Though more and more organizations are formally recognizing the importance of prioritizing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the workplace, there are still many unanswered questions. Examples include what’s the best way to get started, who should pioneer the strategy, and how can we make DEI a company-wide effort? During Sequoia’s annual Grove Conference, we posed these questions to our panel of esteemed leaders:

  • Sahra Kaboli-Nejad, Global Head of Diversity at On
  • Zoe Harte, Chief People Officer at Upwork 
  • Melanie Oberman, EVP of People at Heap 
  • Shanelle Reese, Chief People Officer at Presencelearning 

Prioritizing DEI

While advocacy in this field is nothing new, the need to do better was amplified with the murder of George Floyd in 2020. With subsequent political uprisings and targeted attacks on racial minorities, employees are now demanding that their employers take a stance and create a culture of safety and belonging.    

In 2022, in its Workplace DEI report, CultureAmp found that 81% of HR and DEI practitioners reported that they believe DEI initiatives are beneficial to the organization, yet only 34% reported having enough resources to support their initiatives. Additionally, of the respondents in this CultureAmp study, only about 39% have dedicated DEI roles, with 80% of those roles hired in the last year.  

Our panelists acknowledged that there is a big shift in organizations recognizing the importance of having these dedicated roles, but key to this, is ensuring these roles are at a level where they have the ability to drive real change.  

69% of respondents in a Sequoia survey reported that HR or Recruiting is responsible for planning or executing DEI programs. Only 15% reported that a DEI Team or a DEI ERG is responsible for the strategy.   

Though DEI may be at the core of what many HR professionals do, there is a lot to be said about empowering passionate leaders to be part of the solution, and that’s what we heard from our panelists on May 19th at Sequoia’s event.

At the end of the discussion, panelists were asked to share their top 3 tips in getting started with a DEI strategy. While we have summarized these below, we encourage you to watch the recording of the event to hear the panelists elaborate on each tip, providing actionable takeaways for creating change at the corporate level and beyond. 


  1. Secure leadership buy-in 
  2. Set meaningful goals 
  3. Listen to your employees 


  1. Bring power to voice 
  2. Lean into culture 
  3. Make space for every employee 


  1. Use data  
  2. Take time to rest and care for your own wellbeing 
  3. Don’t do DEI work alone 


  1. Listen to the team 
  2. Work with experts 
  3. Pay people for their DEI work 
Shannon Arens — Shannon is a Wellbeing Consultant at Sequoia. She partners closely with Enterprise clients to assess, develop, and recommend a holistic wellbeing strategy designed to the meet the diverse needs of employees. Outside of work, Shannon enjoys spending time with her two children, going for a run, or relaxing in her backyard.