Feb 12, 2021

You can’t make tomorrow using yesterday’s ideas: Getting innovative about inclusion

We Make Tomorrow

Last year brought significant changes to the workplace, among them a shift in how companies prioritize diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I). Organizations of all sizes and influence made public displays of their commitments to rethink their diversity policies.

But are we doing enough? And are we doing it right? We pose these questions to Chanda Hand, Zymergen’s Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Program Manager. Chanda joined Zymergen in October to lead our community’s efforts to cultivate a workplace where each and every Zymergite feels a strong sense of belonging. Here, she shares her perspective on the state of the industry and her plans for helping Zymergen improve representation at the company and in the science community at large.

Chanda Hand, Zymergen’s Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Program Manager

She believes that, at large, corporate America is heading in the right direction but there is still much work to be done.

“The thing I’ve recognized about many executive leaders, both at Zymergen and elsewhere, is that they’re on board with the fact that DE&I is valuable,” she says. “That’s a great start. They may not understand the mechanics of how to do it right, but the value is there. The rest is where I come in.”

At its core, Zymergen is an innovation company, reimagining what materials and manufacturing can be. We call it “making tomorrow.” In the same way, we aspire to apply the same level of innovation to people and the workplace. This was one of the biggest things that attracted Chanda to Zymergen: the opportunity to help an organization innovate how it approaches including people. Because, in her words, “You can’t make tomorrow using yesterday’s ideas.”

One of Chanda’s main areas of focus in her mission to help companies innovate how they approach DE&I is encouraging the use of data. Relying on data ensures that diversity and inclusion go beyond being just window dressing — there are real people behind the metrics and leaders can’t lose sight of that.

The trick is that, currently, self-defined DE&I indexes don’t always reflect true qualitative and quantitative success. The diversity index algorithms can be gamed such that the employee experience is not actually reflected. The feeling of success, which can’t be measured, is when all employees feel they can operate at their full potential. And the measure of that success must be represented at every level.

This is one area where Chanda says Zymergen is innovating and getting it right. Some members of the executive team spend 20% of their time recruiting “off the beaten path,” and Chanda is hopeful that, one day soon, “more managers will do the same and integrate DE&I into their recruiting approach.”

Ideally, companies approach DE&I with both a bottom-up and top-down lens. Companies have to “build a leadership profile” that reflects the diversity they want to see throughout the organization. “If people see it, they believe it,” Chanda says. “If an organization lacks diversity at the top, then it is a signal to the rest of the diverse employees where their ceiling is. We shouldn’t have to tell people that the leadership team is diverse — they should be able to see it.”

Chanda’s ideology of foundational diversity, equity, and inclusion echoes the philosophy that it’s easier to learn a new habit than change an old one, and she has already begun working on programs at Zymergen with that goal. Implementing better recruiting tools is a cornerstone of her plan, along with structuring a formal process for employees to learn and volunteer for assignments that align with innovative DE&I.

Diversity is a core value of the Zymergen community, and Chanda aims to transform that value into data-driven innovation and measurable change. There is much work to do, and it won’t be easy. But only by pushing the boundaries of how we work together can we truly make tomorrow.