Meaningful corporate diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) initiatives are still relatively young compared with other well-established corporate functions. This novelty can be a double-edged sword, especially for DEIB leaders who are starting from scratch in a new role and tasked with spearheading new DEIB programs.
On the one hand, DEIB leaders starting from scratch often have tremendous flexibility and freedom to shape DEIB efforts according to their personal vision in the space. On the other hand, it’s a lot of work to build up a DEIB program from nothing, and the work needed to build out the required infrastructure can overshadow the more meaningful DEIB work professionals passionate about this space would rather focus on.
Lauren Jackman, SVP of DEIB at Medallia, falls into the category of DEIB leaders who had to build out the function when they took on the role. In addition to needing to establish Medallia’s DEIB practice starting in 2016, Jackman has also led successful efforts to build a more diverse community at Medallia through a number of unique strategies.
Meeting people where they are and understanding what makes them tick are crucial to creating the kind of culture of belonging that supports diversity and inclusion. Jackman’s educational background gives her important and significant insights into how people think and interact, but like so many of the DEIB leaders we speak to, corporate diversity work wasn’t top of mind for Jackman, who initially had her sights set on a career in academia.
“After finishing graduate school, I considered teaching-focused professor roles, as well as alternative academic paths, like becoming an academic dean, working in undergraduate advising, or working at a Center for Teaching and Learning in higher ed,” Jackman says. “It was only by chance I heard about the opportunity at Medallia and decided to apply. I was attracted to the strong focus on culture and social science, and the opportunity to apply many of the social psychological concepts I studied, like growth mindset, in a work environment.”
After completing her PhD in social psychology, Jackman joined Medallia’s learning and development (L&D) team. “In my L&D role, I began offering Unconscious Bias training for Medallians as a passion project. This course was very popular and led to the formation of a cross-functional employee group focused on advancing DEI in the company.”
The early experience promoting DEIB through a cross-functional group both confirmed Jackman’s passion for the work and helped identify a gap in Medallia’s corporate efforts in the space—one that Jackman and other colleagues soon helped fill.
“We petitioned our leaders for a full-time role focused on diversity, and when it opened, I was encouraged by my colleagues in the group to apply,” she explains.
Before Jackman officially moved into her DEIB role, she was leading workshops on unconscious bias, and Medallia had also formed a handful of employee resource groups (ERGs). “Since I knew I would be a team of one with limited resources in the beginning, I focused on what I knew I could deliver—creating more structure to support the formation of new ERG communities, delivering more education to employees, establishing a strong foundation of reporting on our representation data for gender and race throughout the organization, and beginning our pay equity work,” Jackman says.
She visualized the DEIB practice as a centralized resource, advising other parts of the organization on how to build belonging and how to create fair and equitable processes. “I knew that in order to be successful, I had to keep DEIB onto everyone’s agenda, instead of them thinking, ‘Oh, that’s LJ’s job, she’s taking care of it,’” Jackman explains. “Now that the team has grown to five full time employees, including me, we still operate as a centralized resource that advises and audits key people processes, but we also deliver more of our own programs, from managing our talent partnerships and our participation in corporate benchmarking initiatives to hosting community events.”
Some Keys to Success: Belonging, Incentives, and Training
Jackman and Medallia have created an effective DEIB program over the past several years, and Jackman attributes a lot of that success to strategies like a focus on belonging, incentivizing leaders to help promote company culture, and providing abundant and accessible training throughout the organization.
“We have belonging as one of our core employee experience drivers, so we know the impact that a sense of belonging can have on employee engagement and retention, and we measure it regularly,” Jackman says.
“We have two programs that I think are very unique—our ERG Leader Recognition program and ERG Exec Sponsor programs,” she continues. “The Leader Recognition compensates the folks who spend time leading our communities for their contributions to our culture. It’s a way of transforming what is often considered volunteer work, acknowledging its value, and raising the profile of the people involved.”
ERG leaders receive a twice annual bonus and performance feedback about their contributions and have direct access to Medallia’s executive team through the ERG Exec Sponsor program. “The ERG Exec sponsor program connects our most senior leaders to our under-represented communities. It’s tied to executive compensation and requires consistent time spent with the community for mentorship, coaching, and development,” Jackman says.
Medallia also offers live training on topics like inclusive leadership and interpersonal and system bias throughout the year. “We also have an on-demand library with courses, microlearning, and resources available to all employees,” Jackman adds. “We offer inclusive benefits and perks that are informed by employee feedback and that meet the needs of Medallians and their families, wherever they are on life’s journey.”
While Jackman and Medallia have had an impressive DEIB journey since she joined the organization in 2014, Jackman is quick to point out that although they have a solid foundation, it’s a continual process, and they are always looking for ways to build DEIB into the fabric of their company culture.
Lin Grensing-Pophal is a Contributing Editor at HR Daily Advisor.