The importance of listening to diverse employee experiences

Donna DeBerry was appointed Seismic Vice President, Global Inclusion in February 2021. Her appointment followed the establishment of Seismic’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Council. Donna is working alongside the DEI Council to build a diverse, equitable, and inclusive company culture at Seismic. 

Since arriving, she has listened to the stories and experiences of Seismic executives, team leaders, and employees. These conversations, conducted as “listening sessions” help form the foundation of her strategy for building an inclusive culture. 

In this post, we’ll chat with Donna to learn more about listening sessions, and share tips for building a more inclusive workplace. 

TS: Tell me about your first several months as the VP of Global Inclusion at Seismic.

DD: My first several months at Seismic have been focused on building relationships, analyzing data, and conducting listening sessions with our employees about their experiences at Seismic. 

I’ve been working on a bottom-up, top-down inclusion approach that involves all of our employees as stakeholders. It starts with getting insights and recommendations from our employees and engaging our leadership team in inclusive culture strategic planning. 

When we think about being successful in attracting, recruiting, and retaining a diverse workforce, creating a culture of inclusion is critically important to employee experience. 

TS: What have you learned as you’ve met with Seismic’s leadership, management, and employees?

DD: As I’ve met with Seismic executive managers, and employees, I’ve learned that our executive team is vulnerable, authentic, and transparent about what they know and what they don’t know about DEI.  They are 100% committed, individually and as a team, to continually creating a culture of inclusion. 

They are absolutely committed to the process, what we’re doing, and what we want to accomplish. They want DEI to be part of the culture and values of the company and they’re always asking what they can do to help.

Managers and team leaders are interested in building their inclusive leadership competencies so that they can fully engage and lead diverse teams. As we attract and recruit more diverse employees into our workforce, it’s important for our leaders to leverage these inclusive leadership competencies to optimize performance and build strong teams.  

TS: Since joining Seismic, you’ve hosted “listening sessions” with different underrepresented communities. Will you explain what a listening session is?

DD: A listening session is similar to a focus group. It’s a facilitated discussion with a group in order to gather information about people’s unique experiences. Listening sessions are designed to learn what we can do better as a company, identify gaps, and take recommendations from employees regarding our initiatives around diversity, equity, and inclusion.

TS: What communities have you and the DEI Council been able to connect with during listening sessions?

DD: I’ve conducted listening sessions with Black, Latinx, International employees, people with disabilities, women, LGBTQIA+, and AAPI groups. It was important to drill down into specific demographics to get feedback on challenges and insights on their unique workplace experience. These communities’ insights provided us with the opportunity to create an equitable plan in seeking ways to elevate the employee experience.

TS: What are you looking for as you host listening sessions?

DD: I’m looking for specific things like common themes that arise from the discussion. We discuss these themes in our executive meetings. It was important to drill down into specific demographics to get feedback on challenges and insights on their unique workplace experience. These communities’ insights provided us with the opportunity to create an equitable plan in seeking ways to elevate the employee experience. They also help us create a strategy based on the top areas where we need to focus in order to make us a better company for all. 

TS: How does giving voice to employees help shape DEI in organizations like Seismic?

It gives employees opportunities to express their ideas, concerns, and perspectives with authenticity, and without fear of social or workplace consequences. That means employees have the ability to influence decisions at work through their feedback. Giving a voice to your employees helps shape company culture and values which are critically important to hiring and retaining talent. 

When employees feel like their voices are heard, it represents inclusion at the highest level.  

It shows that our company cares about the things employees care about. 

TS: Why should other organizations include listening sessions as part of their DEI strategy?

DD: In order to attract, recruit and retain your talent, organizations should create listening sessions as a part of their overall business strategy. Employee feedback should go beyond an engagement survey. You need to build trust with employees by having an engaging dialogue about their unique experiences. Employee experiences are not “one size fits all.” Listening sessions support the overall goal of the organization and give employees an opportunity to be authentic and transparent about their experiences. These sessions focus on listening, learning, and understanding.

Seismic is committed to building an equitable and inclusive culture. If you’d like to join us on this journey, check out our careers page

Donna DeBerry
Donna DeBerry
Vice President of Global Inclusion
Donna is the vice president of global inclusion at Seismic, where she leads efforts to build a diverse, equitable, and inclusive workforce and company culture. She has more than 20 years of experience leading diversity and inclusion programs at global organizations, including leadership positions at Starbucks Corporation, Nike, Indeed and Wyndham Worldwide.