Having a diverse and inclusive workplace is a priority for most organizations. And like most priorities, it takes a team and a set of goals to address diversity and inclusion (D&I). While those are good and necessary things, there’s something even more fundamental that’s required of everyone, says Workday Chief Diversity Officer Carin Taylor.
In order to make stronger connections with each other, we need to share our experiences—including the difficult ones.
“Diversity and inclusion is less about a program, and more about helping people become comfortable enough to have a dialog about their experiences—including times when we have felt like an outsider,” says Taylor. “Only through talking can we connect with others and gain a better understanding and appreciation of our differences.”
Taylor, who joined Workday as our first chief diversity officer in December 2017, acknowledges that starting the conversation isn’t always easy. As an icebreaker, she’ll openly share her own experiences, including reactions she’s gotten when traveling throughout Asia. While in China, for example, some locals—who perhaps had never seen someone with her skin color—would stop and stare, touch her skin, and even ask to take photographs with her.
Yet rather than getting angry or frustrated, she was intrigued by those reactions to her skin color. “There would be family members jumping up and down behind me trying to get in the photo,” she recalls with a chuckle. “It helped me understand that people were curious about my difference, and more importantly, it raised my curiosity about the differences of others.”
Years later, that experience and others made her realize that D&I initiatives shouldn’t focus on minimizing our differences. Instead, they should be about acknowledging, understanding, and ultimately, accepting and celebrating all of our differences, she says.
That’s why Taylor spends a lot of time meeting and talking with Workday employees across the company, leveraging her natural warmth and openness to get people discussing things that can feel uncomfortable. She rallies everyone around the concept of “VIBE”—value inclusion, belonging, and equity for all. She also reaches out online, frequently using our companywide collaboration tool to communicate with employees, connect people with similar interests, and share information on events and resources for D&I.
Taylor recently led our first Global Employee Belong Council Leadership Summit, bringing together representatives from more than 20 employee belonging councils—The Talented Tenth, Workday Pride, Veterans @ Workday, and Women @ Workday, to name a few—to share ideas and have frank discussions with one another and Workday’s leadership team.
“The most important first step for growing diversity and inclusion is to create awareness, and it’s important to get business leaders comfortable talking about it, too,” Taylor says. “Just how I’ve figured out what my journey is with diversity and inclusion, every employee, from individual contributor to an executive, should understand their own journeys.”
Speaking of journeys, Taylor’s nearly started in a car—her mother went into labor while her parents were driving through Salinas, Calif., about 15 miles from their home in Seaside (they did make it to a hospital before she was born). Most of her childhood was spent in San Jose, Calif., where she grew up with three brothers.
“As the only girl, I always knew I was different. I was also very conscious of the dark chocolate tone of my skin. Ironically, my family used to call me ‘Chocolate,’” Taylor recalls. “Growing up in the black community, there was this notion that the darker your skin, the less attractive you were. However, my family did a great job of minimizing the negative impact of my ‘chocolateness’ by always coupling it with the word beautiful. I think they consciously tried to ensure I knew beauty could come in all shades, including dark chocolate.”
Her family was competitive and athletic—they played baseball, basketball, football, racquetball, tennis, and volleyball. “My brothers never took it easy on me,” she says. “They always made me fight for being just as good as they were in any sport.”
Nowadays, Taylor’s love of sports is inclusive of both sides of the San Francisco Bay—she’s a big fan of the Oakland Raiders and the San Francisco Giants. She played softball for over 30 years, coached her two daughters in the sport, and has served as a coach and board member for the Santa Clara Police Activities League, which runs athletic programs for kids.
“I am extremely passionate about coaching children, and giving them the life skills they need to grow up to be productive members of society,” says Taylor.
Taylor joined Cisco in 1994 to work in customer service and grew her role there over the next 17 years, working in management and leadership roles in finance, sales operations, human resources, and customer service, often traveling throughout Australia, Asia, and Europe.
It was while at Cisco that Taylor started on what she describes as her own journey into understanding D&I, following an experience with unconscious bias. But here’s the twist: It was unconscious bias Taylor says she had toward someone else.
Taylor was at a sales conference with about 120 people, attending a day-long session on diversity. Yet she found it hard to miss the irony: A man was leading the discussion, and across the audience, she counted only about 10 women and one other African American besides herself, who was male.
“I was sitting in the front row, astounded, because there is this typical looking white male executive in front of the room talking about diversity,” Taylor recalls. “And I’m thinking to myself, I’ve traveled the world, I have biracial children, and I’m an African American female—how can this man be talking to me about diversity?”
“So I walked up to him during a break and I said, ‘You know what? I’m sorry, but I just can’t receive your message.’ And he said, ‘Why not?’ And I said, ‘It’s because of what you look like.’ And he said, ‘I’m gay.’”
It dawned on Taylor she had judged the conference speaker as someone who had moved effortlessly through life on the privilege of being white and male, never considering that he had experienced his own struggles throughout life of feeling like he was different.
“Start with the notion that everyone is diverse, and don’t limit the concept to people who are typically defined as minorities or underrepresented groups.”
Carin Taylor, Chief Diversity Officer at Workday
“It wasn’t until I got home that day that I realized the impact of what happened, and I burst out crying. I realized what I had done to him, people had been doing to me my entire life—judging me simply by what I looked like,” recalls Taylor. “And on that day I had decided I would never make another person feel undervalued simply by what they look like. That experience shaped my perspective on diversity, inclusion, and the importance of belonging.”
A few years later, in 2006, a Cisco coworker suggested Taylor consider a new position posted within D&I. Like other Silicon Valley companies, Cisco didn’t have a large population of African American employees, and Taylor was concerned she’d be seen as the poster child for diversity. “I said no way! I had my old hang-ups about being African-American, being a woman, and growing up feeling different.” But the coworker kept encouraging her, so she applied—and got—the job.
It was in that role that her D&I journey would flourish both professionally and personally. She helped create a multi-year, global D&I strategy, a D&I council, and a number of strategic programs. But that’s not all.
“It was the first time I had started to look internally to really establish who I was as a person. And one of the first lessons I had to go through to truly understand diversity and inclusion was to ask myself, ‘Who are you as a person and how will that shape how you think about this work?’”
Taylor realized to answer that question she needed to be more honest with herself and others in her personal life, and she made the choice to come out as a lesbian, end a long-term relationship with a male partner, and begin her journey as a single mom of two kids. It was a difficult time—but a necessary step in her own self-discovery.
After five years managing D&I at Cisco she accepted a senior diversity leader position at Genentech, where she was later promoted to head of diversity, inclusion, and innovation. Her work there included serving as a strategist and business partner to large global organizations, developing multi-year D&I strategies and initiatives, and creating programs for diverse emerging leaders.
Late last year, Taylor accepted the position as chief diversity officer at Workday.
So how do you get people across an organization to think and talk about D&I? Start with the notion that everyone is diverse, and don’t limit the concept to people who are typically defined as minorities or underrepresented groups, Taylor says. Your efforts have to be inclusive of all people.
“Seeing diversity through the lens that diversity simply means ‘difference,’ you quickly get everyone realizing we all have a connection to diversity—we are all different, therefore we are all diverse,” explains Taylor. “It is often when we treat diversity as if it only pertains to certain groups, that the topic feels exclusive and not relevant to everyone. Our goal is to value inclusion, belonging, and equity for all.”
“When we lead with curiosity and empathy, we can quickly appreciate the power in the difference that we all bring to workplace,” Taylor adds. “My goal is to get us to appreciate the beauty in the uniqueness within each of us, and to use that to our advantage to create endless possibilities and create a better world for everyone.”