Jessica Baird is the director of social impact at BlackRock. In her role, she is responsible for leading the company’s strategy for engaging its employees in communities worldwide. Prior to working at BlackRock, Jessica worked at Echoing Green for nearly four years, managing and growing a portfolio of corporate partnerships.
Recently, Echoing Green talked with Jessica about her experience as an Echoing Green employee, volunteer, and partner; asked her to share highlights from BlackRock’s longstanding partnership with Echoing Green; and explored what companies can do to move the needle on racial equity.
Having been an employee, volunteer, and corporate partner of Echoing Green, how did you first become introduced to the organization?
I was actually looking to join the nonprofit sector from my corporate job and knew very little about it when I came across Echoing Green. I didn’t necessarily know what I cared about and thought, “This is a place where I could figure it out.” Getting to meet and engage with social entrepreneurs working on different issues was such an incredible opportunity to learn, but also allowed me to bring my own experience and insights from working with a corporation to a nonprofit. What I didn’t expect was that I would identify the issue areas I am most passionate about by getting to know the leaders championing change in those spaces. Echoing Green’s focus on leaders became one of the best lessons I learned and has informed my perspective since.
How has your role and commitment to Echoing Green changed or grown over the years?
Being an employee of Echoing Green for close to four years was the best and highest commitment, but it’s been so much fun to take everything that I learned working there to BlackRock. At BlackRock, I am now connecting employees with opportunities to meaningfully engage with Echoing Green and the Fellows. Getting to see employees walk away from their experiences with Fellows and hear how inspired they felt continues to inspire me to grow this partnership.
BlackRock employees have shown up in force to volunteer and engage with our community. What do you think are the main driving factors that inspire such high engagement from the BlackRock employee community?
One of the cool parts about partnering with Echoing Green is that we promote a lot of these opportunities globally. For instance, when our employees evaluate Fellow applications, we have employees sign up from Asia, Europe, and the U.S. It has created a global community of BlackRock employees who have gotten to know Echoing Green and engage with the organization.
Employees continue to be excited because they continue to be inspired.
I think there is something inherently motivating and inspiring about working with innovators, and it allows you to go back to your desk and take that innovative mindset and bring it to your work. That type of impact is endless, and I think people continue to feel it and want more of it. Many of our employees start with application reading and build their engagement over time, hopefully joining us for a consulting project and spending some serious time digging in with an Echoing Green Fellow.
Do you see a motivating factor for your employees being a desire to battle racial inequities by working with our Fellows?
Yes, over the last couple of years, I think that is the focus and desire of employees. Not just to do something, but to learn something. A lot of it is about exposure and getting to talk to people doing the work. Our employees aren’t on the ground every day in the way that Echoing Green Fellows are. So, listening and getting to ask questions in a constructive way has been a really important part of what that engagement has meant.
One of the most successful ways we engage around Brain Trusts is to partner with our Employee Resource Groups – whether it’s our Black professionals, Latinx professionals, or our LGBTQ+ & Allies community – and pair employees in these groups with Echoing Green Fellows pushing the envelope in those issue areas.
Can you share some highlights from the partnership with Echoing Green?
My favorite stories are when we have employees who feel challenged in their work with a Fellow. For instance, when employees engage in consulting projects, we do a lot of work to match employee skillsets with the task at hand. But that often evolves over the course of the project, and employees will feel uncertain about whether they have the skills to support the Fellow’s goal.
Last year, two employees had this experience, but they ended up digging in and learning everything they could about the field they were landscaping and became really passionate about the space. After the project wrapped up, they continued to engage with that Fellow. This is an example of volunteerism in its highest and best form. It’s always a two-way street. Fellows challenge employees to develop new ways of thinking, and employees get to utilize their skills in new ways that can make a lasting impact for the Fellow.
From your experience, how do you see companies showing up in this space, and what should they be doing better as it relates to racial equity?
I’ve spent a lot of time talking to my counterparts at other companies about how they think about deploying the funds they committed to racial equity in June 2020. One of the big questions on our minds is: what does this work look like after these commitments are fulfilled? It’s a really important conversation that organizations like Echoing Green are leading. It’s not just about deploying those funds, but also about how considerations of equity and diversity get woven into the fabric of what we do moving forward.
This shouldn’t be relegated to a fund or a moment. This is about a real mindset shift and a system shift.
What does being part of the Echoing Green community mean to you personally?
There’s no substitute for being a part of a community that broadens and challenges your lens on the world. Anybody that engages with Echoing Green, whether they’re Fellows or staff or employees drawn to the community, is inherently willing to challenge and be challenged. That combination makes the community that Echoing Green has built so important and such a privilege to be a part of.
What excites you about Echoing Green and how do you see yourself supporting Echoing Green’s impact in the future?
What is most exciting is seeing Echoing Green meet the moment consistently. It wasn’t just about the McKinsey study and the Racial Equity Philanthropic Fund but continuing to think about how the conversation and the needle gets moved. That is why I continue to look to Echoing Green as that barometer of what direction are we headed or should we be thinking about. Cheryl, the staff, and Fellows have been championing social innovation and change for so many years, but there is new data and new lessons for us all each year. I’m excited to see what comes next!