Beric Alleyne, the global head of Diversity and Inclusion at eBay, has a hot take: There are no DEI experts.
A financial services veteran, Alleyne has brought a business-minded focus and a slightly varied perspective to his role within the tech industry. He believes in crowd-sourcing to find answers and leaning on some of the same business strategies that once helped him rise within the ranks in finance. Now, just over four years into leading DEI initiatives at eBay, he’s sharing what’s kept him around and what’s motivating him in a rapidly changing role.
Alleyne sat down with Protocol to speak about his hot takes on DEI, the role of chief diversity officers and why he’s optimistic about the future of diversity and inclusion at eBay.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
You were at Goldman Sachs for several years before joining eBay. How does having that kind of untraditional background and path to DEI in tech affect how you view the role?
I spent a lot of time on Goldman driving strategic transformational change. And it happened in several different ways, from helping launch new products to integration of acquired entities to talking about global footprints on location strategies and target-operating models. And what I gained at Goldman was a relatively firm grasp on how to drive true, long-lasting transformational change in an organization in service of our ultimate business objective.
And the more senior I got, and the more I started to look across the breadth of the organization, I just recognized that there weren't a lot of folks like me. And I was so busy and focused on the grind and trying to crawl my way up and I didn't really take stock as I went along the path. And then I got to a relatively senior position and I was sitting in various rooms and it really started to hit home.
I had a leadership role in the Black affinity network at Goldman and we would do some good things, but I saw a huge gap between what we were talking about in those affinity circles versus what was happening in the actual rooms. So it made me really start to think about: H ow can I leverage my engineering background, my strategy background, my tech background? How can I use those skill sets and really put them to use in service of the DE&I business objectives? I saw this as any other business objective that a firm or company might be trying to do better in. It is no different than growing revenue, it’s no different than reducing operating costs. It's just a challenge for business leaders to solve. I started to make a bit of a hypothesis on myself: How do I use these skill sets to address DE&I? And then I started to look into roles. And Damian [Hooper-Campbell], my predecessor, was building up the team here at eBay and the rest is history.
You've seen the challenges in diversity at work in finance, and now in the tech industry. Are they that different at all? And if so, in what ways?
I think the root of the challenges are the same. I think Wall Street has just had a lot more time to figure it out. Like Goldman, when I left, I think had just celebrated 150 years. eBay celebrated 25 years, I think, a year or two ago. So when you just look at the organizational maturity they're just in very different places. Wall Street is also significantly more regulated than it is in some cases in tech. I think there are also clients on Wall Street who demand that folks who staff their accounts, who staff some of their deals, be representatives of these groups.
I think the root causes [across industries] are the same in DE&I. The hiring, finding talent, growing talent, providing stickiness, providing career development … getting to an environment where microaggressions can be addressed. They're the same. They're just in my mind at different stages of maturity because of the business.
You are known for your belief that there is no all-knowing DEI expert. Why is that?
Because this work continues to evolve … look at the evolution of how publicly this work is discussed and what is being disclosed. The work will just continue to evolve, and it is up to us to stay informed and plugged in so we can evolve as this work evolves.
Look at the unfortunate loss of George Floyd. That by itself drove a significant amount of change in how folks were thinking about roles, whether it was performative or whether it was genuine. There are a lot of folks who started to recognize we need to look at this work a bit differently, and we as organizations need to have very fluid points of views on specific topics. That by itself was a change.
It was the first time eBay ever spoke out on a social issue. Our CEO took to LinkedIn and wrote a note, ensured that we made financial contributions, ensured that we invested $25 million into a fund to help drive systemic changes around economic empowerment. You started to see these very tangible steps and actions being taken. And now, guess what? Our employees want to talk about them way more than they would have welcomed in the past.
So I think this work continues to evolve. When we talk about cross-cultural learning, there is no cross-cultural expert. You can't ask one person what every nuance of every single culture across the world looks like. It’s humanly impossible. It has to continue to be a crowd-sourced evolving way of working, understanding of the work [and] addressing different needs. The needs also evolve over time. You have to continuously engage, educate yourself, educate others, build empathy, because there's always new stuff to learn from other people's experiences. So this work never ends. It’s an ongoing cycle.
Since there is no expert, who do you go to for that education? What do you read? Who are you listening to?
I listen to folks who represent different communities. I listen to all [eBay’s] employees who span dozens, if not hundreds, of cultures, hundreds of backgrounds and different lived experiences. I consume what some in my close circle might consider nontraditional outlets of information. I don't follow a particular side of a conversation if there is a conversation to be had. I am very open to listening to all perspectives because somewhere in there you find kind of what your truth is and find a way to bring people together.
So there's no single source for this. It has to be, I believe very strongly, in hand-to-hand conversation. You have a dialogue directly with someone. I also encourage our company and our employees and leaders to do the same.
Something that Protocol has done a lot of research into is what tenure looks like for DEI leadership roles. It’s frequently shorter than other C-suite positions. Why do you think that the tenure is so short in these roles? And what do you think that you're doing differently that's making you kind of stick?
I can't speak for everyone, but what I have heard is a lot of folks leave because they don't think organizations are taking this work seriously … So they get in and they recognize there's a significant amount of messaging, but there's very little modeling. And then, most importantly, there aren't a lot of leaders who are willing to hold themselves or anybody else in the organization accountable. If I had to guess, I would think that drives a significant amount of change.
When I talk to folks who are in the CDO role, those who've been at organizations for a longer time, those who kind of jumped around a few times, that is the No. 1 thing I hear. They got in and recognized this organization isn't committed, they're not serious [or] they don't want to make the investment and they're not willing to hold folks accountable. Senior leaders demonstrate it by their actions or inaction in many cases.
So that being said, what has helped you stay at eBay and continue doing this work?
We recently had a new CEO join. Jamie Iannone joined maybe just around two years ago, around that same time as when my predecessor left. And Jamie asked me to step up and lead this work. In Jamie, what I found is a significant commitment and willingness to demonstrate and do the actual work required for us to actually be better.
A few examples: We are getting ready to release our sixth DE&I report in the next four weeks or so. And when I look back at the past two years I've seen ourselves grow from kind of saying the right things and having some programs to us being more institutional in how we want to drive this work and how seriously we're taking it.
Our compensation committee has now been expanded to be the Compensation Human Capital Committee. And the No. 1 agenda for that newly formed committee was to understand what we're doing around DE&I, where we're making progress, where we have gaps to fill. And then also how we are now thinking about tying executive compensation to actual outcomes related to the DE&I. So there are a lot of good signals that have been put out that keep me grounded, that keep me here, that keeps me excited about the work.
Last, what is your biggest hot take on the role?
I could say representation matters. I could say over time, not overnight. I think there are a lot of folks who expect these changes to happen quarter to quarter. It doesn't quite work that way. I would also say it takes all soldiers because it's not just on the DE&I leaders to make this work successful. It's on every individual in the organization.