A conversation with Plenty's Senior Diversity Equity and Belonging Manager, Ashley Blackmon-Hynson.
This article was originally featured on Employee Benefits News.
Plenty is a vertical farming company backed by SoftBank that has launched a financial wellbeing program closely aligned with their DEIB strategy. The program is powered by LearnLux, a program that blends digital education, interactive tools, and access to Certified Financial Planner™️ professionals.
The collaboration between Plenty and LearnLux represents the growing demand for financial wellbeing programs — as employers are beginning to recognize financial wellbeing as a key pillar of health and its association with a person's mental, physical, social, and career wellbeing. Financial wellbeing benefits help to address burnout and increase employee retention, which is instrumental for fast-growing companies when scaling their hiring.
Both Plenty and LearnLux promote the power of diversity, equity, and inclusion and believe every individual should have access to fiduciary financial guidance and a personalized financial plan. The rapid expansion of workplace financial wellbeing is shaping the future of workplace benefits, and financial wellness is on its way to becoming a ubiquitous benefit offering.
LearnLux offers a trusted workplace financial wellbeing program that includes digital guidance and access to Certified Financial Planner™️ professionals. The program has been adopted by retail, construction, manufacturing, healthcare, hospitality, and other diverse workforces because of its unique ability to meet employees where they are and provide fiduciary guidance on-demand.
"Plenty is a leader in DEIB strategy and employee engagement," says LearnLux CEO Rebecca Liebman. "This financial wellbeing partnership is built on the key pillars of equity and accessibility. Plenty chose LearnLux because we provide all employees with a holistic financial plan, no matter their income or asset level. We are proud to help each individual at Plenty make a financial plan, reach their goals, and feel confident about their future."
To learn more about this benefits partnership, we sat down with Ashley Blackmon-Hynson, Senior Diversity Equity and Belonging Manager at Plenty. When it comes to her financial wellbeing strategy, Blackmon-Hynson says "It's about helping our teammates at Plenty really make these smart financial decisions so that they become less financially stressed over time."
Read on for the full interview to get a first-hand look into a leading workplace on the cutting edge of financial wellbeing strategy.
Hi, Ashley. Thanks for speaking with us today. Can you please tell us about yourself and your role at Plenty?
My name is Ashley Blackmon-Hynson and my pronouns are she, her, hers. I've been with Plenty for about three years now, and I am Plenty's Senior Diversity Equity and Belonging Manager. This means that I work cross-functionally across our company to create programs that are centered around diversity, equity, and belonging, as well as making sure that anything that touches people, we have a DEI lens on it.
What was the career path that brought you to your role as Senior Diversity, Equity, and Belonging Manager at Plenty?
I've taken a very untraditional route into the tech space. I knew when I was in college that I wanted to lead and I wanted to be a disruptor. I also wanted to truly make an impact.
I started my career out in retail management and led efforts there to really challenge myself, to grow those soft skill sets that you need to be an effective leader.
From there I went into business technology sales and grew those relationships with customers to maximize the efficiency of their potential businesses and identify the pain points that their business was experiencing.
And then, because for so long, I've been either the first, the only, or "different" on my team, I knew that I wanted to make a career pivot into the world of HR and create safe spaces for folks within organizations so that they can be their best selves and do their best work. I found this opportunity at Plenty to really build and develop their program from the ground up.
For me, when I think about breaking into the DEI space, it really is creating impact and creating programs that lead to systemic change that allows people to bring the healthiest version of themselves so they can do their best work.
What does it mean to you to be a DEIB leader at your company?
When I think about leading and being a leader in the DEIB space, I think that you have to approach a lot of situations with empathy. And it means that you have to be able to master, what I like to call, this concept of perspective-taking. You have to be empathetic, but you also have to understand that people come from all walks of life and their experience is going to be different. This also requires you to not only see their perspective, but this means you are also doing a role switch and stepping into their shoes. This allows you to fully understand their experience and effectively communicate.
Being a DEIB leader at my company also means that I am influencing. I am disrupting. I'm the coach across the company, and when people feel that it is impossible to keep going on with diversity initiatives or we're faced with a roadblock, and we actually have to pivot, really reminding people of their purpose, and coaching them to the right outcomes. Connecting that to this idea of identity, and connecting them back to the work and grounding them - "and this is why we are doing this, and this is why these are our goals".
When I think about the most important aspect, for me, it is being a mentor and a leader for other women across my organization; Being there to not only be a leader to them, but to help them advocate for themselves; Me advocating for them, but also uplifting them through points of connection, points of learning and also coaching as well, I think is super important.
How does employee financial wellbeing fit into DEIB strategy?
When we think about employee financial wellbeing, it is tied to DEIB in a number of ways. It's tied to DEIB from a representational standpoint because if we think about different diverse groups that exist within the United States, we know that historically there's been a lack of access to financial literacy education and financial literacy programming.
In rolling out financial wellbeing programs across the company, for me, it was super important to bring that education back. The one word that went into my mind was really all about, how can we create accessibility. And most importantly, how can we empower and uplift our folks, in the sense that if you're just starting out from square one, it's okay. We're going to be here to support you. Most importantly, we're going to be here to equip you with the necessary tools to really address any challenges that you may encounter.
When I think about wellbeing and this concept of financial wellbeing fitting into my DEIB strategy, it's all about accessibility. It's all about helping our teammates at Plenty really make these smart financial decisions so that they become less financially stressed over time.
How has your partnership with LearnLux supported your DEIB initiatives?
I am so happy that we are partnering with LearnLux because when I think about the type of partnerships that we want to grow and facilitate within Plenty, we want to make sure that there is some alignment with our DEIB and wellness strategies.
When we think about LearnLux's mission statement, it really is all about providing accessibility, in terms of financial wellbeing across the board. Regardless of race, regardless of gender, and all of the other social identities that make up diversity. But when I think about Plenty's mission statement, for me, there's a direct correlation because there's a key word here; Equity.
What we are trying to solve at Plenty is really rooted in equity and accessibility. One of the things that I really pride ourselves on is creating these true partnerships that really align us back to the work that we're doing. We're providing access and we're equipping our people with the necessary tools that they need to actually overcome these nuanced challenges that they're either faced with personally or professionally.
We are really excited about the partnership with LearnLux to help our employees grow on their financial wellbeing journeys. To also see the correlation between the two companies is amazing.
How is LearnLux helping all employees at Plenty improve their financial lives?
From an empowerment standpoint, our launch and kickoff meeting we had with a LearnLux Planner was super powerful for employees in our organization. And I would say that it was empowering in a number of different ways. One, to see a Certified Financial Planner™ identify as a woman, as a caregiver, and also as a woman of color, I think it goes back to seeing people that look like you that are doing this and that are doing it right is also very empowering.
If we look at the data, we know that finances and specifically, when we think about financial planners, it is very male-dominated and male-driven. To see a woman in that position and giving these powerful and very helpful suggestions on how employees can actually improve their finances was great for all of our employees.
I also think that this concept for LearnLux in general, is taking control of your finances; I think is very empowering as well. It truly helps our employees actually figure out what is needed on their own financial journey.
And, I really love the fact that the product is very inclusive to everyone at every stage in their financial life. If someone is shy about starting out, they don't necessarily have to book an appointment right away. They can take their time and really look at the lessons that are provided and the resources that are there. And then when they're ready to take that next step they know that they have those resources available, which I think is a game-changer.
Any guidance for other professionals who are in the HR, Benefits, and DEIB fields right now?
I would encourage the folks who are in this work, specifically in DEIB work and also our people teams to really focus on this concept of what I like to call, putting your face mask on before you help others. We know that it's been some tumultuous times, we have been faced with a lot of challenges. It is so important during these times that we're in especially when we think about the war for talent, and how do we create these programs that really attract and retain and grow our teammates, that we are also pouring back into our own cup.
Remember that self-care and wellbeing from your own perspective is super important so that you can actually go out and achieve those goals that not only you set for yourself, but you've set on behalf of your organization.