in working for companies that show evidence of a lack of diversity.

That’s a finding that resonates with Pavlakovich, who joined Centric in 2017 and whose remit includes recruiting new talent as well as career and leadership development.

Patricia Husic, Centric’s president and chief executive, served on an American Bankers Association panel tasked with identifying banks interested in working with Georgetown. Husic asked Pavlakovich if she would want to participate in the project.

“I said absolutely,” Pavlakovich recalled. “Being at a small community bank, I don’t have a team at the ready to evaluate and analyze the things we’re doing.”

Though Georgetown suggested several human-resource-related issues on which students could focus, the choice was clear for Pavlakovich — implementing a lasting, measurable DEI program.

“We certainly didn’t have a strong-enough DEI program,” Pavlakovich said. “We still have a lot of work to do, but we’re getting there.”

The topic worked for Georgetown too, since the students “were already passionate about DEI,” Bunmi Biu, an adjunct lecturer in Georgetown’s human resources management program, said in an interview.

To familiarize the Georgetown students with Centric, Pavlakovich provided them with “a ton” of documents and data. She participated in weekly teleconferences where she would answer questions and receive a progress report. Pavlakovich, in turn, briefed Husic and other senior executives, as well as Centric’s board.

Over eight months, the Georgetown group conducted an organizational culture survey focusing on DEI. The students also drafted a DEI statement, laying out Centric’s commitment to “fostering an environment that celebrates and welcomes diversity.”

One focus that struck a particular chord was the importance of branding for diversity, equity and inclusion, “which I thought was a fascinating concept,” Pavlakovich said. The students analyzed the 26 fundamentals that make up the “Centric Bank Way” and showed how they could be organized to highlight DEI.

“They said to me, ‘Why don’t you group these fundamentals?” Pavlakovich said. “These three really focus on diversity. These three really focus on equity. These three really focus on inclusion.’ They took things we already had in existence and said, ‘Look at it this way.’ ”

All of the short-term goals in the DEI plan have been achieved, including using more inclusive language in all communications and stressing why diversity is important to growth to Centric’s stakeholders.

Medium-term goals include identifying and developing diversity champions to support its efforts and setting diversity targets for its recruiting. Centric is also implementing a first-time-homebuyer program focusing on people of color.

Most students enrolled in Georgetown’s master’s program are working HR professionals. Those who undertook the Centric project work at Ernst and Young, Facebook, L Acoustics and the U.S. Army, for example.

“Their perspectives were invaluable to me,” Pavlakovich said. “They gave me really valuable insights into what they were currently doing in their organizations. They also made an effort to truly understand the community bank size and the limited resources I have.”

Biu said she viewed the project as a success and graded the students accordingly. “They did very well,” she said.

This content was originally published here.

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