One day during my sophomore year at UCLA, I was thrilled to spot my favorite professor at the grocery store. But as I went over to say hello, I was suddenly overcome by the sinking realization that he had no idea who I was. After all, there were 500 other students in the lecture I took with him.
The episode forced me to confront the truth that my large, prestigious school was not the ideal environment for me. I thrive in communities where I can get to know people personally, and they can get to know me. That epiphany led to my unconventional decision to transfer to the University of Santa Clara, where I got a great education and built deep relationships. My classes had 15 to 20 students in them. Transferring was a terrific move for me.
As an HR chief, a lifelong team-builder, and the mother of five young adults (aged 17, 18, 20, 21 and 23), I’m often asked for advice about how to build a meaningful career. A lot of people early in their careers assume they should snag a job at a company that offers them the highest title or the biggest paycheck.
But putting other factors over culture and environment is a flawed tradeoff. It’s critical to feel supported and free to be yourself at work. You need to have room to take big swings, take risks and make mistakes.
Here’s how I’ve come to think about it, after 17 years leading HR at Intuit: A culture of inclusion will accelerate your success at your first company, and throughout your career.
At Intuit, we believe innovation thrives in a workforce that represents a wide range of backgrounds, choices, generations and life experiences. In 2003, we began investing in our women and our LBGTQ employee communities and coined the phrase, “Bring your whole self to work.” We still have much, much more to do, but diversity and inclusion is alive and well in our DNA.
When I get asked how to evaluate a prospective employer’s environment for diversity and inclusion, I give the following advice:
- Learn about your prospective company. Talk to as many people as possible, ask open-ended questions, and listen carefully for what’s said – and what’s not said. One useful source is what a company says about their philosophy around diversity and inclusion. Many companies that are proud of their work in this area, and like Intuit, make it easy to find this information on their company websites.
- Look for diversity at all levels. What is the make-up of the Board? What about the senior leadership team, the people leaders and the front line employees? Ask the company why its composition looks the way it does.
- A company’s approach to pay equity can be a helpful shortcut to understanding its culture. Fairness in compensation is a key indicator of how people are treated. At Intuit, we’ve closely analyzed pay by gender and race, and we communicated our findings to all employees with transparency. This is an ongoing analysis we plan to do every year to keep us where we want to be.
Whenever I’m asked for advice about choosing a company to work for, I think about how critical it’s been for me to seek out environments where I’ve been able to thrive. The culture at Intuit was a big reason why I joined the company back in 2000. And it remains a huge factor that gets me excited to come to work every day.