RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – Diversity, which includes more than just race, gender identity, or biological sex, is “sorely lacking” in STEM fields.

So said Brooks Raiford, CEO of the North Carolina Technology Association (NC TECH) prior to last week’s Diversity + Inclusion in Tech Summit.

“It is important to engage in this work because if we don’t make a conscious effort toward change, then status quo persists,” said Raiford.  “This effort within an organization should be purposeful and continual.”

Here’s a look at what’s happening at companies seeking to address the problem.

Diversity, equity, and inclusion really are about leadership

Ensuring that diversity, equity, and inclusion is a part of a company’s DNA and a key business imperative is really simple, said Jeff Stovall, director of strategy and business development at Oracle, in a live Zoom panel discussion as a part of the NC TECH Summit event last week.

“It’s about leadership, it comes from the top of the organization,” said Stovall.  “I’ve never seen an organization become successful with regard to DEI from the bottom up.”

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Stovall said though he’s been in the corporate world for thirty years, he’s been a minority his whole life, and he’s observed prior moments that seemed to be wake-up calls for corporations and membership associations.

“There are incidents that spur people to action, but we don’t sustain, and we don’t continue our commitment to diversity, we don’t continue our commitment to inclusion, because other things become more important, or more urgent, in the minds of leadership, and I say that distinctly, in the minds of leadership, because that’s where this all comes from, from the top down,” said Stovall.  “This is a leadership issue, it’s not just about fairness, it’s not just about whether you will perform for the public or for PR, it’s about what are we really, intentionally, trying to do, as a set of leaders for this organization.”

In simple terms, the work of anti-racism—and the work of diversity, equity, and inclusion—is becoming a better human to other humans, said Stovall, noting that this statement is originally derived from the work of Austin Channing Brown.

“As leaders, if we are not engaging with this work, then we’re failing,” said Stovall.  In order to succeed, leaders need to do three things, believes Stovall.  First, commitment.  Second, action, “plausible, tangible actions, that follow up on that commitment.” And third, sustaining the work over a long period of time.

Diversity, inclusion, and equity are not a one-year objective, said Stovall.  “This is an issue in our society that we have to understand, as leaders, that we operate in a society that has these issues, and our organizations are subsegments of our society, we do not exist separate from the society in which we’re in, so we have to be extremely intentional about whether we believe this is important, be willing to take action, and make it sustainable.”

How some Triangle companies are approaching diversity and inclusion in hiring

  • Pendo

“We are very much committed to DE+I in terms of recruitment, and retention, and even in product development,” said Jennifer Rettig, the vice president of talent at Pendo.  “All of it is evolving, under review, on an everyday basis,” she said.

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Rettig, who began at Pendo earlier this year, works closely with another recent hire, Jessica Jolley, who heads the startup’s diversity, equity, and inclusion work.  Together, they’ve already begun to review and redesign how the company interviews, and how recruiting teams operate, from start to finish.

“We look at a framework for DEI that includes our data and accountability, our talent, acquisition and retention, and attrition,” said Rettig.  “DEI is not a separate function from your everyday job, it is embedded in everything you do, and we have to drive it in everything we do.”

The company is set to nearly double its employee headcount in 2021, said Rettig, with plans to hire as many as 100 new employees for its Raleigh location in the next quarter and a total of 400 in 2021.  So in response, Rettig is focusing her recruiting teams on representation along the entire talent recruitment process.

“On my recruiting teams, we’re saying, for DEI, what intentional sourcing strategy are you going to set up upfront,” described Rettig, noting she asks her team regularly questions such as “what can you do, what are all the things we can do to expand our top of funnel, our consideration set.”

“There is so much work, and we’ll never be done doing that, but we have to provide clear goals and measurable ones for our people and teams,” she noted.  Pendo has recently put its diversity, inclusion, and equity goals publicly on its website, and will release its first annual diversity report later this spring.

Those goals are a part of a strategic framework, and it’s important for the company to align their work, especially as the company changes dramatically in regard to its workforce, noted Rettig, to a static strategic framework that focuses their teams on the company’s core values.

  • ChannelAdvisor

ChannelAdvisor will also publish their first diversity, equity, and inclusion report in 2021, noted Tom Solomon, the director of human resources and talent management at ChannelAdvisor, who also participated in the panel discussion.

“We realized that we had a responsibility to do more, to accelerate progress not only in the four walls of CA but in the communities in which we live, work, and play,” said Solomon.

  • Lenovo

Shantell Thomas, the North American Diversity & Inclusion Partner at Lenovo, who works from the Triangle office, shared that the company has come to understand that if it is going to deliver on its mission to make technology smarter for all, “it is going to take us having actually diverse representation in our company to deliver on that.”

Lenovo published its third diversity report in December 2020.  “We are looking at the representation that exists across our company,” said Thomas.  “If we want it to matter, we’ve got to measure it.”

That’s why, said Thomas, the company’s leaders are measuring a variety of metrics that relate to the company’s diversity and inclusion efforts.  Thomas noted that the company did reach its three-year goals for representation and female leadership, and is in the process of establishing future goals.

“It begins and ends with creating a sense of belonging, that’s what is really important to me, that’s what led me to DEI, and that’s what I wake up every day to do to serve our employees,” said Thomas, “to bend our arc for all of us to create a sense of belonging.”