Hannah Choi Refuses to Pay Lip Service to D&I

As iQor’s head employment counsel and chief diversity officer, Hannah Choi is building a diversity inclusion program that is intentional and organic as well as impactful

Photo: Foto Bohemia

“It’s not just about creating opportunities,” says Hannah Choi. “It’s also about making the case for that opportunity.” As the head employment counsel and chief diversity officer (CDO) at iQor, Choi uses her firsthand knowledge of diversity and inclusion programs to make a case for D&I initiatives that work for both the company and its employees.

A Korean American woman who came from an immigrant family, Choi is used to being included in her employers’ diversity programs. “In the past ten years at least, there’s been a big push for diversity in law firms—more women and more minorities,” she explains. “I’ve been placed in every diversity initiative by past employers, particularly in the law firm world. I know what it feels like when an initiative is implemented poorly and causes diversity fatigue.”

In Choi’s experience, many law firms often go into a sort of “loud” or hyper-focused mode when it comes to diversity, hiring numerous women as well as people of color. “But then they don’t do anything meaningful beyond that to retain or develop diverse attorneys,” Choi notes. “They just put color all around themselves and seem to think that that checks the boxes, to say that they are a better place to work for women and minorities. But many diverse attorneys ultimately left those firms—there was a lot of talk about diversity, sure, but it was basically just lip service.”

After watching, experiencing, and hearing about many such programs, Choi knew what it would take to make a D&I program actually work for a company. The program would need to be intentional, she says, but also truly inclusive for its participants so that it could have a lasting and significant impact. “In the past, I’ve witnessed an unconscious bias by some that D&I programs require a lowering of standards, which is not true. So, to overcome that, and to be truly be inclusive, I’ve learned you need the buy-in from everyone, not just from those who might benefit from a particular initiative, but from all levels of leadership as well as skeptics.”

“It’s not just about creating opportunities. It’s also about making the case for that opportunity.”

A managed services provider focusing on technology-enabled solutions and customer engagement, iQor operates in nine different countries and has over forty-two thousand employees around the world. The company provides business process outsourcing services, such as customer service and aftermarket services for the world’s best-known brands. But despite its size, Choi emphasizes, the executives at iQor are highly approachable. “You can literally knock on someone’s door and say, ‘I have an idea for a new position,’” Choi laughs.

And that’s exactly what Choi did to secure the chief diversity officer position. She was already comfortable with that space given her experience as an employment counsel, the CDO explains. She had not only dealt extensively with discrimination claims, harassment claims, and HR compliance but also helped developed several Affirmative Action Plans (AAPs) for iQor and other large companies.

But according to Choi, iQor’s clients were what really helped solidify her case for the creation of a CDO position. “They were asking about our diversity initiatives and whether we had a diversity officer,” Choi recalls. And soon after Choi proposed to become that diversity officer, the position was created.

A Word of Advice

“You can’t boil the ocean,” Hannah Choi advises. “I was so excited about this role when I first started—I wanted to go out and do so many different things. Now, I’ve learned to do things one at a time: the CDO position is a new opportunity for our organization, I can’t throw all of my ideas out there at once.”

Since stepping into this role, Choi has rolled out a number of D&I initiatives—for employees at iQor as well as the business’s vendors. One of her initiatives, called the inQlusion rule, is a take on an NFL rule that requires teams to interview diverse candidates for coaching and senior football operation positions. “In our version of it, we have to interview at least one candidate who is female, a minority, veteran, or a qualified individual with a disability for every salaried position. “There’s no requirement to hire certain people—it’s just a proactive effort to bring people from diverse backgrounds into the hiring process.”

Choi has also developed a paid maternity leave program for iQor employees working in the United States. “In all of the other countries we operate in, we’re legally required to offer our employees paid maternity leave,” she says. “But not in the US: we’re not required to provide any form of paid leave for working mothers.”

And when Choi and her team created a paid maternity leave policy for US employees, they found it fairly easy to make an argument for it. “We were already providing this benefit to every other female employee in other countries,” the CDO says. “So we were able to speak very candidly with our business leaders about the initiative and readily address their concerns about it.” Similarly, in the Philippines, where iQor has a large presence, the existing paid maternity leave was expanded to offer working mothers more robust benefits.

Choi has also helped expand iQor’s supplier diversity program, which is designed to connect more minority-, women-, veteran-, LGBT-, and service-disabled veteran-owned businesses, with iQor. She further makes it a priority to engage more women and minority outside counsel in legal matters involving the company. “We’ve increased spend with such businesses by the millions annually because we recognize that sourcing services from such suppliers helps to sustain and transform our supply chain to reflect the demographics of the diverse communities in which we operate.”

But Choi isn’t satisfied with just creating new initiatives. Those initiatives are of course an important means of increasing awareness of the company’s commitment to diversity, Choi says. But equally important is Choi’s mission to ensure that that awareness includes an understanding that iQor’s creation of a diverse workplace is both intentional and organic. No lip service for her.