Our team at Haute Rock Creative has had the pleasure of working with Dell for several years. During this time, we’ve been consistently impressed with their commitment to a number of forward-thinking initiatives. From sustainability to ethics, their dedication to these causes are firmly ingrained in their culture via publicly announced moonshot goals and internal action.
Dell’s commitment to inclusion is no exception—and it could not be timelier. As private citizens continue to have conversations around diversity, accessibility, and tolerance, marketers often look to large corporations for guidance and cues.
To help shed a light on Dell’s efforts and the impact it has on marketing, we sat down with Sam Slate, Commercial Client Product Marketing Consultant at Dell and board member for the Human Rights Campaign, America’s largest civil rights organization working to achieve lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer equality.
Let’s start with the big picture. From your perspective as an LGBTQ+ advocate, how does Dell approach inclusivity at a macro level?
I think that Dell started with a point of view and made it a policy, but you can’t change a culture by just updating a policy. And so, in an effort to really put meat behind that, Dell decided to forward ERGs (or employee resource groups) as ways to give people a sense of belonging, as well as a voice. The first ERG’s were established over twenty years ago. ERG’s are not only resources for employees—they are resources for company.
We’ve continued to use those ERGs to be communication mechanisms so that the company can reach out to a specific population of folk and say, “We’re getting this feedback. We’ve heard this. What can you tell us?”
You basically get pools of subject matter experts from the highly impacted and frequently marginalized populations. It’s a way to create a brain trust, as well as a specific cadre of individuals who have vested interest in whatever the mission might be. I think we’ve got 13 ERGs now at Dell that are actively facilitating that culture shift in ways that are public and not public. It’s a really vibrant culture.
What kind of difference do you think it makes to those who may otherwise be underrepresented?
We talk a lot about visibility and how visibility leads to acceptance or understanding. Being understood leads to feeling like a person belongs. And that’s the pathway that any organization should aspire to. It’s one thing to raise a matter as an issue or make it more visible—and to understand from a place of empathy. It’s another to have those who are impacted by that reach and scope to then connect and feel like they belong to that organization because of those first two steps. That’s the goal. That’s where you’re going. That’s the hope. And every company starts at a little bit different place, because every company is made up of individuals that each from unique experiences.
Tell us about your own experience at Dell and how you came to be involved with their inclusivity initiatives.
I’ve had an interesting path. I’ve worked at Dell twice in my career. The first time that I worked at Dell in outside sales, my legal name was Samantha Slate and I used she/her pronouns. I had a lot of customers. I knew a lot of people. I had a lot of friends at Dell. I identified as a lesbian and as queer and I had a partner and a daughter. And so, we were two moms with the kiddo.
I was a member of the Pride ERG at Dell. And I was also really plugged into the Women in Technology efforts at Dell, in large part because there were lots of times that I was the sole female-perceived person in lots of spaces. And that included with my customers, the folks that I worked with, and managers and leaders. They were all men.
Fast forward, I come back to Dell in 2016. I had a really groovy leader and was really starting to peel back the layers of my personal journey. And so, I approached my boss and said, “I have something I need to share with you. I’m trans.” And he was like, “Well, this is fantastic!” It’s totally not the response that I expected.
So, he made the connection with his HR business partner. When I first told him I was transitioning, he thought I was leaving the company. This happened more than once, where people thought transitioning meant leaving the company, so I had to rework my spiel that I was using.
HR shared a toolkit with me, and it’s a 67-page PDF document. It starts with a glossary. And so, it was great. It was detailed. It was daunting, because I’d never done this before, and there was so much of that document that was like, “Whatever the team member wants.” And I’m thinking, “Could someone have an opinion?” I wanted someone to say, “This person wanted this, but it ended up being a disaster. So, let’s not do it that way again.” Zero, none of that.
How have things changed over the past few years?
I started my formal transition at Dell at the beginning of 2017, right at a time when the leader of my country is publicly attacking me on Twitter. I’m a veteran. I took the trans troop ban extremely personally. And so, here I am at this company that’s super supportive and we’re a large, influential company. I started chirping at Erik Day, the SVP and the executive sponsor of our Pride ERG. I was asking him, “What are we going to do about this? We cannot be silent on this. We have influence.”
And I basically started The Trans Task Force just by saying I was starting a trans task force and calling it The Trans Task Force. I just ran my mouth at people. I would find the leaders of an ERG and would just run my mouth until I got passed on up the chain and say, “We’ve got to figure out how to better support trans team members. We’re not doing anything wrong. We just have to do more.”
What did you learn about that process?
This is how we’ve always done things. Someone has said, “I had an experience that I don’t want anyone else to have, and therefore I’m going to go fix it for however many people I can fix it for. I might not be able to fix it for everybody, but I’ll fix it for as many as I can.”
It’s still very much a work in progress, but it’s opened doors for me. Pride ERG pulled me into a conference called Out & Equal. And I’ve met people from all over the world and established relationships. The executive producer of ABC Nightline News, saw me present at Out & Equal. He approached me after and said, “I would love for you to come talk to my team. We’re covering these stories. And we’re seeing a lot of these stories specifically around trans youth. And my folks don’t know enough about this. Next time you’re in New York, would you mind coming by?”
It’s about visibility and trying to create a different perception and perspective for people who have never met a trans person, who don’t know anything about trans people, or who only hear negative things. The only time they hear about a trans person is because one’s been murdered and that’s being covered in the news. So, there’s a lot about just speaking up that is creating positive experiences for people around trans conversations. There’s also the responsibility to speak up: 42% of trans youth attempt suicide. Don’t think about it—attempt it. And we’re not going to make any progress on that until we change the dynamic of the conversation. I’m safe. I have house. I’m not risk of being kicked out. I have a stable job. I’m protected by a non-discrimination policy at work. I’m in an enviable position that not a lot of trans folk are in. And so, it’s incumbent upon me to make things a little better for anybody that comes along behind.
Even more so, it’s incumbent upon people inside the power circle to extend the power structure to people that are not inside the power circle. And I don’t think that is a commonly understood phenomenon. I don’t think people stop to think that the Civil Rights Act was not signed into legislation by black legislators and by a black administration. It was a white administration that had to move that legislation forward. You can stand up and demand to be included, but until the people that hold the power actually include those marginalized communities, they’re still marginalized.
How does all of this translate into your approach to marketing?
I think a lot of it is just having the duality of my experience. It makes me stop and pause and assess my assumptions of what someone wants or what someone needs or what we think is appropriate in a certain way or light. It certainly makes me look around and be very intentional about who’s represented visually in the things that I create and whose voices are represented. I’m very aware when I walk into spaces now. Are we all the same racial or cultural context? Is there a diversity of age? Is there a diversity of gender? Is there a diversity of experience? Is there a diversity of identity and orientation?
And there are certain times where you can’t do anything about it, if I can’t be inclusive in one way, then I’ll try be more inclusive in other ways. Like accessibility, for example. When we’re creating content, is it accessible? If you can’t visually read it, can you hear it instead? Being a trans person is—for me anyway—a lesson of empathy. I also think really good marketing is empathetic. It either creates empathy or it extends empathy or it understands empathy. And that’s what I’m going for.
What is your best piece of advice for companies that want to take a stand but are worried about becoming tangled in politics for fear of retribution or other worries?
Well, I would say that diversity, equity, inclusion is not a political conversation. It’s a human conversation. For companies who feel stuck or struggle or are unclear about what their role could be or should be, take a little look around the room at your employees and you’ll have a vast pool of resources and understanding there.
Ask your employees what they need and what they want and reach out to organizations that have done it before you. There are tons of resources about how to have these conversations internally with your HR department and how to support team members who might not look or feel or identify like every other team member you have.
You can be an advocate for any community. You don’t have to be a member of that community to advocate for a community. It could be as simple as getting everybody into the habit of using their pronouns. It establishes equity. It normalizes that person who says, “Hi, my name is Sam. My pronouns are he/him/his.”
Another simple thing is to learn when to capitalize the D in “deaf,” right? When it represents the community versus when it’s an adjective—know what the difference is. The same thing with “black.” When you’re talking about Black people and you capitalize the B versus another use of black as an adjective. They’re not hard things, but we have to be intentional about them, because we might not yet have them in our muscle memory.
You just have to normalize diverse conversations. Normalize inclusive behaviors. And if you’re not sure what those are, Google it. It’s amazing how much information is available on the other end of your keyboard.
Agreed. Thank you so much for sharing with us today!
Thanks for having me. And if readers want to know more about these efforts at Dell, we welcome them to read our Diversity and Inclusion Report.
Thank you a million times over to Sam Slate for chatting with us and being the first to shine in our client spotlight!
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