Matthew Coons is Senior Manager of DEIB at Xero. His journey, marked by innovative strategies and a deep commitment to fostering inclusive workplaces, offers a unique perspective on the evolving role of DEIB in business. This feature delves into Coons’ career, his impactful initiatives at Xero, and how he’s helping to shape the future of DEIB in the corporate world.
Early Beginnings at Appalachian State
Matthew Coons’ path to becoming a DEIB leader began at Appalachian State University, where he studied Human Resource Management. His awareness of diversity issues was heightened in a business school environment predominantly populated by white men.
Coons’ involvement in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer/questioning (LGBTQ+) center and the office of Multicultural Student Development was pivotal.
He played a key role in initiating the “Equity in Action” student conference, focusing on employment protections for LGBTQ+ individuals. This early exposure to DEIB issues laid the foundation for his career.
Post-graduation, Coons joined Delhaize America, a major food retailer, where he further honed his skills in diversity and inclusion, recognizing the integral link between DEIB initiatives and business success.
Coons’ Role at Xero
Upon joining Xero, Coons stepped into a newly created role, marking a significant step for the company in prioritizing DEIB. “When I started at Xero, my role was brand new, as I was the first dedicated resource for diversity, inclusion, and belonging in the United States and Canada,” Coons explains.
His responsibilities have since expanded, reflecting the growing importance of DEIB across the organization.
Coons’ initial focus was on establishing Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), which have flourished under his guidance. “Now we have over 20 ERGs across the organization with a 12-month learning curriculum around DEIB,” he says, highlighting the depth of Xero’s commitment to these initiatives.
Coons’ strategy at Xero is deeply rooted in collective effort and embedding DEIB into the company’s core practices. He emphasizes the significance of the ERG program, ensuring it’s a dynamic part of Xero’s culture. “Leaders are made aware of participation and are encouraged to actively engage in ERG initiatives,” Coons says, underlining the leadership’s role in these programs.
The “Inclusive Communities” learning program is another key aspect, designed to enhance understanding and awareness of inclusive practices. Coons adds, “DEIB is integrated into our organization across levels and through various channels,” ensuring regular updates on DEIB progress and maintaining transparency and accountability in their approach to inclusion.
Xero’s Unique Approach to DEIB
Xero’s approach to DEIB, guided by Coons, stands out in its commitment to authenticity and transparency. “We differentiate ourselves in the DEIB realm through our unique values, one of which is ‘human,’ which underscores that our people are central to our success,” Coons explains.
This value is integral to promoting inclusion and belonging, setting Xero apart from its competitors. A key focus area is pay equity, where the company conducts annual reviews to address gender and racial-ethnic disparities.
“We transparently disclose our findings, showcasing our commitment to constantly evolving and promoting equality throughout our organization,” Coons says. Furthermore, Xero is taking innovative steps in diversity by publicly disclosing global racial and ethnic representation goals. “This is not a widely adopted practice among other multinational organizations,” Coons points out, highlighting Xero’s pioneering efforts in enhancing diversity and setting new industry standards.
Supporting a diverse workforce is a multifaceted endeavor at Xero, with Coons at the helm of various strategic initiatives. “Our overarching strategy encompasses our ERGs and ‘Inclusive Communities’ initiative,” he explains.
In specific functions like technology, the focus is on increasing gender representation, particularly for women and non-binary individuals. “Through our analysis, we were able to identify that we exceed industry standards in gender representation for women, which gives us the tools needed for further improvement,” Coons notes. This data-driven approach extends to analyzing engagement data based on gender identity, revealing that women at Xero exhibit slightly higher engagement levels than their male counterparts.
“We also evaluate the promotional velocity and exit data within this function to support our diversity efforts. By utilizing this data-driven approach, we’re able to bring positive change to our organization, as it illustrates our progress and identifies opportunities for improvement, which we utilize to inform our efforts towards a more inclusive environment.”
Promoting DEIB through Recruitment and Corporate Culture
Coons emphasizes the critical role of hiring and sourcing in building a diverse workforce at Xero. “Over the past several months, we’ve conducted an in-depth examination of how inclusion plays a role within our global hiring standards,” he states. A significant change has been the implementation of panel interviews for all roles to mitigate bias.
Additionally, Xero has introduced mandatory training on bias elimination for its Talent Experience teams.
“This ensures everyone is aware of their responsibilities in fostering inclusion throughout the selection process,” Coons adds. The company’s approach is data-driven, tailored to regional needs. For instance, in New Zealand, the focus is on diversifying the applicant pool, while in the United Kingdom (UK), the emphasis is on bridging the gap between applicants and hires. This nuanced, data-informed strategy underscores Xero’s commitment to diversity in its global operations.
Fostering a diverse culture is a cornerstone of Xero’s DEIB strategy, with Coons leading initiatives that transcend geographical boundaries. “We encourage employees in similar locations and time zones to participate in events that encourage meaningful interactions,” he explains. This approach is vital in a global company like Xero, where promoting connection and collaboration across teams is essential.
The company leverages a variety of platforms, including social gatherings, wellness activities, ERG events, and cultural celebrations, to build a cohesive and inclusive environment. Coons highlights the importance of these initiatives: “They not only bring our teams together but also celebrate the diverse backgrounds and perspectives that each member brings to the table.”
This commitment to a diverse culture is a testament to Xero’s dedication to creating a workplace where every employee feels valued and included.
Looking to the Future
Coons is forward-thinking in his DEIB approach at Xero. “We’ve introduced new principles at the heart of our approach to fostering an inclusive workplace and culture,” he says. These principles include respecting personal identities, encouraging open perspectives, and practicing inclusion daily, setting a progressive path for Xero’s ongoing DEIB commitment.
Matthew Coons’ work at Xero exemplifies the transformative power of dedicated DEIB leadership. His innovative strategies and commitment to inclusivity not only shape Xero’s culture but also set a benchmark in the corporate world. Coons’ efforts underscore the importance of DEIB as a cornerstone of modern business success.
Lin Grensing-Pophal is a Contributing Editor at HR Daily Advisor.