Polaris, better-known as the North Star, is the brightest star in the constellation and has played a key role in wayfinding for thousands of years. Navigators used it on their journeys over land and water to calculate their position, and during the three decades preceding the Civil War, it served as a beacon to true north and freedom for the Underground Railroad. At Freddie Mac, Polaris is a program designed to empower employees to find their North Star in their careers — a catalyst to help them develop the connections, knowledge and skills they need to excel at Freddie Mac and beyond.
The first cohort of Polaris began in January this year, just after Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and wrapped up in April. The program opened to members of the ARISE employee resource group, a network for promoting opportunity for Black employees and their allies through professional development. Each participant was paired with a VP-level mentor as well as a manager-level coach.
"We specifically paired participants with a diverse group of VP-level mentors so they could see people invested in their success at a higher level who look like them and who don't look like them. Then, it was also important to have coaches at the manager level — those who are closer to the positions of the people in the program and who know what's needed to advance to the next level," said Daniella, founder and program lead of Polaris.
The program consisted of several courses, which covered essential growth topics such as resume writing, interviewing for jobs and understanding cultural communication nuances. The latter, of which, teaches participants about the verbal patterns and behaviors particular to different cultures that can influence how someone works and engages with colleagues.
"The courses were tailored to teach people how to succeed here at Freddie Mac — the secret sauce. They were designed to allow people, and urge them, to self-assess and self-correct," said Daniella. "Polaris is a lot like HIIT (high intensity interval training) for career development. The courses get you tired, and you see results quickly."
Out of the 24 employees who graduated from Polaris this spring, nine have since earned promotions, changed roles or are in stretch roles — and 100% feel more confident and prepared to take the next step in their careers.
"When I first started Polaris, I was skeptical. I have been through professional development programs before and didn't really get much from them. Now I'm so happy I did it. I appreciate the people I have met and the things I have learned — things I will take with me on my career journey," said Briana, I&CM business analysis professional and Polaris participant.
Last fall, Daniella observed a need to help diverse employees continue to grow. Several of her colleagues mentioned feeling stuck and not knowing what to do to keep climbing the ladder. And so, a star was born.
After bringing her idea to fellow ARISE board members, Daniella was urged to write a business case for the program. Her proposal quickly made it up the chain to senior leadership, and Jacqueline Welch, Chief Human Resources Officer and Chief Diversity Officer*, devoted resources to support to Polaris almost immediately. Daniella reflects on the significance of the opportunity.
"When you can work at a company where you can have an idea, hone it and really build it … that's amazing. Freddie Mac put their money where their mouth was," said Daniella said. "They urged me live out my passion. It says a lot, especially being a minority, that someone has faith in you and believes in you."
With Polaris 2.0 on the horizon, and at a time in which Freddie Mac is strongly committed to addressing inequities in the housing system and committing to effect change in broader society, Daniella feels energized about the future.
"There have been several requests for a second cohort of Polaris. We're looking into starting that in the first quarter of 2021 and expanding it to our regional offices. We're also looking into the best way to take our learnings back to the business — so that the benefits of Polaris can be felt companywide," said Daniella.
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*Jacqueline Welch left her position with Freddie Mac in 2020.