365 Days to Make a Difference: Increasing Diversity, Prioritizing People and Shifting Culture

Dara Sanderson
Chief Executive Officer
Automatic Summary

A Guide to Increasing Diversity and Making a Difference in Tech

Understanding Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion (DEI)

Welcome to this brief, yet informative blog post where I am going to share my thoughts on diversity in the tech industry. I am Doris Anderson, CEO of dictionary.com. As a black woman CEO in this sector, I will share my thoughts on how we can increase diversity, prioritise people and shift the culture in the tech industry. The acronym DEI may sound like a buzzword, but it's the groundwork of everything we do; it's about putting diversity, equality, and inclusion into action.

In this industry, diversity, equality, and inclusion matter for ourselves, for our communities, our society, and for our business.

The Value of Diversity in the Tech Industry

Being a diverse leader in the tech industry, it quickly becomes apparent how being one of the few people of color can often feel isolating and create a sense of imposter syndrome. To counter these feelings, we need to advocate for ourselves, accommodate others, overcome stereotypes and focus on overachieving. However, this journey is made easier with allies who are ready to share their insights and experiences. More importantly, leaders from diverse backgrounds bear the responsibility of being role models, showing them that they, too, belong.

From my career journey, it's evident that diversity greatly contributes to the overall success and resilience of a business. Studies reveal that diverse and inclusive work cultures surpass their financial targets, derive increased revenue from innovation, and enhance retention.

Creating Pathways for Diversity and Inclusion

When I first took the reigns at dictionary.com, I immediately went about integrating diversity and inclusion into our company's strategy. From a leadership perspective, forming a diverse leadership team was crucial. With an increase in leadership diversity by 200%, I managed to bring in a diverse network that spurred opportunities for others.

Investing in diversity also centered on our recruitment policies. Understandably, it's easy to overlook diverse candidates, especially due to urgency. To resolve this issue, the recruitment team was tasked with finding diverse candidates. Consequently, creating this pool of candidates ensured diverse individuals were always considered for open positions.

Another aspect was incorporating diversity, equality, and inclusion into our product. We continuously seek ways to reach new and underserved markets, creating partnerships aimed at benefiting underrepresented groups.

DEI within dictionary.com

In line with our goals for diversity and inclusion, we adopted Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) that catered to the DEI. Performing at least two activities in a quarter that targeted DEI was just one example of these OKRs. To accommodate this, our team constantly devised methods to contribute to DEI activities, both internally and externally.

Wrapping Up

In conclusion, diversity, equality, and inclusion entail much more than being buzzwords; they are the essence of a productive business set up. Constructive measures such as establishing a diverse leadership team, inclusive recruitment policies, and a product that caters to underrepresented communities are just a few ways you can promote DEI in your organization.

Remember, it's all about creating a pathway for diversity; after all, actions always speak louder than words.

Video Transcription

All right, I am gonna get started. So good afternoon. All of you. Thank you for joining. I'm excited to be here. I am Doris Anderson. I'm the CEO of dictionary.com.And today we're gonna talk a little bit about diversity, how to make a difference, increasing diversity, prioritizing people and shifting culture. So let's jump in de I, so we all know what that means, right? If not, you can look it up at dictionary.com. But uh since it really broke through to become what we could call mainstream DE I has been at risk of losing its meaning, its purpose, at risk of becoming a buzzword or something that we give lip service to something that we signal or something performative. But this is about more than the meaning of the words DE I to me is all about action. How do we put DE I into action? So here I am a black woman CEO in the tech industry and from Queens New York, I feel I must add, but just this designation doesn't automatically make me ad E I expert because there was no clear path, no set preset de I construct that got me to where I am. In fact, if you had asked me 25 years ago, what I'd be doing today, I never would have guessed this in a million years. So, while I've always had a love of technology, because I was one of those eighties kids that was tied to my Commodore 64.

If you don't know what that is, you can go look it up. I was learning how to program in basic. That was all the rage then. But that's not what I actually went to college to study because when I was in college many moons ago, the internet wasn't really a thing yet. And my choice of major had nothing to do with the career path that I later chose to follow because I studied theater. But it was after college during the.com boom that my love of coding came back with a vengeance and I took it upon myself to learn how to build websites and online applications because that was exciting to me. I spent hours in Barnes and Nobles pouring through books on HTML and javascript and C and Java. But from the beginning of my career, my first jobs in the industry, it was not lost on me that I was one of the few women and one of the few black people that was doing the sort of work that I was doing, I'd look around rooms and there was almost never anyone who looked like me or shared even a similar background to me.

And while I didn't let that stop me from forging ahead in whatever it was I wanted to do, it could be a very lonely place. And there were certainly times that I questioned if I belonged there. His imposter syndrome syndrome is very real. It hits many people, but it hits a little bit differently when you literally can't find a single person that resembles you in your work in your workplace. So to be successful in this industry, I've had to do a lot of things. I've had to learn how to advocate for myself, how to accommodate others. Uh I had to overcome stereotypes and overachieve just by virtue of who I am. But along the way, I've also had many allies who taught me all sorts of things and open doors that I wouldn't even have known were there without them. And so I bring to my leadership a great deal of perspective and empathy modeling and a love of mentorship. It wasn't until much later in my career that I began to realize it was my turn to stand up and be the example to other women and people of color that there is a place for them in this industry. So that maybe when they feel discouraged or alone, they have an example to look at and say if she can do this. So can I there were a couple of occasions when other people called this to my attention and how important it was.

I remember the first time a young woman asked if she could just have a few minutes to talk to me about my career path. And at first I was kind of surprised and wondering what does she want to talk to me for? But in talking to her about some of the things she was struggling with in her role, it really hit me that she didn't have anyone she could identify with. That was an example of what her future could look like if she could successfully navigate sometimes tricky terrain. Another time, I was in the process of leaving a leadership position to go off and do something else. And another young black woman asked to chat with me before I left again, happy to do it. You know, we got on the call and all she wanted to do was to say thank you for being there. Because before that, she had never seen someone who looked like her in that type of leadership position. I actually got a bit teary eyed, um which is not my default state when I was talking to her because I could just feel how much that meant to her. But being a leader that's focused on de I isn't just tied to my gender or race. It's about the actions that I chose to take as a leader in my roles. And in my industry, I've had a lot of different types of jobs throughout my career and the opportunity to learn from all types of people of different backgrounds.

And I have really seen over the years that having diverse talent is an imperative for a successful and lasting business model. So according to diverse IQ, only 1% 1 of SNP 500 CEO S are women of color. Only 2% of CFO S are now being who I am. It is impossible for me to believe that this is a case simply because there aren't any diverse people qualified for these roles. No, this is all about opportunity about creating a pathway to these opportunities. That's what's key. And if people in leadership roles don't make it a point to create and sustain these pathways, they simply won't exist. So just as others saw something in me and open doors where they could, it is incumbent upon me and others in positions of power to do the same. And if not simply because it's the right thing to do then because it just makes good business sense. Diversity of background and identity brings with it cognitive diversity, different ways of processing information, solving problems, creating solutions of communicating. There's research from organizations like Gartner and the World Economic Forum and mckenzie and company that show that diverse and inclusive work cultures exceed their financial targets. They drive more revenue from innovation. Diverse teams outperform individuals and improve retention studies have shown that diverse teams collaborate and innovate better, faster de I matters for ourselves, for our communities, our society. And yes, it matters for our business.

So there are a few practical ways that in my first year at dictionary.com that I chose to dive to invest in de I, I'm just gonna share a little something here. So hopefully you can all see that. Uh So one of the first things that I did was to set a mission and vision for my company. So I'm gonna just read this to you quickly, words define every aspect of our lives from our ideas to our identities at dictionary.com. We aspire to empower every person of every background to express themselves, make connections and open the door to opportunity through the power and joy of language. That is the vision that I and my leadership team set for what we wanted to accomplish at dictionary.com and our mission.

How are we going to accomplish that by being the premier destination to learn, discover and have fun with the limitless world of words and meetings? We help you make sense of the ever evolving English language. So you can put your ideas into words and your words into action again, action, right? That is what I'm calling out here. So by doing that, it set a tone for what I wanted to accomplish in our business. And perhaps we're unique as a dictionary because words belong to and touch all of us. But really needing to look for ways from the ground up to bring people in. So that's the first thing I did set a mission and vision that points to and bakes de I into our strategy. Second was to invest in people, right? So one of the other things I did was to build out a strong leadership team. And in doing that, I increased the diversity in my leadership team by 200% because I realized that a diverse leader brings in a diverse network and they provide opportunities for others. I needed to invest in the team, not just in the short term, but in the long term, there's spending on head count, making sure compensation is where it needs to be prioritizing de I and recruitment policies.

There was a period where I remember I was at a company and we needed engineers badly. We had so much work to do um and not enough engineers to get the work done. And so we're working with various recruiting firms in hr and they were showing me all these resumes and I noticed a trend, there were no women, right? And at the time, I had some leadership who was diverse. I had some women leaders and I sat down and I said, well, where are all the resumes for the women? And they said, well, you know, we can't find any. I said, no, no, no, no, no. I said, I know we're in a rush. I know we need people. We have so much work to do. But this is important. This is important because if we as diverse leaders ourselves do not take the time to go and look for diverse team members and diverse engineers, then who will and I don't wanna hear that they don't exist or we can't find them. I'm literally sitting right here. Right. So that's what I mean. When you take action, you actually have to say no, you have to go and find diverse candidates for me to look at. It's not that I'm always gonna hire only diverse people.

But if you're not even giving the option for me to look and see what's there, how can I do that? Right. So that's what I mean by prioritizing de I in your recruitment policies, then even when you get beyond that, when you're looking at the products that you're building, always thinking about how are we going to reach new and underserved audiences in our company Jersey journey, right?

How are we going to solve problems for these audiences? We're always looking for? How can we do partnerships that will serve underrepresented groups, all of these things that you do as part of the normal flow of business, you can bake de I into all of those. And then even beyond just the outward facing, inward facing, investing in connecting people to each other, making Deis into our ors as a company, prioritizing time for the DE I Council and having executive sponsorship executives sitting in the DE I Council to help make action move forward, right?

Not just sitting around talking about what we could do in policies, having people who have the authority to action on those things, baking it into your company values and into your company's success and being accountable. Leaders have to be accountable for the goals that are set in our company. Okrs, not just around numbers and you know, product, road maps and engineering sprints, but about around DE I as well. Who's going to be accountable for that? And then part of that is investing in a transparent, inclusive and constructive employee culture, even going beyond. Um just that within my team, you know, we're part of a larger company and I always try to find ways to now utilize my voice and my experience. So I serve as a mentor for a, an ex executive sponsor uh for an employee resource group that is focused on courting diverse employees. Because once you bring in diverse employees, there's a big focus on how do you keep them there? How do you make it feel comfortable for them and give them a place where they feel they can grow in their career so that you retain those employees? It's not just about getting them in the door, it's about what are you doing to keep them there? So hopefully, um I've covered now just number one. Why de I is important? It's important for business, business sense. Um But also some of the just practical things, you know, that people can do to help foster that within their own organizations. It's about the action.

So I don't know how much time we have left. I think maybe four minutes. I'm gonna try and take a look at the chat and see if there's a few questions in here, if I've got anything at all. So if you have a question, you can feel free to throw it in the chat or the Q and A. Let's see. Oh Zoom, what are we doing today? Go back to the chat. All right. Pretty quiet. Well, that being the case, I'll give it just a couple of moments. Ah What's an example of ad eiokr that you have had? OK. So um one of the ors that we set was around making sure we were doing things in the community um to help elevate access to technology for underserved communities, right? Because again, for me, it's about creating a pathway in. So my de I team sits down, they're like, OK, what are we gonna do on a quarterly basis? There has to be two things that we do on a quarterly basis that are focused around DE I not just within the company but also externally. So we find different ways that we can participate. Specifically. Our, our company offices are in Oakland, California, right? Very diverse community there. So getting involved with a public education there um there are things around education that we wanted to do.

So my team sat down because that's the, that was the OK. R we need at least two things a quarter. They've come up with more than that, they've come up with one a month and I'm like, well, you guys, you know, that's great. Um But can we actually do all of that? How can you truly measure the diversity culture of a company you may be looking at for employment that's measuring. So for me, it is about looking at if they hopefully have one their mission and vision, look at who is making up the leadership team. I think I'm about to run out of time. I need to wrap up, look at who's making up the leadership team. Um And not just that look at yes, the makeup of the overall team, but also the longevity of the team. So yes, I'm getting though, I'm in my last minute. So that was very quick again. We didn't have much time. Um But thank you all for your time again. I hope you've gotten something out of this. I love talking about this subject. I hope you all enjoy the rest of the conference and have a great day. Thank you, everybody.