Melonie D. Parker is the Chief Diversity Officer & Global Director, Employee Engagement, Google. Parker is an HR executive committed to innovative, relevant, and contemporary HR leadership. She is an advocate for change and a passionate thought leader. Parker is responsible for advancing Google's employee engagement strategy across Diversity, Equity & Inclusion. Additionally, Parker serves as a Minority in Energy Initiative Champion for the Department of Energy.
Parker received a B.A. in Mass Communications from Hampton University and an M.A. in Human Resources from Villanova University. She was named the 2016 HR Professional of the Year by the New Mexico Society of Human Resource Management. She was recognized with a Special Recognition Award at the 2014 Women of Color STEM Awards, and in 2012 graduated from Lockheed Martin’s Executive Assessment & Development Program.
In an exclusive conversation with People Matters, Parker talks about the future of diversity and inclusion mandates in a post-COVID-19 world.
The global health crisis is shaking up the normal ways of work and upending businesses like never before. What does it mean for businesses as they plan for the year 2021?
As we navigate the impact of COVID-19 in our own workplace, it’s vital to continue our work to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion. Earlier this year, we released our 2019 diversity annual report, and I was personally proud to see the growth of many of our underrepresented communities is outpacing Google’s overall growth. As an example, in the U.S. Black+ headcount growth was at 340% for men and 320% for women. We see this as a promising sign but know there’s more work to be done.
As we look to 2021, we’re committed to continuing to make diversity, equity, and inclusion part of everything we do—from how we build our products to how we build our workforce. The world may look different, but our goals remain the same. We will also continue to address head-on the unforeseen challenges that threaten our efforts to cultivate this culture. Most notably, the global COVID-19 pandemic is pushing us to find new ways to use technology to keep Googlers connected to each other, to our communities, and to the world. We will continue supporting Googlers as they navigate major life disruptions related to the pandemic, including expanded caregiving and/or education responsibilities, by ensuring they have the flexibility to balance work with caring for themselves and their families. We’re also taking steps to support the mental health and well-being of Google’s employees throughout this time.
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Do you think the efforts towards diversity that have been built painstakingly over the last few decades are being derailed by the COVID-19 pandemic?
We’re committed to building a workforce that is more representative of our users and a workplace that creates a sense of belonging for everyone. Over the past few years, we’ve taken concrete actions to steadily grow a more representative workforce, launching programs that support our communities globally, and building products that better serve all of our users. While the pandemic certainly brings new challenges, we announced several initiatives to further our diversity efforts. For example, as employees, educators, and students continue working remotely in response to the spread of COVID-19, we’ve done a number of things to help them stay connected and productive, such as rolling out free access to our advanced Hangouts Meet video-conferencing capabilities to all G Suite and G Suite for Education customers globally. Additionally, many of our programs geared towards underrepresented groups, such as Code Next, a free computer science education program for black and Latinx high schoolers, and Tech Exchange, a semester-long program for historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs) where computer science majors immerse themselves in coding instruction on the Google campus in Mountain View, continue to operate remotely.
Finally, this year, we held our first-ever all virtual intern class, where thousands of interns joined us from their homes in 43 countries around the world. For our employees, we also introduced a student loan repayment program for all Googlers. Starting in 2021, Google will match up to $2,500 per Googler per year in student loan payments to help them pay off their student loans faster, allowing them to save money to use in other ways, whether it’s purchasing a new home, starting a family, or investing in a 401(k). We recognize that many of the communities we serve in our diversity work are also disproportionately impacted by these events -- as a Black woman, I’m acutely aware of the outsized impact of COVID on communities of color. We continue to support Googlers who are facing uncertainty, health concerns, or who may be targets of discrimination. As we continue through this uncertain time, diversity and inclusion will remain a crucial priority for us in meeting the needs of our employees, their families, and our communities.
Google’s culture has long been seen as a model for other companies to cultivate growth and innovation in the workplace. Has there been a change in your ‘culture’ equation?
Today’s workplaces are rapidly evolving and employee demands of their employer are at an all-time high. Google is known for being one of the most transparent companies in the world, sharing as much as possible with employees. This has continued as we grow. One area where we have evolved is hiring. For example, while most companies hire for culture fit or those who embody skills, qualifications, and experience in a job role, we realize that ‘culture fit’ can sometimes be used to mask bias in hiring. To keep our culture inclusive, innovative, and thriving, we don’t hire for culture fit. We hire through the lens of “culture add.” We’re asking ourselves “What perspectives or experiences are missing from our teams?" In other words, what can a candidate add to the organization? When looking at the hiring process through a culture add lens, it opens up the possibility of considering candidates that do not “fit” a preconceived profile and will bring about a greater possibility of diversity in both thought and perspective.
How are diversity heads steering their companies through the crisis globally? Do you see a synergy of initiatives and collaborations?
As Google’s Chief Diversity Officer, and as a woman of color who grew up in the segregated South, I feel a great responsibility to advance a more diverse workplace. This opportunity includes bridging divides, giving voice to marginalized groups, and creating the kind of workplace where everyone belongs.
We collaborate with a number of experts that help to inform our DEI strategy. We’ve currently engaged with John A. Powell, Director of the Othering & Belonging Institute, IBIS, and other external experts in the field to help further our work.
One thing that you have learned from this pandemic and why is this important?
One thing we’ve seen is that people are searching for new ways to connect with their communities while being physically distant. I’ve focused my career on building initiatives and resources for minority groups within large companies. To ensure Google is a workplace where everyone can do their best work, we've spent the last several years understanding how employees from different backgrounds experience Google and building internal programs that foster an inclusive work environment. As we navigate the impact of COVID-19 in our own workplace, it’s vital to continue building a culture of belonging. With much of our workforce working remotely, we’re focused on helping our employees connect and finding new ways to prioritize inclusion. For example, one thing we’re doing is helping to boost virtual connections. Throughout the year, we’ve explored a variety of virtual formats for connecting people across Google and many of our Employee Resource Groups have extended their efforts to help underrepresented Googlers build community during this time. For example, our Black Googler Network hosts recurring virtual Yoga sessions, and our Women@Google chapters across the globe have been hosting virtual sessions for connection and career development. Our Asian Google Network has aggregated resources for their community and created office hours for members to connect online.
How can companies build a culture of belonging and make everyone feel comfortable, empowered, and heard? Isn’t it challenging?
We want our workplace to provide a sense of belonging -- where every colleague feels seen, connected, supported, and proud to be a part of Google. This isn’t an easy task when you think about our scale - today, Google has offices in over 170 cities spanning nearly 60 countries and we have over 100K+ Googlers in offices around the world. But it’s important work that needs to be done, and I see this as a huge opportunity for us. Building a culture of belonging empowers people to do their best work, and Google is a company where people of different views, backgrounds, and experiences can come together and show up for one another. We’re focused on accelerating efforts to ensure every Googler—and in particular those from underrepresented groups—experience Google as an inclusive workplace.
Read more such stories from the January 2021 issue of our e-magazine on 'Outlook 2021’