Equity Fluent Leadership: Stories from the C-Suite

By Laura Andersen

September 17th, Berkeley Haas students, alumni and affiliates came together for Equity Fluent Leadership: Stories from the C-Suite.

The event, hosted at the Gap Inc. Headquarters in San Francisco, featured a panel of three leaders dedicated to ensuring the success of all of their employees: Carin Taylor, Chief Diversity Officer of Workday; Art Peck, President and CEO of Gap Inc; and Elena Gomez, Chief Financial Officer of Zendesk. The discussion was facilitated by Kellie McElhaney, Founder and Executive Director of the Berkeley Haas Center for Equity, Gender, and Leadership.

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Laura D. Tyson, Faculty Director of the Institute for Business and Social Impact (left) and Nancy Green, President and CEO of Athleta (right) welcoming attendees to the event | Photo by Jim Block

The hour-long conversation centered around the urgent need for companies to adapt to the high expectations of the modern workforce. As companies compete to attract and retain the best talent, the trio offered advice on how to create the strong work culture and responsive internal policies that employees are looking for. The best place to start? With you.

Years ago, Carin Taylor found herself unable to connect with a colleague of a different background. His perspective was just not resonating. She had to ask herself a tough question: “Why can’t I receive this person’s message?” She committed herself to doing the self-reflection needed to cultivate her value of inclusion, belonging and equity for all — now known as “VIBE.” These days, Taylor aims to make every single employee at Workday feel as if they are a part of the company’s belonging journey.

She challenged the audience to engage in courageous conversations. “How are you holding people back with the way you give people feedback, especially in those moments when you don’t?” Taylor asked. She has seen firsthand how that shift in mindset — that withholding important feedback actually hurts our colleagues — can motivate people to initiate those often uncomfortable conversations.

Similarly, Art Peck constantly asks himself how he can make conversations about diversity and inclusion require less courage at Gap. “I know that when I walk into a room, I am a physical representation of the power structure,” Peck shared, “and I have a role in initiating conversations so that others will too.” He makes time to check in with new employees and hear how their experience is going and often holds meetings in the Gap cafeteria to stay visible. He insists on boosting his approachability to ensure that employees feel comfortable sharing the full truth about how they experience the workplace.

At Zendesk, Elena Gomez also uses a variety of strategies to make sure that she truly knows how people are doing. She avoids being “dangerously isolated” as a C-level executive by holding skip-level meetings and setting a tone of openness in conversations. “You have to pull,” Gomez says. “As the executive in the conversation, people open up when you do, so when we sit down together I have to engage very quickly and signal that I want to talk openly.” As she shared stories about mentorship and difficult conversations with coworkers, Gomez called on each one of the audience members to speak up and speak often about creating an inclusive culture for all.

As each new group of young alumni enters the workforce, their expectations of company culture will remain high. With those expectations comes equally high potential, which Peck referred to as the “ability to unleash new talent and amazing assets in our communities” for companies that are willing to evolve. And these three executives are making sure that Gap, Zendesk and Workday are leading the pack.

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Photos by Jim Block

At the heart of UC Berkeley's Business School, the Center for Equity, Gender, and Leadership educates equity-fluent leaders to ignite and accelerate change.

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