Headshot of Dionna Smith, global head of diversity, equity and inclusion at Thumbtack.
Dionna Smith, Thumbtack's Global Head of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, explains how DEI spans not just across recruitment but also the employee lifecycle and the customer base. — Thumbtack

Three tips for creating an effective diversity strategy:

  • Use data to shape your diversity strategy and to craft your DEI to-do list.
  • Look at DEI holistically across the company and think beyond employees to the customers you serve.
  • Regularly check the pulse of employees and customers to gauge the efficacy of DEI programs and messaging.

Tech company Thumbtack runs a home management platform that unites homeowners with professionals to fix, maintain, and improve their homes.

In October of 2020, Thumbtack hired its first global head of diversity, equity and inclusion, Dionna Smith. She’s leading the company’s quest for DEI with employees, customers, products, processes, and the community.

Smith brings to Thumbtack 15-plus years of experience in human resources and DEI leadership roles at Delta Air Lines, LexisNexis, Fiserv, and more.

Her DEI strategy for Thumbtack is starting to reap results.

The Courageous Conversations monthly discussion group Smith created is one of the highest attended company-wide employee events. And the Executive Diversity Council she started has achieved goals like getting 100% of its C-suite leaders to serve as executive sponsors for the company’s employee resource groups (ERGs), whose purpose is to enhance the understanding of diversity in the workplace.

Smith shared her thoughts with CO— on what does and doesn’t work when it comes to creating an effective DEI strategy.

Ensure leaders are empowered and enabled to lead DEI

Smith is big on “leader-led DEI.” To that end, every department has a DEI ambassador that spearheads diversity initiatives for their unit. “They partner closely with the departments’ senior-most leaders to help ensure that leaders stay focused on our DEI commitments. Ambassadors meet regularly with the DEI team,” she said.

Early last year, Thumbtack established an Executive Diversity Council co-chaired by Smith and CEO Marco Zappacosta, which meets quarterly to share updates on DEI efforts and make recommendations for the next quarter. There is company-wide training for all employees and in addition to that, the Executive Diversity Council hosts executive-level DEI and inclusive leadership training.

Leaders groomed to be inclusive yield dividends, said Smith. “Diverse recruitment attracts employees, and a culture perceived as a place where all can succeed helps with retention.”

Thumbtack’s demographics have begun to expand with more diverse employees and leaders, said Smith.

[Read: Diversity Leaders from WW, LinkedIn and Seattle Seahawks on Building—and Retaining—Inclusive Teams]

Diverse recruitment attracts employees, and a culture perceived as a place where all can succeed helps with retention.

Dionna Smith, Global Head of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Thumbtack

Use data to shape strategy: It tells your business ‘where you are, where you need to go, and how to get there’

Thumbtack looked under the microscope, analyzing factors like recruitment practices, promotion rates, and employee engagement.

“Data tells your story, where you are, where you need to go, and how to get there. What doesn’t get measured doesn’t matter,” said Smith.

Thumbtack tapped data to answer questions such as, “Were engagement scores of women and Black [employees] trending the same as others, and if there was a gap, why? Were women staying twice as long as men in similar positions before promotion? Data provided a road map for goal setting,” she said.

Data is invaluable. “You’ll see if you’ve moved the needle,” said Smith.

This year the company is launching partnerships with historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and hispanic-serving institutions (HSIs) to offer students internships and early career opportunities at the company.

[Read: Starbucks, Salesforce and WordPress Executives on Embracing Diversity, Inclusion and Change]

Create an inclusive workplace where everyone thrives

DEI isn’t just about recruiting, Smith said, but about addressing an entire employee lifecycle. “People need to feel they belong and can succeed,” said Smith.

That’s why in 2021, Thumbtack sent five employees to consulting firm McKinsey’s Black Leadership Academy for the Manager’s Accelerator and Executive Leadership programs. “The employees talked about the power of being with and building community with other Black leaders, and learning new capabilities,” said Smith.

Thumbtack also last year began inclusive training for all leaders and quarterly manager sessions on topics like microaggressions, how to have psychologically safe meetings, and affinity bias [subconsciously gravitating towards people who you feel share similar interests, beliefs, and backgrounds]. The payoff? Increased employee engagement and higher retention, Smith said.

Look at DEI holistically across the company

Employees are one part of diversity. But “do customers see themselves in your advertising? How diverse is your procurement?” pointed out Smith.

Thumbtack took a hard look at its platform and focused on mitigating bias. Many of the platform’s service providers’ first language is Spanish. Thumbtack started an initiative that made changes like ensuring essential information is translated into Spanish.

Diversity is a competitive advantage. “The more top performing pros we have means additional revenue for us,” Smith said.

Regularly check the pulse of employees and customers

When Smith joined Thumbtack, between the pandemic and the murder of George Floyd, there were many emotions among employees. The company started Courageous Conversations, monthly employee gatherings around topics like raising a racially mixed family to the importance of addressing employees according to the gender pronouns they use.

The impact? “Employees resoundingly say they feel seen, heard,” she said. “Everything isn’t perfect, but it’s huge.”

In the last year, Thumbtack moved from being office-centric to remote first. It’s no longer limited to employees in Salt Lake City and San Francisco and recruits nationwide, which also increased diversity.

It’s important to consider and consult your customers when implementing DEI initiatives, said Smith.

“We thought it was a good idea to remove profile pictures on our website because then people wouldn’t know the race of the person. However, we talked to our Black and Latino Pros [service providers] prior to making any changes. They told us they didn’t want to show up to provide services and get an awkward greeting because they were Black. We explored the concept but didn’t actually take the photos down after talking to our Pros. Ensure your diversity initiatives work for the end users,” said Smith.

She’s just getting started and excited. “I feel like we are creating an environment where people flourish.”

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Published June 01, 2022