2022 Catalysts Interview – Workiva
Workiva has a number of core values that guide its every move, including the value of inclusion. The company, which is the world’s leader in regulatory, financial and ESG cloud-based reporting, strives to create a workplace where every single one of its employees feel comfortable bringing their best, authentic selves to work every day. The company also views diversity as a key part of its innovation and success.
The Technology Association of Iowa connected with Binny Nanavati, head of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging at Workiva, to learn more about all the ways the company lives out its commitment to diversity and inclusion.
Could you give us an overview of your career and how it’s evolved?
I have degrees in computer science and economics from Rutgers University and did my Mini-MBA in finance at Wharton. Earlier in my career, during my 18 years at AT&T, I had roles in technical consulting, sales leadership, marketing communications and co-led our workplace transformation organization, and wrote white papers, including “Lessons Learned from Network-Centric Organizations.” Then at Dell, I spent five years in IT program management, managing our first remote mobile app for commerce in Android, iOS platforms, and Windows 8. Shortly after, I entered the field of diversity and inclusion.
Tell us more about that line of work.
I’ve been involved with DEI for over 25 years of my career. At Dell, I led culture and engagement work and spearheaded our award-winning, global employee resource groups. Under my leadership, our group members doubled from 12,000 to 24,000 in two years, driving higher engagement, global diversity and a more inclusive workplace.
I then consulted for five years in the diversity and inclusion space. I joined ADT Commercial after that, partnering with executive leadership to drive accountability around diversity and inclusion goals. We launched seven business employee resource groups across the enterprise. A year ago I joined Workiva, and I’m excited to be here.
You’ve got an interesting tech background and you studied computer science. So why exactly did you get into diversity and inclusion work?
I am Asian Indian. I was born in India and came to the United States at the age of seven. We grew up in New Jersey during an era where anti-Indian sentiment and prejudice was rampant.
Kids would drive by our house and shout stuff like, “Hindu, Hindu, go back to your country,” and other racist remarks. This was very upsetting to me. One day I got the courage to approach my high school principal and said, I don’t know if you know what’s happening in our community but we need your help… He said I should tell my story.
He invited me to speak in front of the student-faculty assembly that Friday morning. In front of a packed auditorium of high school students, teachers and faculty, he introduced me on the stage. The principal’s actions were my first exposure to allyship, which is when someone in a position of power or privilege unites themselves with a marginalized group to promote a common interest. I spoke for an hour followed by a lot of great dialogue. We didn’t change the world that day, but we discovered that we had a lot more in common than we had differences.
That inspired me and profoundly shaped my understanding and view of the world. This experience inspired me to get a degree in Computer Science (and Economics), join Employee Resource Groups in the workplace, work in Diversity & Inclusion, give motivational talks, get involved in community activism, and become a more engaged citizen.
Leadership in the DEI space truly starts from the top down. Tell us a little bit about how your executive leadership lives out Workiva’s core values when it comes to DEI.
DEI starts at the top. And the tone at the top is really important. During my interview process, I had the opportunity to interview our CEO Marty Vanderploeg, Julie Iskow, our president & chief operating officer, and Emily Forrester, our head of human resources. What really struck me was the one common thread that weaved throughout my conversations: culture, culture, culture.
Workiva lives and breathes through its culture. There is a reason why we achieved #20 on FORTUNE’s 100 Best Places to Work list.
The company was founded in 2008 in Iowa and has grown globally to more than 2,400 employees strong. There’s been a lot of focus at Workiva in maintaining our strong culture while growing a talented, diverse employee base across North America, Europe and Asia. It hasn’t been easy, but that’s where DEI can be a powerful guiding light. At Workiva, DEI doesn’t live outside of our strong culture, it is woven into our cultural fabric.
What is the company doing to create an environment of belonging?
The importance of belonging is universal and creating an environment of belonging is a journey. It doesn’t happen overnight. Workiva is taking deliberate and thoughtful actions to be a great place to work for everyone, reimagining DEI and taking it to the next level: Belonging. Taken together it is DEIB.
We have identified three enduring focus areas to drive results: One is workforce – How we hire and who we hire. Number two is the workplace. How do you feel when you get here? And number three is the marketplace. Are we reflecting on the communities and customers we serve today and want to serve in the future?
We have also outlined goals within this framework to create lasting, structural change, shape behavioral inclusion, and ensure more voices from historically marginalized communities are given a seat at the table.
For example, we celebrate diversity all year long, recognizing awareness months and holidays celebrated by our employees who live all over the globe. We have training programs that help our employees recognize unconscious bias and how to be a more inclusive leader. And our training curriculum will continue to grow in the months ahead.
We are looking at inclusivity in our job description language, focusing on recruiting opportunities that bring in diverse candidates, helping hiring managers drive to level the playing field during the interview process – and much more.
This year, we introduced new Business Employee Resource Groups to drive even more business value and community impact.
Tell us more about Workiva’s affinity groups.
In 2016, Workiva launched its first affinity groups. Over the years, these groups evolved into Employee Resource Groups, focused on building employee communities within the company.
This year we took a step back and evaluated the whole program to determine how we could expand opportunities for our employees to engage with the business and each other. This led us to the creation of three different types of groups: Business Employee Resource Groups (BERGs); Community Groups; and Belonging Councils.
BERGs are focused on making the company stronger through cultural awareness, employee engagement, recruiting, and community impact. There are BERGs for Black, Hispanic, Asian, Women, Veteran and LGBTQIA+ employees as well one for employees with disabilities and all of their allies.
Community Groups are employee-led teams that share resources and lend support to employees in similar personal situations. Right now, we have two community groups with one focused on parents & caregivers and the other focused on remote workers.
Belonging Councils promote, facilitate and support implementation of DEIB initiatives and projects at functional and regional levels.
What other programs or activities focused on DEIB does the company offer?
As I mentioned, DEIB is really becoming part of all we do, and we hold ourselves accountable for continued progress in this area. (You can check out Workiva’s website to see our latest diversity representation data.) Beyond recruiting, training, benefits and programs for employees, our company objectives and leadership expectations both have DEIB metrics tied to them. DEIB is also a key part of Workiva’s ESG efforts as we strive to have a societal impact that makes the world a better place.