A Talk With DEI Leader Netta Jenkins

A talk with DEI leader Netta Jenkins, one of the leading Diversity, Equity and Inclusion voices in the tech industry

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By Gloat

May 3, 2021

Reexamining basic HR paradigms is a big part of what we do at Gloat.

In recent years, it’s become increasingly clear that DEI is not just a core tenant of HR, but of business operations in general – yet many companies are still struggling with their diversity, equity and inclusion efforts. From a Gloat perspective, one key way of advancing and promoting this important function is through technological platforms – but without a human-centric and experience-informed lead, technological platforms can only take you so far.

For this reason, we’ve decided to reach out to LinkedIn’s top DEI influencer, Netta Jenkins, and sit down with her for a chat that’s all about her experience in the world of DEI.

In addition to her LinkedIn fame, Jenkins is the VP of Global Inclusion at Unqork, the founder of Holistic Inclusion Consulting, and the co-founder of Dipper, an online, interactive community and safe-space for professionals of color to share their workplace experiences.

Hi Netta! Thank you for making the time to speak with us! Could you tell us what you’re currently working on?

What am I NOT working on right now?! My primary focus is the launch of the Dipper platform at ourdipper.com – where Black, Latinx, Asian, Indigenous and all professionals of color are coming in droves to create profiles and network, but most of all to rate and review their workplace experiences. I co-founded Dipper with a former colleague and instant professional soulmate – we hugged the minute we first met – and we are beyond thrilled with how the launch is going, the twice-weekly LinkedIn livestreams, and all the gems being dropped all around.

That’s against the backdrop of my full-time work for the truly revolutionary and committed company, Unqork, as well as my active consulting practice.

DEI is not just a “nice to have” – it’s the future. Generations coming up now demand not only a program, but a way of being. If companies haven’t even started, they’re way behind.

Netta Jenkins

What is the most challenging aspect of leading the charge for a diverse work environment?

You have to remember that this field is fighting ignorance and comfort in institutions with built-in, systemic racism. I focus on DEI and Anti-Racism consulting for many companies and it’s not only educating and changing one workplace at a time, it’s doing so for each senior leadership team, each C-suite member, each HR group, really, each and every employee. And each of those has a different level of ignorance and at times true hostility to work against. I’m glad the work is being done, but it can be quite debilitating, especially when it seems that when we take a step forward, there’s a response that puts us two steps back.

What’s your best personal experience that comes to mind when we mention inclusion in the tech industry?

I’d have to say the satisfaction I’m getting from Unqork’s commitment. We are attacking DEI on all fronts, including developing a product that measures DEI success, based on company, team and individual KPIs. That’s at the same time we’re advancing the purpose of our Employee Resource Groups – which I call Employee Resource Strategy Groups – who are partners in progress for the company and not just a safe space where marginalized groups huddle against ongoing discrimination.

What’s the one thing most companies overlook when trying to build a diverse and inclusive culture or program?

Overall, it’s not just a “nice to have” – it’s the future. Generations coming up now demand not only a program, but a way of being. If companies haven’t even started, they’re way behind. They won’t be able to hire from the full talent pool that they could be and won’t be able to retain or satisfy employees. Their products will be less successful, because their target demographics will be uninterested or find more appealing competitive products or branding.

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Again, this is entire generations – those that include people of all colors and ethnicities who expect more, won’t tolerate narrow-mindedness, and who, frankly, will make up more of the entire population as time progresses.

What’s the most critical step for companies to be taking NOW to eliminate bias as best as possible?

No matter how advanced a company is in its DEI efforts, it’s all about education.

Recruiting staff need to learn about ALL the pipelines.

Senior leaders need to learn what NOT to say.

Employees better learn about micro-aggressions and their macro effects.

Developers need to keep those algorithms inclusive – I mean, can we get a soap dispenser to give soap to Black hands? Can a Zoom background not cut off dark parts? There’s education needed for QA too!

Do technology or technology solutions play a role in helping DEI initiatives move forward?

Yes – I just mentioned algorithms. Soap dispensers and Zoom backgrounds aside, there are some serious implications: applicant tracking systems that favor non-Black names or only Ivy League schools; or when those systems screen out those with too much experience, leaving some of our wisest professionals out of the running, or ignore those without degrees, eliminating the hidden gems who have life experience and a different kind of genius.

Within organizations, we can use tech to create, implement, and track DEI KPIs. See what’s working across the organization – hiring, retention, product, revenue and growth overall.

What’s one DEI quote you stand by?

There are so many sides to DEI, so I’ll give you two perspectives, if not quotes. The first is that within your workplace organization, not only do you need a full-time, highly placed DEI professional, that position must report directly into senior management – NOT be buried in HR as a secondary function of People Ops. 

The more direct quote is for anyone interested in supporting DEI efforts, and that’s the name of Dipper’s streaming series: “Shut Up and Listen!” 

No matter where you are on your DEI path – whether a neophyte ally or a seasoned professional – there is always something to learn. You don’t always need to demonstrate how smart you are and how much you know already. Just listen – and learn – for that proverbial minute!

To learn more about Allyship, and to take Netta’s course:

https://anti-racism-course.teachable.com/

To learn more about microaggressions, and to take Netta’s course:

https://anti-racism-course.teachable.com/p/microaggressions#

The One Thing Every DEI Program Overlooks

diversity, equity and inclusion are an important part of every business function – but to do DEI right, having a diverse and inclusive workforce isn’t enough, nor is it enough to tackle and routinely address biases towards under-represented groups.

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To learn more about the new ways in which AI, democratized workplaces and Talent Marketplaces are all coming together to steer the future of DEI, download "Elevating D&I with Tech: a CHRO’s Guide" now.

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