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Fresh thinking on D&I - how Freshworks first Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer plans to strike a positive balance

Madeline Bennett Profile picture for user Madeline Bennett July 14, 2021
There’s no magic involved in getting more women in tech, says Randi Bryant - it’s down to setting yourself a target and deciding to hit it!

randi bryant

In her time, Randi Bryant, who recently joined Freshworks as its first Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer, has come across plenty of companies that claim to be focused on diversity, but then fail to make any real changes, citing a lack of available people as the reason:

It's a really big cop-out that I've been hearing. Freshworks didn't allow that to be an excuse. That's quite unusual, especially in such a quick amount of time. There were true results, a true focus and it was taken on by the entire company. It was a real mission, not a mission statement - and we see a lot of those.

For its part, the CRM company is going through a period of fast growth, with employee numbers up from around 3,100 at the end of 2020 to more than 4,000 now. While adding to its workforce, Freshworks is also looking to increase the proportion of female employees.

To mark International Women’s Day last March, the firm made a public Pledge For Equality to have at least a third of its workforce as women by the end of 2020. It fell just short of its goal, with its 1,300-plus female employees accounting for 33% of the global team.

When making its pledge, Freshworks was keen to avoid a token gesture, noting the genuine business case for such a commitment; many studies have demonstrated that teams with lower percentages of women don’t perform as well and contribute less to the bottom line than teams with a balanced gender mix.

Freshworks is also ensuring that women joining the business are coming in at all levels, including the boardroom. The company is approaching 30% female representation on its leadership team, while 25% of the board of directors are women. Over the past three months, over 68% of its leadership hires were women and/or People of Color, while 93% of the Freshworks executive team is composed of People of Color.

Just do it

With 32% of women already on its workforce, Freshworks is tracking well above the industry average, which is somewhere between 20 and 25%. However, the company wants to go further and has now set itself a new target: to increase representation of women to at least 40% by 2023. 

Bryant argues that there’s no magic solution to how Freshworks managed to shift its gender balance to 32%, or plans to hit its 40% target in the next two years – it’s just down to taking the decision and determination:

Did they work with recruiting teams? Absolutely. Did they go to focus groups, did they go to colleges in the area and specifically pay attention to women, did they do these things? Absolutely. But all companies say they're doing these things, I've worked with so many of them. With companies, it's not that different than how it is with people. You talk to someone and they say, ‘I've lost 50 pounds’. And we go, ‘Well, how did you do it?’ Because it must just be something magic that I wasn't able to have myself. But they just decided to do it.

This was one of the reasons I decided I really wanted to be with Freshworks. They said, ‘We want gender diversity’. Everyone says it, but they did it. They set a goal for the workplace regarding women and people that identified as women, and they wanted to ensure that these women were spread across all teams and all levels.

Bringing in experience

Bryant has a wealth of experience in the D&I space, having worked with organizations including Comcast, McDonald’s, the New York Transit Authority and the US Department of State to help them foster an inclusive work environment.

While she has been impressed by her new employer’s focus on D&I, one of Bryant’s first goals has been to apply some structure to existing efforts. The firm has grown so quickly and allows such freedom to be who you are, she noted, that many organic groups have sprung up covering all aspects of diversity without an integrated approach:

It wasn’t really ever formalized. So what I'm saying is, 'That's great, but there is a very similar group in Australia and in the UK and in North America - why don't we put some structure so our voices can be amplified, so we can get more done?'. That is what I'm doing right now.

Never would I think I would be the person who was about adding structure. Oftentimes I go into companies, they have all this structure and ideas and things that they could put out with the media that sound great, but there really is no real movement. So it's nice that there is the reverse.

The next step is to define what the business considers as diversity, and then to connect this to its business goals. D&I shouldn’t be seen as an altruistic movement, something outside of a business, and it needs to be properly measured to avoid failure, according to Bryant:

I have found this in many companies. There's tons of conversations about the importance of it, but it's not at all rolled out like any other business goal, where it’s actually hard, measurable goals that are set and we go after those goals. The conversation that I've started within Freshworks is, ‘What does diversity look like to us?’. Twenty people can walk into the same room and there's some people who will consider the room diverse, and there's some people who would not.

Communication is another key aspect of success. Current conversations around D&I can focus on concepts in a very distant way – we know we should communicate with people who are different to us, but we don't give people the skills on how to actually do that and how to approach that conversation. Continuous education is vital, says Bryant. In some cases, it will be her taking the role of educator on the communication skills required, but it’s equally important to have community educating the community. She cites a real world example from her own experience: 

I've been in this business for so long, and gay marriage didn't exist until the last decade or so of my life. So although I have dedicated my life to this work, I still lack the cultural competency, I still didn't have the vocabulary. I had to be able to start conversations with my friends and say, ‘Bruce, help me out here - is Ted going to be your husband? What is the terminology? Because I want to respect you and I want to learn’. Oftentimes we don't do that, we just don't say anything or we stay far away from others so we won't offend them. Or we do offend them, [when] we just put something out there.”

My take

A journey begun and not yet over, but the route map is clear.  Freshworks D&I efforts are another welcome example of positive change in a tech industry that has a lot of catching up to do.

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