People

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."

Podcasts

1Password's CEO is ready for a password-free future

Fresh off a $620 million raise, 1Password CEO Jeff Shiner talks about the future of passwords.

1Password is a password manager, but it has plans to be even more.

Business is booming for 1Password. The company just announced it has raised $620 million, at a valuation of $6.8 billion, from a roster of A-list celebrities and well-known venture capitalists.

But what does a password manager need with $620 million? Jeff Shiner, 1Password’s CEO, has some plans. He’s building the team fast — 1Password has tripled in size in the last two years, up to 500 employees, and plans to double again this year — while also expanding the vision of what a password manager can do. 1Password has long been a consumer-first product, but the biggest opportunity lies in bringing the company’s knowhow, its user experience, and its security chops into the business world. 1Password already has more than 100,000 business customers, and it plans to expand fast.

Keep Reading Show less
David Pierce

David Pierce ( @pierce) is Protocol's editorial director. Prior to joining Protocol, he was a columnist at The Wall Street Journal, a senior writer with Wired, and deputy editor at The Verge. He owns all the phones.

Sponsored Content

A CCO’s viewpoint on top enterprise priorities in 2022

The 2022 non-predictions guide to what your enterprise is working on starting this week

As Honeywell’s global chief commercial officer, I am privileged to have the vantage point of seeing the demands, challenges and dynamics that customers across the many sectors we cater to are experiencing and sharing.

This past year has brought upon all businesses and enterprises an unparalleled change and challenge. This was the case at Honeywell, for example, a company with a legacy in innovation and technology for over a century. When I joined the company just months before the pandemic hit we were already in the midst of an intense transformation under the leadership of CEO Darius Adamczyk. This transformation spanned our portfolio and business units. We were already actively working on products and solutions in advanced phases of rollouts that the world has shown a need and demand for pre-pandemic. Those included solutions in edge intelligence, remote operations, quantum computing, warehouse automation, building technologies, safety and health monitoring and of course ESG and climate tech which was based on our exceptional success over the previous decade.

Keep Reading Show less
Jeff Kimbell
Jeff Kimbell is Senior Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer at Honeywell. In this role, he has broad responsibilities to drive organic growth by enhancing global sales and marketing capabilities. Jeff has nearly three decades of leadership experience. Prior to joining Honeywell in 2019, Jeff served as a Partner in the Transformation Practice at McKinsey & Company, where he worked with companies facing operational and financial challenges and undergoing “good to great” transformations. Before that, he was an Operating Partner at Silver Lake Partners, a global leader in technology and held a similar position at Cerberus Capital LP. Jeff started his career as a Manufacturing Team Manager and Engineering Project Manager at Procter & Gamble before becoming a strategy consultant at Bain & Company and holding executive roles at Dell EMC and Transamerica Corporation. Jeff earned a B.S. in electrical engineering at Kansas State University and an M.B.A. at Dartmouth College.
Policy

Biden wants to digitize the government. Can these techies deliver?

A December executive order requires federal agencies to overhaul clunky systems. Meet the team trying to make that happen.

The dramatic uptick in people relying on government services, combined with the move to remote work, rendered inconvenient government processes downright painful.

Photo: Joe Daniel Price/Getty Images

Early last year, top White House officials embarked on a fact-finding mission with technical leaders inside government agencies. They wanted to know the answer to a specific question: If there was anything federal agencies could do to improve the average American’s experience interacting with the government, what would it be?

The list, of course, was a long one.

Keep Reading Show less
Issie Lapowsky

Issie Lapowsky ( @issielapowsky) is Protocol's chief correspondent, covering the intersection of technology, politics, and national affairs. She also oversees Protocol's fellowship program. Previously, she was a senior writer at Wired, where she covered the 2016 election and the Facebook beat in its aftermath. Prior to that, Issie worked as a staff writer for Inc. magazine, writing about small business and entrepreneurship. She has also worked as an on-air contributor for CBS News and taught a graduate-level course at New York University's Center for Publishing on how tech giants have affected publishing.

Boost 2

Can Matt Mullenweg save the internet?

He's turning Automattic into a different kind of tech giant. But can he take on the trillion-dollar walled gardens and give the internet back to the people?

Matt Mullenweg, CEO of Automattic and founder of WordPress, poses for Protocol at his home in Houston, Texas.
Photo: Arturo Olmos for Protocol

In the early days of the pandemic, Matt Mullenweg didn't move to a compound in Hawaii, bug out to a bunker in New Zealand or head to Miami and start shilling for crypto. No, in the early days of the pandemic, Mullenweg bought an RV. He drove it all over the country, bouncing between Houston and San Francisco and Jackson Hole with plenty of stops in national parks. In between, he started doing some tinkering.

The tinkering is a part-time gig: Most of Mullenweg’s time is spent as CEO of Automattic, one of the web’s largest platforms. It’s best known as the company that runs WordPress.com, the hosted version of the blogging platform that powers about 43% of the websites on the internet. Since WordPress is open-source software, no company technically owns it, but Automattic provides tools and services and oversees most of the WordPress-powered internet. It’s also the owner of the booming ecommerce platform WooCommerce, Day One, the analytics tool Parse.ly and the podcast app Pocket Casts. Oh, and Tumblr. And Simplenote. And many others. That makes Mullenweg one of the most powerful CEOs in tech, and one of the most important voices in the debate over the future of the internet.

Keep Reading Show less
David Pierce

David Pierce ( @pierce) is Protocol's editorial director. Prior to joining Protocol, he was a columnist at The Wall Street Journal, a senior writer with Wired, and deputy editor at The Verge. He owns all the phones.

Entertainment

5 takeaways from Microsoft's Activision Blizzard acquisition

Microsoft just bought one of the world’s largest third-party game publishers. What now?

The nearly $70 billion acquisition gives Microsoft access to some of the most valuable brands in gaming.

Image: Microsoft Gaming

Just one week after Take-Two took the crown for biggest-ever industry acquisition, Microsoft strolled in Tuesday morning and dropped arguably the most monumental gaming news bombshell in years with its purchase of Activision Blizzard. The deal, at nearly $70 billion in all cash, dwarfs Take-Two’s purchase of Zynga, and it stands to reshape gaming as we know it.

The deal raises a number of pressing questions about the future of Activision Blizzard’s workplace culture issues, exclusivity in the game industry and whether such massive consolidation may trigger a regulatory response. None of these may be easily answered anytime soon, as the deal could take up to 18 months to close. But the question marks hanging over Activision Blizzard will loom large in the industry for the foreseeable future as Microsoft navigates its new role as one of the three largest game makers on the planet.

Keep Reading Show less
Nick Statt
Nick Statt is Protocol's video game reporter. Prior to joining Protocol, he was news editor at The Verge covering the gaming industry, mobile apps and antitrust out of San Francisco, in addition to managing coverage of Silicon Valley tech giants and startups. He now resides in Rochester, New York, home of the garbage plate and, completely coincidentally, the World Video Game Hall of Fame. He can be reached at nstatt@protocol.com.
Enterprise

Why AMD is waiting for China to approve its $35B bid for Xilinx

There’s another big chip deal in regulatory limbo. AMD’s $35 billion bid for Xilinx, which would transform its data-center business, is being held up by China.

AMD announced a $35 billion bid to acquire Xilinx more than a year ago.

Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg via Getty Images

AMD has spent its entire corporate life as a second-class citizen to Intel. That’s just one reason why CEO Lisa Su seized an opportunity with a $35 billion stock deal to snap up programmable chipmaker Xilinx more than a year ago at one of Intel’s weakest moments in decades.

The full extent of a manufacturing stumble that delayed Intel's next-generation chips six months became apparent in 2020, to Su and AMD's considerable advantage. AMD’s share price soared as it became clear the longtime also-ran stood to gain significant market share, granting Su a considerably more valuable currency for acquisitions such as Xilinx, which makes chips for data center networking, cars, military use and satellites.

Keep Reading Show less
Max A. Cherney

Max A. Cherney is a Technology Reporter at Protocol covering the semiconductor industry. He has worked for Barron's magazine as a Technology Reporter, and its sister site MarketWatch. He is based in San Francisco.

Latest Stories
Bulletins