Why do companies want to build diverse workforces and cultivate inclusivity among their staff members at all levels of the organization? It’s not simply because “it’s the right thing to do,” although, of course, we should all strive to build diverse networks and be inclusive in all of our pursuits.
For businesses, though, especially the progressive ones, there is widespread recognition that diversity matters not only from a societal perspective but also from a business perspective. The best companies recognize that the right focus on diversity and inclusion is a key element driving their success.
Companies that are more diverse and inclusive are more creative, are better at serving diverse markets, and generally perform better than those that are not as diverse or inclusive. There’s plenty of research out there to support this notion.
The Best Companies—and the Best Chief Diversity Officers (CDOs)
Tara Ataya, Chief People and Diversity Officer at Hootsuite, is a prime example. Ataya is a firm believer in the link between diversity and inclusion and business success, and it’s been a foundational element of her career and her career trajectory. In December, Ataya was promoted to Chief People and Diversity Officer, Hootsuite’s first such position. She was formerly VP of People.
“Tara’s appointment to Chief People and Diversity Officer is a testament to the tremendous impact she’s been able to make throughout her career in people, leadership, culture and talent management,” said Tom Keiser, CEO of Hootsuite, in a news release.
Connecting the Dots Between People and Business Success
“When I think about my career, early on I realized—even as a child—that I loved being able to connect the dots, understand the ‘why’ and solve problems. Empathy was a huge part of how I operated, and I still continue to operate that way,” says Ataya. “Connecting the dots and solving business problems with empathy is something I’m extremely passionate about,” she adds.
Specifically, the way Ataya strives to solve those business problems is by connecting the dots between people and business outcomes. “The heart of every company is their people strategy because their people take care of their customers,” she explains. “So, it’s been a career for me that lends itself to my passions and allows me to work with pretty remarkable human beings as well.”
Being at the Cutting Edge Requires Trusting One’s Instincts
The world admires business leaders at the cutting edge but also tends to focus on the success stories. There are plenty of examples of those who tried and failed to drive change, try something new, or buck trends. It’s much easier to take a wait-and-see approach to business, using the experiences of others as examples of what to do or not to do, but there’s no playbook for being first.
Those paving their own way face greater challenges but also have the potential to reap greater rewards.
Ataya says she’s learned to follow her own instincts and natural sense of empathy as a guide when pushing the envelope. “There’s a lot of being at the tip of the spear and trying to be creative and innovative in solving business problems as they pertain to people,” she says.
Ataya speaks from the perspective of a career that has spanned HR, people development, performance management, and HR technology. She’s learned, she says, to love the excitement and the discomfort that come with being in an HR role and has often had to quickly determine how to lead teams through an immense amount of change.
“I think that’s where I had to rely on just my instincts around leading with empathy and creating a sense of belonging for people to create high trust when things are changing rapidly,” she says.
That focus on building and respecting diverse perspectives has been foundational to her success and the success of the companies she’s served.
Leveraging Diversity and Inclusion as a Pillar of Success
Hootsuite and Ataya both see diversity and inclusion as key business assets and important parts of any company’s strategy for success. It’s something Ataya has felt throughout her career, which makes Hootsuite’s complementary focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) a great fit.
“When I think about diversity and inclusion, it’s been a focus throughout my career—and I think that’s not uncommon for HR professionals,” Ataya says. “I’ve also had the opportunity to work at organizations where diversity and inclusion has been a part of the reason for our success.”
In terms of Hootsuite and her role there, Ataya recalls a saying that a friend often uses: “Where we’re looking is where we’re going.” DEI is a focus for Hootsuite, she says, “so we’re elevating the role to the C-suite and having people and diversity at the forefront.”
Hootsuite, like a growing number of organizations, has demonstrated its commitment to DEI in part through the creation of C-level positions focused on those efforts. The creation of Ataya’s current role is a great example.
“My transition from VP of People to Chief People and Diversity Officer marks Hootsuite’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion,” she says. “It’s a new strategic business role beyond just the HR function at the C-suite level – the role prioritizes our people and diversity as important pillars within our growth strategy.”
Inclusion Is About So Much More than Diversity
Ataya notes that true inclusiveness in organizations is not about saying “you need to fit in” but instead saying “come as you are, and we as an organization are going to get the best out of you and make sure you feel safe and included at work.” This approach requires so much more than simply checking boxes when hiring diverse candidates.
“We’re thinking about the entire employee life cycle and also thinking about who we are as a company, how our products function, what vendors we choose. It goes beyond just the employee experience,” Ataya says.
She also points to a number of initiatives Hootsuite is rolling out to further the mission of true inclusiveness. These include a listening session hosted by her and Keiser as an opportunity to elevate underrepresented voices within the company to the most senior level.
“The other thing we do at Hootsuite to support diversity and inclusion is a lived experience series where we bring in individuals from under-represented groups,” says Ataya. “They tell their personal stories which helps bring empathy to the words that we use—when we hear somebody’s experience it creates a personal connection with their life story.”
Ataya’s views on and experience with DEI perfectly highlight two key features of truly successful leaders and companies with respect to those goals: They genuinely see DEI as a core business strategy, and they look at their DEI efforts in a holistic way focused not only on improving statistics but also on considering the full employee life cycle, as well as impacts on external stakeholders like vendors and customers.
Hootsuite is blessed to have a leader like Ataya, who is comfortable using her instincts to help guide the future of the organization through a relatively young business discipline.
“When we consider the strength and richness that diversity brings to an organization, we understand that evolving Hootsuite’s global employee base is not only the right thing to do but makes for better business solutions that reflect our customers and communities,” Ataya says. “We have everything to gain on a journey to broaden diversity, ensure equity, and create a sense of belonging in the workplace.”