Call center supervisor uses experience to advocate for teammates, ERG
Zhi Liu was only eight years old when he moved from China to New York City. Zhi learned a lot about American culture, but the differences were never so evident as when he returned to his home country during a three-year internship. He returned to New York in 2011, and since then, Zhi remains keenly aware of how culture shapes his experiences supervising a diverse team.
Two years later, Zhi joined Maximus as a call center agent before working his way up to team lead and then supervisor for the New York State of Health project in 2016.
"My workplace in New York is very diverse," he said. "We support five major languages at the call center – Spanish, Russian, Mandarin/Cantonese, Haitian Creole, and English. So, I'm very used to diversity."
He manages 12 to 13 agents and one team lead and occasionally takes on the responsibility of other sections when a fellow supervisor takes time off.
"My job is to monitor their performance, make sure that they meet all the numbers, and help them to develop and grow," Zhi said.
Zhi advocates for all his agents, especially when addressing societal issues that affect the workplace. Right now, some people on his team are worried or stressed about the war in Ukraine, as they still have loved ones there.
"I've talked to these agents to see how they're doing, and they tell me about the war, what happened over there, and how they worry about their families," he said. "And I feel so bad, I saw stories about a war in the newspaper, but I didn't know how my agents might be affected. I didn't notice the impact of the war could affect us so close yet so far away. Although my family overseas isn't affected by the war, our colleagues are."
Zhi took his agents' concerns to heart and brought them up with his manager. And they saw even more opportunities for him to advocate for his team and others at Maximus by joining one or more of Maximus' new employee resource groups (ERGs), an initiative created by the company's Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion program.
Zhi said he enjoyed the initial meeting because it allowed him to see and hear – albeit virtually – other employees at Maximus, including those who would eventually join him in the Asian-American, Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander (AANHPI) ERG.
"Honestly, I never knew we had so many Asian colleagues at Maximus," he said. "But through AANHPI, I was able to connect with people from different departments at Maximus, which I thought was amazing and I really liked the experience."
When the AANHPI ERG began looking for officers, Zhi saw another chance to be an advocate. As the ERG's secretary, he hopes the role will allow him to help others and elevate concerns that arise in the ERG or from his team in New York.
"As a supervisor, I feel like it's my responsibility to escalate my agents' concerns," he said. "I have agents from different backgrounds and ethnicities, but it's not the same for everyone else. So, it can get overlooked if we're not hearing the voices as a whole."
Zhi said he believes ERGs ensure that people of underserved and diverse groups have a community of their own where they can share their concerns and challenges. He hopes ERGs will build a solid and supportive community that actively embraces diversity.
"I feel bad, you know, when employees have to go through so much trouble just to talk to somebody else they feel more comfortable with, so having a community like this is helping them a lot," Zhi said.
Zhi and the other AANHPI ERG officers encourage participation by educating managers, team leads, and supervisors about ERGs and how they can help employees. He also wants to ensure supervisors and managers know that ERGs are a way to "invest in the agents' growth."
"That's something I'm trying to do within the call center project," he said. "We must develop a plan to raise awareness to the supervisors first."
Zhi and officers, including Vice President, Xylan Ladista, are exploring ways to provide their members with resources and engage through events.
Career development is one of Zhi's goals for the ERG, and the group is even trying to schedule a resume workshop. He believes members can see themselves rising through the ranks at Maximus by talking with others.
"I feel like we can grow when we have colleagues or coworkers from different parts of the organization, and we can see more opportunities for our growth within the company," he said.
Zhi added that some employees don't see growth within the organization and only see Maximus as the project or department they serve.
"Maximus is way bigger than that," he said. "I think having an ERG allows them to see Maximus in a larger scope."