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Knowledge19 - ServiceNow’s Chief Talent Officer talks diversity, inclusion and why making people uncomfortable is a good thing

Derek du Preez Profile picture for user ddpreez May 7, 2019
Diversity and inclusion is an important topic to diginomica, one we like to challenge vendors on. ServiceNow has put leadership in place to move the needle.

Image of Pat Wadors, ServiceNow Chief Talent Officer

We at diginomica have a long history of covering the importance of diversity and inclusion in the enterprise. We firmly believe that a workplace that reflects the society we live in, is one that is likely to thrive, build better products, beat out any non-inclusive competitor and foster a happy workforce. Everyone knows that the technology industry has a diversity problem and everyone knows that this is a thorny topic that is formed of complex challenges. Which is why when we see a vendor investing in moving the needle in the right direction, we make it our job to learn from them and share the insights.

Cue ServiceNow. Not that long ago the SaaS vendor had little to say on the topics of diversity and inclusion. However, that all changed when CEO John Donahoe took charge back in 2017 and poached Pat Wadors from LinkedIn, appointing her the company’s new Chief Talent Officer.

Since joining, Wadors and Donahoe have been on a mission to promote a message of ‘belonging’ within ServiceNow, explaining the benefits that diversity and inclusion can bring, not only to the satisfaction of the workforce, but also to the growth of the company.

ServiceNow is doing the right thing by publishing data on representation across the workforce (where whilst there is certainly still work to do, things are shifting in the right direction), and it is focusing its efforts on education, training and communities.

I got the chance to sit down with Wadors at the company’s annual Knowledge user event in Las Vegas this week, where she talked me through some of the vendor’s efforts. I particularly liked what Wadors had to say on making people feel uncomfortable - challenging them to think about their biases (which we all have, by the way!) and recognising that these are actually huge opportunities. But more on that later.

On why diversity and inclusion matters, Wadors said:

We are trying to create a high performing, healthy company that can scale. A world class company where people want to transform their careers and do their best work. To do that, I think it's imperative that we have a diverse, inclusive culture that gives people that sense of belonging.

For me, diversity and inclusion are necessary, but not sufficient in changing culture. I think you have to pursue that sense of belonging in order to unlock your superpowers - what makes you ‘you’.What makes you feel safe. And when that happens, you create higher innovation, higher outcomes, better decision making and better joy.


Organic change

Wadors rightly notes, which is something we highlight again and again when talking about this topic, that diversity and inclusion isn’t just for the benefit of the people - all the data suggests that it is also beneficial to the outcomes of the business. She says that it’s “not just to feel good”. But if your business is focused on being customer oriented, then you need to be diverse and inclusive, as your customers aren’t going to be one homogenous group.

Wadors believes in an approach that is more ‘carrot’, than ‘stick’. What this means in practice is that ServiceNow is taking an approach that is less focused on strict policies, or quotas, and one that leans towards education and fostering an environment that makes people feel included.

She said:

It's the right thing to do for business, and everything that we've been putting in place since has been about organically teaching why it's great for business - why you need to be thinking along these lines.

Why does it stop us in terms of meeting a customer? If you have a sales team that is all men and you're selling to a panel that is diverse in nature, they're going to look at you and know you won't understand their needs.

My hope and my thought was to make it grow organically, intuitively, by educating and showing. And so by doing it this way, those stories become the employee stories, which become the success stories in the business, which become better outcomes and better performance by teams. We're seeing that happen.

Wadors shared one example, where she recently shared on the ServiceNow’s internal network some information about Ramadan - answering questions that she herself didn’t know the answers to, at the time. Wadors said that being a senior leader and showing that it’s okay not to know everything, whilst also sharing her learnings with the company, received a hugely positive response. She received numerous praise and thanks from Muslim employees and it gave everyone in the company a new opportunity to learn about their colleagues.

Wadors added that whilst ServiceNow does support individual ERGs within the company (communities formed internally around certain groups, e.g. LBGBT+) - the focus is more on diversity and inclusion for all. So each group is open to everyone, so that employees can learn from each other. She said;

It’s inclusive of others. And so even when we do our women's event in the summer, it’s 60% female and 40% men. That's unusual, usually it's 100% female with one or two token men.

The importance of being uncomfortable

As noted above, I particularly liked Wadors attitude towards making people feel uncomfortable. And what this means in practice, is continuously urging people to question their own biases. It’s human nature to have bias, but that doesn’t mean you have to act on it. Wadors explains:

It's proven that if you just tell people to pause, get them to think about a diverse slate, think about looking at culture, something that's different than what's on your current team - they'll make better decisions. If you get in front of the neurological patterning that occurs at the last minute, you can make better decisions. That’s what we are doing.

And if you make it organic, the trust and the belief in it is 10 times better than if it's a stick. Yeah, if I have bad actors, people that are misbehaving, people that aren't learning, I will go after them and teach them - it’s critical to the business. But I think education and an organic approach builds more trust.

And on making people uncomfortable, she adds:

John Donahoe (ServiceNow CEO) and I laugh a lot because when we talk about those uncomfortable moments, those are our growth moments. If you think back in your career about your best learnings, your best transitions, it's when you've been the most uncomfortable. And so if you think about creating a high performing, healthy company - being uncomfortable is a good thing.

My take

I thoroughly enjoyed my conversation with Pat and am keen to see how ServiceNow accelerates this in the future. Wadors shared that she’s actually working with the company’s CIO to figure out how they can build more of a human-centred design into the platform, one that focuses on emotion throughout the entire process. If they can do that, it will be an incredibly interesting story to tell. Companies have typically built processes around the ‘vanilla’ use case (whatever that is), ignoring human complexity. If ServiceNow can build that into its platform, whilst still maintaining a beautiful design, it will be on to a winner.

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