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Taking a Policy-Driven Approach to Achieve Lasting DEI Impact

Analysis  |  By HR Daily Advisor  
   March 12, 2024

Learn from the career and accomplishments of New Relic Chief People and Diversity Officer Tracy Williams.

This article was first published on March 11, 2024, by HR Daily Advisor, a sibling publication to HealthLeaders.

As the Chief Diversity Officer (CDO) and, later, the Chief People and Diversity Officer at New Relic, Tracy Williams has been at the forefront of integrating diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) into the very fabric of New Relic’s culture and operations.  

Williams’ journey to DEI leadership at New Relic was shaped by a variety of experiences and a clear vision for change. But her journey to DEI was not at all typical. As we’ve found throughout all of the profiles we’ve done on CDO leaders they come to these roles in a myriad of ways. Williams is no exception.

Seizing Opportunity

With a background that uniquely combines legal expertise and human resources, Williams carved out a path that led her directly to the heart of DEI work. Reflecting on her career trajectory, Williams shares, “It was not a straight line. I have a legal background. I went into HR and was really focused on the HR business partner function.”

Williams’s transition into the DEI space was marked by a proactive approach and a desire to make a tangible impact. Her story is one of seizing opportunities and advocating for her own career development. While at New Relic, she recalls, the existing DEI leader left, and she immediately spotted an opportunity. “I was a VP at the time, and I reached out to my boss and said, ‘I want that. I have ideas’.” She was eager to put those ideas into action. 

This self-advocacy is reflective of Williams’ determination and her belief in the potential for DEI to transform organizational culture. Her appointment to the DEI role, despite not having a traditional background in the area, speaks volumes about her capabilities and the trust placed in her by New Relic’s leadership. “I was very pleased that even though I didn’t have a focus in that area that she gave me the opportunity,” Williams notes, reflecting on the pivotal moment that set her on the path to becoming a DEI leader.

Williams’s early career and her journey to DEI leadership underscore a theme of innovation, resilience, and a deep-seated commitment to fostering an inclusive culture.

Policies Drive DEI Philosophy and Action

Williams’s DEI strategy at New Relic is rooted in systemic change, with a drive to weave DEI into the company’s core. She emphasizes the importance of altering policies and practices for lasting impact: “What policies do we need to change? How do we make this really part of our core, and it is through sort of systemic change in our policies and practices?”

Policies drive behaviors and action, serving as a critical starting point for cultural change. One critical area of change to drive DEI was the hiring process. Williams led a pivotal initiative designed to revamp that process dubbed “Hiring for Success.” She explains, “We took a long look at every stage of the candidate lifecycle, we built a framework, and then we ensured that there were things in that framework where there’s opportunity to reduce bias.”

This approach underscores a commitment to equity from the very first step of the employment journey. But that’s just the beginning.

Giving Diversity a Voice

In her role, Williams has also championed Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) to build community and belonging. New Relic has five fully funded ERGs, Williams says. Their purpose goes beyond just getting together to socialize, she stresses. The groups provide an opportunity for interaction in a safe space where group members can be authentic.

The groups are designed to drive change—measurable change—and Williams recognizes the importance of data to track and demonstrate progress.   

While DEI and HR are inherently people-focused, personal disciplines, like any business function, they can and do greatly benefit from looking at statistics and other information to identify needs and evaluate strategies. Williams is a firm believer in the power of data, and she leverages data to inform and drive DEI efforts, ensuring initiatives are both impactful and measurable. “We’re a data company, and our leaders here want to see the data,” she remarks.

Through strategic policy changes, inclusive hiring practices, supportive ERGs, and data-driven decision-making, Williams articulates a comprehensive DEI philosophy designed to embed equity and inclusion deeply within New Relic’s culture.

Turning Challenges Into Opportunities

Williams acknowledges the challenges in DEI work, especially in maintaining momentum amid external pressures. “There’s a lot of burnout happening in my field,” she acknowledges. It’s a field, she says, that requires “a lot of resilience and creativity.” But, despite the challenges, Williams emphasizes the importance of integrating DEI into the company’s fabric, making it indispensable and resistant to external impacts whatever they may be.

For organizations embarking on their DEI journey, Williams advises a focus on systemic integration and leadership buy-in. “It’s not just DEI off to the side. It’s DEI as a core part of who you are. It requires a ton of commitment every day in what we do and how we show up,” she says. Williams stresses that DEI should not be seen as a separate initiative but as a fundamental aspect of organizational culture and leadership behavior.

Looking Forward

Looking to the future, Williams is optimistic yet realistic about the ongoing journey of DEI work. She highlights the necessity of sustained focus and continuous improvement. “We’re constantly looking at ways to improve,” she says. “We use data to build what we call live action plans,” she explains. It’s a forward-looking approach that underlines Williams’ commitment to not just achieving short-term goals but fostering an enduring culture of inclusivity and equity at New Relic for the long term.

Williams’ journey and work in DEI at New Relic offer valuable lessons for DEI and HR leaders alike. Through her strategic approach, commitment to systemic change, and innovative initiatives, Williams has significantly contributed to embedding DEI into the fabric of New Relic’s culture. As she continues to navigate the challenges and opportunities of DEI work, her insights and strategies serve as a beacon for those looking to make a lasting impact in their own companies.

The journey of DEI is ongoing, but leaders like Williams demonstrate that with dedication and a data-driven approach, meaningful progress is within reach.

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