Zoom’s Chief Diversity Officer Explores the Future of Inclusion and Remote Work
September 29, 2020
After Damien Hooper-Campbell finished working at Goldman Sachs, he thought, “Investment banking is cool, but I want to do something for the community.” Serendipitously, Google reached out to him around this time and asked if he would help the search giant with diversity and inclusion (D&I).
“I’ll be honest,” he says, “at that point, I wasn’t sure if companies were really serious about this. I wondered if it was window dressing, somebody just trying to hire somebody who is Black and check the box.”
He kept an open mind and flew to Silicon Valley, where he saw that tech was in a position to solve D&I challenges rather than merely perpetuate them. “In diversity and inclusion,” Damien says, “we were running into a wall, over and over and over again.” Tech, he felt, was different because the industry’s very lifeblood was innovation.
To get Damien’s take on the challenges — and opportunities — in diversity and inclusion work, we hopped on Zoom for a chat. Here are some of the highlights of our conversation, including his thoughts on how Zoom meetings can drive inclusion and why D&I leaders need to put their “own oxygen mask on first”:
Q. What impact will the broad adoption of remote work have on diversity and inclusion?
A. There’s some upsides and some watch-outs.
The upsides are incredible, absolutely. All of a sudden, guess what, I can work pretty much anywhere in the world. And we are beginning to prove out the case that, unless you have a job that is, let’s say, in an operations role, you can be effective from anywhere. It opens up a broader pool of talent that you can hire. So, yes, that’s great on the diversity side.
On the inclusion side, wow. If you have us in gallery view [on Zoom] right now, what you notice is that every single one of our boxes is the same size. There isn’t a group of folks who are in the U.S., laughing and chattering in a conference room, while the folks from Bengaluru and Seoul and Amsterdam are on a screen and people have their backs to them. It’s not happening right now. We’re all equalized in this case.
People who historically have been in-person now understand how hard it is or how hard it’s been for the people who have been virtual.
Also, if there’s someone who is a bit more introverted, they can chat in the box and still get their viewpoint in. Whereas before, if you had somebody like me who tends to be verbose, the introverts may not have been able to get a word in edgewise.
Q. What are the obstacles that most frequently block companies’ diversity and inclusion efforts?
A. A couple of things. An us-versus-them mentality, which only drives groups further apart.
Number two, for a global company, being U.S.-centric. We have to make sure that we’re not trying to do a one-size-fits-all.
And then ourselves as practitioners. As a D&I practitioner, you’re a therapist, coach, educator, activist, and advocate. You’re creative when you work with the product team and help them to be more inclusive and when you work with the marketing team to make sure things are landing right. You’re an ambassador with external organizations. And you’ve got to be a business-minded individual to be able to take all of these things that are so human and what people will see as touchy-feely and translate them into a vessel and a lens that makes sense for the business. These are in most cases for-profit entities. Let’s not run from that.
Sometimes we put pressure on ourselves to be supernatural, and we don’t take care of ourselves while we’re out there trying to take care of others.
The people who are doing this work, my peers in this space, we’re not doing it for the money. We’re not doing it for notoriety. We’re doing it because somewhere in our personal experience, we said, “This is what I’m dedicating my life to.” But we don’t always take care of ourselves as well as we should.
I would say we get in our own way sometimes by not putting our own oxygen mask on first.
Q. You’re the first head of diversity at Zoom. What are two or three things you’re going to put forward that you think will move the needle the most?
A. The first is education that says, “How do we actually help people to understand how we got here?”
We typically pick up this conversation and say, “Oh, there aren’t enough women. There aren’t enough Black folks, not enough Latinx folks.” We don’t take people who have no exposure to race and an understanding of the systemic issues that got us here, we don’t bring them along on that journey. So, we miss being able to bring them in both from a data standpoint and from an emotional standpoint.
We started this thing called Zoom Talks, kind of like TED Talks, because we knew we were going to be talking about race, but we were going to be talking about a lot more than just race. Our first session was about Juneteenth. And now, we’re expanding that in a partnership called Zoom Talks and TIME, where we’re working with Dr. Shaun Harper, a renowned professor who started USC’s Race and Equity Center. It’s going to be nine sessions on “Race in the Workplace.”
The second thing is structure. I think of things in two buckets, cultural and structural. The cultural bucket is education. That to me is like, how do you get people to change their world views? How can you become a perspective broker? And even if you don’t agree with someone’s political view, you understand how in their life, they got to that place where they decided to vote that way. That’s a win.
But then there are some structural things. No matter how well-intentioned you are, we need to change the structures of, potentially, how we hire; how we advance people; how we evaluate people.
Let’s make sure that not only the minority community, but everybody, regardless of your background, has an objective opportunity to get through the interview process, if you’re talented. Let’s make sure that that’s the same in the way that we compensate people, the way that we evaluate people, and the way we promote people. So, embedding structural changes is another component to the initiatives.
A third one that I’m really excited about is the work that we’re doing externally. It’s in two buckets. One, is in our product. So, if you look at the features that we just launched, we involved a very diverse set of employees in testing these things to ensure that they were inclusive of a wide range of human beings. We were intentional about that.
The other external is where we think, “How do we use our brand, our balance sheet, and our voice to make this world more equitable for other people?” Some of the initiatives that are coming that are more community-driven, through our Zoom Cares philanthropic program, and I’m really excited about those.
Q. To whom should the head of diversity report?
A. You can report into this org or that org, but somebody’s got to make sure that you have a seat at the table and that your voice is being embedded into the cultural fabric of every single thing that the organization is doing, right? Otherwise, who cares who you report to? If you don’t have a seat at the table, you might as well not even be there at the company.
For more thoughts and reporting on the head of diversity role, read the recent Talent Blog post “Why the Head of Diversity is the Job of the Moment.”