Google's Director of Diversity & Inclusion: Maintaining Culture in a Virtual Setting

Google’s Director of Diversity and Inclusion, Maria Medrano, joined us to share insights on DE&I, belonging, and the future of work. With more than 100,000 employees in at least 107 cities and 60 countries, Google’s global presence continues to grow. More than just a search engine, Google has evolved to provide a suite of internet services and products, hardware, and advertising services. Maria identified the culture at Google in three words: fast, innovative, and selfless.

A “Noogler,” with just 3 months at Google, Maria shared insights from her recent experiences and observations, the legacy she hopes to build, and the lessons she has learned from prior experience at CISCO building a sense of inclusion and belonging with a remote team. Our conversation with Maria focused on maintaining culture in a virtual setting, the future of work at Google, inclusion, leadership accountability in the DE&I space, and advice for those new to the role of Chief Diversity Officer. 

Call Highlights & Discussion:

  • Culture can absolutely be maintained in a virtual setting when we use technology to nourish connections. Technology can eliminate silos and bring people together. The key is to be intentional about what it is we seek to maintain and build in a culture. At Google, what that means is building a culture for everyone - products, workforce, and people. Despite being an organization deeply steeped in a campus and in-person culture, technology has created the space to ensure co-creation and learning continues by maintaining a focus on listening and intentionality.
  • Maria heavily emphasized the importance of individuals in building out the culture. When asked what she wished her legacy at Google to be, Maria shared that she wanted more opportunity for individuals to be a part of the bigger picture, noting that people are the biggest differentiator.
  • The future of work is top of conversation for everyone, and at Google, they are considering the flexibility and different needs of Googlers in forming their future of work policies. There is a focus on hybrid work, with many work streams focused on meeting everyone where they are, who they want to be, and how they want to be. Maria emphasized that creating psychological safety and retaining their employees was critical with the emphasis that people are Google’s number one resource.
  • i4cp’s Post Pandemic Talent Exodus survey was reviewed, with burnout identified as the single largest driver for leaving an employer. Drawing on her experience at CISCO, Maria shared direct advice on how to improve connections with technical employees who are remote. Maria noted the importance of leaders reaching out, not once or twice, but repeatedly – with the purpose of creating the right space, opportunities for learning, and chance to learn what is really needed. Leaders need to show up, take the time to be vulnerable, and let employees know that they are there committed to learn and are taking a long term interest in building a relationship.
  • Measuring inclusion at Google takes a multi-faceted approach: Annual inclusion index survey, action plan implemented across the organization, consultants across the business units, ERGs, open door policies with executives, continued testing through dialogue experiences, and different avenues of engagement to build allyship.
  • Google’s strategy to attracting African Americans and women of color continues to evolve, but goes beyond the talent attraction process. Starting with a commitment with the traditional staffing organizations, integration with the Google community happens earlier in the process by bringing ERGs into the recruiting process. There is also an increasing emphasis on retaining the talent. Google has grown past one-sided conversations in hiring to an ongoing process involving onboarding, employee experience, and ERGs.
  • DE&I initiatives at Google come from the top down. There is no resistance or indifference at the executive level, and everyone is committed to transparency and opportunity. The commitments are real, and being tracked on a bi-weekly basis. They are educational, not penalizing or punitive. The culture is around asking for permission to explore solutions as much as possible. While the first, second, or third strategy may not work, this does not impact a future solution’s ability to work.
  • We wrapped our call with Maria’s advice to those new to the role of Chief Diversity Officer:
    • Have a lot of grace; this work is not for the faint of heart.
    • Always look for ways to solve problems, and always create the space to solve problems.
    • Know that you will have harsh critics and that not everyone will be happy with your work.
    • Make sure you say what you have to say.
    • Establish relationships across the organization. To be an influencer, build connections broadly with those who have currency for change across the organization.
    • DE&I work is best done in collaboration.
    • Remember that at the end of the day, everyone cares. Identify whether you are tugging at their heart, their mind, or their past experiences.
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