Cloudera recently appointed its first-ever Chief Diversity Officer, Sarah Shin. To maintain transparency about our diversity and inclusion (D&I) progress, we’ve asked her to share her vision for Cloudera’s future, and the initial steps she’s taking to help us get there.
Q1: What drew you to work in the D&I space?
As a biracial woman, diversity and inclusion was a large part of my life before I even knew what it meant. Early in my career, I attended a three-day D&I training that helped me realize that the diversity issues I’d experienced throughout my life seemed to be common in the majority of organizations. I thought, this can’t be right! We need to change things.
Q2: Let’s talk about those changes! Where do you want to start?
I’m passionate about finding effective ways to weed out the systemic racism and sexism — really all the isms — hiding in the legacy systems and thinking so prevalent in our society. And the data tells us it shows up in the workplace as well.
The importance of a diverse workplace can’t be overstated. A McKinsey & Company study, “Diversity Wins,” showed that companies in the top quartile of gender diversity on their executive teams were 25% more likely to experience above-average profitability than similar companies. And those with more than 30% women on their executive teams are significantly more likely to outperform those with fewer or no women executives. In fact, the performance differential between the most and least gender-diverse companies is 48%. It makes so much sense; research shows that when employees are on a diverse and inclusive team, they generate more breakthrough ideas, avoid groupthink, and deliver more creative and successful solutions, enabling their companies to excel.
A recent Society of Women Engineers study showed that women and people of color faced unfairness in the workplace and our new virtual work life during COVID-19 is widening the gap: “approximately one-third (31%) of professionals also reported more bias, including getting talked over, interrupted, and ignored, during virtual meetings than they did during in-person meetings.” We need to work together to solve these issues so everyone has a voice that’s respected and honored.
At Cloudera, we’re starting with breaking apart all aspects of the employee lifecycle and rebuilding it with fairness, equality, and justice. Guidelines, processes, and tools are all being reviewed and restructured with that goal in mind.
Q3: How did it feel to be named Cloudera’s Chief Diversity Officer?
When Cloudera CEO Rob Bearden tapped me to become the company’s new Chief Diversity Officer, I was humbled and thrilled. I had already been working as the head of diversity, inclusion, and learning at Cloudera and would now have an expanded role and more opportunities to make a difference. Plus, I’d be backed up by leadership and an organization that wants and embraces change, and a passionate Equality Committee (EC) dedicated to creating and driving new initiatives. To say I’m excited about our path ahead is an understatement.
Q4: What’s the first thing you did in your new role?
As I settled in, I knew I needed to dig deeper into our current state and our specific challenges. I started by taking a closer look at our data to see what new insights I could glean. I found that we were missing key information about race and other important information, mainly due to legacy processes. If we want to make data-informed decisions, we need to gather additional information and reduce the margin of error.
Then, as acclaimed author, activist, lawyer, and educator Dr. Mary Frances Berry recommends, I will be able to work with our teams to begin to disaggregate the data. Dr. Berry recently spoke at a Cloudera town hall meeting, and with our EC about the power of disaggregated data to tell a more complete story of the current state of diversity in tech. We’re collecting additional information as I write this and are working hard to get there. Yet it’s not slowing down our D&I efforts.
Q5: How did you decide what initiatives to focus on first?
I used Dr. Berry’s advice of working with the team we have to spur change. The McKinsey study recommends that companies “should place their core-business leaders and managers at the heart of the I&D (D&I) effort—beyond the HR function or employee resource-group leaders. In addition, they should not only strengthen the inclusive-leadership capabilities of their managers and executives, but also more emphatically hold all leaders to account for progress on I&D.” So, it was clear that we needed to start in the room where it happens—by building awareness about unconscious bias and inclusivity within our leadership.
Q6: Why do you think it’s so important to start this work at the leadership level?
Everyone, including managers and leaders, has blind spots and may not be able to understand others’ experiences. The goal is for each of us to recognize our unconscious biases and come away with the tools we need to interrupt them. When we know better, we can do better. In other words, once we learn inclusive management skills and understand how our actions set the tone in the organization, we can help lead the way to an even more inclusive workplace.
Q7: Can you share a little about how you addressed this with our leaders?
One of our first initiatives in February was rolling out Unconscious Bias training to the entire company. But that was just a starting point. Next, we’re partnering with an external organization to provide inclusive leadership training for our executive team and inclusive management sessions for our managers around the globe. Also, in September we delivered eight custom sessions of Bias Busters manager training, which has deepened the dialogue around bias at the leadership level as we head into our review cycle.
We’re already seeing the results of the training in action. I’ve heard a lot of anecdotes from across the company about leaders acknowledging and correcting unconscious biases. Thankfully, Clouderans are eager to show up as their most progressive, vulnerable, and best selves; we’re simply providing some structure for them. They’re very motivated and have proven it with how quickly they’ve jumped on—and run with—our initial D&I training opportunities.
Q8: Are you working on any initiatives for women or underrepresented minorities?
I am beyond thrilled to say yes! We just kicked off a pilot sponsorship program for this fall that creates sponsor-protege relationships between executive sponsors and 19 underrepresented minorities and women who work at Cloudera. It’s more than a mentorship program where leaders share advice with mentees; it’s designed to forge connections and representation in executive meetings for those who might not typically have it and to elevate talent and voices from across the organization.
This program will provide six months of executive coaching for those proteges and help Cloudera create a more diverse pipeline for leadership positions. If the pilot is successful, we’ll roll out the program on a greater scale in 2021.
Q9: How is Cloudera making an impact beyond our organization?
We’re reaching beyond our figurative walls to cultivate a love of STEM and the corporate experience in those who may not normally be exposed. Our Equality Committee developed a Center for Excellence initiative, allowing us to partner with the Boys & Girls Club of Middle Tennessee to provide STEM, finance, marketing, and other relevant training and development opportunities that will help level the playing field for underserved high schoolers who will compete for internships and other academic pursuits.
We’re also partnering with our Cloudera Foundation on Data for Change, a program that will give our employees the chance to volunteer their skills and time to organizations that can benefit from data and technology.
Q10: What’s your take on the future of D&I at Cloudera?
I’m proud and excited about the work we’re doing to make Cloudera (and the tech industry) a more welcoming, inclusive place to work. Our colleagues at every level of the organization are stepping up and stepping in to create change and it gives me so much hope for the future. I’m still dreaming of a time when women and underrepresented minorities make up at least half of all board members and executive teams, and I hope that beyond having a seat at the table, they’ll be fully included, fulfilled, and valued. I’m honored to do my part in helping to turn that dream into a reality. But for now, there’s a lot of work to do. Stay tuned for more updates as we continue down our path toward a more diverse and inclusive Cloudera.
To learn more about Cloudera’s commitment to diversity, please read our statement from CEO Rob Bearden.