My surprise career with diversity and inclusion in the tech industry

Cornell Woodson, Global Head of DEI at Looker

Jan 23, 2019

When considering a career where I could positively contribute to society, a profession in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) was not where I envisioned ending up. In college, I studied pre-med and majored in communications with two minors in healthcare management and healthcare communications. I was determined to become an OB/GYN and find the cure for cervical cancer. After failing organic chemistry, I had to take a step back and reflect on what it was I really wanted from my career.

I realized that I was most happy working with people, conversing with people, and using dialogue to make spaces better than they were before. Upon shifting my focus to this new goal, I began developing and facilitating spaces that empowered people to have difficult dialogues around the issues that impact our society every day, which lead to the beginning of my career in DEI.

What does diversity, equity, and inclusion mean?

DEI stands for diversity, equity, and inclusion. These breakdown into;

  • Diversity: a presence of differences within a given setting
    • i.e., Sexual orientation, ability status, religious affiliation, race, gender, gender identity, gender expression, political affiliation, citizenship, socioeconomic status, and educational attainment
  • Equity: ensuring everyone has access to the same opportunities
  • Inclusion: ensuring those with different identities feel welcomed and their contributions and differences are valued, not just recognized
    • As Verna Myers explains, ‘Diversity is being asked to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance.

Working towards diversity in the workplace

Since making my career change, I quickly found that working in DEI is not easy. There is a lot of emotional energy required to organize and promote safe spaces for diverse groups of people from various backgrounds, political affiliations, and lived experiences to come together. As a leader and advocate of DEI in the workplace, it is my job to make sure people are heard, feel valued, and at the same time, are challenged to consider the multiple truths that can exist at the same time. While this isn’t always an easy task, the effect it can have in the workplace is monumental, which is why it is so important it be an area of focus at every organization.

What I’ve come to love the most about working in DEI is getting to see the breakthroughs that DEI initiatives help people experience. It is so powerful and beautiful to see people understand more about themselves, the world around them, and the lived experiences of others. It’s because of these experiences and deeper understandings that I, and I’m sure many leaders in DEI, will continue to find ways to create safe, brave spaces, so that people can truly be their authentic selves and feel like they belong.

Diversity in tech + Looker

Joining Looker as the Global Head of DEI has been a dream come true. The tech industry has always had a unique ability to influence the way people look at the world. I believe Looker has an opportunity to be a leader in this area, and help move the needle in a positive direction towards making DEI a standard in the technology industry.

A great example of Looker’s commitment to DEI in the workplace was the recent “Looker DEI Stories” night, which was put on by our Looker DEI committee. During the event, half a dozen Lookers got up and shared personal stories and experiences that have shaped who they are today. Lookers shared smiles, laughter, and even some tears that evening. But even more importantly, they all shared in the understanding that they were in a space of safety, openness, and inclusion.

It is from these events and opportunities where people can feel safe being vulnerable and sharing their stories that we can begin to breakdown the barriers that prevent us from knowing each other deeply, and really push us to start engaging in deeper dialogue with one another.

I am very honored to be a part of an organization that values DEI and is ready to do the work required to create a place where everyone can be their authentic self.

Click here to learn more about DEI at Looker and subscribe to our blog to get updates on future stories about DEI at Looker.

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