These companies are practising what they preach with diverse workplaces

There’s much talk about promoting diversity in the workplace but, as Andrea Mara learns from eBay’s Rhonda Doyle, there are companies that have taken the message very much to heart

Rhonda Doyle says eBay has a number of initiatives to promote inclusion and diversity.

DIVERSITY and inclusion: it’s undeniably a hot topic in business today, but is it just a nice corporate way of saying, “Look at us, we’re progressive, we care!” or is there an on-the-ground impact? To find out more, I spoke to eBay’s Rhonda Doyle about the company’s recent Diversity and Inclusion report, and how it plays out in practice.

In Ireland, eBay can certainly stand over its gender diversity; where the global breakdown is 68% men and 32% women, here the staff is 53% female. I wondered if this was due to the nature of the work, which is primarily customer services.

“Our customer support would be a large portion of what we have on site,” says Doyle, “But actually we have a lot of other roles too — HR, content writers, project management, and technical roles as well, and even in our tech teams we have a lot of gender diversity.”

So how has this come about — what’s different about the culture in Ireland?

“We’ve been lucky; even when we set up we always had a good mix of male and female staff. And that’s helped the balance over the years. I think it’s just wrapped into our culture.”

Doyle says that when they started looking at diversity and inclusion in Ireland, people asked why they needed to focus on something that was already working well.

“They felt we had a lovely culture. I do think we’re very lucky, but you have to keep that focus going. We’re not perfect — there will always be pockets.” Gender, ethnicity and sexual orientation are popular areas of focus when it comes to diversity, but perhaps less on trend is socio-economic diversity. Arguably, you can be anything you want to be, as long as you went to the right college or have the right accent. I asked Doyle if socio-economic diversity is something eBay considers important.

“Every year, we have a list of initiatives that our employees want to get involved in, and one of those is a partnership with Jobcare, to help longer-term unemployed people back into the workforce. Diversity and inclusion is quite a hip topic now, but initiatives like the partnership with Jobcare have been in place for years. The last time we had a Jobcare event on site we had about 20 people here; there was no outside pressure to do it, it’s just something we’ve very passionate about — looking at how we can get involved with local communities here in Blanchardstown.”

It’s not just about giving opportunities to the local community — eBay’s recently published report states that diversity and inclusion can be summarised as making sure employees all have a fair shot at great opportunities. It’s a nice idea, but how does it work in practice?

“One of the things I loved since I joined eBay is that if you have a proven track record, you can move into different areas,” says Doyle, who is eBay’s global director of program and project management.

“I didn’t start out in project management and that’s where I am today. A lot of companies will box you into a particular area, and you don’t have much mobility. I’m here 13 years and have seen lots of people start out on the frontline in customer services and move into risk management, finance, or project management.”

She explains that one of the practical ways eBay ensures all employees have the chance for mobility and promotion is through diverse interview panels.

“We had an eight-week span of recruitment recently, and because of the conversation we’ve having around diversity, the team leaders wanted to make sure we had a diverse panel doing the interviews. We want to make sure there’s a balance of experience — not that people have to come from a specific college.”

Diversity and inclusion covers a multitude, but tends to be associated with gender, and the fate of women in business.

Sheryl Sandberg is telling us to lean in, the 30% Club is campaigning to get women on boards, and research shows that gender-diverse companies tend to outperform their less diverse peers. Despite this, women often struggle to climb the proverbial ladder and break through the ceiling above, and it can be particularly difficult for women who leave work to have children.

Indeed, coming back after maternity leave can be a lonely and vulnerable time — I asked Doyle about her personal experience.

“I have one son, Jack, who is five now. And yes, coming back after maternity leave was definitely an adjustment. I was fortunate — before I left, two leaders made connections with me and one of them said, ‘Look, expect the organisation will have changed when you get back, people alongside you may be promoted above you or may have moved on — just expect change.’ I was still a little naïve and didn’t think it would happen, but of course it did.

“A few people who I had really appreciated in my career had moved on, and some colleagues had been promoted. The first couple of weeks getting back into the business language were an adjustment, then there’s the whole logistics of leaving the house. For the first three years I did a lot of the crèche drop-off and pickup, and having to leave the
office when you’re in a senior role at a certain time can be hard.”

I ASKED her if she ever felt self-conscious leaving the office while others were still working.

“I remember having that conversation with HR and they reminded me that our culture has evolved over the years — when we started, it was mostly the contact centre, and we were a lot more tied to certain routines. But now we’ve branched out into other roles, so we have people coming in early and leaving early, and others coming in later and staying later. For me it’s about having a transparent dialogue, and saying ‘If you need me, ring me’. You don’t want people to feel they have to treat you differently as a mum — you want to prove you can still do the job just as well as you did before, and you can, but maybe you have to find your own way, and for me it was finding the hours that worked for me and being transparent about it.”

Doyle took a new role after maternity leave and it made a huge difference to her.

“I took an individual role and didn’t have any team. I’d say to anyone coming back into the workplace, sometimes trying something new can be good. That was the best thing for me and my family at the time. It was a global role — I didn’t have to be in at nine on the dot, and I love that I can leave at six and log on later. If we can move away from that nine-to-half-five it really enables everyone, and especially women.” So what does she think leaders can do to help with gender diversity?

“Be a role model. Once you get into a leadership position, the onus is on you to help other people get there. And as a working mum I feel even more passionately about looking out for other mums. People tend to think once you get into a senior position it’s easier or there’s some magic but it isn’t; you have tough days the same as everyone else!”

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