Two years ago, a small group of AdRollers got together to launch our Diversity and Inclusion initiative.  Before starting a Diversity and Inclusion initiative, it’s important to ask yourself why you’re doing this. Diversity and Inclusion at every organization is deeply personal and rooted in company culture. Prior to securing budget or formal executive sponsorship, we did our due diligence by speaking to 20+ companies about their D&I programs—helping us transform our insights into clear next steps. We compiled our learnings and best practices from other companies to lay the foundation for what is now a key strategic initiative at AdRoll.

As strategic initiatives go, D&I programs break a key rule in project management. Normally, a project must have a beginning and an end. At AdRoll, we’ve acknowledged that D&I work will be an ongoing prioritization regardless of what direction our business goes. In the last two years, we’ve made some real progress and learned a lot along the way. Here are 5 key takeaways from our journey thus far.

Lesson 1: Pull the Data

Looking around at your company, you will likely assess some of the larger diversity gaps. Race and gender are typical culprits, but you could miss other diversity opportunities. These include, but aren’t limited to, age, sexual orientation, and personality traits. We have 6 global offices with varying diversity gaps. In one office we lack racial diversity, in another nationality diversity, and in a few age diversity. Take a step back and define what diversity means for your company. This definition will inform what data you pull, goals you set, and where you may already have early wins. By pulling data through various means (HR department, surveys, self-identification) we were able to understand where our work was most needed.

AdRoll has partnered with Culture Amp to offer Rollers a voice to share their experiences and take the pulse on employee engagement. We participated in their inaugural inclusion survey to help us understand opportunities and weaknesses at every cross-section of our employee base. As you start your initiatives, arm yourself with as much data as possible. This will help you prioritize where your work should begin.

Lesson 2: Set hard goals

Now that you’ve pulled the data, set goals that will help you narrow your focus to the areas where you can immediately make the greatest impact. Trying to attack all gaps will spread the team too thin and negatively affect results. These goals can fall into many categories: hiring, retention, inclusivity, etc. We referenced our HR and Culture Amp data to set hiring goals focused on women in leadership, women in tech, and underrepresented minorities. By setting hard goals we sent a powerful message to the organization that we are moving the diversity and inclusion initiative beyond rhetoric.

These goals are by no means a quota. We know that a diverse workforce makes a more competitive, innovative, and empathetic business. Everyone who we hire is the best possible candidate and we need to broaden our sourcing approach to diversify our candidate pool. Our goals hold us accountable. At any point we can measure against these goals to understand where we still have work left to be done.

Lesson 3: Focus on Inclusion & belonging

The work to create a diverse workforce also requires a focus on retention—specifically on how that workforce feels valued, recognized, and included. While building our D&I program, we saw the inclusion piece transcend the standard definition of accepting and respecting individuals of demographically diverse backgrounds. With 500+ employees, we needed to integrate inclusion into our culture. AdRoll already touts a culture that supports collaboration, helping each other grow, and transparency as key value drivers of our business. Digging into our company inclusion survey results, we saw an area to dive deeper: belonging.

Your company may already have employee resource groups to drive employee engagement and inclusivity. To go beyond the practice of inclusion, we started diving into what it meant to belong. Belonging focuses on the individual and how we can support and grow our employees so they feel valued as a part of a bigger mission. Mentorship programs are a great way to focus on belonging. Providing an ally and advocate for employees gives them a voice and support system. As you would imagine, the more that employees feel this sense of belonging, the higher their performance.

Lesson 4: Adopt a common language

Whether you have 5 people or 5000 it is important to adopt a common language around diversity and inclusion. The foundation of this shared language is respect and understanding. At AdRoll, we hold “Community Conversations” on a regular basis. The topics vary from current events to employee engagement survey results to the pulse on our diversity and inclusion efforts. I recommend creating ground rules that resonate with your culture to encourage respect, understanding, and openness. Check out our ground rules below:

  1. Stay engaged.
  2. Take risks and experience discomfort.
  3. Speak my truth and hear others’ truths.
  4. Expect and accept non-closure.
  5. Speak from the “I” position.  Don’t ask others to speak for a group.
  6. Step up and step back.

One of the earliest programs we launched was an Unconscious Bias training. We delivered this training first to managers and interviewers and now have partnered with Paradigm IQ to offer as a mandatory training for our entire organization. This training provides a common language by arming employees with tools to self-identify personal biases and actions that challenge these biases in- and outside of work. This training laid the foundation for future diversity and inclusion efforts and started a dialogue that has continued long after the trainings ended.

Lesson 5: Dedicate budget and resources

The most impactful informational interview I held was with Ruha Devanesan, Global Diversity & Inclusion manager at Symantec. She drove home the point that these initiatives always need a point person driving the agenda forward. Business priorities can change daily in the startup world. At AdRoll we have two executive sponsors who committed to be involved from the start. They advocated for us to get budget and a year later I’m proud to say we have a dedicated HR Programs Director owning our D&I strategic initiative. Executive buy-in, budget, and dedicated resources will ensure your program endures.

Now that you have made it to the end of my lessons learned, I’ll leave you with some parting tips:

  • Along the lines of “this is a marathon and not a sprint,” make sure you have a support network to reach out to when this work gets tough. Our core team members all experience highs where we feel like we have made an impact and lows that leave us resorting to excuses and frustration. Even when progress seems slow, I can look back now and find rewarding moments in our team’s perseverance.
  • Think about what success means for you individually and your organization. As I mentioned at the beginning, this work is ongoing and success looks different to everyone. Listen, educate, and act. We succeed when we work together.

Now, get to work!

If you’d like to connect with AdRoll’s D&I team, send us a note at