Michael Milner was working as a data analyst for Commerce Bank, in St. Louis, MO, when a car accident forced him to take medical leave. While out from work, a member of the HR Benefits team called to see how he was doing. They ensured that he understood the leave policies and how to return to work. He says, “I thought that was great. Someone I had never met took the time to check on me. I thought, ‘I want to do that. I want to give back to people.’”
Upon his return to work, Michael enrolled in school to pursue his Bachelor’s degree in Human Resources Management. He also participated in some of Commerce Bank’s HR programs, which focused on individual development and training for career growth. This, together with his passion for providing opportunities for people from diverse backgrounds to succeed, became the foundation of Michael’s philosophy for human resource management.
After attaining his degree in human resources, Michael set his sights on the Tech Industry in San Francisco. It was there that he saw HR moving the needle on building cultures and making a real impact, something he wanted to be part of. He entered the world of San Francisco HR through a contract role at Tenderloin Housing Clinic and is now the Head of People Operations at Quid, a data analytics firm that uses proprietary software to search, visualize and analyze text. At Quid, Michael is a strategic and tactical leader, creating operational structures, systems and processes, and motivating and inspiring people on an individual and collective basis.
Realizing a vision of well-rounded growth as an HR Leader
At the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, Michael's first major project was to transition from a paper-based system of record to an online HRIS. Although it was a large and somewhat tedious task it highlighted the benefits of getting deep into employee history. “I took the time to read everything in the file and understand the career path for people there. This raised questions about benefits, career paths, and HR initiatives,” he explains.
Michael decided to take his skills in HR even further before his next role, enrolling in Golden Gate University’s Master of Science Degree in Human Resources. He says, “The great thing about going to school while you’re working is that you can bring real-life experiences to the classroom and back. You have a network at school because your classmates are going through the same thing and you can bounce ideas off each other.” Milner still cites his graduating cohort as some of the members of his closest network in HR.
After the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, Michael worked at the immigration law firm Berry Appleman & Leiden. The law firm was more policy-driven, with a process-oriented structure which Milner discovered is valuable in any organization. “I thought it would be different to what is needed in the tech industry, but we do need policies and process, especially at an early stage,” he says. It was here that Milner got his first experience in recruitment. While he liked the work, he realized that recruiting was just one piece of HR. “I did enjoy bringing people into a company and giving opportunities to those that didn't have them easily. That was one of my reasons for working in HR and it's why I selected the immigration law firm, their focus was centered around diversity and minorities. But, recruiting is getting you in the door. I didn't have the opportunity to build a person's career,” says Michael.
Michael realized that being fully involved in HR would help him play a role in the retention of employees, building culture, and making a lasting difference. At Indiegogo, Michael got that opportunity, and he worked to create an inclusive culture at startup speed.
DEI: From recruiting to retention
The first step towards building a diverse company is letting people know that your culture is inclusive. “It helps to show that we are here for you, we support your group. You could go to a gay pride event and put up a tent, whatever it takes. You just need to get yourself out there and let people know they are wanted and accepted at your company,” says Michael. It’s also important for companies to support future generations of employees by sponsoring internships in all areas of the organization. For example, Indiegogo was a 2015 host for Code 2040, a nonprofit that creates opportunities for Black and Latinx engineers.
Showcasing your inclusive culture is especially important when hiring someone whose background is currently underrepresented at your workplace. It can be a jarring experience, as Michael describes, “They are going to walk in and they're not going to see anyone who looks like them.” However, if they have the exposure of seeing your company at an event that has a large population of underrepresented groups, it has an impact.
“They know that although there might not be someone that looks the same as them or from the same group, inclusion is valued,” says Michael. He speaks from personal experience, having been the first Black male hired in HR at three companies in the Bay Area. He says he’s happy to announce to guests and interview candidates that he is the Head of HR. “It shows that I'm a representative of the company that champions inclusion,” says Michael.
Companies want to hire the best, often investing time and energy into recruiting "rockstar" employees. As Michael says, that’s only part of the process. Once you have a great employee, the next step is to keep them and help them grow. “If someone wants to spread their wings and be great, let's help them be as great as possible. If we are going to look for diversity in someone, it can be race, gender, skill – we need to build off of that and continue to support it.” It’s not always visual traits that constitute diversity. People from varied socioeconomic backgrounds or experiences growing up create more diverse teams. “That to me is more important than just race and gender. If you have a group of people that come from totally different walks of life, you're going to get different mindsets. This something we are investing in at Quid,” says Michael.
Bringing your whole self to work
Indiegogo Founder Danae Ringelmann says, "To Michael, an employee is not just a resource needing to be utilized, but rather a whole human being with strengths, motivations, and goals deserving to be unleashed." Michael believes in the importance of supporting people to bring their whole selves to work. In addition to celebrating individuality, bringing your whole self to work can blur the lines between work and personal life. For his role in HR, currently, at Quid, Michael jumps between different types of meetings throughout the day and needs to give each person and situation the attention it deserves. “I've tried to find a way to balance work and personal life as best I can, but while I'm at work and while I have someone's attention, I give them my full attention,” says Milner.
Workplaces that build trust and inclusion are supportive and diverse, allowing people to bring their whole selves to work. Throughout his career, Michael has strived to foster this type of culture within the companies he works for. In the future, he hopes to continue being in a position to work hand-in-hand with the CEO and executive leaders, to always keep employees’ best interests top of mind. As he continues his growth as an HR expert, Milner also looks forward to mentoring new HR leaders.
Learn more ways to foster diveristy and inclusion in the workplace