A graphic of origami paper boats floating on the sea.
Image: © kengmerry/Stock.adobe.com

For DE&I to work, we must ensure we are raising all boats

25 Oct 2022

Yahoo’s new chief diversity and culture officer talks about what she hopes to bring to the role and shares details of Dublin’s pilot programmes.

While diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) usually sits within the HR and people practice space, it is increasingly becoming its own C-suite role.

Earlier this year, Yahoo appointed Alicin Reidy Williamson as its chief diversity and culture officer.

With more than 25 years of experience within the DE&I space, Reidy Williamson told SiliconRepublic.com that one of her main goals in the new role is to ensure that “everyone gets to show up in the way that they are their full selves”.

“I think that what we’re often looking at is trying to figure out who’s not at our company and why not, and what’s keeping them from being here.”

She said it’s important for companies to ensure they’re creating a diverse employee base by knowing where to look and expanding their recruitment networks.

Reidy Williamson also spoke about how diversity is often simply thought of as “anything that’s not straight, white male”. But in reality, it’s about creating workplaces that are inclusive of “every aspect of our identities”.

“What that also means is that there are times when we are able to create and develop programmes or initiatives that may be focused on one particular group of people, but in fact raises all boats,” she said.

“An example that I often use is that in the US, we have just had a Disabilities Act that had ramps put into sidewalks. Well, of course, that was really very helpful for people who are in wheelchairs, and it also happens to be something that parents use to stroll their children, delivery people use to roll up their carts.”

A headshot of Alicin Reidy Williamson against a purple and blue background.

Alicin Reidy Williamson. Image: Yahoo

This can also be seen when companies bring in programmes and initiatives designed to benefit neurodiverse employees, for example.

“I was having a conversation recently where we were talking about the sensory overload, and it’s really important to pay attention to that. And also there are people who happen to suffer migraines who will also benefit from paying attention to the lighting in a space and thinking about do we have some quiet areas that people can step away from?”

Specifically in its Dublin office, Yahoo is currently doing a sensory audit to assess and create an environment that enables the participation of employees with autism.

“What I think is really great about that is it could serve as a model for our other offices, and that’s actually where we’re able to get a lot of inspiration from. Again, water raises all boats.”

Retaining diverse employees

While a lot of companies put energy into finding more diverse candidates, promoting DE&I policies to ensure they are appealing to a wide range of people and improving recruitment processes to ensure diverse candidates are hired, Reidy Williamson said the work must continue beyond onboarding.

“That inclusion piece and that culture piece is so critically important to ensuring that whoever comes also in also feels a sense of belonging. If we get all of that right, there’s not the attrition, people do feel connected.”

She said that traditionally, companies might have worked hard to attract diverse candidates, only to tell them to conform as soon as they walk in the door.

“We want everyone who is at the company currently to show up and feel connected. And again, what that does is it allows people who are here to make space and be excited for the support of others because they feel supported,” she added.

“We don’t want revolving doors and we certainly want everyone to know that they’re part of this. And everyone benefits when we get this right.”

The value of ERGs

Employee resource groups, or ERGs, play a major role in many diversity and inclusion initiatives.

Reidy Williamson said they’re important in all companies, and when they are not formally recognised, they often still exist because “people come together to find each other”.

“It’s human nature, and the people need support. People need community.”

However, she said it’s important that companies don’t simply leave DE&I activities up to the relevant ERGs, but to ensure these groups are supported.

“The way that they show up is often organic. Our job as a company is to signal that that is great because you are building community. You’re making sure that people feel supported and that helps make sure that you want to stay.”

10 things you need to know direct to your inbox every weekday. Sign up for the Daily Brief, Silicon Republic’s digest of essential sci-tech news.

Jenny Darmody
By Jenny Darmody

Jenny Darmody became the editor of Silicon Republic in 2023, having worked as the deputy editor since February 2020. When she’s not writing about the science and tech industry, she’s writing short stories and attempting novels. She continuously buys more books than she can read in a lifetime and pretty stationery is her kryptonite. She also believes seagulls to be the root of all evil and her baking is the stuff of legends.

Loading now, one moment please! Loading