The employer brand is your company’s value proposition and reputation that current and prospective employees use to evaluate whether or not your company is an attractive place to work. Shaping the employer brand around diversity and inclusion is a business-critical journey and the right thing to do for your people and community. Leaders in the people ops space, Eric Carter (previously People Partner Diversity and Inclusion at Planet), Albrey Brown (Senior Program Manager, Diversity and Inclusion at Pivotal Software, Inc.), Steven Huang (Head of Diversity and Inclusion at Culture Amp), Lisa Holden (Senior Manager Public Relations at Entelo), and Natalie Simmons (Diversity and Inclusion at Zendesk) addressed, “Exploring how to Weave Diversity and Inclusion into your Employer Brand” in a panel moderated by Sapling’s CEO, Bart Macdonald. We compiled the discussion’s key takeaways and our panelists’ insights on the best practices and challenges they experience.

BM: When it comes to inclusion, how do you foster an environment where people who come from different backgrounds know you value their ideas?

SH: One thing thing we do, because we have quotas, targets, etc. We tell every new hire, regardless of background, that we have really high standards and we expect you to make them. We are going hold each team member to the same standard as everyone else. We find that in the first month that, because we values everyone’s ideas, we expect them to figure it out and to do whatever it takes to get stuff done.

NS: At Zendesk we think of inclusion as an action and an experience and we believe that inclusivity needs to be built from the bottom up and top down. Empowering employees and creating space for everyone at the company to share their experiences has helped bring our community together. We rolled out employee resource groups last year, which have been a great platform for our employees to have their voices heard, and also for our leadership to understand what’s going on at the company and be able to make impactful changes. As a small yet powerful example, our Pride ERG championed Zendesk to create a space for employees to add their gender pronouns into Slack profiles. Being able to spotlight employees doing really great things and to increase visibility has helped to cultivate a culture where we’re all in it together.

LH: When we notice that we have differences in opinion, we celebrate it. And we use it as an opportunity to foster the discussion about differences of thought and opinions. It’s very similar to an early core value that Facebook had: a notion to move fast and break things. That notion was around the idea that, if you think differently than me try it out and, if it doesn’t work or it breaks, that’s celebrated, and I think that can be a very key element for D&I.

BM: What successful initiatives or best practices has your organization identified concerning diversity and inclusion issues? Can you share some examples of how a D&I policy affected your company in a positive way?

EC: One barrier that comes up when D&I is introduced at a company, is you can get a self-selecting group of people who care about D&I and want to participate and are always showing up to the discussions and a lot of others don’t. Reaching a wide range of employees is very important and encouraging all to take part. Early on at Planet, we encouraged people involved with our D&I program to speak at our All Hands presentations to share what they are working on to spread awareness.

AB: The most impactful thing we’ve done is have leadership be the #1 voice for D&I. Not just the CEO and the C-Suite, but also our VPs who we hold to an executive commitment where they will commit to inclusivity on their teams. The second thing, we created a newsletter as a way to help everyone learn and ask questions - share info and experiences broadly. It’s more than just training and workshops, I think the most important thing you can do for D&I is to share experiences.

SH: I would say, “Don’t do the sh*t that doesn’t work!” Just because another company is doing something that doesn’t mean you necessarily have to as well. At the Culture First conference, our speaker said “Look at everything you’re doing, and if you don’t have a good reason for it, or you don’t like doing it, then stop and kick it out.” The example I want to share is, when I first joined, we decided that we weren’t going to capture any representation metrics (like race, gender, socio-economic status and more) at Culture Amp in Year 1. Instead we’ll measure things like belonging and inclusion. The idea here was to help people feel more comfortable as we make this transition. We still have a long way to go to make people feel comfortable but, after only 6 months, a lot of people who weren’t comfortable with the diversity conversation now are. We really didn’t want to do something that could eventually backfire.

Audience question: How do you capture this data when people don’t feel comfortable?

LS: We hosted something called Belong @ Entelo. Mission Statement of the event was - share your voice. What we did is we stopped and listened to our employees about how they felt connected to the company and how they felt they belonged ; which can be really hard at a startup when you’re moving a million miles an hour. When we went through that exercise what we found is that there were various factors that made them feel like they did belong in some ways and how they felt disconnected in others. That gave us a lot more context about the parts of diversity that we hadn’t exactly considered.

Audience question: If you’re a lean team, how do you prioritize the info you are trying to collect and what’s the best way to communicate that?

AB: Start with the hardest problem to solve, those who are marginalized the most. Focus on the communities and individuals who are struggling the most, and that will bring up everyone else.

BM: How do you hold managers accountable to diversity and inclusion measures?

LH: We really focus our D&I efforts when it comes to management on the recruiting process, particularly interviewing candidates. #1 question we ask candidates at the management level during interviews is: “Have you ever been part of a D&I initiative? If so, how so? If not, why not? Is that something that matters to you?” It’s something that’s very revealing to us about the candidates, but more importantly it showcases who we are as an organization to that candidate and they can see where our heart is.

AB: At Pivotal, we started with our VPs, who manage our directors, who manage our managers so the VPs have their their thumb on pulse of the company and keep people accountable that way. I think there are many ways that you can hold managers accountable, and we found that having the manager’s manager on the hook then that is what drives the most inclusion and change.

NS: 3 different things:

  1. Pulse Survey: Our annual survey that gages employee satisfaction globally. This survey includes 3-5 questions specific to employee inclusion and belonging. The survey results give us insight into team dynamics, and enable us to learn from managers who are doing things well and see where we need improvement.
  3. Working Cross Functionally: Diversity and inclusion at Zendesk is a cross-functional effort. Having stakeholders in different departments invested in our work not only champions the work we are doing, but also gives our team insight into the unique challenges different offices and areas of the business face.
  5. Monthly town halls: Our CEO and other business leaders talk honestly and openly about what is going on at the company. Transparency helps our employees understand where we are, and what we are doing to improve our community.

SH: I’m trying to remove the fear around unconscious bias training. Unconscious bias trainings really activate stereotypes and make them more salient. The workshops I lead at Culture Amp start w/ discomfort, then you go to comfort, and then you go back to discomfort. The goal is to figure out where managers are at. At Culture Amp we have 4 company values, and the 5th value is for you to add your own. We celebrate and appreciate people’s differences instead of requiring that they conform to ours.

NS: At Zendesk, our core values revolve around empathy. And we made up a word called “Humbledent” - which means humble yet confident. To supplement our core values we really base our interviews off of what are the behaviors that would make someone successful in this job along with the technical skills.

EC: A lot of companies are shifting their thinking from culture-fit, to culture-add. The entire point of D&I is that you have these unique people coming together and spark something new. If you’re not looking for the thing that’s different, then you’re missing out. So we would told our recruiting team to look for that culture-add and this has been a good mindshift.

LS: When it comes to D&I there should not be controversy around whether it’s important because it’s the right thing to do. The statistics all point to diversity being directly correlated to success and the question should be: can we afford to wait much longer?

SH: Don’t go the business case route, because underrepresented people don’t require a business case! Start with storytelling and that will bring out the true emotions.

BM: How does your organization deal with unconscious bias?

NS: We’ve created Unconscious Bias trainings that are offered quarterly in all of our regions (Asia, Europe and Americas). We also counter UB by making educational opportunities easily accessible for employees. Lunch and learns are a popular educational forum at Zendesk, where employees are given free lunch and the opportunity to learn something new. Our weekly L&L’s average ~100 employees in attendance and provide us with the opportunity to spotlight community partners, engage in panel discussions, screen films and build community. We’ve also see things come from unexpected places: Our employee lead in-person D&I book club was a smashing success. The first book, Ijeoma Olou’s So you wanna talk about race? ended up bringing 60 employees together over several weeks to talk about the book, fostered honest and open conversation, broke down barriers and moved the conversation forward. Overall, our approach is rooted in unity vs resistance. We try to keep an open door where people will reach out to us individually, meet people where they are and assess where additional education opportunities are needed.

AB: We have unconscious bias trainings as well, especially for our recruiting teams and managers. We sponsored a movie night for the whole company globally every 6 months.

SH: Unconscious bias trainings are really fun to build and you can do the research and host the training yourself. Especially since you know your company better than any vendor does, if you can’t afford to have someone come in to train your team, do the research and train them yourself. There are a lot of free resources online (e.g. EdX courses).

BM: What are the best resources available to those in the Diversity and Inclusion field?

EC: There’s an email group called “Diversity Advocates”. Also, “People Openly” share best practices and are incredibly passionate about D&I. It’s an incredible resource.

AB: Project Include and Better Allies - everyone can be an ally.

NS: Fortune raceAhead and UC Hastings Bias Interrupters: free toolkit particularly helpful for us when rolling out interview training.


LH: Encourage everyone to share info that they’re learning. And being transparent about where you are in the process of learning about D&I. Something that’s really important to remember is that no one has solved this, even the people on this panel have a lot more to learn.

BM: We’re all in this community together and are trying to learn from one another and collaborate. Everyone here is trying to promote diversity and inclusion in our organizations not only because it’s right but because it’s going to be best for all of our colleagues and peers.

Sapling is the all-in-one HR platform built for fast growing organizations using G Suite. Start streamlining all your HR processes, provide consistent employee experience and make data-driven decisions by connecting the tools you are already using everyday in one place with Sapling.


See how it works

Learn how Sapling can help you automate your workflows and connect your people data across your existing systems.

Request A Demo
How to Weave Diversity and Inclusion into your Employer Brand