Earlier this year, DocuSign made a little more room around the proverbial C-suite table. In March, the company announced it would appoint Iesha Berry as its first-ever chief diversity and engagement officer.
Though the role is new to DocuSign, it is far from new to Berry, who is a veteran in the space and has previously worked at Microsoft, Bank of America and Slalom. Her time in financial services, as well as at legacy organizations, has translated into a distinct reliance on data and strategy as it relates to tackling diversity and inclusion work. And though Berry brings 20-plus years of experience, she says she is still in a position of learning in her first 90 days of leading diversity, equity and inclusion at DocuSign.
Berry spoke with Protocol about what her first couple of months have looked like, how to structure your focus in a new leadership role and how to create more lasting systematic change within an organization.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Being the first to do this, how have you gone about setting a foundation for what you want this role to look like in your first 90 days?
I’m going into the role very similar to when I've gone into other roles, whether I was a first or not, because on some level as a person of diverse identity, both visible and nonvisible, there is always an additional weight of responsibility, particularly for me; probably not anything different from anyone else that is reflective of various diverse identities, as we all are, is that you want to make sure that what you do and how you show up creates space for others to come along behind you. And so because of that, I take it very seriously to spend time really getting versed and very deep and steeped in the organization's business. And so while there is expertise that I bring as a DEI practitioner, more importantly, as a human capital executive, it is equally if not more important for me to become a student of the organization.
And so what I've done is spent these first 30 days, you know, probably about 60 days out from reaching 90 days, really understanding and studying the organization, meeting with our business executives, understanding their top three priorities from a business perspective, but then also [looking at] what that means from a people and culture perspective, because DE&I, as you know, is very much a business priority. And what we do around the employee life cycle and our business life cycle are inextricably connected, because at the end of the day you need the human experience to deliver an iconic product.
I think what's interesting is, you did this at Bank of America as well as Microsoft. I'd love to know since you've been in tech and in finance, is it that different from industry to industry?
It is a different challenge with every new organization that I enter because I go into these opportunities with a learner's mindset, not a knower's mindset. Yes, there is a space of expertise that I bring, but at the end of the day, that space of expertise does not create opportunity for scalable change if you don't understand the business.
At the end of the day, in every organization in my experience, across multifaceted industries, our goal was to always create a pipeline of talent that was reflective of our clients, our customers and our communities, create a dynamic and engaging experience that allows us to retain the talent that we are attracting within the organization and more importantly, leveraging that talent to create the next new innovations for that customer suite and all product — whether it was a technology or a new financial product.
How much of the first 90 days now is about the listening tour these days? Or are you finding that people are a little bit tired of the listening tours now?
I love that question, because it is equally about the listening tour as it is to drive to action. What I have learned and experienced that is really engaging for me at DocuSign is that the organization appreciates someone that listens and appreciates the historical context and the journey that DocuSign has been on. What we have to begin to do is marry our talk with … our action. I just hosted a session whereby we talked about theoretical data as well as practical solutions for amplifying and accelerating diversity, inclusion, belonging and equity, and we did that with a partner from McKinsey. So you’ve got to listen, but you’ve got to do. And you’ve got to bring the people along on that journey so they understand it is very important to me that we marry the talk with our walk.
Who are you leaning on and bringing in to help forge this path since it is new at DocuSign? What other resources are you leaning on right now to bring in as an example?
What I would say is that while I am the first chief diversity and engagement officer in the organization, this is not DocuSign’s first entrée into driving this work forward. What this is is an evolution of DocuSign’s visible commitment to driving action, and progress on diversity, equity and inclusion by bringing in a leader to shape, model and execute and operationalize our strategy around this space.
What I am also doing is, as we're bringing in thought leadership, I’ve brought in individuals [and we] are connecting with people from McKinsey and Company. They have done a great deal of research in not only the space of diversity, inclusion, belonging and equity, but also sustainability and impact. And because my role was one that is marrying both of those areas, as well as diversity and recruiting, it is a unique set of three concentric circles. And at the center of it is what we do around equity. I'm also leaning on, in full transparency, my [personal] board of directors, CDOs that have gone before me and have done this transformational work, who have themselves been first and continue to be mentors of mine … Leaning on that cadre of individuals that have done this work is also mission critical, along with external thought leadership organizations that produce scholarly research that helps us to amplify the why behind our immediate or stated change in this space because we are a data-driven organization. What gets measured is what gets done. And helping to crystallize the story for people to act is always helped by data that is researched and validated.
What are the top data points that you're excited to follow?
So what I would say is from a strategy perspective it's a three-legged stool: it’s workforce, workplace, marketplace. What I am excited about being able to get very surgical on is not only our workforce data — those transactional pieces of data which is the hiring, the promotion, the retention and the development of talent within the organization — but it's also what our employees are telling us vis-a-vis workplace and employee sentiment, and looking at employee engagement surveys relative to how they are experienced in the actual organization.
And looking at that from a perspective of the overarching DocuSign, but then also by our business units, in addition to what we're learning from talent that is choosing to pursue their careers external to the organization — i.e., exit interviews — and coupling that data, workplace and workforce data with marketplace data. Because, as I started, this work is very much a business strategy and a business priority.
What have you seen, in your experience, that really works to get people not only to stay, but move up through the ranks at an organization?
While programs are important, at the end of the day it is about being able to look at and do a systemic assessment of those barriers to progress. And what I have seen to be successful and what I have done in other organizations is focus on what are the barriers to progress that exist within the employee life cycle, and address those barriers to create equitable access for those talents.
Now, it's not a “one or the other,” it is equally a “both and.” So it's assessing the systemic barriers that might exist within an organization that create the barriers to entry or growth within the organization, and it can also be coupled with development programs that are laser-focused on helping talent to continue to create leadership and leadership momentum in their career trajectory. That then gives them greater visibility for promotion and advancement within the organization.
I speak with a lot of younger organizations that are just now thinking about this, and maybe they are just now hitting the number of employees where they can do this deeper dive. Where does someone start with that systematic assessment, and how do they find where the breakdown is happening?
I'll talk to you about the approach that I took in legacy organizations. We started with the feedback from the employees, but we also were continuing to monitor the entry into the organization, how individuals enter the organization through the hiring process and then through reporting and creating a rhythm for reporting to leadership as it relates to the overall representation.
And then again, to your point where you have enough of a population to be able to report without having any issues from a confidentiality perspective, is being able to say, “Here's where we’ve got a problem. We're beginning to see a reduction of leadership talent once they get into that entry level professional role to mid management, so what is it that we need to do to further assess there?” And so it really was about looking at every aspect of the employee life cycle, but first starting with what I call the VOE, the voice of the employee.
Last, a big overarching question is what can be done to see more CDOs thrive. Protocol has done research into the tenure of CDOs at some of the largest tech companies, and while some tech companies have done a really good job of getting them there and really integrating them into the fabric of the company, others have only been able to hold on to their CDOs for a year or so. What do you think needs to be in place at a company to make sure a CDO can really thrive and transform the business?
Is the CEO and his or her leadership team understanding that it is not the CDO’s responsibility to change the organization from a demographic perspective and employee experience perspective? The CDO is meant to be the culture catalyst that helps to accelerate and create that mirror for the organization to respond to the needs and the changing needs of the talent. That’s No. 1. It starts with leadership understanding that in one person does not the change reside.
Secondarily, as organizations are making those commitments to bringing in a CDO, is ensuring that you have within your organization the right conditions for the role to be successful. An example of that would be that leadership understands that accountability starts and ends with them: [It’s] not on [the CDO] to bring in X amount of diverse talent, but it is a shared responsibility among the leadership team, with the CDO being the conduit by which to drive that awareness, that engagement and action toward creating those opportunities for the organization to either go after the talent, develop the talent, nurture the talent and grow the talent.