Often, those who achieve prominence in the corporate world have a strong passion for their field: a chief financial officer might have a passion for finance, a chief legal officer may be passionate about corporate law, a chief information officer is likely passionate about the IT function. It therefore follows that Chief Diversity Officers (CDOs) have a passion for elevating people, for making people feel welcome and included.
Nichole Barnes Marshall, Global Head of Inclusion and Diversity at Pinterest, demonstrates this passion as evidenced by her early career goals. “My initial goal coming out of college was to go into politics so that I could make an indelible change in my community as the mayor of Chicago—my hometown—or even as the governor of Illinois,” she says. Despite this ambition, Barnes Marshall needed a steady paycheck and found a more immediately attainable means of pursuing her passion – working as a recruiter for her alma mater—Western Illinois University—where she had recently graduated with a degree in political science.
“In my role as a recruiter, I fell in love with connecting and engaging with people and became very successful at it,” Barnes Marshall says. “I went on to recruit for several other companies, including IBM during the dotcom era of the mid-to-late ‘90s. I was able to continue building my interpersonal skills and help tech talent move to their ‘next’.”
Barnes Marshall eventually became a recruiter for the Tribune Media Company in Chicago and was recognized for her ability to bring in diverse talent. “I credit this to my experience of often being the only woman or Black person on my teams and understanding the immense value of having a diverse workforce,” she says. “I was asked to spearhead diversity recruitment efforts overall to increase the representation of traditionally underrepresented groups at the company.” Barnes Marshall notes that this role with the Tribune Media Company was the first time that a diversity recruiting role was created for her. It was also her first foray into diversity and inclusion work.
“From there, I served in various mid- to senior-level roles at the intersection of D&I and recruiting and ascended to global chief diversity officer roles,” she says. “I am proud to say that through my 20+ years of experience in DE&I and recruitment at iconic brands, which now includes Pinterest, I’ve been able to achieve that same goal I had hoped to with politics of making a difference creating inclusive workplaces and being a conduit to opportunity..”
A particularly popular DEI initiative many leading organizations have adopted is employee resource groups, or ERGs. These groups are designed to create safe spaces for people with shared experiences and backgrounds to connect with one another and discuss common goals, issues and challenges as well as to provide feedback to the organization and its leadership on potential improvements in the company’s DEI posture. At Pinterest, ERGs are known as “Pinterest Communities.”
“Our Pinterest Communities play a critical role in driving an inclusive culture, amplifying diverse voices, and fostering allyship at Pinterest,” says Barnes Marshall. “They also contribute to business initiatives, create spaces for connection and celebration, offer professional development opportunities, and support recruiting and retention efforts across our global workforce.”
Pinterest has ten Pinterest Communities in the US and five chapters globally, including Blackboard (supporting Black employees), Pin-Able (supporting employees of all abilities), Pinwheels (supporting our LGBTQ+ colleagues), and Todos Pincluidos (supporting Latiné colleagues). “All our Communities are open for all employees and contractors to join and support the mission of these groups,” says Barnes Marshall. “In addition to our Communities, we have groups such as Caregivers, Muslims, PinPlanet, and Pinside Out (supporting mental health) that also contribute to our inclusive culture and platform.”
Barnes Marshall says that in the past year, the Pinterest Communities have facilitated dialogues around critical issues impacting the company’s people and provided programming that helped support their well-being and overall resilience.
“One thing I was very happy to learn about when I joined the company, is that we officially compensate our Pinterest Community leaders for the work they do to support our I&D operations and strategy, and that is not something being widely adopted, so I’m glad we’re leading in this area,” she adds. “So often, employees are tasked with DEI work on top of their day-to-day responsibilities because they have a passion for it or have been ‘voluntold’ to do it based on their identity. I believe that if employees are going to help with this work—which is not for the faint of heart—then it is only fair to compensate them for the value they bring.”
There is rarely a one-size-fits-all approach to something as complex and mission-critical as corporate DEI efforts. While there are certainly best practices to be aware of and look at for inspiration and even possible adoption, each company needs to find what works best for itself on a strategic and organizational level. For Pinterest, that unique approach is what they call “Pinclusion.”
“At Pinterest, our mission is to inspire everyone to create a life they love – and for us, that inspiration starts with ‘Pinclusion’,” says Barnes Marshall. “Pinclusion is our shared vision for creating an inclusive and diverse culture where employees and Pinners flourish through representation and belonging, and our platform grows through innovation.”
Barnes Marshall believes it is apparent that Pinterest’s inclusion and diversity efforts are increasingly embedded throughout the company. “We have taken several steps to listen to and more accurately reflect our diverse workforce, develop programs and initiatives that help recruit and retain top talent, and create belonging for our 400+ million users, who we affectionately call Pinners, through innovative search and on-platform features,” she says.
While the kinds of people who make it to CDO and similar positions within major organizations like Pinterest tend to have an above-average passion for DEI work, such efforts are not and can not be a one-person job. “It’s important to remember that DEI is a shared responsibility and requires unique skills and competencies to be effective,” says Barnes Marshall. “Everyone from individual contributors to leadership (including those who are not part of traditionally marginalized groups) have a critical role to play in making our workplaces and our communities more equitable. This work will require trust and courage, and will get uncomfortable at times, but we have to lean into the discomfort to make things better.”
Lin Grensing-Pophal is a Contributing Editor at HR Daily Advisor.