The pandemic has put a bright spotlight on the human part of human resources, forcing companies of all stripes to look hard at a whole suite of work-life basics — from diversity and inclusion to remote staffing.
It’s a set of fundamental changes that even the more forward-leaning companies are trying to take on by tapping into more expertise and fresh viewpoints.
Witness ThredUp Inc.’s latest move, bringing in HR veteran Coretha Rushing as its newest board member.
Rushing, who has spent more than 35 years in HR and is the former chief people officer for Equifax and The Coca-Cola Co., will advise the fashion resale platform on employee initiatives, focusing on health and wellness, attracting and retaining talent, and diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging.
James Reinhart, cofounder and chief executive officer of the company, said: “As ThredUp continues to grow and deliver resale at scale, we’re doubling down on what’s always been our most important asset: our people. Coretha’s appointment comes at a pivotal time for the employee-employer relationship, and her expertise in human resources will be invaluable to every member of our global workforce, from our distribution centers to our corporate offices.”
Reinhart might have something of a head start in the HR world of today given the zeal with which he and ThredUp have pushed its mission of a more sustainable world through secondhand.
“This is the perfect time to join the board,” Rushing told WWD in an interview. “Now more than ever people are wanting to find a way to work somewhere where they can do good and do well and they can feel good about what they do.”
And feeling good is something that’s being taken into account more these days.
That extends to recognizing all types of work, people and exactly how they best perform — whether that means working from home, the office or some combination of the two.
“We valued some work more than others and we valued a certain way of working more than others and all that has been flipped upside down now,” Rushing said.
Customer service is one function that has come to the fore during the pandemic.
“We acted for years like it really wasn’t a skill and it is a skill,” she said. “That became evident around the issues around frontline workers. Every level of employee is critical to achieve the business goals that a business has.”
The murder of George Floyd and the massive support for the Black Lives Matter movement also underscored the importance of diversity in the workplace (and boardrooms).
“The issues are still very relevant to employees and to employers,” Rushing said. “They haven’t gone away and it really is about building a culture where people are clear in how they make a difference. The challenge is creating a culture where you can bring all these people to the table and make them feel valued.”
Rushing started her career in the HR department of a department store and decided that retail — at least then — wasn’t for her.
“Part of it was I felt that we actually, at the time, we treated people like product in the stores — if we didn’t like it, we marked it down and got rid of it,” she said.
But she said employees — especially younger workers — are now much more willing to speak out when they don’t like how they’re being treated by their bosses or if they feel there’s a way they can be more effective balancing work and life.”
Now Rushing is at the top of the corporate org chart at ThredUp and has an opportunity to help the company develop.
“The key thing is making sure that when you’re on the board that you’re willing to use your experiences, but challenge the leadership team and challenge the other board members,” she said.
One part of that is advocating for an approach to HR that looks beyond turnover, which Rushing described as a “rear-view metric.”
“What I think I can bring to bear — when we talk about people skills and people metrics, often they come across as these soft, squishy things,” she said. “But you can actually measure your progress in much more beneficial ways than the traditional ways of looking at things that have already occurred.”
She advocated instead for things like “stay interviews,” touching base with employees who have been at the company for just a few months and getting a real-time read from them.