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Advice / Employers / Employer Resources

Employer Spotlight: PagerDuty’s Marcus Cooper on What It Really Means to Be Inclusive

Marcus Cooper
Marcus Cooper/PagerDuty

Here at The Muse, we know that there's no better way to understand how to ace your own employer brand than by seeing some best practices in action.

Well, you're in luck, because that's exactly what our Employer Spotlight Series does. We feature all sorts of helpful advice and insights from companies that get employer branding right so that you can learn from their success.

This month, we chatted with Marcus Cooper, Director, Global Head of Inclusion, Diversity and Equity at PagerDuty, about why you need to look at the talent lifecycle holistically to overcome unconscious bias in hiring, what it takes to build a scalable inclusion strategy, and more.

Tell us a little bit about your career journey. How did you get to where you are today?

I fell into D&I work the same way many visible minorities do: I was frustrated with the homogeneity of my team and the industry. I was disappointed to see people who looked like me being strategically, intentionally, and systematically excluded from career-defining and life-altering opportunities. As a queer person of color, I felt compelled to do something about it.

Unfortunately, early-stage D&I work typically lands on the desk of visible minorities as unofficial role responsibilities. In my case, I was actually really thrilled to own a piece of that narrative. I wanted to be part of change officially or unofficially, so I regularly sought out opportunities to get involved. I was privileged to work for an organization that believed in my potential and the potential impact of this work. They took a chance on me and gave me tremendous white space to operationalize inclusion. My role at PagerDuty, which happened by complete chance, is a testament to the value of investing in underrepresented talent.

What was your day-to-day like when you first joined the team at PagerDuty? Did you have specific goals in mind for your first 30-60-90 days on the job?

My time at PagerDuty has been a complete whirlwind since day one. I distinctly remember being pulled into a meeting with an executive on my first day to help work through a time-sensitive issue. It was an absolute sink or swim moment, but it was exhilarating. PagerDuty does an incredible job of hiring experts and giving them the space to lead and demonstrate their power very early on. In the days following, I was focused on deep employee relationship building as part of a larger discovery, diagnostic, delivery (strategy) plan.

Building a diverse workforce starts with taking a hard look at your hiring practices. What steps can you take to avoid or counteract unconscious bias during the recruiting process?

I’d recommend looking at the talent lifecycle holistically versus merely at the entry point. For example, inclusive hiring begins at the brand exposure phase (your careers page or an event activation) and continues through post-hire (How do we set our talent up for success? What are the systems and metrics by which we measure or define success?) and beyond exit (How do we engage alumni? What is the legacy of talent on the organization? How have we invested in the lifetime career of talent versus tenure-bound micro-investment?).

So when we talk about unconscious bias in hiring, you have to think critically about where bias might show up at all of those touchpoints. Here are my five quick tips:

  • Add a “Culture & Community” component to onsite interviews. These can be facilitated by DEI leaders, ERG leads, HR, etc, and are designed to test for belonging orientation.
  • Invest in talent intelligence software. This can help surface underrepresented talent at scale.
  • Edit job descriptions for inclusive language. You can do this using software or in one team working session over lunch.
  • Refactor case studies and candidate assessments with a lens on equity. In other words, rethink terminology, delivery format, timeline, etc, to accommodate applicants of different backgrounds.
  • Develop a job competency checklist that details required hard skills versus developmental and coachable skills. This will make room for rising underrepresented talent.

How do you identify candidates that will complement your team versus add to groupthink?

Internally, there are a number of ways to test for divergent thinking—the paperclip test is a really simple one. Generally speaking, though, the best way to add neurodiversity to your organization is to source candidates who have experience in multiple disciplines or industries, or come from non-traditional educational backgrounds, and are able to identify and articulate connective tissue.

If your candidate can marry their background with the How and Why of your organization (a.k.a., the mission), then they’re very likely to add a unique layer of creative problem solving to the team.

Think of inclusion as a bank where every thoughtful act of inclusion is a deposit and every act of exclusion is a withdrawal. There are a million moments of micro-inclusion that occur on a given day, but it only takes one moment of exclusion—large or small—to empty the account.

Increasing diversity and representation is just one piece of the puzzle. You also have to create an environment where all employees feel included. How do you establish inclusive practices and policies within a company—but also encourage their adoption across the business?

I often hear inclusion described as a set of programs that collectively demonstrate an orientation, focus on, or affinity for belonging—but real inclusion is much more intricate than that. It’s in the way we talk, the way we share, the way we meet. It’s in our corporate policies, our brand identity, our terminology, our growth strategy (to name a few).

Think of inclusion as a bank where every thoughtful act of inclusion is a deposit and every act of exclusion is a withdrawal. There are a million moments of micro-inclusion that occur on a given day, but it only takes one moment of exclusion—large or small—to empty the account. The best way to maintain your account balance is with automatic deposits and overdraft protection. In the real world, that means that we operationalize inclusion in the flow of work and make our efforts proactive versus reactive.

There are five key elements of a scalable inclusion strategy:

  • Measure: Distribute an inclusion survey to get a baseline, set goals, and track progress and engagement over time.
  • Engage: Decision-making inclusion is a key driver in employee engagement and belonging. For leaders, that means bringing your teams along and finding ways to meaningfully include employees in decisions that impact the culture, their team, and their work.
  • Connect: Connect the value of inclusion to company and team impact. For example, product testing with a diverse group of users means that we’re able to build a more inclusive (a.k.a., useful) product, and deepen brand loyalty and adoption.
  • Audit: Leverage free tools and surveys to audit your programs, policies, and benefits for inclusion of marginalized people (e.g., HRC’s Corporate Equality Index).
  • Train: Create learning experiences that empower employees to take inclusive action in real-time, all the time.

We also have five employee resource groups (ERGs) at PagerDuty:

  • SisterDuty: To promote an inclusive culture and professional development opportunities for women.
  • RainbowDuty: To promote a positive, collaborative, and inclusive environment for all employees—no matter their gender identity or sexual orientation.
  • PatriotDuty: To promote and build military support and presence through recruitment, internal education, and community outreach efforts.
  • Array: To level the playing field for black and Latinx employees by cultivating and celebrating a diverse and inclusive global work environment.
  • PageAble: To cultivate an inclusive culture where all employees feel empowered by their different abilities and talents.

All of these ERGs are contributing members of an organization called PRISM (Paving the Road for Inclusive Spaces of Meaning). PRISM is essentially the parent organization to all of PagerDuty’s ERGs, which designs policies and programs aimed at the sustainable development of empowered communities. PRISM ERG’s receive generous annual budgets and are tasked with delivering on a number of programs and experiences spanning five categories: social impact, talent development, recruiting, community engagement, and intersectional experiences.

How do you measure or determine the effectiveness of your DEI initiatives and employee resource groups at PagerDuty? How have you had to adapt or evolve based on results?

Generally speaking, we measure impact through our inclusion and engagement surveys. On the diversity front, our senior executive team has annual hiring targets that are designed in partnership with their operational plans (and as a function of the annual growth strategy). These targets are powered by pipeline metrics set forth by our talent acquisition team.

On the inclusion front, our executives also have annual inclusion goals, which are derived from the department-specific results of our annual inclusion survey. These are year-long projects aimed at deepening belonging within their organizations and across the business. Both sets of goals are scored and measured in the same manner as traditional company objectives.

What is the role of leadership in fostering a culture of belonging? How do you drive commitment and accountability throughout your organization?

Leadership is expected to design their businesses—from talent to programs—with inclusion in mind. That means democratizing opportunity and evangelizing empathy, vulnerability, and connection. Through operationalizing our values and being intentional about the team’s culture, leaders have an opportunity to build powerful teams with a deep sense of belonging. We drive commitment and accountability through our annual goal-setting process.

Leadership is expected to design their businesses—from talent to programs—with inclusion in mind. That means democratizing opportunity and evangelizing empathy, vulnerability, and connection.

What are the most rewarding parts of your job?

Hearing the stories of impact. If even one employee tells me that something I’ve worked on or touched change their life in any way, then I’m grateful and re-energized to tackle the next project.