Operator Spotlight: Chief People & Diversity Officer Tracy Williams

Looking for practical help and advice on an operational area that may be outside your realm? Each month we spotlight one of our talented operators, who’ll share their expertise and offer insights and ideas that may help improve your own operations. This month we spoke to Tracy Williams, New Relic’s widely experienced HR and People leader.  

You recently became New Relic’s Chief Diversity Officer, in addition to maintaining your previous role as VP of Global Business Partners. What are some ways that you integrate these two People functions? 

TRACY: I really wanted to keep the HR Business Partner (HRBP) team after I took on the Chief Diversity Officer role. I knew that the HRBPs would be the perfect partners for the aggressive goals we were setting — not just for the year, but for into the future. Our HRBPs have strong relationships with the leaders they support, plus a high level of influence and trust across the org. They also have the pulse of the organization and continue to provide influential feedback on our diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) strategy. The HRBPs make sure we keep the focus on the business, and we also knew they’d be champions out in the organization, talking about our company culture and working to build a foundation of DE&I across New Relic.

It was just announced that you’re going to be the new Chief People Officer at New Relic, too. How will this change your focus on DE&I?

Our DE&I initiatives continue to be a top priority for New Relic, so it’s important to note that my new job title is actually Chief People and Diversity Officer. This gives me the opportunity to have more influence in driving our DE&I initiatives at the executive level. It will also ensure that DE&I continues to be a focus that’s embedded right into the work our amazing People team does, from talent acquisition and org design to rewards, operations, and social impact. There’s been a strong commitment across the people team already, and I’m excited about all the things our People team will deliver this year, not just in DE&I.

What does the People Business Partner function specialize in? How do you measure the success of the team? 

TRACY: The People Business Partner is a business professional who happens to have a concentration in HR. They have a deep understanding of the businesses they support and collaborate with leaders to ensure that their organizations deliver value to customers by defining and delivering competitive strategies. They help shape the business strategy, conduct organizational diagnoses to determine which capabilities are most critical, design and deliver HR programs to accomplish said strategy, and coach business leaders to behave in alignment with strategy. They’re also key partners back to the rest of the People team, ensuring that our People programs fill the needs of the business and are executed out in the field. We use a few metrics to measure success: feedback from the leaders they support and our People team COEs on partnership and effectiveness, and the HRBPs ability to meet expectations on the many projects that they support.

In your opinion, what key metrics should companies track to gauge DEI? Does it differ for early stage versus later stage? 

TRACY: This all depends on where a company is in its lifecycle; what matters most is your commitment to tracking data. It’s hard to measure some attributes when you’ve only been in business for a short time or are still really small. The metrics we use are employee engagement, and hiring, promotion, and retention rates by demographic. We’ve also recently committed to participating in two indexes run by independent 3rd parties for gender (GenderIDEAL) and race (Race Equality). The goal of these indexes is to measure ourselves against a specific set of key metrics for our industry so we can continue to hold ourselves accountable. 

What’s one thing any company can do to foster a sense of belonging at work? 

TRACY: The one thing every company can do is make sure people feel like they’re being heard. People will tell you what they need, so collect the data, find themes, and act on the feedback when and where appropriate. You can use engagement surveys, listening sessions, or whatever other methods you use in your organization to communicate. An open ear and flexibility are essential.  

What advice can you share for early stage companies just getting started on their diversity, equity, and inclusion strategies? Where should they start?

TRACY: DE&I should be an important part of your thinking from the beginning. As a business, it’s important to think about DE&I from both a product AND talent perspective. Many companies have suffered unrealized revenue because, for example, they didn’t understand that their customer, a woman, would be greatly offended by the mansplaining in their advertising. Another example is the company that didn’t ensure their product wasn’t unintentionally biased against a certain demographic (think automatic soap dispensers and their inability to detect darker skin). On the talent side, you should have a representation of diverse perspectives and experiences if you really want to accelerate your growth. Look at the foundational systems you’re building and your internal processes. How are you recruiting talent? How are you developing your talent? You should ensure that as you build HR programs, you’re mitigating bias at every step, including hiring, development opportunities, and the performance evaluation and promotion process. Solicit feedback frequently, and set goals for engagement and accountability.

AOC often talks about the skills she picked up as a bartender, and others talk about what they learned working retail. What were some of those formative jobs for you?

TRACY: A few jobs and experiences really helped form my views as an HR professional. Law school taught me that details matter. Customer service jobs (shout out to Taco Bell!) taught me to always put customers first. As an Employee Relations Manager at Esprit, I learned the importance of compassion and to always treat people with dignity, no matter the circumstances. As an HRBP/HRD at CJ Affiliate and Michaels, I learned I had to be a business executive first; that helped me connect with others and accelerate my impact. 

What’s your secret super power?  

TRACY: I’m not sure they’re secret, but I definitely have some super powers. I’m calm in chaos; when things get crazy, I have the ability to find the real problem to help get it solved. I also care deeply about people, so I build trusted and meaningful relationships with others. Finally, I have the ability to accept and act on feedback. Good feedback sometimes comes from unexpected places, and I recognize that I don’t know everything and am not always right. 

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