What does inclusive leadership look like? And how can we bridge the gap between intention and action?
In this episode, host Becca Banyard is joined by Jennifer Fong—VP of People at Customer.io—to talk about the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion in leadership, its impact on decision making and innovation, and the challenges organizations face.
- Building Inclusive Workplaces [1:05]
- Diversity and inclusion in the workplace are critical not just for ethical reasons but also for business innovation and growth.
- When organizations incorporate DE&I initiatives into their culture, they build better workplaces.
- Diversity and inclusion in leadership significantly impacts decision-making processes and innovation, providing a broader range of perspectives and ideas.
- In addition, the presence of diverse individuals in leadership roles also plays a crucial role in employee engagement and fostering a sense of belonging and value among underrepresented groups.
When companies foster an inclusive culture, you see the employees blossom. They’re more likely to be engaged, motivated, committed to their work.Jennifer Fong
- The Biggest Challenge in Implementing DE&I in Corporate Culture [7:16]
- Leadership buy-in is critical for successful DE&I initiatives, as leaders serve as role models and set the tone for the organization’s culture.
- Underrepresented groups may be disproportionately affected by layoffs, making the task of improving diversity and inclusion more challenging.
- Building Inclusive Leadership [11:09]
- In addition to fostering a diverse and inclusive culture, organizations also need to focus on creating inclusive leaders.
- Inclusive leadership involves demonstrating curiosity and empathy, actively listening, validating experiences, and fostering a sense of belonging.
- Inclusive leaders also understand the importance of allyship, mentorship, and sponsorship – all critical roles in supporting DE&I efforts.
- These leaders use their influence to address systemic barriers and ensure equal opportunities for all, share knowledge and provide guidance, and utilize their power to create opportunities and advocate for advancement.
- A key aspect of building an inclusive environment is the commitment to personal growth, continuous learning, and intentional action. Leaders need to examine their beliefs and biases and educate themselves on DE&I best practices.
- Despite the challenges, embracing uncomfortable conversations and assuming positive intent can help leaders foster dialogue and growth and empower marginalized groups.
Being an inclusive leader starts with a commitment to your personal growth, continuous learning, and intentional action.Jennifer Fong
- The Impact of DE&I Initiatives on Organizations and Employees [17:26]
- The implementation of DE&I initiatives has a direct impact on both the organization and the employee experience. A diverse and inclusive workplace fosters a sense of belonging among employees, contributing to their well-being and professional growth. It also gives them a voice and access to equal opportunities.
- From an organizational perspective, DE&I initiatives can enhance decision-making, innovation, and business success.
Meet Our Guest
Jennifer Fong is the Vice President of People at Customer.io. She’s building world-class teams and developing high-performing workplaces that empower people to do their best work.
When individuals with different backgrounds come together, they bring unique perspectives and ideas to our table and these perspectives can lead to better problem solving and innovative thinking.Jennifer Fong
- Join the People Managing People community forum
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- Connect with Jennifer Fong on LinkedIn
- Check out Customer.io
Related articles and podcasts:
- About the People Managing People podcast
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Read The Transcript:
We’re trying out transcribing our podcasts using a software program. Please forgive any typos as the bot isn’t correct 100% of the time.
Becca Banyard: While diversity, equity, and inclusion are often discussed in organizations, many fail to turn their intentions into concrete actions, despite committing to increasing DE&I budgets and initiatives. So how can we bridge this gap?
Welcome to the People Managing People podcast. We're on a mission to build a better world of work and to help you create happy, healthy and productive workplaces. I'm your host, Becca Banyard.
My guest today is Jennifer Fong. She is the Vice President of People at Customer.io. And we're going to be talking about the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion in leadership, its impact on decision making and innovation, and the challenges organizations face.
Jennifer will also be sharing practical steps to create inclusive workplaces, the key traits of an inclusive leader, and how to foster diversity, equity, and inclusion in your organization. So let's dive in.
Hello, Jen! Welcome to the podcast. It's great to have you here today.
Jennifer Fong: I got so excited to join you today.
Becca Banyard: So today we're going to be talking about how incorporating diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives can build a better workplace. But before we dive in, I'd love to know just a little bit more about you. So could you just share a bit about your background and what you do now?
Jennifer Fong: Again, I'm Jen Fong and I am VP of People at Customer.io and we are a globally distributed company that is fully remote across 35 countries. And in terms of my background, I lead our people and culture teams at CIO and I've worked in HR for over 15 years, primarily in the tech industry.
Becca Banyard: Amazing. Yeah. So good to have you here today. So we're going to get this conversation started with the why. So why is diversity and inclusion so important in leadership?
Jennifer Fong: Well, diversity and inclusion bring numerous benefits that can translate into greater success for a company. I think at its core, it's about creating a culture of respect, value and belonging.
And one of the most significant benefits of diversity is improved decision making. When individuals with different backgrounds come together, they bring unique perspectives and ideas to our table and these perspectives can lead to better problem solving and innovative thinking.
For Customer.io, we truly believe that building diverse inclusive teams strengthens our ability to serve our customer base. Having that diverse workforce allows us to have a broader range of insights that inform our business decisions. And I think that leads to better products and services.
Becca Banyard: Yeah, that makes total sense. So I'm curious how diversity, equity, and inclusion look like at Customer.io, at your own organization?
Jennifer Fong: I think that for us, one thing that I would point out is, representation in leadership teams is very important in terms of employee engagement for us. For underrepresented groups, it signifies that their voices and their contributions are valid and instills that sense of belonging. And when you see someone that looks like you in a position of power, I think that it can really inspire you to pursue more and excel in your role.
And overall, I think leadership teams that prioritize diversity and inclusion are more likely to attract and retain diverse talent, and then studies have shown that many companies that prioritize this outperform their competitors. And I think when you're that employee, when you're that job seeker, you want to be at a company that values you for who you are and what you bring to the table.
And when companies foster an inclusive culture, you see the employees blossom, right? They're more likely to be engaged, motivated, committed to their work. And I would say in terms of attracting great talent, there was a Glassdoor survey that found that 67% of job seekers said a diverse workforce was an important factor when evaluating companies and offers.
I truly believe it's a competitive advantage if you have a workforce that is diverse. It really is a great thing to have from growth and development perspective as well. And so I think DE&I brings together different backgrounds and experiences and really helps not only an individual grow, but grow as a team. And I think that that's when you really see DE&I come into benefiting everyone and driving operational excellence.
Becca Banyard: So at Customer.io, how have you created a culture of belonging?
Jennifer Fong: Thanks for asking. I think a big focus for our HR team is to seek and understand the data that will help drive us forward in our DEI initiatives. That matter most to our organization. I've always said, you can't improve what you don't measure.
And so we spend a lot of time in analyzing our demographic data in several areas of the employees journey, from the hiring process, promotions, attrition. And we want to couple that with feedback from focus groups, employees surveys to better assess what's working and where we have room for improvement.
And I think leveraging data, companies can really move beyond assumptions and anecdotes and make more informed decisions that drive meaningful change. And when it comes to building that inclusion, one of our company values is awkwardness. And what that means to me is embracing the unique, the silly, the quirky side of us and creating a space to fully be ourselves.
And as a remote company, we are very intentional when it comes to building community and fostering inclusive communication channels. We know remote environments can be tricky, right? Sometimes it can be isolating. They can amplify existing biases, right? So we want to curate opportunities like sip and see's hosted by employees or various guest speakers to increase the visibility on topics like global accessibility, emotional intelligence, a cultural competence, right? We also have virtual allyship check-ins for regular group discussion and Slack channels that are dedicated to celebrating and recognizing individuals across the business.
For us, we really see that when you provide spaces for employees to connect, share experience, learn from one another, companies are able to better foster that sense of belonging and encourage that celebration of diverse identities and perspectives.
Becca Banyard: Awesome. Thanks for sharing that. In terms of the general landscape of corporate culture right now, what would you say is the biggest challenge that leaders and organizations are facing right now when it comes to diversity, equity, and inclusion and implementing it into their organizational culture?
Jennifer Fong: No, I think that it really starts with the buy-in from leadership, right? Leaders serve as that role model. They really are the beating drum for us and being able to reiterate this message to be able to drive a lot of these initiatives. When I think of diversity, it isn't just the sole responsibility of HR. It's really a collective effort. And what I've been seeing certainly in the tech industry is that many of corporations trying to improve diversity and inclusion within their own organizations, they're impacted by layoffs.
And in general, underrepresented groups may be disproportionately affected by these tech layoffs. Right? And so I think that having a closer eye into the data, I mean, courageous conversations with leaders today and talking about this more freely can really help to move the needle in the places that we want to improve on, which would be how do we attract great diverse talent?
But then how do we actually retain? Right? I think that that's a huge thing that matters so much in terms of employee experience. And I think that that's what leaders are trying to figure out as they juggle their P&Ls to their priorities at hand. I think that there has to be a space for this because I feel like diversity and inclusion are table stakes for most organizations.
Becca Banyard: What would you say are a few things that organizations can do or implement in order to start seeing greater retention amongst their underrepresented talent?
Jennifer Fong: I think that's a great question, Becca. A wonderful place to start is to evaluate your company's policies and practices through a DEI lands. And what that would mean would be reviewing key areas, like recruitment, promotion, performance management, compensation, right?
These are areas that you want to assess whether these internal policies and practices really reinforce equity and inclusion. You'll certainly want to pair this with quantitative and qualitative data from employee feedback and interviews to look for patterns to identify where biases exists or disparities may exist.
From there, I think you can establish specific goals to address areas of improvement. And when you're setting these goals, again, encourage feedback from your leaders, employees, DEI experts, and continue to monitor and measure that progress and adjust your strategy over time. I can't stress enough that DEI is an ongoing process, it's going to require commitment and persistence. And at Customer.io, we believe that DEI is everyone's responsibility in creating an inclusive workplace. A part of that certainly requires ensuring employees and leaders have tools and resources to actively champion positive change.
But I think if you incorporate these tips, you're really going to be able to see how to build a culture where every employee feels valued, respected, and empowered to do the best work. And that's really the strategy of being able to retain your best talent, especially underrepresented groups.
Becca Banyard: I want to switch things up a little bit. You mentioned earlier that diversity, equity, and inclusion isn't something that just falls to the HR team, that it's. Well, you said just now as well that it's required that everybody participates in it in order for it to be a success. So I'm curious, looking at the leadership of an organization, what are some of the most important traits or skills of a leader in order to build inclusive leaders?
Jennifer Fong: Yeah, I think leading with curiosity and empathy is fundamental to inclusive leaders. They are taking the time to actively listen, validate experiences, foster a sense of belonging. And they also recognize that the work in diversity and inclusion is rapidly evolving. So they're open to new ideas.
They're seeking out numerous perspectives to form how they work, how they meet their teams. I would also just call out importance of allyship, mentorship, and sponsorship. The three ships, right? These are key rules that leaders can take on to support DEI efforts. When we think about allyship, it's leaders who are allies that use their influence to address systematic barriers, ensure that there is equal opportunity for all.
With mentorship, that focus on sharing knowledge, guidance, support for individuals as they develop their skills and professional careers. And I would say sponsorship can be particularly effective for underrepresented groups who may face barriers to advancement, right? Sponsors utilize their power and influence to create opportunity, advocate for advancements, connect with individuals to larger networks and associations. And I think combined, these approaches can create more of a supportive network and drive development and connection.
For me, I sort of reattribute a lot of my own success to my relationship with great mentors and sponsors who believed in me and helped propel my growth.
Becca Banyard: Yeah, that's amazing. Thanks for defining each one of them. That would have been my next question. So on that note, how would you recommend that leaders who maybe aren't practicing any of these things, or maybe they're practicing one, but not all three. How would you recommend that they start implementing this into their daily practice?
Jennifer Fong: Yeah, I think that being an inclusive leader starts with a commitment to your personal growth, continuous learning, and intentional action. And maybe that can just start with examining your own belief, your own biases, and then educating yourself on DEI best practices.
But the thing I really want to call out is commit to taking action, no matter how big or small that is. And I get it, it's not always easy to do. Definitely leaders may hesitate to engage in open dialogue because, shoot, am I saying the wrong thing that I'm not checking enough? Should I talk to this person about this?
But I think shying away from these discussions can hinder genuine conversations around DEI and can impede the progress towards creating an inclusive environment. Yes, sometimes these conversations can be uncomfortable. I think it's important to always assume positive intent and as leaders create that space for dialogue and growth.
I think by doing so, you're empowering marginalized groups and giving a voice to those who have been historically silenced. And what I would encourage to leaders out there is embrace that journey of learning together, of leaning into courageous conversations and being an advocate for positive change.
Becca Banyard: Do you have any experiences or stories that stand out to you from your own career journey of leaders who have become an ally or been a mentor or practice sponsorship to get you to where you are today?
Jennifer Fong: Absolutely. I think earlier in my career, I wasn't sure if leadership was a possibility for me. I didn't see family members, people within my personal network that were in the corporate space.
I'm the first generation Asian American and so I didn't really have a road map of how to navigate a corporate setting. But as I develop relationships in different workplaces, there were certainly many women leaders that I would reach out to solicit feedback that would help to get me in rooms that I wouldn't normally be in to just be a fly on the wall or find opportunities for me to be more visible in this space.
And I think by seeing how they operate and seeing how they lead by example, that really shaped my idea of what leadership could be. I think that growing up in an Asian culture, a lot of that is more collective. It's not individualistic. And so leadership didn't really seem like the thing to do, right?
And you want to just go with the flow. And so I really had to learn this from others and be able to make my mistakes, have a safe space to sometimes try it out of, like, I blew it on that presentation. And I've always felt like there was always at least one or two women within my field or organization that have always lifted me up.
And I think that that is truly instrumental. And that's something that I would love to see more leaders take the time to do, because you can see how much employees can flourish when they have that type of support.
Becca Banyard: I think we've touched on this a little bit already, but I'd love to know more about how implementing diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives can directly impact not only the organization in terms of decision making and innovation and everything, but also in terms of the employee experience and employee engagement.
Jennifer Fong: With employee engagement, most employees are looking for that sense of belonging. And I think that that's even more prevailing in this post pandemic world, where you're seeking for a connection, you want to make an impact. You want to be able to have flexibility to how things are blending between your personal life and your professional life. And I think that DEI really takes a focus into an employee's well being, an employee's professional growth, an employee's contribution and being able to have access to equal opportunities.
And I think that, not only is it good for business, right? We see that when corporations lean into DEI, like Nike, for example, their sales go up, right? When we have customers talk to us, they want to see that they're being represented as well. And I think that that's always great for business. But I think that again, when I go back to representation, being able to see other people flourish in our organization, I think that that's so important. And I do think that that keeps employees engaged and feeling like, Hey, I have a voice that matters and I have a role that I can make a true impact too.
Becca Banyard: If you had to leave folks with last advice, last pieces of advice, what would you say to people who are looking to either implement a diversity, equity and inclusion program or initiative in their own organization or who are looking to take their initiatives to the next step, what advice would you give to these people?
Jennifer Fong: I would say, I want to go back to that place of curiosity, right? Curiosity and empathy, I think that that's really something that has helped us evolve our DEI practices. And I think embodying those traits, inclusive leaders can then initiate the conversations that need to be had. They can meet with the stakeholders, have a pulse of the organization, and really affect the change that's needed.
Again, this is not going to be solved in one day. This requires a collective effort. This is the time to find those allies, find those folks that care about this. And there are certainly many people that do. And when you are able to work in a collective, that's when you're going to see a lot of that meaningful change come to light.
Becca Banyard: So before we wrap up, I have two questions for you that I ask all my guests. I would love to get your input. The first one is what do you believe is the number one thing that keeps employees happy in the workplace?
Jennifer Fong: I would have to say that sense of belonging. I think a lot of people need that connection in the world today.
Becca Banyard: I would agree. I know there's so much isolation out there. Yeah. Belonging's so important. And for the next question, what do you personally need as a leader to be a successful leader?
Jennifer Fong: I think for me, it's a bias towards action, right? I think that there's plenty that you can do to educate yourself, to grow within your space. But the act of doing, I think that that's where a lot of those learning moments happened on the failures that you go through as well as a success. And I think that being able to take action and continue to take action, even in the face of challenges, is something that has certainly driven me in the work that I do and why diversity and inclusion is near and dear to my heart. But I think it's the bias towards action to continue on, I think that that's very inspiring for others that you're leading as well.
Becca Banyard: Jen, thank you so much for being on the show. It's been awesome getting to talk to you. If folks want to connect with you or follow your work, where can they get in touch?
Jennifer Fong: Yeah, they can reach out to me at my LinkedIn page or Customer.io.
Becca Banyard: Amazing. We'll put those links in the show notes.
Folks, thank you so much for tuning in. It's been a pleasure being on the show with you here today. If you'd like to stay in touch with all things HR and leadership, head over to peoplemanagingpeople.com to subscribe to our newsletter and to join our membership community.
Until next time, have a great day.