August 25, 2021

TribePod: Building an Authentic & Scalable DEI Strategy

"Building an Authentic and Scalable DEI Strategy" is the first in a special series of podcasts for Founders, Talent Acquisition Leaders and HR Leaders who are in a rapidly growing and evolving organization and are constantly looking to elevate or even build their DEI strategy and culture. What makes this event special is that it is being programmed, in part, by you. What do I mean by that? The presentation is based on questions posed by the panel moderator and by questions submitted by our network.

Topics explored in this podcast event include how business leaders and executives can:

  • Foster environments of cultural relevance and responsiveness so that the work of DEI does not become performative and outdated.
  • Create a value-driven DEI brand that doesn’t focus solely on program-driven initiatives, but people-centered initiatives that drive cultural transformation.
  • Identify critical need areas to inform company-wide policies and solutions.
  • By understanding the pain points and areas of growth, organizations are positioned to develop sustainable DEI strategies that have realistic metrics of success and accountability across business units.
  • Foster environments of learning where training and coaching allow for an increased awareness of unconscious bias, microaggressions, and other forms of discrimination in order to promote a workplace where people can continue to have fearless dialogue while gaining practical tools of inclusion.
  • Serve as allies and advocates against all of discrimination in order to demonstrate that your company is committed to going beyond a statement and willing promote diversity and acceptance internally and externally as the core to its business success.

Speakers during the event are:

Greg Fontus - Lead Consultant for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Proactive Talent

Seema Daryanani - Global Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Leader at Google

Marissa Huang - Head of Talent at Playground Global

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Greg Fontus has over 10 years’ worth of knowledge and experience challenging and empowering others to be inclusively excellent. As a sought-after diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) strategist, trainer, thought leader, and motivator he has made it a mission to inspire and impact others to be positive agents of social change in order to create environments where all people matter and belong regardless of identity. Greg demonstrates exceptional communication skills due to an extensive public speaking and presentation experience to all age demographics, ethnicities, and professional levels. His ability to build trusting relationships, enthuse, and strategize towards practical business solutions and life applications has proven to be an invaluable asset to both organizations and people. ​

Greg’s working style is energetic, anecdotal, learner-focused, conscientious, social-justice oriented, and memorable as he desires to not just help others improve their knowledge levels, but to also exude confidence in their willingness and ability to apply what they’ve learned. He is the CEO and Principal Consultant of The Fontus Experience, LLC., a diversity and inclusion firm which focuses on growing leaders and empowering teams and organizations of all sizes to work towards becoming inclusively excellent.

Greg holds graduate degrees from the University of South Florida in Curriculum Instruction and from Vanderbilt University in Divinity. He also holds DEI certifications as a Cook Ross Unconscious Bias Trainer, a Green Dots Bystander Intervention Trainer, and a National Coalition Building Institute Trainer.​ As someone dedicated to the work of inclusion, equity, justice, and advocacy, Greg has accepted as his personal call to action the words of civil rights leader Rev. James Lawson who stated: “We are citizens of a country that does not yet exist. It is our duty to usher that country into existence.”


Seema brings her commitment to inclusion and belonging to both her professional and volunteer work. A trained crisis counselor, she has a demonstrated passion for helping people and teams identify both professional and personal roadblocks and unconscious biases, rewire patterns, and strengthen relationships. She is currently a Global Diversity Business Partner at Google. Prior to that was a DI&B global leader at Anaplan, forming diversity alliances and partnerships, focusing on fostering a culture of inclusion and belonging, and leading the Women's ERG. Prior to Anaplan, she recruited executive technical talent with a focus on diversity and inclusion at Autodesk and the U.S. Digital Service, a start-up created by the Obama administration that hires technical talent from Silicon Valley to modernize government technology. Seema's long-term commitment to equity and inclusion extends far beyond her professional life. She's been actively involved fighting against human trafficking with International Sanctuary as an ambassador and Executive Board member for more than a decade. Seema also serves on the advisory board of Model Expand -a D&I strategy firm focused on employer branding and talent acquisition, as well as on the Equity and Inclusion Strategy Committee at Katherine Delmar Burke School, a gender-inclusive school for girls.


Marissa Huang is the Head of Talent at Playground Global, an early stage investment firm that focuses on deep tech and life science companies -- ranging from automation and AI, next generation compute, and consumer and enterprise products focused on both software and hardware.

Prior to joining Playground, Marissa led the talent function at Niantic Labs, growing the team from 70 to 700 employees in four years. She changed the function, culture, and impact of talent operations across the company to support the company’s business goals and strategies as well as the needs and aspirations of its growing team.

Marissa's previous experience also includes executive search, managing talent teams, and managing talent and people operations at later stage companies like Asana, Facebook, and Google. Marissa was the first head of talent at Thumbtack and Figma. She has previously worked with many prominent leaders across Silicon Valley’s biggest companies, to build and manage talent operations that support and reflect their dynamic needs.

In her spare time, Marissa enjoys reading, riding her motorcycle, making pottery, flipping houses around the Bay Area, and spending time with her dog, cats, and husband at their home in San Francisco. She loves learning new things and is inherently curious about people and their stories. In her executive coaching practice, she supports startup founders, CEOs, and other senior executives on their journey to becoming stronger leaders who build diverse teams and successful products.




Greg Fontus (1s):
Hello, everyone. Welcome to this podcast event. My name is Greg Fontus and I run the retention services division at Proactive Talent. My duties include overseeing our DEI services, learning and development services, as well as our coaching and advisory services. What you are about to hear is a panel discussion entitled Building an Authentic and Scalable DEI Strategy. It begins right after this message.

Proactive Talent (37s):
Proactive Talent is the leading power partner to your recruiting engine. We're a coalition of recruiting and talent brand practitioners who provide the necessary tools and talent to tighten your hiring gaps, most of your retention rates, and embolden your company mission, giving you the competitive edge needed in the ever-changing recruiting industry. With a holistic approach, we work alongside clients to help them build a powerful recruiting engine that enables them to efficiently attract, recruit, and retain top talent. We specialize in adding power to you're full candidate journey from talent attraction, to hiring, to retention.

Proactive Talent (1m 23s):
Our clients include enterprise companies like Uber Postmates, Siemens Energy, Boston Consulting Group, Basic American Foods, and GoDaddy, as well as fast-growing startups like Calendly, Discord, and Gong. Please reach out to us today. We would love to have a conversation. You may contact us at That's

Greg Fontus (1m 55s):
Let's go ahead and please introduce yourself, Marissa. We'll start with you and then see where you'll follow.

Marissa Huang (2m 1s):
Sure. Thanks, Greg. Hi everyone. My name is Marissa Huang. I'm currently the Head of Talent at Playground Global. We're an early-stage investment firm that focuses on deep tech and life sciences companies ranging from automation in AI, next-generation compute, and consumer and enterprise products, really focused on both hardware and software sides. Before Playground, I led the current function at Niantic Labs. I grew the team from 70 to 700 employees. My experience includes exec search, managing talent teams, and people ops at various companies like Sonic, Facebook, and Google. I was also the first head of talent at Mtech and Figma.

Greg Fontus (2m 37s):
Great, thank you so much. Seema?

Seema Daryanani (2m 39s):
Hi, everyone. I’m really excited to be here. My name is Seema Daryanani and I'm currently the Global Lead Diversity Business Partner at Google. Prior to that, I was running DEI at a fast company called and Anna Plan. I'm also holding the women's ERG. I've also spent quite a bit of time, about 15 years working with survivors of human trafficking and modern-day slavery fighting gender exclusion, casteism, and colorism, and the innate need to belong. My focus definitely lives on understanding how the trauma of social injustice impacts our underrepresented groups’ capacity to show up authentically at work.

Greg Fontus (3m 28s):
Thanks so much, Seema. I am so excited to be having this conversation today with both of you. You all bring incredible experience and I know that your experience, your passion is going to bleed through as we dive into an incredible and critical topic for today on Building an Authentic and Scalable DEI Strategy. I don't know about you but we recognize that for the last year and a half or a little bit more than that, many companies and organizations have really been trying to turn their attention more intentionally as it relates to DEI. There's been a lot of incidents within our national setting, within organizations.

Greg Fontus (4m 10s):
Organizations are really trying to figure out how do they create, how do we build a DEI strategy that is sustainable, authentic, scalable. That's what we are going to be focusing on today. I am incredibly excited to just dive into this conversation with you all. With that being said, how about we begin. The first question I want to pose, and Marissa, I want to see if you can take on this one first, but what does the DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) mean to you in the context of building an organization?

Marissa Huang (4m 41s):
Yes, so in my experience at various startups, it really means providing the right conditions for everyone to thrive and succeed in the ways that work for them. That's the key, it’s in ways that work for them. This means really actively ensuring that we're providing opportunities for folks from underrepresented groups, without ulterior motives or tokenistic attitudes to diversity. We also really need to actively remove barriers and just create the conditions for every person to have that same outcome. It's really about just helping people feel valued, heard, included, respected, just all very important things to really thrive in an organization.

Greg Fontus (5m 32s):
organization, that requires leaders to really operate in a sense of humility and really in a sense of not being so self-centered rather being people-centered. Really being people-focused and really taking in consideration their identities, their particularities, their experiences, both in life as well as professional. All of those things are taking into consideration as we develop those right conditions. It's specific to that organization. No organization has the same type of experience or is going to build the same type of culture. Rather, these organizations are going to build an environment that has those values of inclusion, values of belonging, regardless of the type of situation that there is.

Greg Fontus (6m 19s):
I love that perspective that you brought to the table. Seema, what about you? Do you have any thoughts?

Seema Daryanani (6m 28s):
Yes, definitely. Similar to what Marissa said, at Google, we define equity as equally high outcomes of access to opportunities and success for all individuals, regardless of any social or cultural factors. I think it's definitely important to center on that and basically, to really try hard to make sure that equity is a huge focus in everything that we do.

Greg Fontus (6m 57s):
Love it. I love the emphasis on equity because sometimes we can forget about that. We can forget about that. We can focus on other aspects of DEI, but then when we get down to a nitty-gritty, sometimes equity can be pushed by the wayside. Having that intentionality towards that, I think, is awesome. This is a question for either of you where you can both jump in on this one. Where do you think organizations are getting their approach right in the sense of DEI and developing a DEI strategy? Where do you see organizations are doing it wrong?

Seema Daryanani (7m 39s):
I can jump in on that, Greg. As you mentioned, those last couple of years have definitely been quite difficult. I'm not going to say that there are organizations that are doing it perfectly. We all definitely have quite a bit of work to do. I don't think anyone has the right per se so I'm going to focus on maybe two things that I see that are going wrong, and then follow it up with two things that I see that organizations are doing right. One, I think hiring a CDO and expecting them to fix everything without giving them a budget, headcount, correct reporting structure.

Seema Daryanani (8m 21s):
Essentially hiring someone as the face of DEI is probably not the right move. Then secondly, ignoring data. The data is going to guide us and help measure what we're doing right and wrong. Something that comes to mind for me is the exit interview. Don't get me wrong. I don't think we should still do these but imagine if we conducted these interviews and gathered similar feedback while the employees are still with a company, and then implement that feedback or changes that are requested to make them have a better experience.

Seema Daryanani (9m 4s):
Those two things are the things that I think everyone can work on. What we're getting right is, I think that it's unfortunate that many opened their eyes to racial injustice during the pandemic when so many of us have been facing racism since we were born. It's definitely helped companies though, to stop and think in focus less on a performative allyship and really dig deep into how they can foster a culture of inclusion and belonging. While the last few years have been very difficult, I think the fact that we're in this pandemic really helped people focus.

Seema Daryanani (9m 50s):
Another thing that I think is going right is for the companies that are not only focusing on hiring externally, but retaining and promoting the talent you have within, especially your underrepresented groups.

Marissa Huang (10m 5s):
That's great, Seema. I totally agree in terms of the silver lining of all of this would be that we're moving beyond that performative allyship. I think that with everything that's happened and things that people have faced every day of their lives, but now it's getting a lot more attention. I think people have noticed that some of the things that we've done in the past have really caused discomfort in the very least or harm to underrepresented groups. They’re really in a hurry to make amends and try to make that experience better. I would say while this urgency on DEI is really needed, it has given the rise to a couple of problems.

Marissa Huang (10m 52s):
I totally agree with you on single-person ownership. It's really hard. If we really want DEI initiatives to be successful, it really involves everyone at the organization. This starts at the top. Senior leaders really have to do more than just provide the budget if they want to drive real change. Instead, they need to be modeling behaviors. They need to look inward at their own biases, cultivate those honest conversations, trust, and transparency. That's really going to help them and help them build DEI into the core of their strategy. I think that's a big thing for me. It’s that if you can empower people to speak up when they notice something's not right and just be open to learning and changing, that's a big area.

Marissa Huang (11m 38s):
Thinking about how to not just put it all on one person because that's not only just a lot, but it's infeasible. The other thing that I'm thinking about that Greg talked about is that one size fits all. I would say most of us recognize that no two organizations have exactly the same diversity climate. Why would we come up with exactly the same solutions or processes to help improve DEI? Guidelines, workshops, playbooks are all super helpful but it’s really up to leaders to get to know their organization’s DEI strains and blind spots just on a more deeper level so they can really propose solutions that are more specific.

Marissa Huang (12m 20s):
They're intentional, they're thoughtful. I have so many but I'm trying to keep it deep and brief. The last thing that some people might find controversial really is around the business case for DEI. I just feel like one of the more problematic constructs, like underpinning DEI as a whole, is that we often want to back it up with a ton of stats around how it positively impacts productivity, performance, profit, all of the stuff. A lot of the stats are super compelling, but I just feel like that thinking sets the wrong intention. We really need to think of it as central to our strategy because it's the right thing to do, not because it's just a number's game.

Marissa Huang (12m 60s):
Those were the three areas that I really feel need to change and we need to think of ways to improve them.

Greg Fontus (13m 9s):
Yes, that's awesome. As both of you were talking, one of the themes that I've heard from both of you was this idea of a performative allyship, performative DEI. How do we know when an organization is not operating in performative DEI? How do we determine that? Who's the determinant of that? I've worked along with different organizations in a consulting capacity where they've been doing things but certain employees still would categorize that as being performative, whether it's the hiring practices, funding that has gone into different departments and for different roles and positions, and in whatever happen, so on and so forth.

Greg Fontus (13m 58s):
How do we know when an organization has transitioned beyond the performative allyship, performative DEI into the actual relevancy of the organization, really being an organization that is socially conscious and aware? How do we know that distinguishment?

Seema Daryanani (14m 17s):
I think that we saw this quite a bit with the racial injustice. We see that companies who were posting stuff on Instagram and LinkedIn making statements. Often, because I work with quite a few people all across the industry, I'd talked to people and some would say, “You know what? No one talked to the black folks on the company before putting that statement out. No one checked in on how we were really feeling before saying, ‘Yes, black lives matter. We support our employees,’ et cetera.” I think how we know that's truly changed is when leadership has that relationship with all of our underrepresented groups and is able to make that decision collectively.

Seema Daryanani (15m 9s):
Sure, if you want to post something, go ahead, but you're posting something without checking in with your actual team. Then, it's completely performative. Similar to what Marissa was saying before, without leadership's buy-in and without them really leading by example, we're not going to make any changes. DEI has to be the foundation of what everyone does, not just the DEI team. I think it would be great to eventually work myself out of a job where everyone is doing my work in their role. That's where I would think that it would be genuine at that point.

Greg Fontus (15m 55s):
Got it. What about you, Marissa?

Marissa Huang (15m 57s):
Yes, I totally agree with everything that Seema has mentioned. I think it's Verna Myers who puts it really well. Diversity is being invited to the party but inclusion is being asked to dance. It's all about that. You can post, you can put whatever you want on there, and that is performative. How are you actually thinking about how we are going to ask these people to dance and be a part of it? There are so many things that are already so unfair and unequal. Figuring out how can we level the playing field for folks in a way that's thoughtful and includes everyone's voices? Don't build a DEI strategy for people of color and forget to ask people of color, what they think.

Marissa Huang (16m 41s):
It happens so often that it gave me that real cringe factor, but it is something that people don't think about. That needs to change for sure.

Greg Fontus (16m 50s):
Yes, for sure. Definitely. Both of those things resonate with me, both of them do. It has lead me to this next question that I want to pose and suggest is, as we're moving away from this or hoping that we move away from this performative idea of DEI, what are some of the ways that we can start a DEI program? What are some of the three steps to take to build the best program? How do we build that program that's not performative? Marisa, do you want to start with that?

Marissa Huang (17m 22s):
I feel like Seema has built many more programs than I have. I've just been a contributor onlooker but I think one of the first things to do is really identify where you are as an organization. Each company has its own specific diversity climate that we talked about. Focusing on what your company needs instead of what other companies have already done is supercritical. You can hold focus groups. You can encourage people to share stories. Look at your own unconscious biases. There's a lot to learn from one another to just encourage that honest conversation and really make that safe space.

Marissa Huang (18m 2s):
Psychological safety is a big component of that. A lot of people sent out engagement surveys or anonymous surveys to just identify certain blind spots or gaps in your processes and employee experiences because that can differ vary widely even depending on a department or folks within a department. A lot of these approaches will really surface the key issues that different underrepresented folks experience on a day-to-day basis. It's really important to note that these all require that psychological safety, a culture of trust, open communication. Without that, you can’t. You really need to start there first and really think about how are we going to get there?

Marissa Huang (18m 43s):
Then another big part that's been mentioned around metrics, it’s just measuring and evaluating from the very beginning. You really need to understand where you are on your journey before proposing different solutions to the changes. You can really only understand your progress and evolve if you're tracking it. Use these conversations on the quantitative and qualitative data you’ve collected to set realistic goals and then find ways to measure those that encompass more than just a headcount or a bottom line. Then the third and main component is acting and evolving your strategy as you're building out this program.

Marissa Huang (19m 25s):
Obviously, understanding and empathy are supercritical. You have to have those but acting drives change. It's great to implement new policies and really take steps to ensure underrepresented groups are included, but part of your readiness to move the needle is really your willingness to take responsibility and accountability when things aren't working. Think about what's not working. It could mean really confronting aspects of your company policies that hinder your ability to create that diverse, equitable, and inclusive experience for your team.

Greg Fontus (19m 54s):
I love that response. That was just incredible. What really resonates with me was one of the last things you just said. It’s how taking accountability when things aren't working well, I think that's one of the things that is so important for organizations to realize that they may not have been doing DEI well. I think we may need to sit with that. I think we need to acknowledge that because when we acknowledged that, that brings about a sense of healing for many employees and individuals that work there. It brings a level of clarity and honesty and it brings a new level of focus of, “Okay, we recognize we haven't been doing things as well. Now, where did we want to go in?” I love the fact of having accountability when things aren't going well.

Greg Fontus (20m 42s):
Seema, what about you? What are your thoughts in regards to some of the steps to take to build the best program as it relates DEI?

Seema Daryanani (20m 49s):
Absolutely. Yes, of course. I've done it at a company where it’s pioneering it and then obviously, a company where it's a little more established, but when you're building it, I think it's really important to focus on values. Whether it's the leadership team getting together, what's important to you? Why are you doing this? If you don't have a why and you don't have something driving, you can't continue because this is a long haul that we have to go through. It's really important to identify your why.

Seema Daryanani (21m 31s):
Marissa mentioned data. That is equally important. You want to know where you start. It's hard to track obviously when people don't feel the psychological safety to self ID. I think it’s important to make sure that you're really focusing on why there isn't psychological safety and what you can do to help people self ID so that you can get the proper metrics. Then really pick a few commitments that you want to stick to and that you're able to report on. Like you said, Greg, what are we doing wrong? If you don't know what you're doing in the first place, then you can't report on that either.

Seema Daryanani (22m 16s):
What do we want to focus on? Do we want to focus on increasing underrepresented representations or do we want to focus on hiring retention, promotions? Whatever it is that what you want to do and where you are in terms of the general place you are in a company, I think it's hard sometimes when people don't have a budget and things like that. Definitely, if you're starting off, don't boil the ocean. Even if it's one thing that you want to do right, do it right.

Seema Daryanani (22m 57s):
If you do have enough resources to focus on many things, I again, would focus on representation, challenges, creating a stronger sense of inclusion and belonging, and measuring that through employee engagement surveys. Really also understanding where you are in terms of education. Where is everyone on their journey and what kind of anti-racism educational programs do you need on a global scale that would appeal to everyone and that would help everyone get on their journey?

Greg Fontus (23m 20s):
That's good. Having an understanding of where people are in their journey because everyone comes in from different perspectives, different ages, geographical locations, different educational achievements. Everyone comes in at a different place in their journey. Having an understanding of where people are is critical because that then increases the understanding across. It actually increases the level of cultural competence that you have because you understand someone else. I love what you're saying.

Seema Daryanani (24m 22s):
One hundred percent.

Greg Fontus (25m 6s):
I think that one of the big things that, and I think it's really the elephant in the room or the challenge that many of us are facing, is we're talking all about creating environments of psychological safety, creating inclusive environments, understanding each other, holding each other accountable, employee engagement surveys, having an understanding of where people are. All of that is great but here's the question I want to post to you all, the elephant in the room. How do we do that in a virtual space? How do we do that? Everyone's working from home. We have kids at home. We have the city coming to cut trees down in our neighborhood. We have so many things happening going on in our environment. How do we do that? It's so easy for us in the virtual space to turn off our cameras. It's so easy for us to just phone in. It’s so easy for us to be distracted by other things and to not be as engaged. We may love working at home but it’s still a challenge. How do we create an inclusive environment? How do we drive DEI in a virtual environment? How do we do that? Marissa, what, what do you think? How do we do this?

Marissa Huang (26m 4s):
Wish I knew all the answers, but I think a lot of what you would say is very basic. Showing empathy and understanding is a big aspect of it. Everyone's having super different experiences from working from home. Greg, I love it. I'm in the basement because of the city of chopping down trees on my street. Everybody has something come up and in those things that come up, you'll have a very likely different set of needs that you need to think about it. Parents and caregivers, for example. They may need more understanding around their workload or their deadline and life needs. Introverted people may be really struggling to feel hurt in these virtual environments. Extroverted folks may be struggling from the lack of social connections.

Marissa Huang (26m 46s):
Really listening and understanding these experiences and really, just very simply, asking about needs will help employees feel heard and just acknowledged. Then along that same vein is empowering employees to own their work and routines. This involves, again, the trust word. Trust is a huge element of building inclusion in general. Employees really have to feel trusted to work remotely in the way that works best for them. If that means working at 6:00 AM while they're baby naps or attending meetings if they're really having a tough time with mental health that day or that month, that's really empowering them to make those choices without fear of those negative consequences.

Marissa Huang (27m 33s):
That's a huge first step in terms of driving inclusion. Then as leaders, we need to visibly model these behaviors and sets our own boundaries too. You can and should reinforce this in company meetings. You maybe block out your calendar, send an email just to say, “Hey, I need to take a mental health day,” or, “Hey, I'm going to go for a hike because I've had a rough day.” It is just letting your employees know. I think the more that leaders do this, they are doing that role model, like parents are role models for their kids, that it's okay to not feel a hundred percent every single day. Those are a couple but I'm sure that Seema has tons of other ideas as well.

Seema Daryanani (28m 18s):
No, Marissa. You're so right. You have to focus on being flexible, leading with kindness and understanding. Everything you said is spot on. I'll have to share that I have two little girls at home. At the beginning of the pandemic, I would constantly apologize and often put myself on mute every second. It's a habit that I have. Every minute I stopped talking, I put myself on mute. Then, of course, you have that whole you're on mute and you’re still talking. I was always just so nervous.

Seema Daryanani (29m 3s):
My kids are little so they do make noises, they fight, and they do a lot of things. One day, one of my leaders was like, “You know what, bring them on camera. Stop apologizing, bring them on camera. We want to meet them. It seems like we're all going to be doing this for a while. Let's just stop apologizing and bring them in.” When he said that to me, that changed so much for me because I would just always be very anxious. Like you said, Marissa, turn off your camera.

Seema Daryanani (29m 48s):
Sometimes it's important that we avoid judgment when someone's camera is off because we don't know what they're doing or why they're muted quite a bit. Until we see our leaders lead by example with this, it's hard for us to really show who we are when we're doing something like this. Another thing I think that's important too is if you have things all hands or multiple team meetings, not to expect everyone to show up at that time, hold multiple meetings where it can be flexible for people who are in different time zones, or people who just can’t work at that time, or taking kids to school, or just doing something else. Spend more time pausing in meetings to make sure that people have time to speak and respond. There is a lot of discomfort in pausing and someone was telling me that, I think, 10 seconds is the right time to pause to let people chime in. It seems like an eternity but I think that's important to do. I think in some ways, this physical distance is helping us realize that we need to find other ways to connect. As Marissa mentioned, when leaders need to just check in on their team, see what their needs are, and then anticipate that.

Marissa Huang (31m 11s):
One thing that you brought up, Seema, that’s really important too is just around the times for zoom meetings. I feel like a lot of times, companies make go the other way. Everybody is like, “Everybody is working remotely. We need to bring people together.” They might do more all-hands or they might do zoom social hours, but they could be after hours, or they could be weird times of the day or not fit even for regular meetings. Then it's awkward if you don't go. I think there should be a lot more intentionality and thoughtfulness around that of the number of meetings but also when they are, who's included, and how to accommodate everybody as best as possible. If you can go for it, it’s totally okay, and just saying that.

Seema Daryanani (31m 36s):
That makes a lot of sense. When people would have a social hour, I'd be like, “My god, I can't do this right now. My kids are home. I've got to make dinner. I've got to do this,” but then there are people who are really craving attention, who don't have their family at home. I think you're right when you say that you've got to be intentional about what you're doing because there are times where people are really craving that connection too.

Greg Fontus (32m 20s):
I love this part of the conversation because as both of you were talking, one of the things that just came to mind for me is the fact that the pandemic and working remotely has really shown us that all of us have multiple identities. We have intersections of identities and they came out during this pandemic. For example, during this pandemic, my daughter was born. For me, many times I've shown up to a zoom meeting. I've shown up with the baby carrier. My baby girl’s in there. I have a bottle and I'm feeding her in the midst of this meeting because that's just who I am. I can't separate the fact that I'm a DEI practitioner as well as a dad, as well as a partner to my partner.

Greg Fontus (33m 5s):
I cannot negate those things. That's who I am. I think the pandemic showed that. I think that when our organization is really beginning to embrace the holistic person, they begin to embrace the person beyond the one making you money, the one leading your team, and the one who's just responsible for one functional area. When we begin to understand that, that's when we get to a place of cultural relevance, that's where we get to the place of cultural awareness and consciousness because we actually care about the whole team. We talk about the people operations within an organization, the human operations. Well, that's exactly what I'm doing.

Greg Fontus (33m 56s):
I'm being a person where you can see the full extent of my identity. I think when you talk about doing this in a virtual space, that’s when we’re able to really see the full person because of all of the identities that exist. I loved where this is part of the conversation has gone. With that being said, I want to just backtrack just for a little bit because one of the things that we did talk about was establishing metrics. We talked about establishing metrics to help us really create that environment of where our DEI strategy is sustainable, it's actionable of what have you. Seema, I have a question. Let's start with you. What are some of the metrics that are best to utilize in order to track the success of DEI initiatives?

Seema Daryanani (34m 36s):
Yes, sure. I think first and foremost, representation. This is where that self ID thing comes in, where you want to see where you are first so that you can focus on whether you need to work on psychological safety, which I'm sure you do, by seeing what’s showing up in the numbers in terms of representation. After that, I think tracking, hiring of underrepresented groups is important. Seeing what progression looks for underrepresented groups versus everyone else. How is that going?

Seema Daryanani (35m 17s):
Does it take longer to get promoted? Are people being paid less? This is the only thing that you can look at to really see the truth. Right? It can be very hard to look at but it's important. Then retention, where are people going? Why are they leaving? What are the reasons that they're giving that qualitative data from exit interviews if they're going to different teams? Oftentimes, I think one of you mentioned this too. HR people ops, DEI, this is a safe space for a lot of people.

Seema Daryanani (36m 14s):
This is where you see that representation but we don't always have to be here. We should be understanding why do people want to go to people ops? It’s because they see themselves and they see leaders that they can follow. We need to mimic that across other areas of the company in tech, products, and things like that so that we can repeat the same thing. To close out, I think, inclusion. We want to measure how people are feeling by doing these engagement surveys. Also, it's good to see how people feel about the leadership commitments to DEI. How do they feel about the company? How do they feel about the leaders? Are they talking the talk or are they actually doing it?

Marissa Huang (36m 56s):
Yes, definitely. I think that you touched upon a lot of the points that I was thinking of, compensation growth, retention. Where are people going? Tracking the reasons during exit interviews, understanding what their career progression or journey was. That can be very specific to certain departments or team managers. Which managers are actually fostering an inclusive environment? What's going on with these pockets of your organization, where the expenses are so different than what you're seeing overall? On that belonging or inclusion aspect, it's intangible.

Marissa Huang (37m 44s):
It's a lot harder to measure that versus compensation and pay raises but it's really important. Definitely, in terms of your engagement surveys, having really targeted questions there and you can maybe segment these scores by demographic or experience group. You can also collect more detailed qualitative data on experiences if you have a free text field for those who want to share. Those are ways that you can start asking these questions and hopefully, in a way that is just really safe for employees to think about. It would be great but it is hard. It's a lot harder thinking about how do I track belonging and inclusion versus some of these very straightforward metrics that are also super important.

Greg Fontus (38m 38s):
Yes, absolutely. I think the acquiring of qualitative experience is critical because that's your DEI brand essentially. That's what people want to know. We can look at the numbers and people can say, “That's great.” Sure. We can definitely say we have a great number of employees that are being hired into the organization. We have a great number of them that are in leadership roles. We can be doing programs left and right but if the experience is not going well for individuals of historically marginalized identities, if their experiences are not being validated, and that's what the narrative that's being portrayed, people don't want to come and be a part of that brand because it's important for organizations to understand that the stories do matter, the experiences do matter. With that in mind, as we're talking about organizations growing and organizations being able to crack and have these metrics at play, how do you suggest what organization moves from a culture fit to a culture add approach in DEI? Marisa, do you have any thoughts?

Marissa Huang (39m 41s):
I have lots of thoughts on culture fit versus culture add. First off, I think it’s really important understand the difference between culture fit and culture ad. Culture fit is often used by organizations to really talk about how the candidate aligns with their existing values and culture. Organizations often have a tendency to hire people or similar to them who will just fit in and feel at home easily. This doesn't work if you're trying to build a diverse and inclusive organization because it really implies that you want people to fit in in the first place. It also implies that some candidates won't fit in. Culture fit is more likely to lead to a more homogenous organization that just doesn't have the diversity that people keep trying to build.

Marissa Huang (40m 34s):
Instead, you really want to think about culture add. Culture add really focuses on the new perspectives and experiences one can bring to the table and how they positively impact your existing team. It focuses on the values alignment, perspective, and it champions diversity as a strength. If you think about it from that perspective, if you want to move to a perspective of culture ad, you really need to move beyond the idea of using fit as a predictor for employee success. You can think about a lot of different ways an individual can be successful at your company beyond just fitting into your existing culture. Think about what success looks like and the many different paths that that could take. Think about how that can shape and grow your culture into something new or it could be a lot more exciting or even much better than where it is now. I always get a little bit nervous when people are talking about culture fit and going into this whole differentiation but it's huge. It's really changing the mindset and how you are really thinking about it, not across just hiring, but how you even view your existing employees and what culture add each individual brings to a team that maybe was a founding team and how you want to grow that.

Greg Fontus (41m 43s):
That is awesome, indeed. Culture add is what we desire, not the fit. Let's just make it play. Culture add is what we want, not the fit. Awesome. With that being said, we're getting to the whole stretch of our time together. What are some ideas that we can use in order to implement in our strategy, in our DEI strategy? What are some ideas that we can implement from hiring, sourcing, closing, et cetera perspective, as well as company culture with its sets of inclusion and belonging, retention, et cetera? Seema, do you want to go first and then, Marissa?

Seema Daryanani (42m 24s):
Yes, sure. I think one of the most important strategies is focusing on making sure you get it right from the top. Helping senior leadership understand what their why is and transitioned from that checklist view of DEI to a cultural and empowering point of view. I've worked with quite a few executives on this. First and foremost, I think it's important to understand what their privileges are and then focus on using that privilege to help others.

Seema Daryanani (43m 5s):
The only way that you can really do that is if you can be vulnerable yourself and understand what exclusion feels like because oftentimes, many of these people have not felt that way. If you are asking people to hire for culture add, you're asking them to come out of their comfort zone. This is the same thing, essentially. They're doing something. They're trying to understand something that they've never experienced before. They're completely out of their comfort zone. This is the only way that they're going to build that safety because you have to understand what underrepresented groups are experiencing in the workplace. I think it's important to have conversations with their employees, collect data, really connect with people as human beings, and acknowledge their pain. Essentially, leading with empathy and compassion is key.

Seema Daryanani (43m 45s):
I've also engaged with a firm called leverage to lead for several years and they work with leaders because the approach is that leaders essentially know everything. They are the experts in everything that they do. This is the one thing their cultural competency is not strong in DEI. The goal for them has been working to build that conscious competence around equity and inclusion issues. When you have this from the top trickling down, I think that that's where you truly build a strong strategy. You truly have leaders examine their power and their socialization as well as bending their agility to navigate that bias that Marissa was mentioning when you are doing the culture of fit versus culture add, and really embrace the discomfort. I think if you do that, it makes things easier when you're a building that strategy.

Marissa Huang (45m 10s):
I love that embrace the discomfort part because a lot of this is super uncomfortable, especially if someone is from a place of privilege. To have that, you might feel guilt or you might just really not understand. You understand that conceptually but you never experienced it firsthand. There is a lot around that. From a hiring perspective, since I do focus on that quite a bit in helping our companies, we really talked about providing opportunities. Looking at the same places means that some candidates are never given that chance to apply or they're rolled out due to some unconscious biases in the early stage. Really thinking about how can we provide extra opportunities for underrepresented minority groups to get into the interview room?

Marissa Huang (45m 56s):
That means you have to think about where you advertise jobs, how long jobs are open for, how you actively seek out candidates. Some people have done this and it works quite well. You can include an email address on your website or jobs page just for folks from underrepresented minority groups to get in touch with you directly if you feel confident answering questions about the role, helping out. That's a really nice thing just to say like, “Hey, we want you to apply. Please apply.” Just being really thoughtful about that because it can be very scary right to think like, “I haven't worked in this field before. I haven't worked in tech.” It's all about access and democratizing access to opportunities.

Marissa Huang (46m 44s):
That's huge. There are definitely things around reducing hiring bias that we've experimented with in the past and would love to hear from Seema, what you think about that. There's a lot of cool apps that you can remove identifying demographic data or you can remove information colleges or previous employment. That's hard because sometimes if it removes too much, you can't see anything but even simply removing someone's name. We've seen tons of studies that show a lot of biases even towards names that associate with a particular gender or a racial identity sometimes.

Marissa Huang (47m 24s):
If there's a lot around that as well, also just making sure you are thoughtful in our job descriptions. Think about how the language and skills requirements play a role. If your role requires a degree from a top college, then you're basically ensuring some candidates without that education level or from a specific socioeconomic background self-select out. Really think about how to be more skills-focused and education agnostic, unless it's really critical to the role, which I actually find nine times out of the 10, it is absolutely not. Unless it's like a, “We need a forklift driver who has a certification,” that makes sense. Most of the time it's like, “I want to know what you've done in the past. Can your skills be applicable to other things?” There are some gender decoding tools like Gender Decoder and Textio that help with job descriptions, but that's a more gendered language. It really helps if you can get folks to read over it and think about, “Okay, if I'm going to apply for this job, would I apply?” Some people who are super qualified, even at your company right now, probably would be like, “I'm not qualified for this job,” and so being realistic about that as well.

Greg Fontus (48m 41s):
That was awesome. I just love these conversations because we get so much insight and so many nuggets that we can just take with ourselves and learn from them. One of the things I want to highlight that was mentioned periodically from both of you was really the leadership understanding the why. I think when leadership takes it upon themselves to be active agents, active participants in this, that's where the culture begins to shift because oftentimes, we have a tendency of putting together a random committee with people who have never done this work, barely have a passion for it, and we'd never get off the ground.

Greg Fontus (49m 31s):
The leadership says, “Well, we had action council. We added a diversity action council. We had this diversity working group. They're the ones who dropped the ball.” No, it was leadership who dropped the ball. Let's call a spade of state. It was leadership that dropped a ball. I think it’s important that when leadership gets behind it, that's where change happens because as the reality will have it, DEI is something that we all strive to attain, really having an environment of inclusion, of belonging. It is a goal that we all have in mind but we could never forget that it's also a process. It is something that we must perpetually continue to work at, to work on, to work with each other in order for us to create and develop a strategy that is actionable, scalable, as well as something that is practical and is actually being fulfilled. It's one thing to have a strategy. It's another thing to be living it out. For those of us who have been listening on today, we touched on a lot of things. I hope that you all learned something. I hope that you all got some nuggets from it. Hey, Marissa, Seema. How can people get in contact with you after this podcast? How can they reach out to you? Maybe they want to learn more about what you have going on, what you're doing in your work, how can they do so? Marissa, then Seema?

Marissa Huang (50m 10s):
They can email me directly, I'm terrible with LinkedIn. Sometimes I go through that once a month so please email me instead.

Seema Daryanani (50m 31s):
That's funny because I was going to say I'm actually really good with LinkedIn Connect. I’m actually worst with email. Absolutely, contact me on LinkedIn. I'm happy to have a chat and discuss more. I often talk to people who are building their strategies when they're in a smaller company so happy to connect.

Greg Fontus (50m 56s):
Awesome. Thank you both so much for joining. To those of you listening in on the podcast, their emails and contact information will be posted in our description. Until then, we'll see you next time. Take care.

Proactive Talent (50m 60s):
You have been listening to the podcast, Building an Authentic and Scalable DEI Strategy. If you have not already, please take advantage of the resources in the podcast description. They are there for your benefit. Thank you all for tuning in. Until next time, bye.

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