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Embedding diversity, equity, and inclusion into Zendesk’s DNA

March 4, 2021 - 8 min read

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A shift from programmatic to leader-led

Creating the space to listen and build empathy

Measurement matters

Leading with compassion and promoting change


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A conversation about diversity, equity and inclusion with InaMarie Johnson, Chief People and Diversity Officer at Zendesk

2020 was not easy. We saw some incredible challenges - the pandemic, racial and social injustice, and political division like never before.

And through all these challenges, there’s been a silver lining. We’ve been given the opportunity to listen, learn and take action. At least, that’s how InaMarie Johnson sees it.

Zendesk’s Chief People and Diversity Officer InaMarie Johnson is a seasoned leader who’s guided companies through massive turnarounds and inflection points.

When times get tough, InaMarie chooses to face her challenges head-on, recognizing them as opportunities to lead with courage and humility. Her guiding light - when employees feel that they belong, they feel more motivated, and bring their whole selves to work.

InaMarie sees her employees as people first. She’s seen as a progressive change agent in the business community, championing initiatives that go beyond awareness to transform the mindsets and behaviors that shape a culture.

For her, creating spaces to learn from each other is vital. But to make a real impact, you need action. She doesn’t stop at informing - InaMarie is action-oriented. Pioneering several initiatives to empower managers and employees alike, InaMarie is leading a global initiative to embed diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), and belonging into the DNA of Zendesk’s culture. In a recent discussion with BetterUp CEO and co-founder Alexi Robichaux, InaMarie shared Zendesk’s approach and some of their key learnings along their journey.

A shift from programmatic to leader-led

When InaMarie was tasked with spearheading Zendesk's diversity and inclusion programs, she realized it had to be more than a HR project.

InaMarie and her team set out to infuse diversity, equity, and inclusion into the very essence of Zendesk. Change started with gaining top-level support for five big commitments that clearly outlined the actions and resources that would be needed. InaMarie emphasized the importance of gaining a commitment for resources, as many diversity and inclusion initiatives have big goals but little funding. As a result, these five commitments grew into a company-wide 2021 strategy focused on enabling diverse, digital-first teamwork, and fostering a culture of collaboration and flexibility for a distributed workforce. 

A big piece of Zendesk’s strategy is focused on supporting managers. Creating a diverse and inclusive environment has to be a part of every leader’s role. InaMarie’s team understands that leaders who create safe places for employees to feel heard, foster happier and more creative teams but leaders need support to learn how.

Zendesk is investing heavily in developing people leaders. Over 800 managers participated in education sessions on unpacking racism, equity & privilege in 2020 and additional tools and resources are offered to support the learning journey. BetterUp coaching, as an example, enables managers to be vulnerable and create their own path to change.

Creating the space to listen and build empathy

One big learning Zendesk uncovered is the power of creating space to listen. After the tragic killing of George Floyd, an employee at one of Zendesk’s locations in Madison, Wisconsin, took the initiative to create a psychologically safe space where employees could talk, share, listen, and heal. And although they didn’t know it, that employee gave birth to company-wide instituted Empathy Circles. Now, five additional Empathy Circles have been created around the globe. Giving people - especially underrepresented employees - an opportunity to be heard through sharing their perspective and experience ultimately helps everyone become more understanding and empathetic

Measurement matters

Diversity is relatively easy to measure — it’s as simple as looking at your headcount. However, inclusion is much more difficult. How do you measure the intangible benefits of inclusion? InaMarie’s team created an inclusion index to deliver insights on the real-time efficacy of their DEI initiatives. The insights from the inclusion index helped the organization see what their baseline was and where they needed to take action, but also what strengths they needed to carry forward.

Leading with compassion and promoting change

InaMarie and her team are modeling a new level of rigor for driving culture change — clear goals and commitments; engaging the hearts and minds of their employees; support for all leaders,not just a critical few; and, an approach to measuring progress. Paying homage to her company’s brand pillar of being ‘humblident’ — a mix of humble and confident — InaMarie acknowledges that while they have made big strides, their work is not done and they must never lose the voice of their employees and their community. We’re honored and proud to be a partner in Zendesk’s journey.

Watch the full converstion with InaMarie Johnson, Shellye Archambeau and Alexi Robichaux — Beyond Diversity: How to Foster Inclusion and Belonging in the 2021 Workplace

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Published March 4, 2021

Karen Lai

Vice President of Corporate Communications

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