How to Implement D&I Initiatives That Actually Work And Last

Sponsored by Asana

Photo Courtesy of Asana.

Photo Courtesy of Asana.


Sourcing top talent is not a one-size-fits-all feat. The most diverse and inclusive companies know this to be true. So does Sonja Gittens Ottley, Head of Diversity & Inclusion at Asana, who understands that “all people do not have the same representation across traditional hiring practices and sources.” 

In an effort to level the playing field, Ottley manages programmatic D&I efforts at the work management software company that create a more equitable hiring process. 

“We are committed to hiring great people, period,” Ottley says.

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And her commitment to diversity and inclusion doesn’t stop there. Ottley also works cross-functionally to ensure that all employees feel inspired to bring their whole selves to work, enabling them to reach their highest potential. 

“I work with our leadership team, various functional teams, employee resource groups (ERGs) and employees to ensure that we are building a culture that is inclusive — from our policies, to our office spaces, to the language we use,” she says.

We got a chance to speak with Ottley about her D&I initiatives and the value it brings to her team. She also shared her no. 1 piece of advice for companies in the early stages of D&I implementation. 

How long have you been with Asana? 

I joined Asana in 2015 when the company had only 150 employees. Now, we have upwards of 600.

What about the company made you first want to join?

I was drawn to Asana for three reasons. First, because of our purpose-driven mission and passion for teamwork. Secondly, for the opportunity to work with a leadership team that recognizes that diversity and inclusion are important and tied to business success. And last — but certainly not least — for the ability to shape a meaningful D&I strategy while the company was in its early stages. 

Tell us a bit about your job. What are your main responsibilities in your current role? 

I’m responsible for leading all of our diversity and inclusion initiatives. I work cross-functionally to ensure that everyone at Asana feels confident in bringing their whole self to work each day. We know that only by being their whole selves, are people able to do their best work. 

I partner closely with our talent acquisition team to ensure that we’re building programs and partnerships that support our goals to build diverse teams globally and that our hiring processes are fair and unbiased. I work with our leadership team, various functional teams, employee resource groups (ERGs) and employees to ensure that we are building a culture that is inclusive — from our policies, to our office spaces, to the language we use. 

How do you define diversity and inclusion? And what value does it bring to your team?

Diversity impacts business, inclusion impacts culture, and together they lead to business success. We believe that by having a diverse team and inclusive culture, we are better positioned to achieve our mission to help enable all teams to work together effortlessly.

Research shows that diversity has a positive impact on business results. Plus, it’s the right thing to do. At Asana, we see these benefits and more every day because of our commitment to diversity, and to creating an environment where diversity can thrive.

Can you tell us about Asana’s D&I program, and more specifically, your program’s three main areas of focus?

At Asana, we focus on three pillars: Build, recruit and thrive.

We are committed to building a framework for fostering transparency and trust, which supports the entire employee lifecycle and our D&I initiatives. This framework includes our benefits, programs and policies and trainings.

In order to build a great company and product, we want to hire the best talent who can add to our culture. We believe that having a diverse and inclusive company attracts the best talent that has both the skills to help us achieve our vision, and the passion for our mission. We focus here on ensuring that not only are our pipelines diverse, but that all of our recruiting processes are fair and unbiased. 

Ultimately, we want everyone at Asana to feel respected, valued, welcomed, heard and like they belong here. Our ERGs are a key part of this work, but we also promote transparency and curiosity through collaborative trainings, inclusive and cross-functional programs and transparent discussions.  

Building and sustaining a diverse and inclusive culture is a long-game strategy that requires commitment. We make progress one small step at a time, and it takes every employee to help create this culture.

How involved is leadership in your company’s D&I initiatives? What types of responsibilities do they take on?

Leaders at Asana are deeply committed to building a diverse company where everyone feels that they belong. This commitment starts with our CEO who says that ensuring a diverse and inclusive culture “is a better way to work.” 

Asanas globally receive these messages and examples of inclusive leadership on a regular basis, and they have also clearly expressed wanting to be a part of building and sustaining an inclusive culture. 

Additionally, a large part of the culture we are creating and how we build our product is a core notion of transparency, which starts from our CEO and senior leaders, all the way down to individual contributors. Transparency promotes curiosity, fosters more authentic conversations and allows us to talk about uncomfortable issues and topics in a safe environment.

What programs does your company offer for underrepresented groups?

A large part of our culture is our ERGs, which represent and support various communities and allies, and aim to create a safe and positive space for everyone. Over half of the company is a member of one or more ERGs, and the majority of ERG events at Asana are open to everyone at the company. ERGs are designed to provide leadership opportunities to members as we continue to professionalize them. 

At the moment, we have three employee resource groups: AsanaWomen which showcases the work and passions of women in tech, Gradient, a group that cultivates a community for people of color and allies, and TeamRainbow, a space for LGBTQIA+ people and allies to support and learn from one another in a safe and loving environment. Through conversations, community engagement and creating space for everyone’s experiences, ERGs at Asana are a key component of our D&I efforts.

How does your company proactively source women and other underrepresented groups?

We are committed to hiring great people, period. Great talent is everywhere, but all people do not have the same representation across traditional hiring practices and sources. We recognize that there is no one-size-fits-all standard for finding great talent, and we aim to meet people where they are instead of relying on methods that do not provide equal visibility for groups that are traditionally underrepresented in tech.

We focus on building diverse pipelines through our sourcing efforts, but we also work on building long term partnerships and relationships that support the communities that we are trying to attract to Asana. 

What’s your No. 1 piece of advice for companies that are just getting started with their D&I efforts?

It’s easy to get overwhelmed with all the work that is involved in doing this work properly. Think strategically, ensure that there is leadership support and buy-in so that the program is well resourced, and recognize that this work requires everyone to play a role. 

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