Women's History Month

Kira Dales on Diversity, Innovation, and What’s Ahead

March 30, 2018

Just ahead of Women’s History Month, four of our Adobe leaders served as delegates to The MAKERS Conference, joining in critical conversations about gender at work. This year’s conference theme was #RaiseYourVoice, and attendees spoke up about everything from equal pay to harassment and hiring practices.

We talked to Kira Dales, Adobe’s vice president of Cloud Tech Operations, about her takeaways from the event, how diversity makes teams stronger, and why 30 percent is a magic number.

Looking back at The MAKERS Conference, what had the most impact on you?

For me, one of the most impactful speakers was Marcia Clark, the lead prosecutor in the OJ Simpson murder trial. When I was an impressionable young adult, I saw snippets of the trial coverage on CSPAN. I remember that most people disliked Clark, myself included. At the conference, we watched footage of how she was portrayed by the media at the time, and it was surprising to hear so much negative commentary about her hair and her style, and so little about her substance and capabilities. She was also interrupted and intimidated repeatedly in ways that I would like to think would be unacceptable today. This really brought home how much attitudes, including my own, have changed. I can’t believe we were that sexist!

For those of us who live it every day, progress can feel painfully slow. There’s so much still to do, but we have made headway over the last 25 years. It gives me confidence that we can change culture and attitudes over time with focus and attention on these issues.

There’s a big emphasis on diversity and inclusion at Adobe. Why is this so important to the company’s success?

Our customers are a diverse lot, so the best way to create products that serve them is to think through the customer’s lens. And the best way to do that is to represent them in the room. To me it’s not only the right thing to do, but it’s also good for business.

What are you doing to make your organization more diverse?

One of the important things the MAKERS Conference highlighted for me is that marginalized groups come in all shapes and sizes and forms. It’s not just about women.

In my role, I’m trying to invite diverse perspectives. For example, in a staff meeting, some people are introverts and if you don’t specifically try to elicit comments from them, then extroverts dominate the conversation. I’m mindful of how to include people who don’t offer their opinions, either because they don’t feel empowered to speak or because it’s not in their nature.

What advice would you give to other business leaders who want to build a corporate culture that nurtures and thrives on diversity?

I’ve had the benefit of watching how inclusion happens at a number of different companies, and I’ve seen that it works best when the message and actions start at the top. Leaders have to believe in the business advantage, and model behavior by building diverse and inclusive teams and soliciting different opinions. Once the results are seen firsthand, it percolates down.

There’s a lot of research that highlights that 30 percent is a magic number — when minority groups and diverse populations become 30 percent of an organization, they feel empowered to speak. It’s the tipping point that breaks the silence that comes from feeling marginalized.

And then, when you do these things, the culture changes organically because you have a more diverse makeup!

What changes do you hope to see when it comes to diversity in the workplaces?

I hope building diversity becomes so normal that we don’t have to talk about it any more; that people appreciate the value and the power of diverse teams and build all teams this way without even thinking about it. Like the Marcia Clark example, I hope we look back in 25 years and think, “I can’t believe that was how we were!” Personally I have experienced that diverse teams ideate better — they innovate more and challenge each other more. I also think they’re more open minded because they don’t fall into old patterns.

I hope that when companies reach that tipping point on diversity, and see better results, they’ll wonder why they haven’t been operating this way all along.

For more perspectives on gender and diversity at work and The MAKERS Conference, read our interview with Adobe’s Senior Director of Digital Experience Web StrategyWendy Steinle.