How 6 Companies Empower Individual Contributors to Make an Impact on DEI

Individual contributors can create meaningful change in the diversity, equity and inclusion sphere, especially when they’re encouraged and supported by leaders.

Written by Lucas Dean
Published on Apr. 21, 2023
How 6 Companies Empower Individual Contributors to Make an Impact on DEI
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The effort that goes toward furthering diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace is never truly done and cannot fall on the shoulders of any single individual. Moving the needle on DEI initiatives demands an all-hands-on-deck approach. 

However, employees often find themselves left out of the loop on their company’s DEI efforts, a 2022 PwC survey suggests. About 80 percent of surveyed employees stated that their companies did not gather and analyze data on compensation, promotion, hiring and performance discrepancies. Even within organizations that took such steps, only 18 percent of employees indicated that they knew these steps were taken. 

Survey results illustrate how individual contributors can feel removed from their companies’ DEI initiatives. Conversely, some companies are empowering individuals to share ideas and make an impact. In the process, individual employees are carving out inclusive spaces, filling knowledge gaps and fostering awareness. 

Professionals from six Boston companies provided insights into how individual actions usher in positive change, cultivate work environments focused on DEI, and how leadership supports their efforts and ideas. 

 

Marcia Dukes
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Lead • MassMutual

Founded in 1851, MassMutual is a mutual life insurance company that offers insurance and protection products and retirement and investment services. 

 

Beyond simply speaking up, what’s one concrete action an individual contributor can take to bring about meaningful change in their organization as it pertains to diversity, equity and inclusion? 

We often discuss individual contributors’ capacity for advocacy, but alignment is just as critical. 

Each business unit within a company has its own objectives and ideas. It can take an individual to figure out how to connect these groups to enact larger actions.  

An example of this at MassMutual comes from our ADAPT business resource group (BRG), which promotes disability inclusion. One of the members of ADAPT, who herself has an invisible disability, leveraged her own personal experience to drive the BRG to do more and to build out a larger company strategy. That was all due to her voice — she started a movement. 

ADAPT also partners with us on the DEI team to represent MassMutual conferences like Disability: IN. One employee who attended this conference expanded our research into the supplier diversity space for the purposes of future action. They also wanted to recognize what we were already doing in this field. 

One voice can quickly rouse a collective voice by leveraging a BRG. It’s not just about speaking up, but also about identifying where a company wants to go and connecting BRGs to aid in that journey.

It’s not just about speaking up, but also about identifying where a company wants to go and connecting BRGs to aid in that journey.”

 

How does the leadership at your company encourage or empower individual employees to be vocal and active in driving forward initiatives that improve diversity, equity and inclusion? 

At MassMutual, we allow space for the outside world to come inside with employees. There’s no “check that at the door.” You can talk about it; you don’t have to act like it didn’t affect you. We want people to bring their whole selves to work. So we create safe spaces like our BRGs for people to have difficult conversations and use their voices. Policy change happens because of those voices.  

And our leaders know that the way to continue to empower employees to continue to speak up is to listen to them. For example, we welcome allies into all our BRGs. Sometimes, though, you just need a safe space for those who identify as part of an affinity group to meet. When we were doing all-BRG meetings to respond to current events, we were hearing the feedback that we needed a space for just our Black employees to meet, or just for our LGBTQIA+ employees. Our head of DEI took that straight to leadership and made that change happen. 

At the end of the day, it’s about people. And that’s deceptively simple. Leaders must give individual contributors the power to choose how to make an impact. And all those small steps can lead you to a place of great change.

 

 

Jaclyn Calovine
AVP, People & Culture • WHOOP

WHOOP’s wearable fitness tracking device and performance optimization platform empower users to perform at a higher level. 

 

Beyond simply speaking up, what’s one concrete action an individual contributor can take to bring about meaningful change in their organization as it pertains to diversity, equity and inclusion? 

If you’re passionate about diversity, equity, and inclusion, speak up and let your respective DEI and people team know! Building a diverse, equitable, and inclusive workforce requires everyone within the organization to feel a strong sense of responsibility for achieving those ambitious goals. We are always looking for DEI champions! 

At WHOOP, our ERG leadership team recently came together and made thoughtful and productive recommendations to the talent acquisition team. The two groups are now working together to creatively prioritize DEI at all stages of the talent acquisition process. 

DEI is not something we will ever be “done” with. There are often resource constraints to consider, so when we all pitch in and it truly feels like an essential part of everyone’s job, we can really move the needle!

There are often resource constraints to consider, so when we all pitch in and it truly feels like an essential part of everyone’s job, we can really move the needle!”

 

How does the leadership at your company encourage or empower individual employees to be vocal and active in driving forward initiatives that improve diversity, equity and inclusion? 

Radical transparency and productive feedback loops are core to the employee experience at WHOOP. Company leadership and the people and culture team make an effort to create an environment that encourages employees at all levels of the organization to share feedback, pitch new ideas and hold us accountable. This includes issues related to DEI. 

If team members have an idea, want to share an experience, or have questions, they are encouraged to proactively and productively share the feedback, ask the question, or pitch the idea. This goes back to the purpose of making DE&I everyone’s job and everyone’s responsibility.

 

 

Lulu Zhang
CS Operations Manager • LeanIX (a SAP Company)

IT company LeanIX created the Continuous Transformation Platform, which provides customers with the SaaS solutions needed to achieve transparency and control over their software. 

 

Beyond simply speaking up, what’s one concrete action an individual contributor can take to bring about meaningful change in their organization as it pertains to diversity, equity and inclusion?

Of course, speaking up is often the first step in putting meaningful changes into action. More importantly, how can we educate ourselves to be better allies and take the time to learn about the experiences and challenges faced by the different underrepresented groups in our organization? The more we educate ourselves and others on the importance of DEI, the more we create an inclusive workplace culture, which allows people to feel comfortable actively challenging biases and stereotypes and speaking out against discrimination and microaggressions. 

The more we educate ourselves and others on the importance of DEI, the more we create an inclusive workplace culture.”

 

Here at LeanIX, we are lucky enough to have these “butterfly” groups made up of individual contributors that advocated for different policy changes. As of October last year, we now have a DEI manager leading the efforts. Most recently, for International Women’s Day, LeanIX held a session with industry leader Rachel Bonds and talked to the team about how women in tech can break through the glass ceiling.

 

How does the leadership at your company encourage or empower individual employees to be vocal and active in driving forward initiatives that improve diversity, equity and inclusion? 

LeanIX has done a great job driving forward initiatives that improve DEI. During my interview, I had the pleasure of meeting the CFO Marc Zinnemers. Two of his questions for me were around the topic of DEI.

Later in the interview process, I met with Director of Global Talent Acquisition Lia De Kruif for an early morning meeting. My babysitter hadn’t shown up for the day yet, and I needed to take the call with my 4-month-old son. Lia didn’t even bat an eye at the situation.

For me, this is an important topic as a woman of color and a mother. In my career, I often was made to feel like I had to pick between my career and being a great mom. I remember walking away from the interview process, feeling confident that LeanIX, from the top down, wants to do the right thing and improve DEI. It also solidified my decision to move forward with LeanIX. Now almost a year in, I continue to see the leadership team making strides around this topic and continue to empower individual employees to be vocal in actively driving the DEI initiatives.

 

 

Lily Otu
Manager, DEI • ezCater

ezCater is a marketplace that connects businesspeople with a variety of catering options. 

 

Beyond simply speaking up, what’s one concrete action an individual contributor can take to bring about meaningful change in their organization as it pertains to diversity, equity and inclusion? 

An organization’s DEI efforts are a direct correlation to the values of the organization and how they define leadership. At ezCater, we aim to empower all of our employees, whether managers or individual contributors, to be leaders in driving and influencing change. We believe that DEI is everyone’s responsibility.   

Some of ezCater’s most effective and active cross-organizational groups and events have been organized by individual contributors. Our first and largest affinity group, Mosaic, was started in 2018 by an individual contributor with the goal for employees of all identities to celebrate, talk and educate each other on the happenings within their communities.

Some of ezCater’s most effective and active cross-organizational groups and events have been organized by individual contributors.”

 

To this day, Mosaic continues to provide a safe and supportive space for employees who identify as BIPOC, LGBTQIA+, or both, are part of the mental health community, those with disabilities, and allies to come together in a welcoming, inclusive environment. While others have since followed in Mosaic’s footsteps, its creation was a significant milestone in ezCater’s history and an effort led by a single employee who identified the need and took action. 

 

How does the leadership at your company encourage or empower individual employees to be vocal and active in driving forward initiatives that improve diversity, equity and inclusion? 

Our leadership team recognizes that speaking up is a quality we all can and should possess. This is not always easy, particularly in a remote hybrid environment, so we aim to empower our employees to use their voices no matter the setting. During onboarding, our DEI and people teams meet with new employees to share the different opportunities they have to use their voice within our organization. Whether it be through company surveys, one-on-ones with people partners or members of our people team, or employee resource groups like Mosaic, the goal is to provide different channels for employees to feel comfortable contributing and sharing feedback. We also offer live workshops for all employees to continue learning in the DEI space. 

Managers are expected to take courses through She Geeks Out and LifeLabs Learning. This provides managers with the skills needed to create inclusive environments for their team members and establish a space where they feel comfortable sharing their thoughts, feedback and opinions. These workshops offer employees a forum for continued learning and develop strategies to help them speak out and share feedback in various situations.

 

 

Kristina Bell
Director, Diversity, Equity & Inclusion • Bullhorn

Bullhorn is an applicant tracking system used by staffing agencies to centralize the recruitment and applicant management process. 

 

Beyond simply speaking up, what’s one concrete action an individual contributor can take to bring about meaningful change in their organization as it pertains to diversity, equity and inclusion? 

First, I’d like to offer that speaking up isn’t simple. It takes courage and can be a risk for many individual contributors who are unsure how their voices and perspectives will impact their brand or career trajectory. So I have to first emphasize how important and impactful speaking up can be. It’s how we increase cultural awareness, evolve perspectives and help develop those around us. The next thing individual contributors can do is engage in existing initiatives. If there are employee resource groups or volunteer initiatives, get involved with the planning teams, share ideas and see how they can blossom.

Individual contributors can engage in existing initiatives. If there are ERGs or volunteer initiatives, get involved with the planning teams, share ideas and see how they can blossom.”

 

Our Herd employee resource group is for women and gender minorities but was initially focused only on women. We have an employee who was already highly engaged in several ERGs but didn’t feel like there was a space for non-binary gender minorities. That employee used their voice within the ERG space and worked with our Herd team to align on opportunities to be more inclusive. The result was that our Herd group expanded its focus and programming to include gender minority topics and interests. This is one of my favorite examples of how an individual contributor used their voice and created positive change, not just for themselves but for many others.

 

How does the leadership at your company encourage or empower individual employees to be vocal and active in driving forward initiatives that improve diversity, equity and inclusion? 

Empowerment at Bullhorn starts with our employee vision, which is that every person has a sense of belonging, a voice that is heard and a clear path to success. It’s a roadmap for our leaders to set the tone for their teams and for employees to understand what’s possible for them. Our DEI commitments are intentionally aligned with this vision, and you see that in our programming.

Within DEI, we drive a sense of belonging through our employee resource groups and focus on mental health and well-being. These programs give our employees the opportunity to engage in safe spaces, network with other employees and increase their cultural knowledge and awareness.

We hear our employee voices in a number of ways, whether it is through our annual engagement and pulse surveys, in our company-wide “Watercooler” Slack, which is a place for casual topics and talk, or through our many performance review check-ins throughout the year.

Employees are encouraged to own their career paths and are empowered with the tools and resources to support them. We have a companywide mentor program, a dedicated resource and tool for internal mobility and a number of cross-training, mentoring and skill-building programs within various departments.

Our programs and initiatives empower employees, not just in driving DEI but in maintaining a people-first culture where everyone has what they need to be successful.

 

 

Brigid Doulin
Director, Belonging & Growth • Kyruus Health

Kyruus is a physician-founded and led healthtech company that healthcare companies use for provider search and scheduling. 

 

Beyond simply speaking up, what’s one concrete action an individual contributor can take to bring about meaningful change in their organization as it pertains to diversity, equity and inclusion? 

One action I would say an individual can take is to commit to practicing active allyship and role model behaviors of inclusion in their day-to-day. Since we all have biases and they will show up at work, it’s critical we’re aware of situations where our bias is most likely to creep in — like one-on-one social interactions, group gatherings and times we’re making decisions or giving feedback.

I took a great training years ago — shoutout to LifeLabs! — that offered really practical advice for ways to be more inclusive in these settings, practices I still use every day. For example, in gatherings, allies can “open the circle,” meaning you directly create the space to welcome others in and allow them to contribute. Having a few phrases in your back pocket like “The backstory here is…” or “What do you think?” is an easy way to invite others into the conversation.

One action I would say an individual can take is to commit to practicing active allyship and role model behaviors of inclusion in their day-to-day.”

 

How does the leadership at your company encourage or empower individual employees to be vocal and active in driving forward initiatives that improve diversity, equity and inclusion? 

There are so many ways Kyruus leaders empower team members in our DEI work, but the best example I’d give is that they role model the behaviors themselves — being vocal about where we can do better and channeling that into action whether it’s contributing at our monthly DEI Committee meetings, engaging our DEI Leadership Council when they need counsel or acting as “dot connectors” across the organization. For example, championing feedback from a team member to our product team leadership on a new feature that could address a barrier to care.  

While leadership plays a key role in recognizing and addressing the systemic structures of inequity in any organization, empowering an action-oriented mindset for individual contributors can energize team members to commit to the work on an individual level too. 

 

Responses have been edited for length and clarity. Images via listed companies and Shutterstock.

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