You may have heard the acronyms DIB, DEI, or D&I in reference to diversity programs. What do they all mean, and why are these initiatives especially important in technology? This episode features Brandon Sammut, Chief People and Culture Officer at LiveRamp, in conversation with Daniella Harkins, SVP of Commercial Strategy, and Anneka Gupta, President and Head of Platforms and Product at LiveRamp, on the state of diversity, inclusion, and belonging in data and technology. Hear where LiveRamp is on its journey to providing unique and authentic collaboration among diverse voices— and learn tactics you can take to your organizations.
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Today’s episode is about diversity, inclusion, and belonging, or what is referred to as DIB. Often unsaid about this topic is where do I begin? Is this a problem that’s worth my time or my team’s time to address? We recognize that companies are at different stages of their DIB journey, and candidly we are too. In this episode we’re sharing where we are in our journey toward creating a more equitable workplace and fulfilling our mission of building systems and experiences that enable all LiveRampers to thrive.
To dive into this topic, I will be speaking with LiveRamp’s Chief People and Cultural Officer, Brandon Sammut.
Hey, Daniella, it’s great to see you.
Brandon, we work in an industry that loves acronyms, and we’re sitting here talking about diversity, inclusion, and belonging, also known as DIB, and I’d love for you to take a stab at defining what the heck all of that means.
It’s a good jumping-off point, Daniella, because I’ve seen over and over again that we may not be fluent in these definitions, which can be a blocker to getting in the game. A lot of companies use the terms DIB, DEI, and D&I interchangeably as a core term for their work on diversity. The words within those terms actually mean fairly different things, even if the work that they’re pointed at is meant to imply something very similar. So, let’s break it down.
At LiveRamp, we use diversity, inclusion, and belonging (DIB). Diversity being the blend of characteristics that people bring into the room, inclusion being who actually has a seat at the table where things are being built or decisions are being made, and belonging is what happens with the information that’s being shared. Do people have an equal playing field on which all of those different perspectives and experiences are valued?
DEI is diversity, equity, and inclusion. The equity piece is really important. Put simply, equity is processes, programs, and practices that are all designed to produce fair outcomes. Out in the field, you need an understanding of the things that can get in the way of fair and equitable outcomes. As we learn and wrap our heads around what that means for the work that we do inside the company and outside with our customers, we’re learning more about things we can build—processes we can form that produce those types of equitable outcomes.
I want to go back to something you mentioned earlier about diversity, inclusion, and belonging (DIB) being a critical and important component of LiveRamp. Can you talk about why it’s so important?
Sure. We think about it in a couple of different ways, and what I’m about to share is paraphrasing what we’ve heard from our own employees. If we want to be an organization that matters, if we want to be proud of what we build and how we build it, if we want to be satisfied with the outcomes we can produce with our customers, we need brilliance inside this company—and we believe that brilliance comes from everywhere. So, one of the reasons we focus on DIB is that the type of talent that we need to produce everything I just described is very hard to find, and we need to think big about how to attract folks from all backgrounds to help us build our future. We also need to make sure that the people we already have are able to thrive.
And there’s a second piece as well. There’s a lot of research that shows that more demographically diverse teams can produce better outcomes, and companies whose leaders or boards are more diverse can also produce stronger outcomes relative to their peers over time. We’ve read a lot of those studies, we affirm a lot of those studies, and I’ll channel Scott Howe, our CEO. He said even if those studies had not yet been done, even if that data was not yet clear, it would still be right for us to focus on this. We know there are histories and systems at play that do not enable everyone to thrive, and so, even without the quantifiable business benefit, which we do believe exists, it would still be the right thing to do.
Absolutely. One of the things that I think about is putting strategies and programs in place. It’s easier to build the program itself than enforce behavioral changes or put things into action. Can you talk about DIB within LiveRamp? How does that manifest itself?
The strategy that we’re developing around DIB has three pieces. The first is inward-facing. It starts with ourselves—our workforce. How do we attract brilliance from all corners of the planet and enable those folks to do their best work? The second piece has to do with our products and customers. How do we build and deliver our products in ways that are inclusive and equitable, and how do we work with customers in ways that do the same? And then our third pillar is community. My group has official offices in 13 locations all over the world, and people in even more places than that, so when it comes to the intersection of people, products, and communities, what can we be doing where we live and work to have an impact?
And to get really practical in recruiting, for example, we know that who you know sometimes influences how prepared you can be for an interview—how much you know about the company and how it works, or maybe you even know the person who is hiring for the job. One way that we’re trying to create equity in that particular part of our recruiting program is to give our candidates access to unusual information about who we are and how our products operate, and in doing so, effectively level the playing field so that who you know may be one of the ways that you first get interested in LiveRamp, but isn’t the thing that ultimately determines whether you get the job or not.
Very interesting. I love the way you talk about it in terms of what we’re doing. Inward-facing, products and customers, and then ultimately, community. I’d love to get your thoughts on how we apply the DIB practice that we have internally to the larger industry in general.
In marketing—and marketing technology in particular—we have even more opportunity to influence and have a positive impact because so much of what we do is create messages and tell stories in ways that connect with people and inspire new ways of thinking and new actions. It can be easy to simply boil that down into inspiring purchase decisions, but when you zoom out, the capabilities we have in the industry are about a whole lot more. That obviously has influence on purchase decisions and brand affinity, but in ways that are inclusive and equitable. Which audiences are we reaching? Are the messages that we’re communicating inspiring to the full range of people we would hope to affiliate with our brand? How can we use technology to create two-way marketing loops to ensure we’re getting better user feedback from diverse populations so we can understand how to build and scale our products for everyone? This obviously has great business impact, but also opens up the impact or the benefits of what we build to more and more people. In some ways it’s hard to think of an industry that has a bigger opportunity to have an impact on this topic.
Brandon, as usual, I have learned from you, specifically the power and importance around diversity, inclusion, and belonging, and you continue to inspire me. So, thank you very much for joining me today. It was a joy to have this conversation with you.
Likewise, Daniella. Thank you.
Next, we’ll hear more from Brandon, along with Anneka Gupta, President of Platforms and Products at LiveRamp, both executives, and both members of our DIB council on the projects we’re working on now.
Anneka, I want to ask you about the diversity, inclusion, and belonging efforts at LiveRamp under our third-pillar community. How are you seeing DIB being leveraged through our Data for Good Program?
This is a great topic. When we think about diversity, inclusion, and belonging at LiveRamp, we think about it within our four walls, but do we also consider the larger impact that we can have in the world around us? I think we have a responsibility to all of the different constituents we serve, whether it’s our employees, customers, or people at large to use our technology, data, and products to bring about a better world.
Data for Good is an initiative that we launched a couple of years ago to look at how we can partner with various nonprofit organizations, our customers, and data providers to leverage data and bring about better outcomes in society. Some of the initiatives we launched around COVID-19 have focused on how we take data and reduce bias in outcomes. We know that for COVID-19 specifically, under-represented minorities and people within lower socioeconomic statuses tend to have more adverse outcomes, and are contracting and dying from the virus at a higher rate than other groups. So we’re partnering with organizations to discover how we can use data to better understand these outcomes and work with health care providers and other organizations to figure out what can be done to prevent these outcomes. What can we do to help ensure that communities have the resources they need so each and every one of their citizens can be healthy, successful, and can see social mobility?
Right on, Anneka. Let’s zoom out a little bit. I was thinking the other day that there’s so much perceived traction among organizations on the topic of diversity and inclusion, especially over the last six months. In some sense that’s encouraging to see, but it reminds me that this should have been important before the COVID-19 pandemic even started. What do you make of that?
What I think is really special about this moment is that there’s finally a recognition that what we’ve been doing is not enough, and in order for us to truly impact and effect change, we have to fundamentally think differently about the ways that we’re approaching diversity, inclusion, and belonging. We need to look at our overall systems and identify how those need to change. What can we fundamentally do differently to drastically move the needle, instead of trying to make little fixes along the edges that are not really helping us take a major step forward.
I’m really excited about the time we’re in now because there is so much momentum, and it’s not a one-person thing. It’s not like as a leader of an organization you can be driving this forward on your own. You need everyone in the organization and everyone across our industry and across the entire business community to step up and say, “we’re not doing a good enough job, we have to change, and we have to fundamentally think about this problem in a different light so we can produce better outcomes in the future.”
Anneka, what would you say to leaders and organizations thinking about the aspiration you’re describing. What are the first steps of their journey?
I think whether you’re in the first steps of this journey or you’ve been thinking about and creating DIB programs for a couple of years now, we all look at it as a really daunting challenge. We’re trying to fundamentally change something that has systemic roots in our society. We’re not always going to be able to make giant leaps forward week over week. Instead, we have to get comfortable with the fact that we’ve got to set a direction and continue to iterate and make progress towards a larger direction and vision. When you have a big product vision, you set a goal for where you want to take your products and identify the problem that you want to solve for your customers. The solution might look different than where you are today.
You see this with start-ups all the time. They set a big vision but start with a small fraction of that to get a foothold, then build on it. I think about DIB initiatives the same way—you have to start somewhere. You have to start small by finding a problem you can solve where you can build a foundation. Every organization has to figure out for themselves what those first steps look like: what is the foundation they’re going to lay and what is the ultimate vision. You can set a really big vision without having to know every step you’ll need to take to get there.
But, I think it’s really about the big vision, and also setting some achievable goals of what you can do in the near term. Don’t be afraid to deviate from that vision a little bit, just like you would if you were iterating on a product for a customer.
This notion that we might lead on diversity and inclusion is a powerful point, and incorporates many of the same principles we think about regarding leadership for the overall organization. It’s really inspiring to hear you talk about it that way.
What really gives me hope and optimism is that as a business community we can make these changes, because what is being asked is not actually outside of the way that we think about our own operations. Brandon, I’m curious to hear from you, since you’ve been leading a lot of the DIB initiatives at LiveRamp for a while. How do you approach people and leaders who are maybe more skeptical or hesitant to lean into these kinds of issues?
That’s a good question, Anneka. I typically run into two types of hesitation. The first is the hesitation of something new. They know enough to know that they don’t have the vocabulary or that shared foundation like we were talking about, and that can be intimidating. My call to action, my encouragement is, you’ve done this before. It may not specifically be work on diversity, inclusion, and belonging, but you have climbed learning curves before on stuff you knew little to nothing about. This one may feel different because the stakes of getting it wrong may feel personal, so it’s important to validate that because it’s a signal you understand and you want to get it right, but don’t let that be what holds you back.
For me, it was important to consider how heavy I was going to lean in, given my personal perspective as a white male leader. I may not always get it right the first time, but given what I understand about the needs of underrepresented communities after talking to LiveRampers from those communities, I’m going to go ahead and make the investment anyway. The long-term payoff of someone in my position with my background being in the game, listening and learning, is pretty important.
The second piece of resistance I hear is the notion that talking about diversity and inclusion, race, or gender in the workplace is taboo—we don’t do that here. There’s a bit of compliance-driven fear that if we start talking about this, we might not like what we hear. But the truth of the matter is, when you create an inclusive space where folks, especially from under-represented backgrounds, can talk freely about their experiences and ways that the company could be doing better, there will be things that are hard to hear—you will have uncomfortable conversations. But the key to all of this for me personally has been that my discomfort as a privileged leader is often a sign that we are making progress, because my discomfort can produce equity for others.
That’s such a powerful message. Just as we in business give ourselves permission to fail—it’s how we innovate and get better—with respect to diversity, inclusion, and belonging, we have to realize that we’re not always going to say the right thing exactly the right way, but we’ll learn from that and do better next time. We also have to recognize that there is an element of risk from a career perspective when speaking out, but you have to weigh that against your personal beliefs about the company you want to work for and what kind of society you want to have going forward, and push through that.
100%. And the payoffs are meaningful, as we’ve seen in a variety of organizations. I think my parting thought on this would be that it feels like a special time in the U.S. and around the world on the topic of diversity, inclusion, and belonging. Each leadership team in every organization has to make a decision about whether they’re going to use this as an opportunity to take a step forward or take a defensive posture and wait for it to pass. For leadership teams who want to build companies that are brilliant and exceptional, there’s really only one choice. Lean in and push through the newness and discomfort, understand that it’s just part of the journey, and do it. The way that our CEO, Scott Howe, talks about it is that it’s inherently tied to not only being a brilliant company, but also to helping people do their best and be their best, and doing right by your customers.
But even beyond all of that, when you think about the arc of history, companies make history. We’re part of society, we do not get to choose whether to be in the game or not—we are in it. We do not sit apart from what’s going on in the world, and one way or another, we’re going to have an impact.
I love the notion that companies make history—big or small. We all have a role to play in building the world we want. To be successful in changing the system, everyone needs to be a guardian of diversity, inclusion, and belonging. Only when DIB efforts are reflected in the very make-up of technology and business will we begin to see change.
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