Take 5 With Ashley Goldsmith: Focus on the Front Lines

Ashley Goldsmith started her human resources career working alongside front-line retail workers, where she learned important lessons on the value of skills, inclusion, humility, and respect. Our chief people officer discusses why we’re investing in skills at Workday, how we’ve supported Workmates through the pandemic, and what it means to have an employee-first culture.

Ashley Goldsmith didn’t know how to fix a leaking toilet. She stared blankly at customers when they asked her about damaged fill valves, a sluggish flush, or a whistling tank. The undergraduate degree she received in psychology had not prepared her for a six-month rotation as assistant store manager at The Home Depot. 

Ashley—along with 10 of her peers from across the corporate office—stepped away from her day job in human resources (HR) as part of a program designed to give early-career employees broader exposure to the business. Despite her new title, Ashley said she felt clueless. Fortunately, she worked in a store with experienced associates and master tradespeople who had been fine-tuning their craft for years, even decades. They were wonderfully helpful to every customer and to Ashley. 

Although she didn’t become a master tradesperson, this experience was a great leadership lesson in the value of skills, inclusion, humility, and respect. It taught Ashley that leaders shouldn’t be afraid to ask questions, and they should be 100% focused on how to help people on the front lines—including how to make their work easier and their experience more enjoyable. 

After starting in a temp role out of college, Ashley demonstrated skills that led her first manager at The Home Depot (who was planning to hire a Ph.D. candidate) to give her a chance. Ashley worked her way through the ranks to lead HR for the largest division of The Home Depot during a nearly 12-year run at the company. Now, she’s the chief people officer at Workday, where she's steadily guided the company for the past eight years. We caught up with Ashley to talk about her career, the lessons that guided her throughout the pandemic, and what’s ahead. 

You saw the value of skills early on in your career, and today we’re seeing organizations place a greater emphasis on skills as they think about talent. What role do you think skills play today, particularly through the lens of the current environment? 

The pandemic vastly transformed the way we work and how we think about talent. In the early days of the crisis, we saw so many incredible examples of skills-based shifts—furloughed airline mechanics were redeployed to work at shipping companies where demand soared. As we look ahead, skills will play an incredibly important role in an organization’s ability to retain and grow their workforce, and Workday’s Skills Cloud is helping customers navigate this shift. 

"As a working mom with a young son, a husband, and two dogs, and as a caregiver to my parents, I know what it feels like to have competing demands."

Ashley Goldsmith Chief People Officer Workday

We all like learning, and at Workday we believe investing in skills is a great way to help our employees succeed and feel motivated. One of the ways we’re doing this is by offering gigs, or short-term assignments, through Workday Talent Marketplace, which enables Workmates to learn new skills by signing up to work on a project with a different team. We think programs like this are energizing for employees and add more value to the organization in the process. 

We also know that a skills-based people strategy is essential when it comes to hiring new talent. Identifying the most important skills for a role instead of just relying on degrees or previous job titles expands pathways for candidates and opens up new talent pools. 

There have been countless shifts during the pandemic, including a shift in the actions to advance belonging and diversity (B&D). What is Workday doing in this area? 

The pandemic prompted many organizations to toss their operating models out the window—with many saying “to heck with that!” And an overdue outcome of this was a renewed focus on B&D. Since we were talking about skills, a key benefit of a skills-based people strategy is that it creates more opportunities for candidates from underserved communities or nontraditional backgrounds, where there is an abundance of untapped talent. 

A skills-based approach drives B&D and, in the absence of that, we’re cutting off valuable avenues to talent. Another way to expand talent pools and drive B&D is by expanding in key locations, which is one of the approaches Workday is taking by increasing our investments in specific regions globally.

B&D is also important as it relates to role models. I valued having a young female leader early in my career, and at Workday we think it’s important for everyone to see themselves represented in leadership. That’s why in the U.S., increasing Black and Latinx representation overall and specifically in leadership roles is a primary focus of our company commitments rooted in VIBE™(Value Inclusion, Belonging, and Equity), which is our unique approach to B&D. We’re also passionate about building inclusive products and technologies, and in that spirit we launched VIBE solutions to help other organizations advance their B&D efforts. 

Your lesson about the importance of helping those on the front lines must have been invaluable over the last couple years. How has Workday shown up for front-line workers?

First, I have to express an enormous amount of gratitude for the healthcare and front-line workers who have been at the forefront of the pandemic since day one. In terms of how we’ve shown up at Workday, employees are our number one core value—if you have happy and healthy employees they’re able to focus on supporting our customers—and we can talk more about that in a moment.

It’s an honor to support our customers and their front-line workers through these challenging times, and we’re doing that in a number of ways. From making it easier to manage schedules to logging into work straight from a phone or streamlining health and safety measures in the workplace, we're putting a strong focus on supporting the front-line worker with our technology as part of our Return to Workplace offerings. 

We also made several donations to organizations on the front lines and enabled Workmates to support their communities through a donation-matching program. 

And for Workmates—how have you supported them through this changing environment? 

We’ve been through something profound, and although there are a lot of reasons to be optimistic, we’re still going through it. We believe deeply in our employee-first culture, and we try extremely hard to live that. The first step is making sure every Workmate is heard. A key pillar of employee experience at Workday is Feedback Fridays, where we leverage Workday Peakon Employee Voice to keep a pulse on employee sentiment every week. We receive millions of data points from this that help us take action and adjust our programs as needed. 

"Ultimately we have our Workmates’ backs, and we want to make their lives easier, more successful, and more enjoyable so they can thrive not only at work but also at home."

Early on in the pandemic, we did a number of things to ensure our employees felt supported, including providing a one-time-payment—equivalent to two weeks’ pay—for the majority of employees to help accommodate unforeseen costs. As the pandemic continued, we saw feedback that Workmates were feeling real fatigue, and as a result, we introduced nine “Thank You Fridays,” which are company-wide paid holidays for all employees to rest and recharge. These holidays take place during our remote work phase and are intended to help employees focus on their wellbeing. 

The pandemic accelerated the focus on mental health in a big way, and I’m confident this will remain a priority for organizations moving forward. Recently two leaders on my team discussed the importance of destigmatizing conversations about mental health and what organizations can do to support their employees’ wellbeing. At Workday, we rolled out a number of mental health resources to complement our existing benefits such as a wellbeing speaker series, 24/7 access to a licensed therapist, and up to 10 free counseling sessions for Workmates or anyone in their household. 

Figuring out how we support parents and caregivers has also been a big focus for us. As a working mom with a young son, a husband, and two dogs, and as a caregiver to my parents, I know what it feels like to have competing demands. Early on we introduced modified schedule options and extended leave of absence policies for caregivers. We also expanded our backup care reimbursement for up to 20 days per year.

It’s no secret that we’re operating in a hot job market right now. Other than what you mentioned, are there any new benefits you’ve rolled out to help stay competitive? 

We often hear from Workmates that they joined Workday or stayed with the company due to our employee-first culture and the opportunity to make an impact, but I know benefits play a key role in the employee experience too. We have a multitude of benefits, and we revisit those not only in line with the market, but also as we grow and consider the changing needs of employees. 

As part of a major milestone in our growth journey, we recently launched a cash bonus plan for all employees who were not already participating in a cash-based incentive program. This bonus is in addition to Workday stock grants, which continue to be a strong component of our competitive compensation philosophy. 

We also wanted to make it easier for new parents to request time off to spend with the newest addition to their family, so we introduced a New Parent Time Off benefit for all Workmates, which enables new parents to take up to 12 weeks of 100% paid time off following the birth or adoption of their child. This benefit can be used in addition to pregnancy time off within the first year of the birth or adoption.

"I valued having a young female leader early in my career, and at Workday we think it’s important for everyone to see themselves represented in leadership."

Given that we’ve been operating in a remote environment, we added a virtual healthcare network accessible to all Workmates and their dependents to ensure they have access to the best and most convenient care 24/7. And at our headquarters in Pleasanton, California, we opened an onsite clinic, which Workmates and their dependents can use for routine care including access to vaccinations like the flu shot or a COVID-19 vaccination.

Ultimately we have our Workmates’ backs, and we want to make their lives easier, more successful, and more enjoyable so they can thrive not only at work but also at home. That’s why we’re being really intentional about meeting people where they are when it comes to a post-pandemic workplace—we want to create enough space for people to be comfortable splitting their time between the office and home. Like many organizations, the hybrid world requires us to build a new muscle. We’re learning what works best, but one thing we know for certain is that we don’t know what works best for everyone, so we’re giving people options within a flexible framework that prioritizes being in the office for moments that matter, like a team event or training. 

What excites you about the future at Workday? 

Workday is in such a fortunate position to help organizations address many of the areas they’re grappling with right now. It’s a fascinating time, and Workday plays a key role as we all navigate an interesting turn in the trajectory of how people work together moving forward. I also love what we do! We were built to meet this moment and have so much potential ahead of us. It’s a pleasure and a privilege to be part of this journey, and I’m looking forward to seeing how we continue to inspire brighter work days for all.

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