Synchrony EVP Alberto ‘Beto’ Casellas: “Tackle Biases Head-on”

Tackle Biases Head-on. In business, we are continually exploring the concept of “unconscious bias” and how it can create barriers to more inclusive recruiting practices, leadership styles and organizational culture. We often have blind spots in stereotypes and judgments that we aren’t even aware of. While this can be uncomfortable, societies need to reflect, confront […]

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Tackle Biases Head-on. In business, we are continually exploring the concept of “unconscious bias” and how it can create barriers to more inclusive recruiting practices, leadership styles and organizational culture. We often have blind spots in stereotypes and judgments that we aren’t even aware of. While this can be uncomfortable, societies need to reflect, confront biases and find ways to mitigate any discriminatory behaviors moving forward.

As part of our series about ‘5 Steps We Must Take To Truly Create An Inclusive, Representative, and Equitable Society’ I had the pleasure to interview Beto Casellas.

Alberto (Beto) Casellas is executive vice president of Synchrony, one of the nation’s premier consumer financial services companies, and chief executive officer of CareCredit, where he focuses on creating comprehensive financing solutions for patients, clients and healthcare providers. Beto was born in Puerto Rico and is a champion for diversity and inclusion in the workplace. He is currently the executive sponsor for Synchrony’s Hispanic Network, one of eight Synchrony diversity networks that promote diversity and inclusion throughout the company and serves on the board of directors of Domus Kids, a nonprofit organization that helps thousands of disadvantaged children achieve brighter futures.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to ‘get to know you.’ Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?

I was born and raised in San Juan, Puerto Rico — I lived there until I was 18 and came to college in the United States. My interest in finance and banking began as I saw my parents save their money, but also used loans to help them plan and buy the things our family needed. I saw the sacrifices my parents made and the steps they took to put me through college and give me the opportunity to study in the US. I’ve always been grateful for those opportunities and recognized early on that access to the right financial tools can really change the course of a person’s life.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

I love reading nonfiction, including biographies, and also novels that challenge me to think about well-known events of the past in new ways, through detailed and creative storytelling. Digging into historical context gives you a practical framework for understanding so much about how the country works today, including how we got here and how we can learn from our collective past. Recently, I’ve been reading Leadership in Turbulent Times by Doris Kearns Goodwin, a book examining how Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Lyndon B. Johnson overcame personal adversity to lead the country through crisis during their time in office

Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?

My favorite quote is advice I received early in my career that still feels relevant today: “Keep your promises — have a high do to say ratio.” I believe this applies to any job at any level, in any industry. It’s about putting in the work to become a trusted resource to others and letting people know they can depend on you. It’s also about operating with values and a strong sense of self, taking the time to develop your unique strengths rather than fitting into a mold created by someone else.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

First, nothing trumps competency and knowledge. I believe those are two essential qualities all leaders must have, and there are no shortcuts when it comes to achieving them. When people look to you as a subject matter expert, you must be prepared to deliver against those expectations. Next is vision — seeing how all the pieces work together and how they can become something greater than the sum of their parts. This involves keeping staying engaged with current trends while simultaneously staying one step ahead and thinking about the future. And finally, leaders must know how to build teams and mobilize people toward producing outcomes. You have to learn how to communicate effectively across functions and levels to rally people around tangible business objectives.

In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?

It can be easy to feel overwhelmed, especially when there are seemingly endless priorities competing for our attention these days. I find that it helps to understand what things are important — and why — versus things that simply feel “urgent.” If I’m preparing for an important meeting, I ground myself in my objectives and focus on the “why?”, what am I trying to achieve, and why is it essential to our broader strategic vision? At CareCredit, this often means finding ways to add value for patients, clients and healthcare providers.

It goes back to your vision and understanding how all of the pieces fit together. When you know your purpose and are prepared, there’s much less to stress about.

OK, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. The United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This is of course a huge topic. But briefly, can you share your view on how this crisis inexorably evolved to the boiling point that it’s at now?

This pandemic is undoubtedly shining a light on injustices that we must work to address. Yet few of these issues are new, especially from a healthcare perspective.

Things like high out-of-pocket costs were challenging for families to absorb even under normal circumstances. Now, in these difficult economic times, they’ve become even more significant barriers to care. Many patients will go without necessary treatments or decline a procedure if they don’t think they can afford it. Because patients don’t always know what the cost will be beforehand, they’re often willing to compromise or settle to avoid expenses they don’t think they can cover later on.

The Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has magnified longstanding socioeconomic inequities across the entire healthcare continuum, and communities of color have been hit disproportionately hard. Change on this front is long overdue — Americans should not have to delay the care they want or need due to cost or access issues.

Can you tell our readers a bit about your experience working with initiatives to promote Diversity and Inclusion? Can you share a story with us?

We recognize that to foster a truly inclusive environment where employees can reach their fullest potential, we must be having open, honest and sometimes challenging conversations. We ensure every voice gets heard through our eight Diversity Networks, which are close-knit groups formed around common interests and goals. More than 10,000 employees, which represent more than 60 percent of our workforce, are engaged across these employee resource groups, which include an African American Network, Asian Professional Engagement Network, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Network, Native American Network, People With Disabilities Network, Veterans Network, Women’s Network and Hispanic Network.

I’m currently the executive sponsor of our Hispanic Network, which helps members grow their careers across Synchrony. Our goal is to be an employer of choice for Hispanic and Latino professionals within the financial services industry, which I feel very passionate about.

And while we have long stood for diversity and inclusion, Synchrony has recommitted to further learning, action, and change, elevating D&I to a strategic companywide initiative. I’m part of a senior-level committee led by our President, Chief Diversity Officer, and diverse leaders focused on implementing actions to advance equality across all areas of our business and our communities.

Outside of work, I’m a member of the board for Domus Kids, a nonprofit organization that reaches out to disengaged and disconnected youth in Connecticut. Our goal is to help these kids rise above adversity through academic support, social and emotional skill-building, and personal connections that guide them through critical junctures to become resilient, positive contributors to their communities.

This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?

I believe true diversity is reflected in the culture, values and DNA of an organization. Welcoming diverse perspectives and challenging people to think beyond their personal experiences is how you build a culture of innovation equipped to take on the most pressing challenges our industry faces today.

Diversity must be more than a corporate talking point — it has to come through in everything you do, beginning with your board of directors and the executive team. A company with diverse leadership has the benefit of unique backgrounds, experiences and viewpoints to draw from while navigating a crisis. It puts you in a better position to find solutions to complex problems.

OK. Here is the main question of our discussion. You are an influential business leader. Can you please share your “5 Steps We Must Take To Truly Create An Inclusive, Representative and Equitable Society.” Kindly share a story or example for each.

While this is not an exhaustive list, the following represent actionable steps I believe societies can take to advance their commitment to inclusion.

  1. Tackle Biases Head-on. In business, we are continually exploring the concept of “unconscious bias” and how it can create barriers to more inclusive recruiting practices, leadership styles and organizational culture. We often have blind spots in stereotypes and judgments that we aren’t even aware of. While this can be uncomfortable, societies need to reflect, confront biases and find ways to mitigate any discriminatory behaviors moving forward.
  2. Prioritize Diversity and Inclusion as a Key Business Strategy. By integrating diversity and inclusion into the long-term business strategy, we can apply clear metrics and key performance indicators to any business imperative. Businesses must define short- and long-term actions and accountability for advancing inclusion and regularly assess their performance — what is working well, and where are they still falling short. And don’t stop there — keep iterating to raise the bar for diversity and inclusion.
  3. Invest in Diversity. In business, we attract and retain top talent by investing in employees’ development. This can include coaching and training opportunities, as well as programs to help take their skills to the next level. Societies must look for ways to make strategic investments and create an infrastructure where diversity can thrive both in the workplace and in the communities we serve. And you have to make it personal– take an interest in including this as part of your own DNA.
  4. Have Difficult Conversations. To achieve a more equitable society, we must look for ways to elevate marginalized voices and maintain an honest dialogue about where we can do better. Recently, I have been able to set up more conversations and dialogues to really listen to the lived experiences of others more closely.
  5. Keep Moving Forward. It’s important to remember that change takes time, even when many of the changes we’re working for already feel long overdue. It’s easy to feel frustrated or overwhelmed, but we have to keep working. Every day, we should be checking in and asking ourselves what we’ve done to get closer to the goal of achieving a society where all voices are valued.

We are going through a rough period now. Are you optimistic that this issue can eventually be resolved? Can you explain?

I consider myself a cautiously optimistic person and believe there are tangible steps we can take now to resolve many of these issues. It will take the time and coordinated efforts of many, but it’s certainly attainable if we find the will and the way to catalyze the changes we want to see. I believe most — if not all of us — care about this in a way where we can get to a brighter and productive spot for everyone to live a good life.

Is there a person in the world, or in the U.S., with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I love cooking and often joke that I’m a “chef in training.” I find so much joy in discovering dishes from new places and believe that food can be a powerful vehicle for storytelling, history and culture. I would love to sit down for lunch with José Andrés, a renowned chef and humanitarian who has done incredible work to bring food and life-saving resources to people suffering in the wake of natural disasters.

How can our readers follow you online?

You can follow me on Twitter @betocasellas and on LinkedIn.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

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