- Bernard Coleman III is chief diversity and engagement officer at 1,400-person HR tech company Gusto.
- Coleman was previously the first diversity lead for Uber and for a US presidential campaign.
- At Gusto, Coleman spearheaded the RISE program to get employees talking about social justice.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
Bernard Coleman III calls HR the “operational glue” that holds together every piece of an organization.
Coleman is the chief diversity and engagement officer at HR tech company Gusto. He was also the first chief diversity and HR officer for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and Uber’s first global head of diversity and inclusion.
He joined Gusto, which employs more than 1,400 people and is valued at almost $4 billion, in January 2020. That was just months before the coronavirus pandemic hit the US and before a widespread reckoning among business leaders around racial inequity. Coleman was tasked with building effective diversity, equity, and inclusion programs and creating an environment where employees could do their best work.
Coleman says HR’s role is to help people have the best possible work experience
Two decades ago, Coleman started his career in politics. When he joined the Society for Human Resources Management as a state affairs specialist, he was inspired to learn more about a career in HR.
“My goal has always been to help people,” he said. He pursued politics because it seemed like the most effective way to reach the maximum number of people. “But in HR,” he said, “you’re almost like this intermediary. A broker, if you will, helping people understand how to have the best possible experience in the workplace.”
Leading a DEI function excites him because he gets to participate in every part of the employee life cycle, which includes recruiting, employee engagement, advancement through the company, and retention. “An effective DEI program needs to be comprehensive in nature,” Coleman said. It must be “interwoven into every aspect of your business.”
DEI work took on new relevance after the murder of George Floyd in May 2020. Coleman spearheaded the launch of RISE, which stands for Representation, Inclusion, Social Impact, and Equity. Gusto began hosting weekly conversations in which employees could discuss social-justice issues in a safe space. And Coleman’s team at Gusto has trained hundreds of managers and individual contributors on how to build an inclusive and equitable workplace.
From the first time he meets a prospective hire, Coleman is thinking about how to make them feel like they belong. His favorite interview question is, “What must the organization provide in order for you to do your best?”
The candidate’s answer tells him “what type of environment the person needs to best succeed,” as well as “what type of manager I need to be,” Coleman said. “Ultimately my goal is to contribute to and help empower their long-term success.”