Diversity & Inclusion

Markita Jack: A Look at the Past, Present, and Future of DEI at Iterable

Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts have become increasingly prevalent in Western companies in recent years. Investing time, money, and staff in initiatives to increase diverse hiring and create safe and inclusive work environments might have been dismissed as a “nice to do” but not a “need to do” just a couple of decades ago. Today, though, companies of all types and sizes around the globe are making DEI a top priority.

markita jack diversity

For many, this renewed focus on building a diverse and inclusive work environment has resulted in the creation of a new role: chief diversity officer (CDO). Hiring people into this and other similarly focused DEI executive roles has helped elevate awareness of the critical nature of DEI.

One thing we’ve noticed in developing our series on CDOs is the shift in the extent to which newly minted CDOs have had to start their efforts from scratch versus those who replaced an incumbent CDO or at least inherited some DEI infrastructure.

This profile’s focus, Global Martech Company Iterable’s Head of DE&I, Markita Jack, represents a growing trend toward the latter situation. Although she was the first to hold her DEI leadership position at Iterable, DEI was not a first for Markita; she already had a wealth of experience leading DEI initiatives in the banking industry.

Jack represents an emerging dynamic among many companies exploring greater investments in DEI efforts. These companies may have pursued some important investments and initiatives but haven’t necessarily centralized those efforts or invested in a dedicated DEI department. Once they do institute a CDO-like position, however, those earlier investments can really pay off and help accelerate the success of the person stepping into that role.

Jack’s Early Career–No Stranger to HR

Jack has had a long career in HR and has had exposure to just about every aspect of the broad field. “I managed a shared services HR,” she says about one early role, “so obviously I led a team that was responsible for all areas of HR, whether it was payroll, benefits, employee relations – just really the first line of defense for our organization at the time.” Jack says she has worked as an HR business partner and led employer relations and talent acquisition.

Talent Acquisition as a Doorway to DEI Work

Jack says that her work in talent acquisition was probably a major catalyst for her transition into the DEI world because it was in supporting recruitment and retention efforts that she really became engaged in the efforts of diversity and equity teams.

“Talent acquisition is really where I got my early start in DEI work,” Jack says, “because, as you know, part of talent acquisition is really recruitment and retention and working with the diversity and equity teams to really make sure that our organization is reflective of not only our customers but of the world we live in.”

Jack began her work in this area 12–13 years ago, partnering with community organizations to increase representation and partnering with Affinity Group through recruiting fairs. She discovered a real passion for this work and for “creating an organization where underrepresented minority talent felt comfortable and felt represented.”

Jack continued that work for 5 or 6 years until an opportunity came along for her to work in DEI with a previous employer, which involved acting as a program manager and working closely with the company’s CEO to develop DEI programming and initiatives.

A New Role But Not Starting from Scratch

Jack started her position with Iterable in June 2021 during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. While starting a new role in the midst of a pandemic was a fairly new experience for both Jack and Iterable, neither employee nor employer was a stranger to DEI efforts.

As we discussed, Jack had years of experience in both HR and DEI, and she says Iterable wasn’t starting from scratch either, even though she was the first head of DEI at the organization. Iterable was already active in supporting its Affinity Group program and integrating employee development trainings to mitigate things like unconscious bias and microaggressions and raise awareness to less obvious forms of diversity.

A Top-Down Approach to Affinity Group

Iterable’s approach to its Affinity Group program was particularly interesting to Jack. “Traditionally, affinity groups are really grassroots efforts, from the employees up,” she explains. “But our senior leadership said, ‘We need an Affinity Group program. We need a community.’ So, they were actually instituted and implemented about a year before I joined by the company leaders themselves.”

One of the benefits of a top-down approach to community building like Iterable’s is that it makes it obvious that the organization and its leadership support the work those Affinity Groups are doing. Jack says Iterable’s Affinity Groups are about building communities and about building connections. “That’s really what inclusion and belonging is about, and our Affinity Group program does an amazing job with this,” she says. In fact, she was already very impressed with the level of programming Iterable had instituted here before she joined the company.

“When you think about an affinity group, it’s not necessarily a business resource group, and it’s not really an employee resource group,” Jack notes. “It’s generally and historically a lot about really just celebrating and thinking about how we make people feel good about being somewhere. Well, I will tell you that at Iterable, our Affinity Group program really takes it to the next level. We celebrate, we advocate, and we empower.”

The Pandemic’s Silver Lining for DEI

In many ways, the COVID-19 pandemic has created disproportionate challenges for traditionally underrepresented groups like women and people of color. For example, these groups are often more likely to work in some of the frontline and service industry jobs that were hardest hit by quarantine and curfew regulations, forcing workers to cut back on hours worked, not to mention the increased risks of contracting the virus.

At the same time, Jack points out that the forced acceptance of remote work arrangements for many positions has made workplace flexibility more widely available. Iterable has fully embraced the transition to remote work, and she says this has been a boon for people with limited income who now have more flexibility around transportation and childcare needs, for example.

As companies increasingly embrace DEI efforts and see them not just as PR efforts but also as genuine business imperatives, the days of a professional stepping into a brand-new CDO or head of DEI position are likely numbered. Instead, we expect to see a greater focus on bringing in seasoned executives to retool an existing DEI program or take it to the next level.

In many ways, Jack represents this trend, having stepped into a newly created head of DEI role with Iterable but also enjoying the benefit of the company’s previous efforts. She’s perfectly poised to take Iterable to the next level of performance in the important work of DEI in today’s ambiguous and rapidly changing work environment.

Lin Grensing-Pophal is a Contributing Editor at HR Daily Advisor.

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