Diversity, equity, and inclusion aren’t a luxury–they’re a necessity. Take a look inside Unqork’s DEI efforts with Netta Jenkins, our VP of Global Inclusion.
Over the years, employers and industry leaders have come to recognize that Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives aren't just company perks—they're powerful factors that help determine a company's success. Statistics have shown that organizations with women in C-suite level positions experience 34% greater returns, and racially or ethnically diverse companies are 35% more likely to outpace their less diverse competition.
Taking DEI seriously also makes a company more attractive to top talent. According to research from Glassdoor, 67% of today’s job seekers consider workplace diversity when deciding where to work. It’s clear that the drive to foster a diverse and equitable workplace is more present today than ever—but many companies struggle with their blind spots and need help bringing DEI into their core operations.
Netta Jenkins is a life-long crusader for change and the Vice President of Global Inclusion at Unqork. In her work with us and as a DEI consultant, she helps companies create environments that amplify and support underrepresented voices. With over 15 years of DEI experience and numerous awards for her corporate work under her belt, we count ourselves lucky to have Netta in our corner. We sat down with her for a virtual chat about her path into DEI work, the equalizing power of no-code, and why today’s companies can’t get away with apoliticism.
Can you start by telling us a little bit about yourself? We’d love to hear about your career path and the types of experiences you bring with you to wherever you work.
Netta: I always start my story with my early years. Both of my parents are from Liberia, and they came to this country in the ‘80s. They settled in Johnston, Rhode Island, which is a very small, predominantly Caucasian town. My first experience with racism was a white woman in my neighborhood spitting in my mother’s face and saying, “Blacks don’t belong in my neighborhood.” I was a very vocal child, but I remember being totally silent in that moment. I was so angry and upset about it.
Fast forward to middle school, when a young white boy said to me in front of all the other students, “Netta, I heard your family’s from Africa. Let me see how fast you can climb this tree!” I remember going home and crying my heart out, and my mother said something so pivotal. She said, “Netta, you have the power to create. I didn’t bring you into this world to cry about things. I brought you into this world to create change.” When she said that, something sparked in me, and I thought, “I can do this.”
I went into total strategy mode at a very young age. I realized that in order to create a positive impact, I needed to be in a position of power. Mind you, I was one of three Black kids at my middle school at the time. Going into high school, I decided to run for president of the freshman class. I was having tough conversations with teachers, I was challenging the curriculum, and I was asking the hard questions. Why is it that the few underrepresented people in the school are all sitting together at lunch? What is the experience of driving while Black?
A lot of these topics around racism, privilege, inclusion, exclusion, and diversity—all of these big and flashy terms that we talk about now—that’s what I was focused on as a child. I started to create momentum at school, to the point where news stations actually started to cover what was happening. All this time, I was planning on becoming an attorney. It wasn’t until college that it hit me. The workaround creating inclusive spaces and tackling conversations around equity is something I’ve been doing my entire life. How can I do that in the workplace? So I got my MBA and went off into corporate America.
What do you think about no-code and the democratization of software development from a DEI perspective?
When it comes to DEI, I like to think about the four P's: People, Processes, Practice, and Product. When I learned about no-code and Unqork, I immediately started to think about how we could embed DEI into the product itself.
One of the things that really inspires me about Unqork is that it’s allowing people to access and utilize technology in the way they feel most comfortable doing it. Some people still don’t have access to broadband Internet at home—so, how will they gain the access to the resources they need to learn how to code? Unqork provides a technology that allows people to create what they need without having to know how to code. I think it’s a very powerful tool.
"I love Unqork, because we’re at an infant stage right now where the company is so hungry to make sure that DEI best practices are cascaded down to every single person, even at the board level. That’s one of the things I admire most about our CEO and our team."
Especially right now, I see a lot of companies focused on creating DEI moments rather than movements. A company might say, “Oh, we’re going to address DEI by focusing on hiring from historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs).” But once these hires get to the organization, that strategy doesn’t take into account the opportunity gaps and the trauma people might have experienced up until that point. I think the Unqork product is already more of a movement in that it addresses the root of the problem by removing some of those barriers to access.
What has the process of defining DEI efforts at Unqork looked like?
I love Unqork, because we’re at an infant stage right now where the company is so hungry to make sure that DEI best practices are cascaded down to every single person, even at the board level. That’s one of the things I admire most about our CEO and our team.
I’m working on embedding DEI training into our onboarding process, so that every single new hire has access to this information. They have to sit through it, internalize it, and take a quiz at the end to show they understand it. We’re making sure that DEI at Unqork isn’t a one-and-done type of training where it’s like, “Alright, we’re all woke now.” It’s an ongoing process—for example, we’re also doing “Monday Micro Learnings,” which are opportunities for people to constantly continue learning. Every week I write a piece diving into different areas of DEI that people have questions about.
I’m also really focused on key performance indicators. We’re having each manager sit with their team to discuss one KPI they’re going to work on for the year. If a manager says, “I’m looking at my team and I see we’re lacking diversity,” a good KPI for them would be ensuring there are always at least three people that will make the team ethnically diverse. We also build cohesion within teams by connecting someone who lacks experience in one area with someone who has that experience. Next, I’m hoping to build out an application using the Unqork platform that can help us track all of that.
We’re digging so deep at Unqork that literally every single person in the organization touches DEI work—which is how it should be. When that happens, that’s when you see true transformation. It comes from the top of the line.
Can you share your thoughts about companies that have explicitly declared a “non-political” stance?
I think companies could’ve gotten away with it back in the day before the murder of George Floyd, before the crazily divisive election, before COVID-19. For a company today to say, “Oh, this is a political issue. We can’t talk about this,” is to simply say to their employees, “You don’t matter. We don’t care about you.” I can’t even sugarcoat it.
I think what companies tend not to realize is that we’re in a space where no matter what background you’re from, even if you are white and privileged, there are people who are going hard and advocating—and they’re not afraid to walk away. It’s that type of progressive allyship that will have companies assessing whether or not they’ll even be a company in the future. People want change to happen, and these conversations can no longer be deemed as “political,” because they’re impacting people’s lives.
I think organizations that try to shut these conversations down are not going to be sustainable. For an employee to wake up one morning and say, “Oh, yes. That murder happened yesterday, but I’m fine today, I’m working,” is just not realistic.
Do you have any advice for people who are trying to establish a DEI presence in their organization from the ground up?
I’d say it’s really important to identify executive sponsors and champions on an executive level. Without that type of buy-in, I tend to see passionate people fighting hard and burning out. We have to remember that people from underrepresented groups are not the ones who created systemic racism or sexism and so on. How can you shift it if you didn’t create it? We need people in positions of power to be a part of the change as well.
Also, take the time to define your KPIs. If you want to create a diverse, equitable, and inclusive organization, what do you want out of it? Once you define that, you’ll feel even more aligned.
To learn more about Netta’s DEI consulting work, visit her website or connect with her on LinkedIn. And if you’re interested in joining a diverse team that incorporates DEI into everything we do, check out our open positions.