Job Title: Founder and CEO, ImpactDEI, LLC
Company website: http://www.impactdei.com
Years working in the tech industry: 6
On the ImpactDEI, LLC mission:
Purpose-driven companies can achieve constant relevance. By focusing on economic and social issues, these companies engender team member and customer loyalty and create brand advocates.
ImpactDEI helps organizations be purpose-driven by genuinely embedding diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives. We adapt our approach to the size, stage, and appetite of the organization. Our offerings include assessments, training, program development, and management coaching.
This work creates a virtuous circle. It’s wonderful.
On being a ‘recovering lawyer,’ and creating a career in diversity and equity advocacy:
I became a law student under the mistaken assumption all law students care about books and justice. The 1973 film “The Paper Chase” influenced me to an embarrassing degree. But I also became a lawyer to ensure I could financially support myself. My parents divorced when I was 16. The financial impact of divorce on women can be devastating.
I entered the tech world because a lawyer friend asked me to help him build the legal team at a tech company, and I admired him and the company. I founded and led the legal operations function and the equity program during a period of rapid expansion.
Later I became a DEI leader while managing legal operations because male allies, particularly my former manager, Jonathan Kaplan, believed in me when I realized DEI advocacy is my vocation. My prior work and life experience have prepared me for this moment.
It’s not just tech — on gender bias across industries:
People intentionally and unintentionally inflict gender bias irrespective of industry. My career encompasses the consumer goods, real estate, professional services, and tech industries and bias does not discriminate (pun intended). I experienced more intentional bias in the 1980s — 1990s. If folks want to learn how to identify and overcome gender bias with practical tools, I recommend What Works for Women at Work by Joan Williams and Rachel Dempsey (2014).
On creating a Head of Diversity and Inclusion role at a large (and rapidly expanding) tech company:
I realized the leadership did not reflect the company’s internal demographics and customers. What began as a women’s initiative quickly became a recognized, grassroots led, executive-sponsored program with seven employee resource groups.
The DEI program interrupted bias at the systemic and individual levels and supported community involvement. In that role, I functioned as an intrapreneur and used my legal, business development, program development, and operational skill sets.
The company is well positioned to build on the program’s initial success. I am excited to see what my former team members and successor do to advance DEI.
On the challenges of leading a Diversity and Inclusion program:
Creating and leading a DEI program was my most challenging role to date. It also was the most rewarding role because of the people with whom I served. The ultimate goal of any meaningful DEI program is to no longer need a program.
Transformative DEI practices require systemic or nonlinear thinking, particularly given demographic changes and technological advancements. Systemic thinking sometimes collides with traditional or linear thinking. An inclusive environment allows for multiple processing styles.
On a human level, it was important to create a welcoming space with clear access points and safe feedback loops before asking folks from underrepresented groups to come forward. No one from these groups should feel the burden of representing falls solely on her, him, or them.
On the prevalence of tech companies creating diversity programs, and those that are making a difference:
Yes (…the number of these programs is growing), and that is good and bad because creating a DEI role is not a panacea; each of us has a part to play. Anyone authentically engaging in DEI issues is making a difference whether she realizes it immediately or not.
Rather than focus on a few companies and individuals that are having an impact, I encourage people to visit resources like projectinclude.org and catalyst.org and to get involved in their communities.
On the importance of DEI program peers:
I collaborate with DEI advocates in Austin and rely on a global network. This work is exhausting, exhilarating, and accretive, so a supportive community is critical. Lynette Barksdale, the Head of DEI at Access (Google Fiber), is one of several local allies I admire.
On whether DEI programs are now — or soon will be — mandatory in large and medium-sized tech companies:
The landscape already is changing, and I think the discussion is broader than DEI roles or company size. Millennials became the largest generation in the US labor force in 2016. Tech companies compete for millennial and post-millennial talent.
These generations are culturally diverse and socially conscious. They demand purpose in their work, and are not as loyal to companies and people as the preceding generations. If employers want to attract and retain this talent pool, they must recognize DEI is in their DNA and adapt.
Adapting benefits these companies. Diverse and inclusive teams widen the organizational lens. They help ensure a company’s brand and offerings serve and reach their customers.
A DEI leader helps, but this effort requires a host of committed, informed, and proactive individuals across departments and roles. DEI is a strategic growth initiative, not a departmental objective.
There is no one size fits all template, but experienced practitioners can help organizations identify and effectively deploy best practices that benefit their workforce, workplace, and marketplace. This is why I founded ImpactDEI — to facilitate change at scale.
On the imperatives of creating an open, welcoming and diverse company culture:
Healthy workplaces help companies attract and retain talent and contribute to brand identity. These environments are diverse on many levels and foster a sense of belonging.
Executives and managers typically know they need to proactively support a company’s culture. They may not know DEI initiatives serve and strengthen the culture.
Articulated and shared corporate values; transparent communication, surveys, and reporting; regular peer recognition and performance feedback; educated and supportive managers; welcoming physical environments; and opportunities to cross-departmentally collaborate and celebrate (not always with alcohol) are a few ways to create a welcoming environment.
Well designed and executed DEI initiatives help companies create inclusive spaces where people can have a positive business impact. For DEI program design, a working knowledge of behavioral economics helps. The program’s framework must provide enough freedom to empower team members, including access to capital and data.
If folks want to learn more about program design and interrupting bias, I recommend What Works: Gender Equality by Design by Iris Bohnet (2016).
On the career challenges young women face, and mentor/mentee roles:
Some common challenges are: confidence deficit; imposter syndrome; reluctance to speak up or negotiate; career path confusion; and, for technical women, feelings of isolation.
A mentor should show up, actively listen, and be responsive. A mentee should drive the relationship. For practical tips to help women advance, I recommend How Women Rise: Break the 12 Habits Holding You Back from Your Next Raise, Promotion, or Job by Sally Helgesen and Marshall Goldsmith (2018).
On working for a company that was woman owned, or where a woman was President or CEO:
That hasn’t happened yet, unfortunately. I look forward to serving clients where that is the case.
On a generational shift in the attitudes of male peers and colleagues :
Male baby boomers and Gen Xers lead most organizations and #metoo has amplified a long-standing issue. These gentlemen need to lead by example, and this includes thinking about how they and those around them treat women.
My male allies in these groups are important to me. They have growth mindsets, so their transition has been easier. Millennial men, in my experience, are more collaborative and supportive of women.
On the experience of fighting DEI issues in a state — Texas — not recognized for its cultural tolerance:
Texas is large and contains multitudes. Austin has been home to my husband and me for over 10 years. The people I admire here embody the change they want to see in deeds and words. I am a founding funder of and serve on the Organizing Committee for Emerge Texas, an affiliate of Emerge America. Emerge America recruits, trains, and provides a powerful network to Democratic women who want to run for office.
On how women can contribute towards lasting change in work-related gender equity issues:
Let’s clarify at the outset this is not solely a women’s issue or a single industry issue. We all can create meaningful change. The cumulative impact of many small actions is transformative.
I am grateful for the efforts of my predecessors, particularly women of color, who have led the way. As Shirley Chisholm said, “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.” That’s how I feel.
Advancing women’s issues across public and private spheres is a significant motivator for me. It is particularly rewarding to help another woman identify and move towards her highest potential. I believe my diversity, equity, and inclusion advocacy, support of Emerge America, and the many private moments spent learning from and helping other women make a difference.
Some tips I practice are to: understand the issues and vote in every election; remember we are comprised of visible and invisible parts; show up and help whether I’m asked to or not; and genuinely engage and involve men and uncommitted folks.
On inspirational figures:
Virginia Woolf was an entrepreneur who celebrated the inner life of women when it was rare to do so. She also understood we all are connected. “It is fatal to be a man or a woman pure and simple; one must be a woman-manly or a man-womanly.” A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf (1929).
On one book every CEO, Senior Executive and entrepreneur in America should read:
I recommend No Logo by Naomi Klein (1999), a prescient book about corporate branding and its social consequences. The proliferation of branding has upended how we experience the world. Consumers buy brands associated with lifestyle, culture, or values, not products or services.
Often, corporate and personal brands conflate. Employees tattooed in employer merchandise pepper social media posts. The line between public and private space has blurred.
With the proliferation of brand comes social responsibility. Inauthentic or misinformed attempts to co-opt DEI issues for brand can result in negative backlash. Increasingly, we see carefully cultivated brands held accountable by the media, the public, and employees. Corporate censorship can dilute or suppress DEI efforts.
Organizations that want to recruit, retain, and market to brand-saturated generations must genuinely engage in DEI topics. Whether leaders like it or not, corporations are tethered to economic value and social value in a branded ecosystem; symbiotic mutualism.
Like many women, I used to think talent and hard work were enough. We should not wait to be discovered or give away our power. It is okay to bet on yourself.
My mission is to positively impact DEI challenges at scale, particularly for women in underrepresented groups. Be your own Prince Charming.