With Black History Month well underway, we’re continuing our celebration of black professionals and their contributions to and achievements in the field of HR. For this edition of Faces of HR, we give flowers to Antoine Andrews, Chief Diversity and Social Impact Officer (CDIO) at SurveyMonkey, a global leader in survey software.
Andrews joined SurveyMonkey in 2021 to accelerate the company’s diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) and social impact initiatives. He brings more than 20 years of experience to his role, having previously led DEI at Year Up, a nonprofit that helps young adults gain the skills to reach their potential; Gap Inc.; Symantec; and Nike, where he built multiyear DEI strategies and held leadership accountable for systemic change—a passion that he brings to his role at SurveyMonkey.
“When I joined the company, I was catalyzed primarily by the murder of George Floyd and the opportunity to help more people advance their DEI and social impact efforts, actions, and results,” Andrews shared with HR Daily Advisor. “I would encourage all organizational leaders to take a step back and look at the issues they face through a lens of inclusion for all. Is your organization staying true to the commitments made in the summer of 2020? Revisit those promises, re-evaluate processes, and make changes with confidence to maintain momentum toward important DEI goals.”
In our latest Faces, meet Antoine Andrews.
How did you get your start in the field?
After graduating from Rutgers University, I worked as an account manager in group insurance at Prudential Financial for 9 years. Then, led by a passion for helping bring teams together, I moved into my first DEI role at Bristol-Myers Squibb in 2002. Following that, I held DEI leadership roles at Gap Inc., Symantec, Nike, and Year Up. Through these experiences, I grew into leadership roles, creating strategic road maps to achieve DEI and social impact goals, including anti-racism, equity, and inclusion programming.
Who is/was your biggest influence in the industry?
I’ve had so many leaders influence me over the years. Ted Childs, who served as IBM’s vice president of global workforce diversity (before retiring in 2006 and founding Ted Childs, LLC), was and still is a diversity leader I respect and follow for his authenticity and directness.
I’ve been fortunate to work with some amazing leaders throughout my career: Bobbi Silten, who led Gap Foundation; Jay Moldenhauer-Salazar, a terrific leader who led talent management at Gap Inc.; and Cecily Joseph, who led corporate responsibility at Symantec, to name only a few. I also had several peers during my time at Nike who helped shape my views on so many critical business and social topics: Daryl Jones, Michael Leith, Anthony Herrington, Omar Douglass, and Alycia Gonzales. All these leaders shared their insights and provided sharp feedback, holding me accountable in all aspects of my professional and personal life. They truly helped me discover what made me authentically me. I believe influences are everywhere. You just have to be open to learning from them.
What’s your best mistake, and what did you learn from it?
Early in my DEI career, I took complete ownership of the DEI strategy, efforts, and results—admirable, right? Not exactly. When the work didn’t deliver the results, I took the full brunt of the feedback. This taught me a valuable lesson. I realized interdependencies play a huge role in the results. While I owned my part, I realized I was a steward of the work because we also needed engagement, buy-in, and actions from leaders to ensure optimal results. Now, I say I’m the steward of the strategy, and that has its own accountability.
What’s your favorite part about working in the industry? What’s your least favorite part, and how would you change it?
Two of the things that I’m most enthusiastic about are coaching leaders and developing talent within the organization—efforts that ultimately help inform individual and team DEI goals, as well as identify and address where underrepresented groups need more engagement or growth opportunities. Collaborating with leaders and cultivating talent also allow me to build strong interpersonal relationships and business partnerships that contribute to the organizational DEI and social impact outcomes we’re driving toward.
It sounds like, through your experience, you really care about people, and you want to help them feel safe and comfortable, which is important in the industry. Please elaborate here.
Showing empathy and care to team members is vitally important (and often underestimated!) in leadership. The way managers relate to and communicate with their teams has a huge impact on organizational culture at the root level, where any healthy culture begins and grows. It’s important for managers to embrace accountability for the health of their teams and understand that managing people is about not just the work they do but also how they feel. Employees value leaders who check in, ask how they’re doing, and show genuine care about their life. That level of engagement and investment is extremely valuable in cultivating a sense of belonging among team members. It also creates a more receptive environment if, and when, it becomes necessary to hold people accountable or give tough feedback, which can be done more productively when working from an empathetic foundation based on trust and care.
How can HR most effectively demonstrate its value to the leadership team?
Most of us agree that developing and executing effective DEI and social impact programs is critical to business success. Diverse perspectives and equitable environments cultivate greater creativity and innovation, inspire more impactful business decisions, and drive better employee experiences. What’s more, today’s employees expect their personal sense of purpose to align with that of their organization. HR leaders can share data-based insights like these to effectively demonstrate their team’s organizational value. It’s also an excellent way to reinforce the idea that DEI is a business imperative that extends well beyond any single DEI team or HR process; it is the responsibility of the entire organization and every employee part of it. Structure and accountability are so important. To truly move the needle, leaders must foster a culture of shared accountability for DEI goals. The “value” in question lies within each one of us.
Additionally, toot your own horn! Celebrating and sharing progress is a great way to recognize milestones, generate excitement, and raise awareness about the great work taking place to further DEI and social impact efforts within your organization. Leaders should consistently demonstrate progress toward goals and spread the word even when they haven’t met defined expectations. We all have work to do; sharing progress—and challenges—helps maintain momentum toward DEI commitments organizationwide.
Where do you see the industry heading in 5 years? Or, are you seeing any current trends?
Companies’ social impact is increasingly important to employees (ahead of concern for environmental impact and governance) and will continue to be so. Some 71% of candidates proactively look for companies that share their values when job searching, and 95% compare an employer’s DEI efforts when choosing between similar job offers. This illustrates that understanding social issues and making a social impact through community engagement activities such as volunteerism, environmental stewardship, and work with underrepresented groups will continue to be critical in the coming years.
DEI and social impact will also continue to be mutually beneficial and pivotal to the success of one other. Aligning this work empowers employees, inspires professional purpose, and creates social well-being through the development of powerful community relationships.
Using data-based insights and measuring diversity beyond representation will also continue to trend as a means to progress DEI and social impact goals. Gathering and using employee feedback is a key way to maintain a close pulse on organizational culture. I suspect leaders will also be looking beyond the broad idea of “representation” to seek authentic feedback around the meaning and importance of belonging to employees well into the future.
What are you most proud of?
I am most proud of the leaders I’ve developed and/or coached who have gone on to be amazing leaders in their respective fields; the development programs I influenced to create more diverse leaders; my time working at Year Up, an organization laser-focused on motivating young adults to achieve career and academic success, as well as learning from the amazing leaders and young people who went through its program; my time as a board member of Summer Search, a program that empowers young leaders through mentorship, opportunities, and being part of an amazing community of existing and future leaders; and my time at SurveyMonkey, where I value the closely knit partnership I have with our people team, our communications team, and our incredible and resilient executive team. Together, we deliver on our commitments to DEI and social impact every single day, and I am proud of the culture we have cultivated.
Do you have any advice for people entering the profession?
The DEI landscape is always in flux, and the way we do business has shifted dramatically in recent years. My recommendation is to build a comprehensive, multiyear DEI and social impact strategy based on your organization’s core values—and stick to it— to elevate your DEI goals above the ongoing chaos and volatility of our social climate. Working from a firm foundation gives you a trusted space to refer to any time you need to reassess your organization’s DEI commitments or make decisions concerning your DEI goals.
Also, continue to ask the tough questions! Findings show that while HR teams at many companies incorporate DEI best practices, perceptions of inequity still prevail among many employee groups. Some organizations don’t ask difficult questions around diversity because they don’t want to hear difficult responses. But facing that fear is vital to progress. And by asking the right questions (in the right way), we may better understand how employees are experiencing the organization through their own unique point of view.