Parity.org CEO Cathrin Stickney is helping to change the face of America’s corporate leadership.
She created public pledges on race and gender for leaders to advance diversity in leadership.
Over 600 CEOs of companies have signed on and are working with her.
Visit Insider’s Transforming Business homepage for more stories.
“We don’t hire women.”
With those four words, Cathrin Stickney’s career plans to work at a top architecture firm were smashed into a thousand pieces.
It was the late 1970s, and gender discrimination was categorically illegal in the US. Yet the male executive sitting across from her looked at her without hesitation and repeated his prejudiced reasoning.
After that, Stickney pivoted to a successful career in healthcare, but the damning feeling from the words the executive told her never subsided. In 2017, after attending the Women’s March in Washington, DC, she cofounded Parity.org, the nonprofit behind the Parity Pledge.
The idea is simple: Get CEOs of major companies to sign a pledge to interview at least one woman for every executive position. To date, over 500 companies including Ralph Lauren, Lyft, Best Buy, Adobe, Oracle, and Cisco have signed on.
While Stickney said she always envisioned women of color being part of the pledge, the country’s racial reckoning of 2020 inspired her to do more. Days after George Floyd’s murder, Stickney published an additional pledge for CEOs, one in which they interview at least one person of color for every position at the vice-presidential level and above. At least 145 companies have signed on, including AmerisourceBergen, Momentive, Overstock, and Ancestry.
Discrimination in corporate America isn’t as obvious as it was for Stickney in the ’70s, but it persists. The most recent data showed that women represented just 8% of Fortune 500 leaders; you can count the number of Black Fortune 500 CEOs on one hand. Stickney is committed to changing that through her Parity Pledges on race and gender. Signing the pledges is low stakes. There are no deadlines or quotas, and that’s been key to Stickney’s success, she said.
“The magic is in the public commitment. Our success is fueled by a top-down approach. There must be buy-in from the CEO, a member of the C-Suite, or the board to spearhead change,” Stickney told Insider. “We can already see progress in real time.”
Changing the face of America’s C-suites
The results of Parity.org’s work have been significant. Eighty percent of companies that signed the pledge reported adding and retaining at least one woman to their executive team, and 46% of companies added at least one woman to each of their board of directors.
And 65% of companies who signed the Parity Pledge to interview more people of color updated their recruiting practices to be more inclusive. Some established connections with historically Black colleges and universities, and others used more inclusive language in job descriptions. And 71% said they had been more intentional about interviewing people of color for open roles.
Josh James, the CEO of cloud-software company Domo, is a cofounder of Parity.org and a signatory of Parity.org’s gender pledge in 2017 and its race pledge in 2020. Since 2017, Domo went from having no women or people of color on its board to having 57% of its board hailing from underrepresented backgrounds.
Mark Irvin, Best Buy’s chief inclusion, diversity, and talent officer, said signing both pledges had helped the company hold itself accountable to diversity goals. (Best Buy has a female CEO, and 50% of the company’s board members are women.)
“Through pledges like this, we believe we can build a strong and vibrant company that takes action to make a positive impact for our communities,” he told Insider.
Signing the Parity.org gender and race pledges does not hold CEOs accountable to a specific goal or target date. Stickney said this made CEOs much more willing to participate because they could set their own goals and rate of progress.
“Imposing a one-size-fits-all deadline or quota would just lead to failure on the part of many companies,” Stickney said. “When the goal is easy to achieve and the timetable is their own, companies tend to not just make a public commitment — they hold themselves accountable, embrace it, and go even further, faster.”
The future of Stickney’s mission
Beyond getting CEOs to sign Parity.org’s pledges, Stickney and her teamwork with companies to conduct research into their retention and hiring practices of underrepresented workers. Now, the nonprofit is expanding to conduct pay-equity analyses based on race, gender, and age.
“We get executives to see where they benchmark against their industry peers. And if you can see where you are, it makes you want to climb higher,” she said.
None of this information is made publicly available, but executives at participating companies can see how they stack up against their peers. Stickney said Parity.org would be publishing aggregated data in the future.
“CEOs are working with us because there is a desire to be more successful, create an inclusive culture of respect for each other, and ensure the workplace is a setting where opportunity for all abounds,” she said. “I’m feeling hopeful for the future of corporate America.”
Playboy recently announced Cardi B as its inaugural creative director in residence.
Insider asked top media and feminist scholars what this means for the magazine.
The Afro-Latina icon could bring much needed diversity to the company and flip dated, sexist scripts.
Cardi B is in the driver’s seat of global pop culture, and Playboy wants a ride.
The men’s magazine recently announced Cardi B, born Belcalis Marlenis Almánzar, as its inaugural creative director in residence, positioning the Afro-Latina across the table from the brand’s mostly-white executive team. Could this be an attempt at a flailing media brand to regain cultural relevance? Or could it be something bigger — a moment to diversify pop culture and adult entertainment?
It’s both, according to several noted sociologists and scholars of feminism, culture, and race.
“She foregrounds women’s pleasure. She brings forth things we’re afraid of as a society,” Nicole Horsley, Ithaca College assistant professor of culture, race, and ethnicity, told Insider. “She represents sex, women of color, and topics Playboy is missing.”
Creating a pop culture moment
The meeting of minds between Cardi B and Playboy’s execs could bring more representation to the brand with a diversity of body types, genders, and ethnicities, according to Horsley. It could also be an opportunity for Cardi B and other Afro-Latina women, Black women, and women of color to reclaim stereotypes and use their hypersexualization by society to their monetary and social benefit, she said.
“She has the potential to shift what we are going to see from the digital content from Playboy moving forward,” according to Kaila Adia Story, associate professor and Audre Lorde endowed chair at University of Louisville. “I do expect to see more diversity in terms of the models, the motifs they use, the colors they incorporate.”
In the role, Cardi will develop fashions and sexual wellness products. She will also be a founding member of Playboy’s creator-led platform called Centerfold, per Rachel Webber, Playboy’s chief brand officer.
“She is the true embodiment of Playboy’s values today and it’s an honor to have her on our team,” Webber told Insider in a statement. “She wants to use the power of her platform to shine a light on others and give them representation.”
To be fair, some experts noted that the partnership could be seen as a performative gesture by Playboy. Other experts said the move could also further the consumption and devaluing of Black and brown female bodies for white male pleasure.
“The only way that her hiring is going to affect diversity and inclusion at the magazine and with the content is if she’s actually given decision-making power,” Story told Insider. ” I hope that Playboy isn’t using Cardi B as a prop to say, ‘Look how committed we are to diversity and inclusion.'”
Teaching an old bunny new tricks
At its height, in the 1970s, Playboy thrived at the center of American pop culture. It defined desirability with its blonde, blue-eyed models outfitted in black leotards and their signature bunny ears. Hugh Hefner, Playboy’s founder who died in 2017, represented the pinnacle of masculinity and power. The magazine pushed social conversations forward, featuring works from the likes of James Baldwin and Gabriel García Márquez. Hefner also supported civil rights and women’s sexual liberation. And from its very first issue, which featured photos of Marilyn Monroe without her consent, the magazine has had a complicated legacy that critics have debated.
Over time, Playboy’s cultural influence became undone. The magazine struggled to keep up with the changing nature of media, and adult entertainment as pleasure seekers moved from print to VHS to DVD, and eventually, the internet. Then the pandemic commenced, causing the publication to shutter its print production.
But Cardi B’s new appointment could breathe life back into the brand. A self-proclaimed, “Bronx bitch with some pop hits,” Cardi, 29, represents the antithesis of a Playboy bunny. She’s flashy, raunchy, explicit, and boisterous. Cardi challenges our notions of appropriateness and femininity — and for that reason, experts said it’s a cunning move on Playboy’s part.
“Traditionally Playboy has mainly featured blonde-haired, blue-eyed models and kept that kind of idea of femininity and beauty intact,” Horsley said. “Hopefully Cardi B opens the door to a new audience and a new way of thinking.”
Webber, the Playboy exec, told Insider that is the plan. “This is a brand that believes all people have the right to pursue pleasure and advocates for freedom for all: man, woman, nonbinary, no matter how you identify. Our audience understands and embraces that with us.”
The partnership is an opportunity for the magazine to make a name for itself in the digital world and expand its audience beyond print-publication-reading white, heterosexual, cisgender men from affluent backgrounds, according to Mireille Miller-Young, associate professor of feminist studies at UC Santa Barbara.
The move is “astute” and “tactical,” on the part of Playboy, Miller-Young said. Of course, only time will tell. For now we’ll continue watching Cardi make money — and power — moves.
Dave Chappelle will perform at a Netflix comedy festival despite recent controversy.
Dozens of Netflix workers walked out over the company’s handling of a Chappelle special in October.
Leadership and diversity experts say there are key takeaways from the uproar.
With its array of titles that highlight the experiences of people from underrepresented backgrounds, Netflix has positioned itself as a pioneer of representation and a rival to Hollywood.
But the company’s reputation for championing diversity has now been called into question by its handling of the controversy that followed the release of Dave Chappelle’s hour-long comedy special “The Closer.”
In the stand-up act, which premiered on October 5, Chappelle asserted opinions many viewed as inflammatory, particularly when the LGBTQ community bore the brunt of his jokes. Chappelle compared the genitals of trans people to Beyond Meat or Impossible burgers while later saying he’s a friend of the LGBTQ community. The special prompted swift and widespread backlash.
In an internal emailed response to the controversy, Netflix’s co-CEO Ted Sarandos defended “The Closer,” citing the company’s commitment to creative freedom. He wrote, “We do not believe this content is harmful to the transgender community.” Dozens of Netflix employees and a handful of top talent, including “Queer Eye’s” Jonathan Van Ness, staged a virtual and in-person walkout in response in October. The controversy is once again in the news as Netflix announced Monday Chappelle will headline the company’s comedy festival next year.
Fortune 500 leadership and diversity consultants said Netflix’s leadership could have de-escalated or avoided this crisis altogether by working with trans and queer communities as opposed to positioning itself at odds with them. There are two major lessons other companies can learn from this crisis, the diversity consultants said: how to lead with empathy and how to seize the opportunity to make a positive difference moving forward.
Netflix’s response showed a lack of understanding of what it means to be transgender in America today, said Sean Ebony Coleman, a DEI strategist and founder of the LGBTQ community center Destination Tomorrow.
“The CEO’s response shows why representation matters, because there clearly needs to be a bit more diversity when it comes to the LGBTQ and trans community in his circle,” said Coleman, who is a transgender man. “It would stand to reason that the people who are connecting with him on this topic aren’t in harm’s way. They aren’t the most marginalized.”
Engage with employees on sensitive issues
Coleman said the employee outrage and walkout at Netflix showed that the company’s leadership hadn’t been engaging in enough conversations with employees or consumers from marginalized communities.
“Talk to these people,” Coleman said. “It’s not just at Netflix. I think other leaders should see who’s represented in their circles and who’s not, and make sure they have those voices at the table.”
Coleman said that if he were consulting with the streaming giant, he would establish a national advisory board of all trans and gender-nonconforming people to partner with the company’s leadership.
Jon Henes, the CEO of the leadership consultancy C Street, said Netflix missed a chance not only to avoid conflict, by talking with employees and community members prior, but also to establish itself as a leader in the trans community.
“Imagine if Netflix had embraced the opportunity to engage the LGBTQ+ community,” Henes said. “The dialogue could have brought people together and strengthened their brand.”
Lead with empathy
Susan Harmeling, a professor of DEI at USC Marshall’s School of Business and the founder of Equitas Advisory Group, a DEI consulting firm, said Netflix’s leaders should have led with more compassion and understanding for the transgender community and for employees.
“These people are hurting. Their lives are threatened on a daily basis,” Harmeling said. Research by the nonprofit Human Rights Campaign found that 2021 was on pace to be the deadliest year yet for trans and gender-nonconforming Americans.
“Since Netflix has this broad audience, let’s come up with solutions,” Coleman said. “Those solutions could be donating time and money to an organization that is directly working to deal with trans and gender-nonconforming folks. It could be working with people who are doing policy work around all the laws that are being passed that impact trans children and trans athletes.”
Learn from your mistakes
In the wake of the backlash, Sarandos told The Wall Street Journal he “screwed up” in how he handled employee complaints that the special was transphobic.
Both Henes and Harmeling said an apology was the right move since it showed a willingness to change and created an opportunity to move forward.
“But it was probably a little too late, quite honestly,” Harmeling said. She added that she thought Netflix should do a review “from top to bottom” of its culture to assess whether employees felt seen and heard.
A Netflix spokesperson shared this statement with Insider: “We value our trans colleagues and allies, and understand the deep hurt that’s been caused. We respect the decision of any employee who chooses to walk out, and recognize we have much more work to do both within Netflix and in our content.”
This story was originally published in October 2021.
But Twitter has struggled with representation and inclusion among its ranks for years, as evidenced by controversies such as a frat-themed company party and a report that an executive had told an Asian employee she could pass as white if she wore sunglasses.
The company’s internal diversity numbers also still miss the mark. Black and Latino people collectively represent just 11% of leaders (though Twitter has announced a goal to have 25% of its executives be people of color or women by 2025).
With Twitter’s new CEO, Parag Agrawal, assuming power, the tech giant is at a crossroads. CEO consultants who specialize in diversity, equity, and inclusion say Agrawal could make Twitter a company that promotes truth and equity, or let the progress Dorsey made slip through the cracks. The result has implications for not just the company’s 5,500 employees, but the world.
“This will be a heavy lift for Agrawal,” Slma Shelbayah, a DEI advisor and communications consultant at Yardstick Management, told Insider. “These are big shoes to fill, not just because of Dorsey, but because of the social expectations around the world and at Twitter. Everybody has been asking for change and representation.”
A Twitter spokesperson said, “Since our March 2020 inclusion and diversity report, we’ve made significant progress, and representation of underrepresented minorities has increased overall in tech roles and in leadership roles, though we still know that we have more work to do […] We are excited to do this work with Parag at the helm. He’s long been a champion of Twitter’s journey to be the world’s most diverse, inclusive, and accessible tech company.”
Double down on transparency
Twitter shares its workforce demographic data publicly, but, like most companies, it doesn’t share information about employee turnover, retention, and promotion levels broken down by race, age, or gender.
In his departure letter, Dorsey said he wanted Twitter to be the most transparent company in the world. Sacha Thompson, a Fortune 500 DEI consultant, said Agrawal needed to rise to the occasion.
“Twitter’s leadership hasn’t really pushed the envelope,” Thompson said. “We need to disaggregate this data. Where are Black, Latinx, and Native American employees getting stuck? Where is the churn? What are the struggles they face?”
Making this data public and discussing it with employees can help managers identify better ways to promote and sponsor underrepresented workers, Thompson said. This could lead to better representation of people of color not only within the company but on the platform. Multiple consultants said Twitter’s lack of Black leaders was especially upsetting given the power and presence of Black Twitter, which has driven social discourse on topics ranging from Trayvon Martin’s killing to the #MeToo movement.
“The murders of Trayvon Martin and Mike Brown, the reality of street harassment, the racial crisis brewing in the Dominican Republic—these are all stories that became of major importance because Black Twitter made sure the world understood what was happening,” the Daily Beast journalist Stereo Williams wrote in a 2015 feature.
Twitter’s new CEO has the opportunity to improve representation in leadership, listen to marginalized employees, and better represent some of its most important users.
“Agrawal needs to find diverse leadership that can provide accurate representation at the top of the company,” Shelbayah said. “People have asked and waited for far too long.”
Blaze a trail for honest conversations
Under Dorsey’s leadership, and assisted by Twitter’s head of DEI, Dalana Brand, the social-media giant has invested significantly in improving its culture, especially over the past two years.
In 2020, Twitter compensated leaders of employee resource groups (like the employee group for Black workers), added additional mental-health support options during a rise in anti-Asian racism and around Derek Chauvin’s trial, and partnered with visionaries like Kendi to host antiracism talks.
Twitter’s corporate culture is still being built. In 2019, Twitter hired Dantley Davis, a vice president of design, to help reshape its culture. His task was to address complaints from some people in the company that it was “too nice” and didn’t promote criticism and innovation, The New York Times reported this summer. But employees described his style as blunt and harsh, and they said it aggravated workers. Twitter investigated complaints against Davis, who remains in his post, and he said he would take a step back to reconsider his management style, the report said.
A Twitter spokesperson declined to comment saying, “We do not discuss private employment matters out of consideration and respect for everyone involved.”
Agrawal has an opportunity to reshape the way Davis and other leaders communicate with employees, said Celeste Headlee, a DEI consultant and author who has worked with dozens of tech companies.
“As a communications and diversity expert, the sense that I get is that there are perhaps not fully honest and authentic conversations happening during meetings at Twitter,” Headlee said.
She suggested Twitter execs and employees get communications training on how to have authentic conversations where workers feel safe expressing themselves.
“Execs need to make sure voices are heard and that people have the psychological standing that they need in order to speak up about things that are bothering them or ideas that they have,” she said. “That’s how progress is made.”
63% of Americans believe CEOs “have a responsibility to take a stand” on societal issues.
That’s according to a recent poll conducted by the nonprofit research firm JUST Capital.
The survey found Americans support CEOs speaking out on climate change and income inequality.
Since the summer of 2020, there’s been debate in the business and political community over whether “woke” CEOs are going too far. But a new survey of 3,000 Americans shows most people support CEOs embracing their new role as arbiters of social good.
Though 63% of Americans believe CEOs “have a responsibility to take a stand” on societal issues, according to the poll conducted by the nonprofit research firm JUST Capital, many say there’s more work to be done, especially when it comes to paying workers a living wage.
Leaders—from billionaire investor Ray Dalio to JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon and billionaire philanthropist Melinda Gates—are condemning the rise of inequality and supporting racial justice. Large companies like Best Buy, Accenture, and Google are signing on to pledges to advance the hiring and retention of women, people of color, and people with disabilities, and are committing to reducing greenhouse gases.
“CEOs have increasingly taken a public stance around advancing racial equity and climate change, especially over the last two years,” Jennifer Tonti, JUST Capital’s managing director of survey research and insights, told Insider.
While the survey found 61% of Americans think companies are making progress advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion, it also found people think there is still work to be done, especially when it comes to income inequality. Only 36% said companies have a positive financial impact on their lowest-paid workers.
CEOs paying fair wages has consistently been a top issue for Americans since JUST Capital began polling the public regarding business behaviors in 2015, Tonti said.
Some leaders are making important strides on this front. In 2017 PayPal’s chief executive, Dan Schulman, along with other company executives, began hearing that some of the company’s hourly and entry-level employees were facing financial hardship. Schulman conducted a financial-wellness survey of his employees in 2018 that found many were barely making enough to save, despite being paid what the company says were at or above market-rate wages. Since then, he raised wages and is encouraging other CEOs to investigate their workers’ pay too. Prudential, Verizon, Chobani and others are embarking on the initiative, led in part by JUST Capital.
“We understand that we have to start at home, with our employees,” Lata Reddy, Prudential’s senior vice president of inclusive solutions, previously told Insider. “Only then, by addressing their needs and making sure that they’re able to be engaged and productive in the workplace, can we then meet the needs of our customers and, ultimately, our shareholders.”
There’s a clear business case at play driving CEOs to embrace their new role in society. For one, well paid employees are happier employees, and happier employees are more loyal and productive, according to economists.
Secondly, employees want their leaders to share the same values as them, especially around anti-racism, addressing income inequality, and climate change, the JUST Capital survey found. So when it comes to hiring and retention, it makes sense to speak up on issues. A 2019 survey by the Brunswick Group, a corporate-leadership firm, found that over 50% of workers said they identified a leader’s stance on social issues as an important consideration when weighing a job change or joining a new employer.
According to JUST Capital’s Tonti, people are feeling more emboldened today in pressuring companies to advance issues they care about like fair pay and anti-racism.
“If corporate leadership doesn’t step up to the plate, the public will,” she said.
American Express; JP Morgan; Facebook; Nike; Alyssa Powell/Insider
The echoes of Black Live Matter protesters may have died down since the summer of 2020, but America’s CEOs know the pressure to advance racial equity still hovers over them since the murder of George Floyd.
Chief diversity officers were hired at record rates to shoulder the brunt of demands placed on companies shortly after Floyd’s death. Indeed found that listings for diversity roles jumped 56% between September 2019 and September 2020. LinkedIn data confirmed that the summer of 2020 saw a spike in the hiring of these roles. The year 2021 was the first test to see whether companies would make real progress.
These chief diversity officers – often people of color – have enacted incredible change since then. And the work they do is complicated and exhausting. They are the shepherds of what could be a new era in corporate America.
Insider is proud to present its second annual list of diversity officers changing the country. Collectively, these executives are helping break barriers for hundreds of thousands of workers while also challenging their CEOs to make their policies and business practices more inclusive.
Rosanna Durruthy, head of DEI at Linkedin
Key accomplishments: A result of Durruthy’s diligence, LinkedIn announced in July that it would pay the global cochairs of its employee resource groups $10,000 per year for their work, in addition to their salary.
“Historically, ERG leaders take on leadership roles and the associated work in addition to their day jobs, putting in extra time, energy, and insight. And despite the tremendous value, visibility and impact to the organization, this work is rarely rewarded financially,” Durruthy said. “The work of ERGs is more important than ever.”
This past year, LinkedIn also created the option for users to share their preferred pronouns, a big move to make the jobs platform more inclusive, especially for transgender and nonbinary professionals.
LinkedIn aims to double the number of Black and Hispanic leaders and managers on its US team over the next five years. Durruthy is also focused on increasing leadership training that focuses on inclusion and diversity.
In their own words: “As a leader and an LGBTQ woman of color, it’s been really important for me to be in conversation with my peers and to allow them to know that I see them as being responsible for helping create the change we’re all endeavoring toward.”
Brian Lamb, global head of diversity and inclusion at JPMorgan
Key accomplishments: This year, Lamb, Jamie Dimon, and a group of other executives deployed funds from the firm’s record-making 2020 $30 billion pledge to address racial injustice. The investment aims to boost the number of Black and Hispanic homeowners, create more affordable housing, and support small businesses through loans.
In September, JPMorgan committed an additional $100 million to Black and Hispanic-led minority depository institutions and community-development financial institutions. A month later, JPMorgan announced to Insider it was pressuring the businesses it works with to increase spending with Black- and Hispanic-led companies. Business professors and economists predicted the bank’s efforts would have a ripple effect in the economy, boosting capital spent on minority-owned businesses.
In their own words: “Patience isn’t a virtue for me. I’m inspired to live with purpose and positively impact the lives of others — to be bold in our thinking and hold myself and others accountable to both their personal and professional responsibility to drive sustainable change.”
Melonie Parker, chief diversity officer at Google
Key accomplishments: With efforts overseen by Parker, Google added diversity, equity, and inclusion materials to orientation for all new hires along with training for managers on how to promote inclusion of employees who are neurodiverse, or people with different ways of brain processing, such as people with ADHD or autism. Google also made significant strides in hiring diverse candidates. It increased Black representation in its US workforce by nearly 20%, from 3.7% to 4.4% and increased Hispanic hiring by a third, from 6.6% to 8.8%, according to the company.
Parker also interviewed former first lady Michelle Obama at Google’s first Women of Color Summit aimed at promoting mentorship, sponsorship, and career development for women of color at the company.
In their own words: “I believe we need to further expand the horizon of what we do to support employees of color. To me, that means clearer pathways to leadership, mentorship opportunities, more safe spaces both on campus and virtually, and also more DEI exercise for white employees, because it is truly everybody’s responsibility to create a welcoming and gainful environment for underrepresented employees.”
Lesley Slaton Brown, chief diversity officer at HP
Key accomplishments: Over the past year, Lesley Slaton Brown helped the tech giant increase the number of Black executives at the vice president level and up by 50% and the number of female executives by 32%.
Additionally, over 60% of new US hires were from underrepresented groups, including women, people with disabilities, people from underrepresented races and ethnicities, and military veterans.
In their own words: “My mantra, is ‘Everyone in!’ Everybody, especially leaders, must understand the business value of DEI. It’s integral to drive meaningful change in the short term and long term.”
Tim Dismond, chief responsibility officer at the commercial real-estate firm CBRE
Key accomplishments: As a result of Dismond’s efforts, over 50% of the company’s promotions and nearly half of new hires in the past year were women, people of color, LGBTQ people, or people with disabilities.
He also led an effort to increase spending with suppliers owned by people of color, women, or other historically marginalized group. Across 2020 and 2021, the company is projected to spend more than $1 billion with diverse suppliers.
In their own words: “As a Black man, I’m not immune to the undertones of bias in professional settings, and while my experience is not unique, by sharing and showing vulnerability I can effect change and help others feel safe to share their experiences and perspectives.”
Dalana Brand, VP of people experience and head of inclusion and diversity at Twitter
Key accomplishments: Brand has pushed Twitter to further diversify its leadership over the past year. Representation of women in leadership roles increased from 35.4% to 37.7% and Black representation in leadership positions increased from 5.6% to 7.3%.
Brand was also influential in Twitter announcing that employees have the option to work from home indefinitely. The move has helped attract and retain talent for whom working from home is best, such as working parents or people with disabilities.
In their own words: “It’s not enough for us to simply have diverse teams. We cannot check the box and keep on with our own careers because what we know is that diverse folks will remain excluded from opportunity unless we are intentional about inclusion.”
Sonia Cargan, American Express’ chief colleague inclusion and diversity officer
Key accomplishments: This year, Cargan made pay equity a top priority. AmEx investigated salaries across gender, race, and ethnicity and made changes to correct any discrepancies, achieving 100% pay equity for colleagues across gender globally and across race and ethnicity in the US. Cargan said the company is working to achieve pay equity across race and ethnicity globally.
Cargan was also instrumental in AmEx creating a new office of enterprise inclusion, diversity, and business engagement that works directly with the company’s executive committee to weave DEI practices into business strategies.
In their own words: “We understood that to drive real change, we needed to further intensify our focus and make inclusion and diversity the heart of not only our workplace but how we do business.”
Tara Ataya, chief people and diversity officer at Hootsuite
Key accomplishments: After a powerful conversation with other Hootsuite leaders last year about how to better support employees, Ataya guided the company’s redesign of its benefits package to make it more inclusive. The company now covers gender-affirmation surgeries, fertility treatment, and financial-counseling services under its health and employee-assistance plans, benefits that are highly coveted and not often offered. Hootsuite also expanded its mental-health counseling services to include more therapists of color.
The company also conducted a third-party pay equity report and achieved pay equity.
In their own words: “It’s about time we see this level of change. Greatness comes from being challenged to be better and do better. I think it is so important that organizations understand the importance of and the business case for DEI in the workplace.”
Maxine Williams, chief diversity officer at Facebook
Key accomplishments: Because of Williams’ leadership, Facebook has seen a significant increase in women in technical roles (from 15% in 2014 to 24.1% in 2020), as well as Black people in nontechnical roles (from 2% in 2014 to 8.9% in 2020). In 2020, Williams helped Facebook achieve a 38.2% increase in Black leaders, according to the company’s latest DEI report.
In addition, Williams built a diversity advisory council, a group of 18 employees from diverse backgrounds across the globe who meet quarterly to consult on the company’s content policies, products, and human-resources programs.
In their own words: “Build DEI into business processes and products from day one. Don’t wait for the right time. That time was yesterday.”
Jarvis Sam, Nike’s vice president and head of global diversity, equity, and inclusion
Key accomplishments: Sam drove Nike’s plan to increase representation of historically marginalized communities at the leadership level. Over the past year, he helped the company increase representation of women and people of color and at the director level and above by 2 percentage points. Women now make up 43% of directors and above, and people of color make up 27%.
Sam also created new coaching programs for vice presidents across all departments to gain new skills, including skills around DEI. Some 56% of the 2020 participants were promoted to new roles within the year.
In their own words: “We have to lift as we climb. If we’re not bringing others along with us, we aren’t doing our job right.”
Toni Thompson, VP of people and strategy at Etsy
Key accomplishments: Over the past year and a half, the company has doubled down on its efforts to hire and promote more people of color thanks to pressure from Thompson.
Black, Latino, and Native American hires made up 20% of new hires in 2020, and Black, Latino, and Native American people now comprise 12.2% of Etsy’s total workforce, according to the company’s most recent diversity report. In addition, employees from these underrepresented communities now comprise 8.7% of Etsy’s leadership. The company is on track to reach its goal of doubling the percentage of Black, Latino, and Native American employees by 2023.
Thompson helped Etsy expand its mentorship opportunities for women and people of color in engineering. She also launched a third-party pay-equity analysis, which found no discrepancies in pay based on race, ethnicity, or gender, consistent with their first report conducted in 2018.
In their own words: “It’s very natural for companies to be laser-focused on the financials and goal achievement that influence the financial health of the company. There are many HR and DEI efforts that support the top and bottom line, but it’s hard for people to make those connections. I’m thankful the executive team at Etsy gets it, but many leaders at other companies don’t.”
Kara Helander, managing director and chief diversity, equity, and inclusion officer at The Carlyle Group
Key accomplishments: In early 2020, Helander led the charge at the private-equity firm to set a new goal of having 30% of board directors at all of its portfolio companies hail from historically underrepresented groups within two years of ownership.
The head of DEI also developed and implemented a new set of criteria for assessing employees up for promotion to managing director, with individuals taking part in an assessment that evaluated their skills in inclusive leadership and management.
In addition, she implemented a change that DEI will be integrated into compensation as part of managers’ formal year-end assessments going forward. Helander wants to continue diversifying the financial firm. In 2020, 63% of people hired in the US were women or ethnic minorities, according to the company.
In their own words: “Each and every person in an organization can contribute to advancing diversity and inclusion. Accountability is key to sustaining positive change.”
Lorie Valle-Yanez, head of diversity, equity, and inclusion at MassMutual
Key accomplishments: Valle-Yanez shepherded MassMutual’s investments in racial justice to the tune of more than $200 million, with $150 million going to diversifying the businesses the company works with and $50 million to spur job creation among diverse entrepreneurs in Massachusetts.
The financial company also released its first public DEI report, which includes a detailed breakdown of its leadership and workforce demographics.
In their own words: “The biggest change since George Floyd has been the increased engagement and ownership coming from so many people in the company who are raising their hands and wanting to be part of the change.”
Antoine Andrews, chief diversity and social-impact officer at Momentive (formerly SurveyMonkey)
Key accomplishments: Andrews was a key figure in Momentive’s recent decision to financially recognize employees who lead the company’s ERGs, though the company declined to disclose by how much.
Working with CEO Zander Lurie, Andrews also shaped Momentive’s initiative calling on its suppliers and vendors to increase diversity in their leadership.
In their own words: “Stamina is the characteristic most needed to combat inequity, racism, and all other negative ‘isms.’ Those of us who do this work can easily get tired, frustrated, and discouraged when progress isn’t made or is happening slowly. Change requires us to be in shape mentally and physically.”
KeyAnna Schmiedl, global head of culture and inclusion at Wayfair
Key accomplishments: Schmiedl helped Wayfair conduct a third-party pay-equity survey and worked to achieve pay equity for all 16,000 employees across race, disability status, and gender and sexual identity. In addition, Schmiedl led the charge to tie executive compensation to DEI goals; 10% of executive pay is now tied to diversity and inclusion goals, according to a company spokesperson.
She also helped diversify Wayfair’s leadership. The company increased the share of women in leadership positions by 7 percentage points in six months from 25% at the end of the 2020 fourth quarter to 32.8% at the end of June. The company also hired its first two directors of Indigenous descent.
In their own words: “I am more consistent in being authentically me from meeting to meeting, interaction to interaction, and I’ve experienced more folks in the workplace bringing more of their humanity to everyday interactions. I’m having more raw conversations.”
Cynthia Bowman, chief diversity and inclusion and talent acquisition officer at Bank of America
Key accomplishments: Bowman played a key role in producing Bank of America’s $1 billion, four-year commitment made in June 2020 to address underlying economic and social disparities that were exacerbated during the pandemic. In March, Bowman, CEO Brian Moynihan, and other executives expanded this commitment to $1.25 billion over five years to further support investments to advance racial justice through grants to historically Black colleges and universities, Hispanic-serving institutions, and civil-rights organizations.
Bowman has helped the financial giant deepen connections with HBCUs and HSIs over the past year and a half. Because of these efforts, the bank’s 2021 entry-level class is at least 50% people from historically marginalized backgrounds.
In their own words: “There is no question that achieving strong operating results on equity — the right way — starts with our teammates. Our diversity makes us stronger, and the value we deliver as a company is strengthened when we bring broad perspectives together to meet the needs of our diverse stakeholders.”
Anne Chow, the CEO of AT&T Business, has faced prejudice and bias throughout her career.
She’s using her platform to speak out against Asian hate and get more women of color in leadership.
In an Equity Talk, Chow shares her advice for the next generation of CEOs.
As the CEO of the business arm of the telecommunications giant AT&T, Anne Chow is often insulated from the outside world by a league of assistants. But that doesn’t mean she’s immune to racism, sexism, or prejudice.
In her ascension to the coveted CEO seat, she’s been talked over in meetings and faced doubts about her leadership and public-speaking abilities. The hardest part of her career, she said, wasn’t the sacrifice the work called for. Instead, it was soldiering on through implicit and explicit bias from colleagues.
“I think there’s an assumption that because I’m a CEO, I don’t run into any of these problems,” Chow told Insider. “It’s so not true.”
A Cornell-educated engineer turned business executive, Chow continues to endure such microaggressions as remarks about how “articulate” and “good at public speaking” she is. People still ask her, “Where are you really from?”
“I’ll get those until the day I die,” Chow, who is AT&T’s first woman of color to serve as a CEO, said. “I have always had to be conscious about managing people’s perception of me.”
Her history dealing with bias has fueled an insatiable desire to help other professionals from marginalized backgrounds. Since taking the helm of her company in 2019, Chow has put AT&T on course to increase the representation of women and people of color in leadership positions. When she started, women made up 36% of all leaders, and people of color made up 39%. Women now make up just under 40% of all leaders, and people of color make up 41%, according to a 2020 report.
Before she became CEO, Chow created a mentorship and sponsorship program for women of color at the company. Because of her, over 400 women of color have expanded their professional opportunities within the company or have been promoted as a result. During her 31-year tenure at AT&T, Chow has held several high-profile roles, including president, senior vice president, and assistant vice president.
With plans to continue increasing diversity in leadership, Chow is “looking to move all of this representation forward, strategically,” she said.
In the latest installment of The Equity Talk, I talked to Chow about her recent condemnation of Asian hate, lessons from last year, and the wisdom she’s imparting to the next generation of CEOs.
Interview edited and condensed.
In March, after a string of anti-Asian attacks, you penned a moving letter against Asian hate. You wrote, “What we do today will shape generations to come. It’s time to listen. It’s time to seek to understand. It’s time to engage and take action.” What moved you to speak out at that time?
That piece came from my heart. I felt like I needed to write these thoughts down. As an Asian American person, I’m having all these emotions and issues go through my mind: anger and frustration. I felt I needed to represent my community.
Then, as a leader, as a CEO who happens to be Asian, I realized I have this platform that can be used to increase awareness, catalyze change. That also compelled me to write it.
I was nervous to put this out there. It was raw. But I have no regrets.
I heard from one of my employee’s daughters after I published that piece. She’s 16. This girl, who was trying to work through her own identity and feeling biased against, said she found my piece relatable and inspiring. That’s why I wrote the piece, because I don’t want anybody to have to think they’re alone in what they’re experiencing.
Tell me about your greatest accomplishment in diversity, equity, and inclusion.
One of the things I’m most proud of creating is the Women of Color program. I started noticing a trend both inside my company and outside of my company. Women were making notable progress in the workforce. But women of color were not.
Then, LinkedIn and McKinsey came out with their Women in the Workplace report in 2016. So finally, when those reports started coming out, it had the data that proved exactly what I was observing. It says something like, “When a company focuses on women only, women of color are left behind.” So I went to our chief diversity officer and I said, “We have to do something.”
We got together and looked over the research and pulled together a focus group of women of color – Black, Latina, Asian, Native American. Those sessions were cathartic. There was so much commonality in the stories. It was a moment of realizing we had to do something about the prejudice and bias women of color face.
We developed a Women of Color initiative back in 2017. We’ve had some 400 women and their supervisors participate. We work with supervisors on what it means to support a woman of color in her profession. For me, I think it’s one of the greatest legacies that I will leave behind at this company.
How were you personally impacted by the tumultuous year of 2020?
In 2020, with the trigger points of the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor, I, like so many others, wanted to figure out how to lean in and do something. I gathered a group of my Black leaders that I trusted to tell me the truth. I had several discussions on what I could do. One idea was leading through authentic communication. So we created this series called “Candid Conversations.”
We’ve talked about the Black professional experience. We’ve talked about racial trauma. I had a fireside chat with Dr. Ibram X. Kendi on how to be an anti-racist. We’ve had conversations with the LGBTQ+ community, the Asian community, the Latino and Hispanic communities, and conversations around parenting. We need to have compelling, candid conversations.
The next one we are doing is going to be with law enforcement. Because this whole thing about defunding the police and the polarization between Black and blue is just not right. We have a deep-rooted commitment to public safety and to serving and enabling law enforcement as our customers. So you know, we’re going to tackle that conversation because not only is law enforcement a constituency to us as a business, it’s important to us in general, right? Whether you’re talking to the FBI, the police, the military, they’re important. So that’s going to be our next conversation. I want normalize the ability to have a conversation in a safe environment.
What’s your advice for the next generation of corporate executives?
I’d say that you should surround yourself with as much difference from you as possible and listen more than you speak.
You also have to really ensure that you have a clear articulation of your company values and your company mission. Because this shouldn’t and this cannot be a side thing. It can’t feel like diversity is compliance. My hope is that you know, triggered by the pandemic and this reckoning, there’s this realization that change doesn’t just happen in the public sector. It has to happen in the private sector, too.
Our future as a country is diverse. So the question becomes, do we lean into it and do we harness it as an advantage for our organizations and our communities? Or do we not? Embracing diversity is a business imperative to your workforce, your customers, and your partners.
Perla Campos leads marketing for Google Doodles, which changes Google’s logo for special occasions.
Campos is also a proud Latina who describes her job as “making people feel seen and heard.”
For Hispanic Heritage Month, Campos shared her background and her inclusive mission.
During the early years of Perla Campos’ life, her mother, a Mexican immigrant and single parent, shuffled from job to job. When she wasn’t working as a custodian in the town’s elementary school, she was cleaning houses on the weekends. Campos would help her mom vacuum floors and wipe down countertops until they sparkled.
Having grown up in rural Granbury, Texas, Campos never imagined she’d work at one of the most important companies of the 21st century: Google. She thought working in corporate America would be perceived as selling out, as betraying her culture for a job. Whether it’s over leaving their families to attend college or choosing careers that fulfill them but rattle tradition, the guilt surrounding career choices that many children of immigrants encounter is a well-documented phenomenon.
“So much blood, sweat, and tears went into me having the opportunities that I have,” Campos said. “My ancestors, my community, my mom – I cannot let that be in vain. So for me it was, whatever I do, I need to help my people. I need to help my community and communities that have similar plights.”
And as the head of global marketing for Google Doodles since 2016, Campos has done right by that commitment. Google Doodles is responsible for altering the site’s homepage banner to celebrate people, places, and milestones that shaped global culture. Campos makes a point to highlight people of color, women, those with disabilities, and others who have been written out of history textbooks. In that way, she is staying true to herself and her background. This Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs from September 15 to October 15, her job has been even more gratifying.
“My job is to make people feel seen, feel heard, and feel valued,” she said. “It can be really powerful for someone to see the homepage of Google, which for many people is the front door of the internet, and see a part of their culture being celebrated.”
To kick off Hispanic Heritage Month this year, Google commissioned Latina guest artist Loris Lora to create a Google Doodle of influential Panamanian American nurse Ildaura Murillo-Rohde. For each doodle, Campos and her team work with relevant employee resource groups (such as the Latino ERG group) to discuss ideas with an eye toward inclusion. They also commission artists from marginalized communities and partner with dozens of cultural experts to ensure accuracy.
“It’s about including people from different backgrounds at every level, focusing on intersectionality, having conversations with people from the respective communities,” she said. “It’s about being authentic.”
Google has a recent track record of investing in communities of color. This month, the company invested $1 million to the nonprofit Hispanic Federation, which funds workforce development and digital training programs for the community, building on its 2019 investments. Google also partnered with the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities to provide $2 million to over 35 Hispanic-serving educational institutions.
In 2012, Campos began her career at Google with an internship. The opportunity, a career game changer for most, threw Campos into an existential crisis. She had previously worked in the nonprofit world as an intern documenting the experiences of Mexican youth, and she assisted Stanford University’s center on race and ethnicity in research. Campos’ career revolved around social justice, and she wondered whether all of that work, as well as her immigrant roots, would be wasted in the corporate world. But then she had a life-changing moment.
She was in a meeting with executives talking about strategies to help small and medium businesses grow. Campos felt there was a lack of diversity in their approach and decided to speak up. To her surprise, the executives welcomed her advice.
Over the next eight years, Campos climbed the corporate ladder to the executive position she now holds. Along the way, she’s helped marginalized communities feel seen and heard through the doodles and stories she’s helped produce. She also feels confident that she’s staying true to her Mexican and immigrant roots, as well as to her calling to help her people.
“There’s so much intersectionality in the histories and the struggles and the beauty of all of these communities worldwide,” she said. “So to work in a role where I’m actively thinking about that, because I have lived that, is really powerful.”
In 2012, Kate Ryder closed the book on a journalism career and joined the world of venture capital. The then-30-year-old started thinking about the problems she could solve through startups. Talking with her friends brought up a big one.
Like many women, Ryder’s friends shouldered the brunt of child-rearing responsibilities before, during, and after their 9-to-5s. Navigating the healthcare system, they said, was a nightmare. So in 2014, Ryder founded Maven, a virtual health clinic for women and families that’s now valued at over $1 billion. Her mission was and is to make the healthcare system easier for women and families to navigate.
Things changed in 2020 after she saw COVID-19’s outsize influence on Black and brown women and the civil-rights reckoning of the summer. These events changed Ryder’s perspective on her calling. What was a company for families more broadly would need to more closely center the experiences of marginalized ones.
“George Floyd’s murder opened up my eyes to things that I didn’t know,” she said. “I want to help create a more equitable world through healthcare.”
To be sure, the company has always strived to be inclusive. Maven provides parents (including queer and single parents) with fertility, pregnancy, adoption, parenting, and pediatric services. It’s also funded by a powerful group of women investors.
But now, Ryder is honing her focus on creating better healthcare solutions for mothers and parents from marginalized communities. The company is building products and services for parents who utilize Medicaid.
The healthcare system is especially difficult for women of color to navigate: Medical research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found they often must advocate for themselves more than white women to receive adequate treatment, as Serena Williams’ near-death birthing experience made clear for many.
Maven pairs every user with a patient advocate who helps connect them with the right providers, schedule appointments, and find additional resources. It also lists providers who have experience with certain communities to better tailor the health journey to the patient.
“I want to change the health of the world, one woman and one family at a time, and really provide more access to care,” she told Insider. “My goal is to fill the gaps in care with a reimagined care model for women and families.”
In an Equity Talk, Insider’s new series featuring executives discussing their work to advance social justice, Ryder shared her vision for the company and how she was strengthening diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) for customers and employees.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
In August, you raised over $110 million, bringing the total amount of funding to over $200 million. What are you focused on building right now?
One of the big things we’re going to be focusing on is further personalization across all the journeys our members go through. There’s a first-time mom’s journey and a third-time mom’s journey. There’s the IVF journey versus the surrogacy journey. We’re also deeply concerned about health equity.
There’s the journey of the single mom who works an hourly job. How do we make sure our model and technology is compatible with the pain points and needs she has? We put the chief medical officer for the home, whoever that is, at the center of our platform. Internally, we’re going to continue to focus on advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion.
How are you advancing DEI internally at Maven?
One thing we’re really proud of is we offer unlimited vacation, flexible working options, and 14 weeks of paid parental leave. I think it’s really important when you’re looking at DEI to actually be very principled in your approach. What are the principles? What are the problems you’re trying to solve for? And then build that into your KPIs and policies.
We treat DEI like any other business goal, just like revenue or sales. So that ensures we’re creating positive change. We wanted to ensure that a mom, a parent, has enough bonding time with their child in those first crucial months.
I also want to create an environment where there’s room to be your whole self, and that includes if you’re a parent. That has to be modeled from the top. My son will show up in Zoom calls. I’ll talk about my kids in meetings. We have lactation rooms in our office. I want to create that space for employees to be their whole selves.
You mentioned you treat DEI goals like you do marketing goals or hiring goals. Can you show me how you do that?
We publish our workforce statistics on our website. So it’s very transparent to everybody what the racial and gender makeup of our employees is. I think you can’t make things better unless you’re actually honest about your data. So you can see that on our website.
Last June, after George Floyd was murdered, and there was a lot of conversation around how to solve the problems of racism at your own companies, we built these DEI groups. One group is focused on improving the company’s hiring process. One is focused on the product representation, meaning do we have diverse representation in our product? We’re improving our company that way.
But DEI goes beyond race and gender. One group we realized we did not represent well enough was people with disabilities. And so we put more of that in our product visuals and goals. We’re trying to go beyond just checking a box. It’s a business priority in and of itself.
As a leader, how were you changed by George Floyd’s murder and the summer of 2020?
A few years ago, during the height of the #MeToo movement, there was a point where some of my male friends said, “Wow, I didn’t realize when you walk home at night, you might worry about all these things.” I think with George Floyd, I was having those kinds of realizations. So I think it was a good wake-up call for everybody to really look at our representation across society and at our own companies and think, “How can we do better?” Because it’s not acceptable where we are today.
What’s your next big diversity or inclusion project you’re focused on over the next year?
We’re launching products for our first Medicaid customers next year. I think in this healthcare environment, where COVID-19 has laid bare around the racial disparities in care, but to really walk the walk around health equity, you have to serve the population that accounts for almost half the births that are on Medicaid plans. So from a product standpoint, we’re genuinely going after diversity and inclusion.
So you’re really pushing health equity and making it central to your business model.
Yeah. We’re doing it not only because it’s really critical to our mission, but it’s like half of the population. So from a market standpoint, too, you’re just missing a lot if you don’t do that.
I think we’ve learned a ton because we’ve always had diverse providers in our community, and we’ve always done cultural care matching. So we have a lot of learnings that we’re leveraging as we continue to build out this product.
I really think creating an equitable health system starts with bringing diverse experiences, backgrounds, and perspectives together.
In your opinion, what role does a CEO play in society?
It’s changing a lot. I think that in the past, it was, of course, a CEO’s job was to maximize shareholder value. I think that given that, you know, there hasn’t been as much leadership at the government level, I think people are looking for more meaning and guidance by the leaders that they see in their day-to-day lives, including in the workplace.
I think CEOs of companies are stepping up to fill some of these voids. So, for instance, with George Floyd’s murder, I don’t think 20 years ago you would have seen companies donate to charities or make investments as a reaction. But we made that choice to do so because we felt it was really important. Everyone at Maven wants a better world right now, so how do we do our part?
We have to compete in the marketplace and be an operationally excellent business not only because that’s how you win and how you scale, but it allows us to do a lot of these DEI initiatives and apply that same operational rigor to them so we can actually move the needle on some of these issues.
In the aftermath of 2020’s racial reckoning, people are holding CEOs accountable to the racial-justice promises they made. To help them carry out this important work, business leaders are hiring diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) consultants at record rates.
There’s been a 71% increase worldwide in all DEI job listings over the past five years, with the role of “head of diversity” growing by more than 107%, according to LinkedIn data. In August 2020, US searches for jobs in DEI were up 35% year on year. Likewise in the UK, searches were up 19%, according to Glassdoor’s research on the diversity and inclusion industry.
And the job can be lucrative. Median pay for DEI executives normally ranges from $181,464 and $259,647, according to Salary.com. While there is a special risk of burnout in the field, DEI consultants told Insider it could also be especially rewarding.
If you’re considering pursuing a DEI executive position, here are key questions to ask yourself, according to professionals in the field.
Rondette Amoy Smith, head of diversity and inclusion for Europe, the Middle East, and Africa at Nomura
Smith, who grew up in a lower-middle class immigrant family in New York, was always keenly aware of the inequality around her.
“I realized no matter how smart I was, or how many great excellent scores I got, two things that weren’t quite available to me were opportunities because I didn’t have a lineage of people who were from wealth or from big corporations,” she told Insider. “My parents came from especially humble beginnings, so in addition to opportunity, I also didn’t have access.”
She wanted to work to dismantle that inequality. Smith is now head of diversity and inclusion for Europe, the Middle East, and Africa at the investment bank Nomura. She previously held roles at Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan. She said that starting out, she would never have dreamed of wearing braids, “that I would have my natural curly hair out.”
A career in DEI is highly rewarding, she said, but it’s important to ask yourself a few questions before you decide to pursue a career in the field:
Am I truly passionate about the role?
Am I willing to have hard conversations? Am I a natural empath? Am I willing to build my network and relationships?
Am I capable of being a genuine ally to people?
Quita Highsmith, chief diversity officer and vice president at Genentech
Highsmith oversees diversity and inclusion efforts for over 13,000 employees at the biotech company Genentech. She assumed the role in January 2020, but she’s been working on diversifying the biotech industry for over a decade. In 2017, she cofounded an initiative to make the company’s research more inclusive.
She said her thirst for making society more equitable started at an early age, when she experienced racism and harassment. She and her sister were among just a few Black students at their elementary school in Louisville, Kentucky. Every morning, a white teacher at the school would open the side door so that they could come in to avoid being harassed at the front door by students and parents.
“I learned early on the importance of not only being an ally but being a changemaker, someone who will actively stand up and speak up for change,” Highsmith said.
Her role today is a combination of those things. She’s working to meet Genentech’s goals, which include doubling Black and Hispanic representation at the director and officer leadership level by 2025.
“This is a tough job because you have to be so many things to the full organization, which can often lead to burnout,” she said. “However, having full leadership support keeps me motivated on the challenges.”
People interested in the field of DEI should ask themselves these key questions, she said:
What is my motivation for DEI work, and how can I bring my lived experiences and unique perspectives to the table in this role?
Am I willing to ask the tough questions and have uncomfortable conversations to advance equity and make space for those who are underrepresented?
How do I respond to failures and celebrate small victories? Am I OK with aiming for progress over perfection?
While Highsmith said a college degree isn’t necessary to land a DEI role, it definitely helps. Taking an additional certificate course in DEI topics will also make your application more competitive.
“I would recommend that you get comfortable with asking questions, executing bold and innovative ideas, bringing your authentic perspectives to work, and inspiring and encouraging others from whatever position you are currently in,” she said.
Lybra Clemons, head of DEI at Twilio
Clemons was working at a research nonprofit when a colleague introduced her to a book, “Our Separate Ways,” by Ella Bell and Stella Nkomo. The book features eight years of research that compared the careers of 120 Black and white female managers in the US. Through personal stories, it shows how different their roads were.
That book led Clemons to her calling.
“It changed my life. It was the first time I saw people talking about corporate DEI in a truly intersectional way — not just women’s issues in corporate America or Black issues in corporate America — but really looking at the business world with an intersectional lens,” she said. “So I left the nonprofit and went to work for American Express in a DEI role, and the rest is history.”
Since then, Clemons has worked in DEI for over 15 years, driving corporate diversity and inclusion work for companies like Morgan Stanley and PayPal before going to the cloud-communications platform Twilio in September 2020.
She knows achieving equity in corporate America is a long game.
“One of the biggest challenges I’ve come to terms with is that no DEI lead will ever be fully ‘successful,'” she said. “DEI work is a moving target, so the best a DEI lead can do is to leave each place better than how they found it.”
While it can take years to see the fruits of your labor in this field, Clemons said, it’s incredibly rewarding to hear stories of how DEI initiatives have changed people’s lives. Before you pursue a DEI role, she recommends asking yourself these questions:
What are my expectations for success? What kind of goals do I want my DEI implementations to achieve, and what do I need from my company and colleagues to reach them?
Is my approach to DEI holistic? Is the company I’m looking at going to let me approach my job from multiple lenses?
Can I find an organization that will level and resource me appropriately? Will I have a seat at the table where businesswide decisions are being made?
Opeyemi Sofoluke, coauthor of “Twice as Hard” and diversity lead at Facebook
Sofoluke began focusing on diversity and inclusion work at JP Morgan in 2016 after working in project management for several years.
She said she had initially worked in different parts of the business, doing diversity work outside her day-to-day duties.
“I was committed to working in business-resource groups because it’s something that I was passionate about,” she said.
You have to really care about the work, she added.
“If you don’t care, and if you’re not truly genuine about the work, it will eventually show,” she said. “And so this is a space that you give a lot of your time to. You give a lot of your energy, and often, you may work long hours or because you care so much — you’re dedicated to seeing this change through.”
This is what she recommends anyone interested in a similar role ask themselves:
What am I doing outside work to show I care? Am I trying to educate myself? Am I showing up for my community?
How much do I care?
What is my vision of success? How do I want to influence my company?