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A CEO's pledge: 'I will not accept bias or racism in our company, period'

Tech companies can be both inclusive and high-performing, says PagerDuty CEO Jennifer Tejada, but "people will constantly tell you it can't be done."

Jennifer Tejada

PagerDuty CEO Jennifer Tejada, pictured last year at TechCrunch Disrupt San Francisco 2019, said, "I've made it somewhat of a personal mission to demonstrate in the tech industry that you can build a balanced, inclusive, high-performing company."

Photo: Steve Jennings/Getty Images for TechCrunch

PagerDuty, a cloud computing company known for its IT support, was one of the first tech firms to issue a public condemnation of racial injustice in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd. "PagerDuty stands with the Black community against racism, violence and hate," it said. "Equality should not be a privilege but a right for all." The statement, and a commitment to donate to organizations fighting racism, came before giants including Microsoft, Alphabet and Amazon weighed in, according to a dataset compiled by The Plug.

That surprised some outside observers. "Pagerduty........hello?" wrote one Twitter user in response to the company's statement. In fact, CEO Jennifer Tejada has for years worked to position herself and her company as leaders in pushing diversity, both internally through hiring practices focused on underrepresented groups and externally through its equality focused foundation, Pagerduty.org.

Tejada herself has said she's "not your typical CEO," being "ethnic, short and female" — she has Filipino heritage — and leading a top SaaS company based in Silicon Valley. In a recent interview with Protocol, she called it a no-brainer to voice support of the historic Black Lives Matter protests that have erupted across the country. Yet corporations have faced skepticism for issuing what some critics see as largely symbolic statements — words that may be undercut by companies' products and relationships and the lack of diversity within their ranks.

Tejada said her mission is to harness and feed the energy of this moment, including by organizing a day of action — set for the Juneteenth holiday of June 19 — that she hopes will draw some of the tech industry's most powerful players. Protocol spoke to Tejada about how she believes executives can help combat racism and about her vision for a better, more diverse industry.

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

How quickly do you realize that you had to make a statement and take action?

I'll step back a couple of steps. While I find the current situation heartbreaking and am horrified that things like this could still be happening in 2020, I have always found racism and bias unacceptable, most certainly in the workplace. So I've made it somewhat of a personal mission to demonstrate in the tech industry that you can build a balanced, inclusive, high-performing company.

It requires intent and it requires consistent demands. From the top, it requires you repeating your vision for this inclusive environment over and over again. People will constantly tell you it can't be done and test you. It also requires walking away from certain organizations or people who are not going to support you in that. I have walked away from recruiters who cannot commit to me they can deliver a balanced finalist slate.

So when I heard about the George Floyd incident, I felt like someone had punched me in the stomach. … That Thursday, I started to catch up on the news and catch up on what was going on. I called my head of people and said, "I'm going to make a statement," not, "Do you think we should say something?" I said, "I'm going to make a statement and I'm going to do it today. If you want to advise me on that, you should do it now."

He, my chief of staff and our head of diversity had quick Slack conversations, and I put our statement out. I didn't discuss it with the board. There was no world where I thought we could be silent or not stand behind our Black community within PagerDuty and within our customer base — anything less would have been unacceptable. While that was happening, we were also looking at what we could do to serve our community internally.

What is PagerDuty doing to support employees?

Our employee resource groups all have Slack channels, and I regularly participate in dialogue with most of them. That Wednesday night, I was in the channel saying, "Is everyone OK?" You could see the pain pouring out of people in those discussions. So I got on the phone with a couple of our employees just to listen and to hear how they were internalizing this.

Then I drafted an email to our entire staff, which we sent out first thing on Friday morning, letting them know that they're seen, that we care about them, that we will not tolerate racism or hate or violence in our community, and that PagerDuty is a safe place to work and will always be a safe place for you to work. Not only to work but to bring your best, whole self.

One of our cultural values is "bring your self" and "your self" is two words. The construct behind that value is not only do we expect you to bring your history and your background and your uniqueness and your experience to the conversation, but your voice is wanted and needed. We also expect you to ensure that others, your colleagues, are able to bring their "selves" to work. There's an accountability associated with doing that.

I hosted office hours. I don't want to betray the confidence of some of the discussions we had but, more generally, what I heard from some of our employees is how exhausting it is to try and put on your work face when this is going on in the background, which reinforced my view that you have to give people space and time and a safe place to work through this.

We give our employees 20 hours of volunteer time off per year. So we let our employees know they can take volunteer time off for peaceful demonstrations, activism or any type of personal activism that means something to them. We are also launching Juneteenth, a day of change. On June 19, we are closing our business for a day and asking our employees to volunteer or take time to educate themselves on the issues at hand, to use the day to be reflective and think about how they can be drivers and activists for change.

I also really encourage other companies to join us on that day.

How are you working to improve diversity within PagerDuty's workforce?

Until this industry looks different, I am not going to stop. Until my daughters' children can grow up in an equitable environment that's safe for all different types of people — whether the LGBTQ community or women or people of color — we're not done. More than 50% of our managers, 80% of our leadership team and 50% of my board is underrepresented. We are doubling down not only on our hiring and selection policies to stipulate diverse candidates — and like I said, half the final slate must be diverse — but we are also requiring all of our hiring managers to go through unconscious bias training. And these were all in place before this happened.

How are you thinking about diversity in the long term?

The way I think about this is, it's systemic. Over the long term, you have to put systemic programs in place that are anti-racist. It's not just about trying to reduce racism or demonstrating a no-tolerance policy. You've got to educate people in order to change people and you have to put programs in place in order to drive measurable training.

We've also been very focused on pay equity. We have fair and equitable pay practices and a lot of controls in place, which are critical for trust and transparency. We conduct semiannual external equity studies. One thing we'll do to try to support the industry is release some of our stats in a diversity report later this summer.

Last year, we kicked off our first inclusion survey, an annual survey where we measure inclusion sentiment through people and the way they identify. Because of intersectionality, we have people who identify as a person of color but also a woman, as a member of LGBTQ community but also a man. There are lots of variations of this.

The common theme is, we have layers of systematic programs to ensure that not only are we advancing our own organization to demonstrate an equitable environment where people can build a successful career, but we're trying to advance the industry.

Can you talk a little bit more about this day of action? You said you're hoping to make it tech industry-wide?

We haven't talked about this publicly, so this will be the first time it's been mentioned, but I am in regular communication with a group of what I think are the most admirable CEOs in SaaS and in tech. It's a number of public company CEOs that you know: Slack, Twilio, Atlassian, Survey Monkey, Zoom, etc. And I'm going to ask them all to participate with us. Everybody has different limitations. I don't know if they will be able to do it, but I think it's a good opportunity to serve and start at the top and say, "Here's what we're doing. And here's why."

A lot of companies may have already given employees time to participate in protests or grieve this week. We certainly would love to see 100% participation. But at a minimum, we will make a statement, the least of which will be that our employees can breathe. They have the opportunity to take care of themselves, take care of their families and participate in progressive change.

You said you're in communication with these other CEOs. Is that a formal group?

It's more like peer mentorship. Being a CEO is a really unique job, and if you don't build a network around you of supportive people, it can be very lonely. We all had relationships before. Right before the pandemic hit, two weeks before shelter-in-place, a number of them had been over to my house for dinner. There's more than 20 of us. When the pandemic hit, we started getting together on a weekly basis to share practices because everybody was trying to figure out, "How do we keep our employees safe and scenario-plan for this crisis?" It really has become a collaborative and supportive community of leaders.

There's a reckoning happening around tech products. People are asking, "How do we ensure we're not putting out products that can be abused by racist actors, that don't have bias built into them?" And further, there are questions around allowing them to be used by law enforcement. Do you think that tech companies need to break ties with police departments and with law enforcement writ large right now? What do you make of the activists who say this is imperative if tech wants to walk the talk?

I think it's really important that tech companies and all companies have policies and codes of conduct around how their products and services and engagements need to operate. And so we have policies around the code of conduct and behavior associated with any event that we host, whether it's virtual or physical. We have a code of conduct within our organization that everybody signs up to, and in all of those cases, we talk about equity, we talk about fairness, we talk about removing bias. We talk about a no-tolerance environment.

We have teams within our product organization that make sure that we are filtering for any bias in product design, that our design is accessible to all users. We sometimes get our user community engaged.

We haven't taken a stance, per se, as it relates to different kinds of organizations that can or can't use PagerDuty, because PagerDuty is generally not used in concert with consumers. It's used to manage a technology environment, so I can't even imagine an activist use case for PagerDuty, to be honest, because it's an enterprise software solution that's an essential component of critical infrastructure.

So we do have state and local government customers, but they use us to manage their IT environment, their web environment, etc. So that hasn't really been a conversation that we've had. We do reserve the right to not do business with organizations that don't demonstrate equitable treatment to all customers, and we will, as you've seen, stand behind our community and support them in getting fair treatment and equitable treatment in this world.

Is your technology used by any police departments in the country?

If it is, it would be very, very few. It's certainly not a vertical that we focus on. We have a lot of local government customers, but just to give you an example, the state of Virginia recently used us to set up in field intensive care units for COVID patients, and we ran all of the IT help desk and incident management behind all of the health care technology. Another example would be if a university or a local city township uses PagerDuty so that their billing website continues to work.

Given your progressive stance, What do you think about pushing for particular legislative solutions to racial inequality?

One of the things that I have been encouraging our employees to do is vote. The voter turnout on the town, city and state level is abysmal. Those are the people who appoint police officials. Those are the people who drive policy, so if you don't exercise your right to vote and get underrepresented people into those seats, then you're not going to like the outcome that you get in terms of how these organizations behave.

I often say to my team, our leadership, our board has to reflect the community that we serve. And there are women in that community. There are Black people in that community, there are gay people in that community. So it's bullshit [to say], "Well, there isn't a pipeline of those people, that's what it is." It's bullshit. I don't accept that.

So I think there are ways that you can influence change by influencing leadership and by holding people accountable, to higher standards of diversity and inclusion at the leadership level.

I'm thinking about policy a lot because the CEO of Snap the other day called for reparations. Jack Dorsey is calling for specific police reforms. I think you're saying that's not your approach. But do you think there might be a responsibility to lobby at this point because tech is just such a power center?

I think every leader needs to look at their gifts and their ability to influence and figure out how to leverage that to its fullest potential. And so, some founders have significant wealth, and the best way for them to drive changes is financially. Some founders have millions of followers, and so they can broadcast their voice in a meaningful way.

I tend to try and lead through my actions. I have been very clear for every minute of the four years I've been at PagerDuty that I will not accept bias or racism in our company, period. And when it happens, if it happens, there will be no questions, you will be gone like this. And if you stand behind that, you see change happen very quickly.

And so, for example, the majority of participants in our intern program are underrepresented people. You look at the intern program, it's the grassroots foundation of our employee base. I am creating opportunity for the youngest community of Dutonians [the internal name for PagerDuty employees]. That's a place where I can really affect change. And I can set an example. And when someone down the street says, "Oh, well, we just couldn't find those people for our internship program," I say, "Well, they're out there. Just look hard."

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