14. desember, 2021

Content Intel—episode 6: the importance of company diversity and inclusion

Optimizely’s Head of Diversity and Social Impact, John Leonard joins Content Intel to talk about initiatives he’s taking to improve company culture. He has several inclusion programs in the works that will improve the morale of Optimizely employees so they can feel empowered to help their customers grow and improve their business operations as well. Click play to hear what they are.
a man in a suit



Laura Dolan (00:00):

Hello, everyone. Welcome to Content Intel brought to you by Optimizely. I am your host, Laura Dolan. Today we're going to switch gears a little bit and talk about company culture, because you can't produce a reliable product or great content without a healthy team. So we want to emphasize how important it is to make your employees feel included among their colleagues, especially in a time where working remotely has become so much more prominent during the pandemic, and companies are finding themselves having to work just a little harder to make their employees feel less isolated. And no one knows more about that than our guest, John Leonard, who is our Head of Diversity and Social Impact here at Optimizely. Thank you for coming on the show, John. How's it going?

John Leonard (00:42):

Oh, it's going great. Thanks for having me, Laura.

Laura Dolan (00:44):

Absolutely. It's a pleasure. Let's start out by you telling us how long you've been with Optimizely and what exactly your role entails.

John Leonard (00:52):

I've been at Optimizely for a little over six years. My role entails a lot of [inaudible 00:01:02] pieces. The social impact part of my job is really the traditional corporate social responsibility function. So that includes really all the ways that we leverage our assets as a company, as employees, to just make the world a better place. So that's employee volunteering, employee charitable giving, corporate philanthropy, partnerships with nonprofits, discounting our products for nonprofits and non-governmental organizations around the world who use it to drive engagement online and to really amp up their digital presence and their digital fundraising to support their mission. That's the social impact piece of my work.

John Leonard (01:50):

Then the other big piece, which has been growing, is diversity, equity, and inclusion. And, say, since the death of George Floyd a year-and-a-half ago, many companies have really looked internally at their own practices and policies, their own workplaces, to see how we are supporting these larger efforts around social equity, social justice.

John Leonard (02:25):

It's become an increasingly important function here in many companies, including here at Optimizely, so I'm working on that. Was asked to work on that starting about nine months ago to really pull together a more systematic approach to how we work on these topics. I always like to define it out using that acronym, DEI: diversity, equity, inclusion, because they really are three pretty distinct things. Diversity is mainly about recruiting and hiring diverse employees, right?

Laura Dolan (03:03):


John Leonard (03:04):

Like most tech companies, our current employees are not particularly diverse. We're disproportionately white and disproportionately male. If the company expects to continue to grow and to be successful and to innovate in a global market, we just need to look more like our customers and their end users. It's a very, very diverse world out there, and we want to continue to move toward a future where we look more and more like that diverse world. So that's the D in diversity. The E is a little more complicated, and that's about equity. And that's just saying, okay, we have a diverse workforce, an increasingly diverse workforce. Let's make sure that we are treating everyone equitably when it comes to things like performance evaluations, distribution of job assignments, raises, promotions, compensations. I've heard a colleague say, what is it? Diversity is getting invited to the dance, and equity is having somebody ask you to dance.

Laura Dolan (04:24):

Good analogy.

John Leonard (04:28):

The inclusion piece is maybe, maybe the inclusion piece is dancing and feeling really great about it. So inclusion really is the extent to which all our employees feel welcome, that they feel like they belong, that they can bring their whole selves to work, that they have their voices heard, and that they have a safe space where they can talk about what it feels like to maybe be the only one on their team who looks a certain way. That's how I break down DEI for the uninitiated, and that's what I spend my days working on.

Laura Dolan (05:12):

Awesome. It's all about that level of acceptance, and I'm so glad someone at the company is putting in that effort to make sure that gets done. That's awesome. What have you been able to accomplish while you're working in each of these areas?

John Leonard (05:26):

One of the things that we did early on when Optimizely was really coming together through the merger of a number of companies, was to create, and most tech companies have, most companies have what are our values? What are the behaviors that unite us? And as we were putting those together for what we call One Optimizely, one of the key ones that we chose was Embrace Inclusion, because we feel like that commitment to really hearing all voices and valuing all voices and not leaving some people on the sidelines, is key, not just to creating a culture that feels supportive and valuable, but truly is essential for surfacing ideas even from people who are introverts, from being able to have robust debates about issues, whether it's in on the product team or the marketing team, about how we do things that actually get us to the optimal solution, and that doesn't always happen if people feel like their contributions aren't really valued.

John Leonard (06:45):

I think having that identified as a core value has made a big difference. And, of course, having this reinforced from the very top from our CEO, Alex Atzberger, who is really genuinely passionate about DEI at the company, and our executive team, and how that filters right down through all the managers, I think that's been important. Some of the specific things that we've been able to do really just, I would say in the last nine months, is on the diversity side, even just having the metrics to look at. When I started, we weren't even really tracking how many of our employees are female versus male, White versus Black versus Latino versus mixed race, LGBTQ employees, disabled employees. So we're making progress in being able to track all of that.

John Leonard (07:49):

There are some challenges in some countries that's more limited, the type of sort of private data that you can ask people, but we're definitely making progress there, and what do they say, you can't manage what you don't measure. So that's really a first step that I took in being able to get a better hand on our internal demographics, both in terms of not only who are our current employees, but who's coming to the hiring pipeline. If it was the fact that we were getting half the people applying for the jobs are women, but we're only hiring a third women, then that's clearly something is happening between step A and step B that we need to look at. So getting a handle on the demographics is one.

John Leonard (08:45):

Our talent acquisition folks are, as we've been able to grow that team, are now able to do a lot more what they call sourcing, sort of proactively reaching out to people that they scout on LinkedIn or at other places, and encouraging them to apply, so that we're not just looking at the resumes that come in over the [inaudible 00:09:07] that may not represent an especially diverse pool of candidates.

John Leonard (09:13):

The other thing I would say there is we've made some new partnerships with an organization called The Diversity Professional Network, which gives us access to a ton of diversity job boards, specifically for veterans, for people with disabilities, for LGBTQ folks, for women, for Hispanic/Latino folks. So folks who are especially looking at those job boards, we'll be able to get our job openings out to a much more diverse universe of potential recruits.

John Leonard (09:55):

It's a continuing process. We also recently partnered with a group called SV Academy, which trains underrepresented folks for jobs in tech. So we've been able to source entry-level customer success managers and entry level sales development representatives from this group who brings us outstanding candidates. Maybe one of them used to be a used car salesman, and he went [inaudible 00:10:29] program and learned all about technology and learned how customer success management works in a tech company. So, yes, we've gotten some great people through that pipeline, as well. So we're beginning to build out those partnerships for the recruiting part.

John Leonard (10:47):

As far as the equity piece, we're involved, as we speak, in reviewing compensation and job levels to make sure that those are being managed equitably across the company. And when people do get raises and promotions, that we won't have inadvertently only promoted all the White guys and left everybody else on the table.

John Leonard (11:14):

So even when people don't do that consciously, make a conscious decision to discriminate, sometimes that bias can leak into people's decision-making without them even knowing it. That's what we call unconscious bias. We just did an unconscious bias training for our 50 top leaders across the company, all of our executives, VPs, and directors, to really help them understand how unconscious bias can affect everyday decisions on the teams.

John Leonard (11:53):

Then as far as inclusion, one of the biggest things I'm proud of, Laura, is we're not a huge company, but we now have 11 employee resource groups. ERGs, if folks haven't heard of them are, they're voluntary employee-led groups basically to create those safe spaces for people who might sometimes feel like they're a little different. We've got an employee resource group for our women employees. It's called WOO!, Women of Optimizely.

Laura Dolan (12:30):

Love it. WOO!

John Leonard (12:36):

Out at Optimizely, which is all our LGBTQ folks. We have a group of veterans. We have a group of early career employees that we call YO!, Young Optimizers. We have a terrific group called Mentally Forward, which is focused on mental health issues, which I don't think have ever been really more salient at work than they have been during the pandemic with people stressed out in so many ways and trying to manage work and family and life in completely novel fashion. That's been a huge group. So yes, we've got 11 of these groups, and they meet monthly, and they sometimes just shoot the breeze and talk about whatever, and sometimes they talk about really serious subjects. Sometimes they provide more professional support around mentorship and job advancement.

John Leonard (13:44):

They bring in speakers to address their topics, both for their group members and for the company at large. We did an event back in the spring when we'd seen a spate of anti-Asian hate crimes.

Laura Dolan (14:01):

I was on that call.

John Leonard (14:01):

Creating a space where people could come together and share what it felt like to see these, to hear about these, whether you were a person of Asian descent or not, just to really have a space to talk about that. We're really, really proud of that. As I said, it's employee led. People have just raised their hand and say, I want to form a group for this kind of employee." And we said, "Let's do it." And that's a huge way that we try to make people feel like they are included and that they can bring their whole selves to work.

John Leonard (14:43):

Those folks have spoken to the whole company on various panels, spoken at our all-hands meetings, but that's a continuing effort. And we also recently ran out a training for what's called Inclusive Leadership for those same 50 top leaders, had a session around what does it really mean to do inclusion? What does it really feel like to feel belonged? What's a practical situation in a team meeting where I might be cutting someone off, or I might have somebody on my team whose first language isn't English. And so I throw out a question, and they don't answer it, but they're still processing it in their heads because they [inaudible 00:15:35] translate it before they can come up with an intelligent contribution.

John Leonard (15:38):

One of the things that people learned from this training was you can ask, throw something out, but then just wait. Wait five seconds. Wait. Even though it's incredibly awkward, wait 15 seconds and see who replies, because then you won't just hear from the people who are the most talkative and the most extroverted and the most likely to share their ideas, whether they're any good or not, and give a little bit more space for people who may just think about things in a different way. This isn't just about whether you're the only woman on your engineering team or the only black person on your marketing team, it's also about... You hear more and more these days about neurodiversity, people's brains work in different ways, allowing more space for it to be comfortable for everybody to contribute, making sure there's an agenda for your meeting so people who don't think on the spur of the moment, but want a little bit of time to prepare for a meeting and come up with some great ideas or suggestions or critiques.

John Leonard (16:47):

Then that inclusive leadership training is another way that we really are trying who live up to that value that we created of embrace inclusion, so it's not just a tagline, it's something that the managers understand and they can model, and next year will be rolling out similar inclusive [inaudible 00:17:13] across all of or employees in the company.


Laura Dolan (17:15):

I can't commend you enough on the work you're doing, John. Having been part of the company now for seven months, I could say I've attended a few of these events myself. You mentioned the Asian call back in April. I can't stress enough how important that is to create that safe space for your employees. I was also a part of the mental health call not too long ago. The one I think about green initiatives was another one. Just so many wonderful programs out there that divide up your day. Sometimes you need that mental break just to connect with your coworkers on a non-work level. And I'm really glad that Optimizely offers that opportunity, and that you are creating this program that's proactive enough, and having the foresight to what your coworkers need and what the employees need to be successful.

Laura Dolan (18:03):

I couldn't tell you how proud I am to be a part of this company, especially I just want to bring up the fact that we had Juneteenth off back in June. I thought that was incredible that the company not only has that background knowledge and education of what it means, but to actually give us the day off to commemorate it and to think on it. So yeah, I'm just absolutely blown away by this company's initiatives. And please keep up the good work. Going forward, how can Optimizers get involved in some of these programs?

John Leonard (18:32):

Thank you for saying that, Laura. We design all these programs, not just because they look good on paper, because we think that's the right thing to do, but it's [inaudible 00:18:47] so that they actually have impact, they change people's experience in the workplace, that they bring people closer together, especially in these times where so many people are working remotely, to be able to come together in these diverse groups, in these settings, to relate to each other as humans in a way that isn't necessarily about what are the sales numbers this month? Or what's the marketing pipeline look like this quarter? Not that those things aren't important, but it does help support the type of culture that we're trying to build here at Optimizely.

John Leonard (19:23):

As far as how folks can get involved, I would say we try to inculcate all of our new hires as part of their onboarding process, so that they're aware that these things are going on. We have a very robust SharePoint site that has an employee handbook where you can find information on, for example, all of the ERGs, the employee resource groups; you can find out how to join each of those groups. Have active Yammer channels, which is how we communicate with each other and post interesting articles, ask questions for discussion.

John Leonard (20:06):

Then all of those ERG groups meet generally monthly for an hour across the globe to talk about these things, to hear from interesting speakers, to plan different activities for the future. I would say if you're an Optimizely employee and you're not involved in one of the ERGs, go to SharePoint or go to Yammer and search ERG dash and see all the groups that come up, read about them and what their purpose is. All those groups are, they're open to everyone. You don't have to be Black to be part of... Our Black employee group is called the Black Panthers. You don't have to be gay to be part of the Out at Optimizely group.

Laura Dolan (20:57):

Right. You're basically just supporting each other and everyone you know who fits into those groups. And that's also another great opportunity, as well.

John Leonard (21:06):

It is, because everybody who feels like they're not the majority needs allies. And allies need to probably do more listening than talking, and the allies join these groups to really just understand more and be more educated and know what other people experience, if they can be more empathetic, but then even know what to say if they're in a meeting and somebody says something that seems just not right in certain way, how do you respond to that? It's often people who look like me, who are White males, who can be in a better position to say, "Hey, that wasn't a very appropriate comment. Let's not use terminology like that." So, allyship and inclusion in all of the ERG groups, please check them out.

John Leonard (22:13):

If there are folks listening to this podcast from other companies who are on their DEI journey, I'd love to chat with you. I feel like we've made quite a lot of progress in the relatively short time that we've been really focused on this, but I still feel like we are very early days in our ERG journey. And it's a long-term thing. These challenges have been around for many, many years, and they won't be fixed overnight, but they won't improve at all unless we have really thoughtful and strategic way that we're approaching them and really trying to move all the levers we can internally in the company.

Laura Dolan (23:08):

Exactly. I can't stress the importance enough of this, John. I'll put a link to your LinkedIn page if that's okay, if people want to connect with you and network with you. Please definitely reach out to John if you have any ideas and want to connect with him. John, I can't thank you enough for coming on today and speaking about this. This is just one of the most important topics that we've covered so far on the podcast. So thank you so much for your time. It was a pleasure speaking with you, and I would love to reconnect maybe sometime next year to see what other programs you have in place and see what else the company is doing to improve relations with their employees. So thank you so much.

John Leonard (23:44):

Yeah, let's do it. We'll check back in. Thanks so much for the opportunity, Laura.

Laura Dolan (23:48):

Absolutely. Thank you all so much for tuning in to this episode of Content Intel. I am Laura Dolan, and I will see you all next time.