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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Getting Ahead

Visa's First-Ever Chief Diversity Officer on the Secrets to Her Success

Jolen Anderson
Jolen Anderson

Jolen Anderson likes to call herself an “attorney by training and an HR and diversity professional by passion.” And despite naturally leaning introverted, she also calls herself a self-taught extrovert, in part thanks to her career.

Before joining Visa in 2005, Anderson worked on labor and employment matters at a law firm in Chicago. And before she was Visa’s first Chief Diversity Officer, she worked in their legal department, most recently as Chief Counsel, Employment and Corporate Responsibility (she still maintains this role in addition to leading diversity and inclusion efforts).

We sat down with Anderson to learn more about her day-to-day routine (and gather some fun facts about her working style).

Let’s start easy: What time do you go to bed and wake up?

Way too late and not early enough, respectively!

Open your desk drawer right now—what’s in it?

I work in a collaborative, open workspace—I have no desk drawer! But if I did, you would find Post-it notes with my to-do list.

How do you pass the time during your commute?

Catching up with friends and family or listening to audiobooks. With a busy work schedule and three young kids at home, it’s some of my best quiet time of the day.

What advice would you give your younger self?

When opportunity knocks, open the door. As much as I have said yes to different opportunities, I’ve definitely had moments where I was thinking, “What did I just do? How am I going to approach this? Am I going to be successful?”

When I moved from my role in legal to becoming Chief Diversity Officer, I just dove into it, given my belief in what this position means for an organization. I consumed as much information as possible, reviewed the latest trends, and tapped into my network for insight and advice—and I figured it out.

When an opportunity presents itself—even if the timing isn’t perfect, or if you don’t feel ready—trust in yourself and your abilities and have the confidence to go for it.

Give us your definition of diversity and inclusion.

I believe diversity and inclusion is about bringing together people who have different qualities, perspectives, and life experiences and inviting them to proudly display their differences so that everyone can feel comfortable and confident that they belong.

What does that look like at Visa?

I promote strategies and initiatives that help ensure there’s diverse representation [among] employees and our working environment allows individuals to bring their authentic selves to work.

My team and I created the Visa Elevate Program to encourage professional growth of people of color within our company by providing career advancement strategies, exposure to senior leaders, and a platform to better recruit, retain, and promote diverse leaders.

For the past two years, we’ve offered a Ready to Return program in Silicon Valley to create opportunities for those returning to the workforce after taking an extended period of time away to address family needs. And my team has provided inclusive leadership and unconscious bias training for all people managers across our offices to help identify and elevate awareness of bias and stereotypes.

By creating an inclusive culture where all employees can thrive, we’re able to get the best out of our people.

What’s one thing people don’t understand about being a chief diversity officer?

People are often surprised to learn that the role of a chief diversity officer doesn’t just include a focus on issues involving race and gender. My job encompasses so much more than that. I focus on observing workplace and cultural behaviors and implementing strategies to shift the way we think, act, collaborate, and lead.

What’s the biggest challenge of your role? The biggest reward?

The biggest challenge about working in my role is that the work is never “done.” There will always be more to do when it comes to creating a more diverse and inclusive workplace and world.

The biggest reward is seeing the work we do effect real change—watching diversity and inclusion scores rise on our employee survey, witnessing the organization publicly commit to equal pay, and hearing the stories of candidates who found their dream job through one of our programs or employees who feel that their uniqueness is celebrated inside the company.

But it’s also the day-to-day moments that stand out. I often say that if we can unlock one “aha” moment for someone or inspire them to think or act differently to ensure everyone feels included at our company, then that’s definitely a measure of success.