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5 Things I’ve Learned After 2 Years as a DE&I Leader

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DE&ICompany Culture
key points
  • Zedrick Applin, nCino's Program Manager of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Community, shares five vital lessons from his first two years in the role.

  • Applin emphasizes that Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DE&I) initiatives are continuous endeavors, rewarding efforts with happy employees and evolving communities.

  • Applin also underscores the importance of listening to customer insights to make events and initiatives more accessible and inclusive, showcasing nCino's commitment to DE&I principles.

By Zedrick Applin, Program Manager of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Community, nCino

Almost two years ago, I took on a new position as nCino’s Program Manager of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Community. At the time, I was happy and humbled to serve in a capacity that allows me to truly exercise my passion for people and help nCino continue to grow and have a positive impact on our employees and communities. I’m happy to report I still feel the same way today.

The DE&I field is as diverse as the people who work in it, and every DE&I professional approaches the work of equity and inclusion with their own experiences and backgrounds. Below are the five biggest lessons I’ve learned on my journey so far. Whether you’re a DE&I professional or an employee who wants to get more involved, I hope these takeaways are helpful to you.

1. Fail Fast

The first lesson I’ve learned is that you need to fail fast. DE&I strategies look different for every organization and what works for one may not work for another. When you’re starting out, it’s important to understand what works well for your organization and to know that it’s okay if you don’t hit the nail on the head with your first attempt. However, there’s a lot at stake with these strategies—so it’s important that you fail fast.

As you find solutions that fit well with your organization, it’s also important to note that what worked for your company in the past may no longer work in the future. You must be prepared to pivot to meet the needs of your employees as your organization grows and changes. nCino recently shifted our focus from the educational aspects of DE&I to celebrating our differences and diverse cultures, based on feedback from a company-wide survey. Coming out of the pandemic, the tense social climate felt heavy, and we felt we needed to shift our focus and “center our joy.” This approach gives our employees a chance to celebrate and alleviates the burden some feel to educate their peers.

2. Get to Know Your People

You have to know the pulse of the organization when trying to meet the needs of your employees. Spending time with employees and learning about peoples’ backgrounds and experiences are key to creating impactful DE&I strategies. This goes for employees in the office and those who work remotely, as they have an important voice to share, too. I’ve found that being open and really listening to people is the best way to keep your finger on the pulse of your organization and ensure your DE&I strategies are effective and up-to-date.

3. Continue to Seek Executive Buy-In

Buy-in doesn’t come from one meeting or one conversation; it’s a steady drumbeat. I’ve learned that for any of our efforts to be successful, our leaders have to believe in them and stand behind them. In many ways, executives and other leaders drive the transformation of nCino and contribute to our award-winning company culture, so it’s important that they’re involved with all our DE&I efforts. One way we’ve supported and encouraged that involvement is through nCino’s affinity groups. Our affinity groups are made up of diverse employees, all with different agendas and unique backgrounds. One thing they all share, however, is executive sponsorship. Not only does this keep our executives in the loop, it also gives them insight into each group’s goals and mission so that they can cheer them on and advocate on their behalf.

4. Support Your Affinity Groups

Speaking of affinity groups, nCino is currently home to six amazing groups—The Diaspora, Mi Gente, nPride, Women nTech, AAPI Alliance, and Veterans Network. These groups host events, create educational tools and resources and provide a support network and connection for our diverse, and sometimes geographically spread out, employees. nCino’s Affinity Group program is successful in large part because our groups start as grassroots initiatives brought to light by our employees themselves. While our employees introduce the groups, it is important that they go through a chartering process that helps to home in on what the group will focus on and how they will accomplish their goals. This brings structure and organization for them to function within. It also helps the groups to align with our core values, company goals and culture. We invest in our affinity groups with resources, financial support and executive sponsorship, ensuring they have every opportunity to feel safe, heard and welcome at nCino.

5. Don’t Go In Alone

While my position is important, I can’t champion DE&I at nCino alone. Our executives, affinity groups and the D&I council have been instrumental in bringing concerns to light and making sure they’re addressed immediately, according to our core values. This collaboration has aided in creating a common ground where everyone can come together. In order for our DE&I strategies to be successful, everyone has to go by the same playbook, and I think we’ve done a great job of ensuring that this is the mentality across the board at nCino.

In addition, we listen to our customers when they have insights into how we can make our company more inclusive. For example, at nSight, our annual user conference, one attendee mentioned that we didn’t have a sign language interpreter on stage. By listening to our customers and inviting their feedback, we can make our conferences, meetings and events more accessible to all.

DE&I is an ongoing effort, not a one-and-done exercise. It’s challenging, but our efforts are rewarded with happy employees and evolving communities. I still have more to learn, but I’m excited to carry these lessons with me as I channel our DE&I efforts into tangible results and big wins for nCino and its employees.