A Conversation with Viasat's Melinda Kimbro
Melinda Kimbro is no longer colorblind and now celebrates diversity through a new lens.
As the Chief People Officer and SVP of People & Culture at global communications and satellite internet company Viasat, a company she's been at for nearly 20 years, Kimbro is responsible for shaping, with the rest of the leadership team, Viasat's approach to diversity and inclusion at work.
That approach used to follow a common refrain in corporate America: "We don't see color."
"Our demographics have remained pretty consistent over the years and I believe that stems from a philosophy of, 'We don't care if you're black or white, a man or a woman, we just want the best talent," says Melinda. "But we've had to come to terms with the fact that striving to be color or gender blind isn't the right goal in the first place, and the numbers confirm it. We haven't moved the needle as much as we would have liked. Now it's time to set the concrete goals that will result in the long-term vision we want for our company and our leadership team."
Viasat's reevaluation of their commitment to D&I started before the most recent wave of Black Lives Matter protests swept the country, and the current climate has only reinforced how important it is for Viasat and all companies to create workplaces where everyone—and particularly historically disadvantaged groups like Black workers—can succeed.
We sat down with Melinda to discuss why she joined Viasat nearly two decades ago (and why she's never wanted to leave!), and how the very values that attracted her to the company have allowed Viasat to respond to the double crises of COVID-19 and racism in a way that centers their customers and employees.
How Viasat's values help them evolve and respond to change
When she was in college, Melinda became a debater by chance. "I had every intention of being an art major," she says, "but ended up falling in love with debate after taking an introduction to argument class. "The process of challenging ideas and coming up with arguments to support your position was right up my alley. At that point there was just no turning back, so I switched my major to communication. And these days art, specifically photography, is a hobby I love."
When she interviewed at Viasat a few years later, she was immediately struck with how similar the company's culture felt to the environment on the debate team. "There was this sense of defiance I picked up from the very first interview and a feeling that this was a company that didn't feel pressured to do things the same way every other company did. That really appealed to me. They thought critically about things, what they were doing, and why. They weren't just going through the motions" she remembers. "Early on I was told, 'It doesn't matter what your job title is. It doesn't matter how long you've been here. Everybody has the opportunity to influence. It's the ideas that matter.'"
That willingness to hear different perspectives —whatever they might be—"struck a chord with the debater" in Melinda, she says. She joined Viasat's HR team and her career grew from there.
Over the years, Melinda and her team have worked to create the best possible environment for Viasat's employees, and she's especially proud of the company's focus on employee engagement as part of that process. Viasat conducts a formal employee engagement survey every 18-months and pulse surveys on key topics in between. While there wasn't always widespread support for conducting these surveys, the leadership team has come to find just how valuable this insight is in understanding what's working for employees and what's not. Melinda says this is a great example of Viasat's value of "explore and evolve" and "the opportunities employees have to influence the shape of the company."
"As a company, we're not wired to do or design the same thing, the same way, for 10 to 20 years, she says. "In contrast, we sort of live by the motto 'always a better way' so we're constantly exploring new ways of doing things, whether that's a product, service, or how we approach the organization - our people and our culture," she says.
That value and focus on constant improvement, along with a parallel value of tolerating ambiguity, allowed Viasat to respond quickly when the COVID-19 pandemic hit earlier this year.
"While everyone wanted answers, being candid and acknowledging that there were some things we did know and other things we didn't, was tolerated pretty well," says Melinda of the first few weeks of managing through the crisis. "If you're able to tolerate ambiguity, you preserve optionality. So we didn't rush to provide answers that didn't absolutely need to be answered at that moment." she says. "We tried to communicate very, very regularly, even to say that we didn't know what this was going to look like, but here's what we do know today."
That communication extended to everyone, including the summer interns who were planning to be on Viasat campuses around the world. Back in early April when the pandemic made that option look less viable, the Viasat University Recruiting team was providing regular status updates to interns and partnering with business leaders to assess how a particular intern project might work in a virtual environment. "Being able to quickly pivot and offer many internships virtually, enabled us to preserve a large portion of the intern program albeit in a new form," says Melinda.
Another Viasat value is that of "one team," or the idea of making decisions and setting priorities based on what's best for the team. That drove the rest of Viasat's pandemic response, including plans to offer the following:
- "Ask Me Anything" town hall meetings with company leaders, including Melinda, for employees to get their questions addressed directly
- Ultra-flexible work hours
- Work-from-home kits to enable productive, comfortable remote work
- Training on remote leadership for managers
- Telehealth offerings so employees can get mental and psychological healthcare from home
- Additional support for Viasat's employee research groups (ERGs) to help employees come together and feel part of a community
- Zoom happy hours and tea times where employees can connect "outside of work" and dogs, cats, kids and partners are all welcome to make cameo appearances
Viasat already offered generous healthcare, including sessions with licensed mental health providers or therapists, and unlimited sick time, so employees who are ill or taking care of ill family members don't have to worry about missing work. "We've always been a very flexible and compassionate organization. Whether it's a mental health day or it's a day to go have a dental procedure or help a family member, we get that our employees have lives and families and interests outside of work and sometimes even overlapping work. Our approach is, 'If you're sick, be sick, we want our employees to take the time they need'" says Melinda.
Creating actual change when it comes to diversity and inclusion at work
Melinda is seeing a change in how topics relating to diversity and inclusion are being talked about and explored. "In general, I think people define reality based on what they've personally experienced. So if you haven't ever experienced racism, sexism, or some other form of bias, up close, or on a regular basis, these aren't topics that seem as relevant or real as they are for those who have been living it, and for too long. Today, and within Viasat specifically, I'm seeing more interest in understanding the experiences of others, particularly people of color and women, and an openness to accepting that 'Even if that experience isn't the same as mine, it's real' so what does that mean for society, as well as our company? And what can we do to change that?"
"Being an engineering company, we have a strong bias towards data, which is really helpful in a time like this, because we have lots of it. And so the conversations that I've been having with other executives at Viasat are really around, 'What does the data tell us?'" says Melinda.
By looking at that data, Melinda and her team are starting to see what is working and what isn't. "We have data that shows us that what we've been doing in some areas really hasn't resulted in much change," she says. "So the bottom line is that it's time to take a different approach."
One of the new approaches they are exploring is a more targeted leadership development curriculum. Beyond considering the unique development needs of employees at different stages of their careers they are also looking to target specific offerings to women and people of color in order to grow a more diverse set of leaders internally. They're also changing the nomination process for some programs so that employees can self-nominate, and peers can nominate one another, as well as accepting nominations from senior leaders. This too should result in a more diverse set of employees having the opportunity to participate in these development programs. And they've added additional unconscious bias offerings, which they believe should be mandatory for hiring managers and interviewers.
And Viasat's executive team has doubled down on their focus on D&I, with a plan to hire a senior D&I leader who will sit on an executive steering committee and play a key role in helping to set and execute on D&I strategy at both the corporate and business area level. "D&I is not something that HR owns. As a leadership team we are all accountable for increasing the diversity on our teams and ensuring an inclusive climate where all employees can thrive. If we do this right we'll have D&I naturally integrated into all that we do and it will be part of what enables us to achieve our strategic business objectives" says Melinda.
"We would like to see more decision makers at all levels within Viasat be a reflection of our customer base, and the customers we serve are Black, they're white, they're Hispanic, they're members of the LGBTQ+ community, they're women, men, and they're veterans. They span the gamut," says Melinda. "There's a lot of talk about D&I right now as a result of the current social justice movement, and in many companies I'm sure a time will come where regardless of what sort of public statements of commitment might have been made, the talk will die down and there will be a return to business as usual. At Viasat, we're not going to be in that category. This movement has not only changed how we are approaching diversity and inclusion, but the entire employee experience. We've already made some really positive changes and there's so much more on the way!"If you're interested in working with Melinda at Viasat, check out more about their company values and their own roles here.
💎Want to implement change in your team or organization? Watch the video to the end to do it successfully.
📼 To implement change you need to follow certain steps. Play this video to get three top tips on how to do it the best possible way. You'll hear from Kyle Lisboa, Support Operations Manager at Esri, who shares her experience with you!
📼Why implement change? Tip #1: Identify the reason. Think about the business reason for the change. If you understand why change is needed, it helps you explain it to others. Avoid making change for change's sake and implement solutions that solve problems.
📼Plan to implement change! Tip #2: Develop a plan. Create a detailed plan to help implement the change. If you create steps and timelines, this will guide the process. It also helps others understand how you are progressing towards the implementation and what the next steps are.
To Implement Change You Need Others - Tip #3: Seek Feedback
Gather feedback from those affected before, during, and after any changes are implemented. Allowing others to provide their feedback helps to create an inclusive atmosphere where everyone feels part of the solution.
📨 Are you interested in joining Esri? They have open positions! To learn more, click here.
Get to Know Kyle Lisboa
Kyle is an experienced Strategic Operations Manager with a demonstrated history of working in the computer software industry. She’s skilled in Arcgis Products, Databases, Management, Geography, and Cartography. If you are interested in a career at Esri, you can connect with her on LinkedIn. Don’t forget to mention this video!
More About Esri
At Esri, they build cutting-edge geographic information system (GIS) technology that customers use to solve the world’s most complex challenges: slowing climate change, stamping out disease, designing a better city, fighting crime, and much more. Their ArcGIS software is helping communities around the globe respond to the COVID-19 pandemic by monitoring the surge, managing testing sites, aiding essential workers in finding childcare, mapping food and essentials, and keeping residents informed and safe.
Nearly 80% of workers want to work for a company that values diversity, equity, and inclusion, per a CNBC survey.
But how do prospective employees — and, for that matter, current ones — know whether an organization takes diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) seriously?
Metrics can help.
What are DEI metrics?
Diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging metrics are measurements of how a company is doing against its stated DEIB goals. They help track progress, light up problems, synthesize momentum over time, prioritize investment, and allow a company and its employees to have accountability over DEIB intentions.
How can DEI metrics help my overall DEI strategy?
Creating a DEIB strategy is the first step in making your workplace more equitable. But having DEI metrics is a vital second step in ensuring that progress happens.
DEI metrics help a company actualize their strategy, live out their values, meet employee expectations, and make the workplace more fair for all employees.
10 examples of DEI metrics
1. Hiring: the diversity of your candidate pipeline.
How diverse is your applicant pool? Have your candidates self-identify and track what representation looks like in your candidate system.
2. Representation: the demographics of your current employees.
Many companies put pressure on their new hires to make up for gaps in their existing employee population — so make sure you’re benchmarking against data on what your current workforce is made up of.
3. Representation: the demographics of your leadership team.
People need to see that there is a path for success for people who look like them at your organization. What does the makeup of your board look like? Your directors? Your managers? And what does the promotion pipeline look like into those roles?
4. Representation: the demographics of your suppliers.
The money that you spend can significantly impact communities around you — so you should be measuring whether you’re doing that in a way that challenges bias and champions equitable treatment.
5. HR systems: pay equity.
Do all employees, regardless of gender or race, make the same amount of money if they’re doing the same job? If not, what’s your gender / race pay gap and how quickly are you closing it?
6. Employee experience: HR issues.
It’s important to track wins when it comes to DEIB, but it’s also vital to track times when your organization falls short. How many HR / People issues related to DEIB, including allegations of unfair treatment or bias, has your organization dealt with in the past year? What was the result of them? How quickly did issues get resolved? These metrics are key to know.
7. Employee experience: satisfaction with DEI progress.
When you send out employee satisfaction surveys, make sure you include questions on how employees perceive your current progress on DEI goals. They’re the ones most impacted by your strategy — and their opinion matters.
8. Employee engagement: participation in communication platforms.
How often do employees participate in Slack? What about by-channel participation? Looking at data on who talks to who and when can help highlight issues with inclusion or culture. Some companies are using AI-enabled text analysis tools to look for signs of frustration or for problematic language.
9. Employee participation: ERG membership.
Employee resource groups can be hugely helpful in creating community around different identities, interests, and demographics. They can also provide guidance on how to actualize your organization’s DEIB goals. (Which is part of the reason you should pay ERG leaders for their efforts, but that’s a topic for a different blog.)
10. Brand reputation: customer perception.
We’ve talked about key groups for whom DEIB metrics matter — prospective employees, current employees, leadership — but they matter to your customers, too. Whether you add a DEIB component to your existing NPS process, conduct 1:1 customer interviews, or get feedback some other way, it’s important to see whether your customer base is seeing progress on your DEIB goals, too.
Have you ever been so exhausted that you quit your job?
You may have been experiencing burnout.
Burnout is characterized by overwhelming exhaustion, detachment from your work, and a sense of ineffectiveness.
And while anyone can experience burnout, if you have ADHD, you may be more susceptible to it.
Before you get to the point where quitting feels like your only option, there are steps you can take to set healthy boundaries and start feeling more like yourself again. Read on to learn how you can recognize burnout in yourself, and what to do if you’re experiencing it!
How Does ADHD Burnout Feel?
There are some clear signs that you’re burning out, but ADHD can make the descent to burnout harder to detect. These warning signs include:
- Lack of motivation - not wanting to do the things you need to do or the things you love.
- Exhaustion - feeling overly tired both mentally and physically.
- Irritability and mental fatigue - feeling short-tempered, mean, or like you snap easily.
- Physical discomfort - body aches, low energy levels, and general pain.
- Negative outlook - the tendency to find something wrong with nearly everything.
- Emotional dysregulation - feeling weepy, sad, or unable to smile or connect with others.
Generally, burnout starts with taking on too much. Exhaustion creeps in, and you feel like every day is working against you because you are constantly overwhelmed. You may start to feel like the entire world is spinning out of control, or like no matter what you do you can’t keep up (or catch up).
If this resonates with you, you might be on the road to ADHD burnout.
Why People with ADHD Can Be More Susceptible to Burnout
So why does ADHD make some folks more susceptible to burnout? There are a few common ADHD traits that often result in behaviors correlated with burnout (taking on too much, working too long, etc.):
- Hyperfocus - ADHD is not exclusively about attention deficits. In fact, hyperfocus is the opposite – a deep, intense concentration to the point of being oblivious to your surroundings. Per WebMD, hyperfocus is a state of highly-focused attention that lasts for an extended period of time. You concentrate on something so hard that you lose track of everything else going on around you. When hyperfocus sets in at work, it can be hard to unplug or be aware of the people and environment around you.
- Time Tracking - Losing track of time is one thing, but if you find yourself losing track of hours without realizing it, that could be related to burnout. People with ADHD perceive time not as a sequence of events the way others usually do, but as a diffuse collection of events viscerally connected to the people, activities, and emotions that fill them.
- Difficulty Prioritizing - Do you take on too much and then struggle to prioritize it? When someone asks for help, does everything often go to the wayside so you can jump in? Or maybe the daunting anticipation of the tasks ahead prevents you from starting. Per ADDitude, ADHD impacts your temporal processing abilities, which can affect executive functioning.
Combating ADHD Burnout
If you think you may be suffering from ADHD burnout, there are a few ways to take back control. Here are three tips for combating ADHD burnout:
Reserve Your Yeses - Pump the brakes when you recognize the early signs of ADHD burnout. Start reserving your yeses right away. Say no, and practice not apologizing. It is okay to say, "I have a lot on my plate right now and cannot take that on. Thanks for thinking of me." Saying no is nothing to apologize for, and it should be celebrated! You are working to protect your energy above all else.
Practice Over-Estimating - If you think you could knock something out in a day, give yourself a week. Overestimate on time and allow yourself the grace to have a little more time than usual to complete projects. Slowing down when starting a new job or role will help you produce high-quality work and prevent ADHD burnout.
Drop the Mask - Be honest with your employer and friends. Let them know that although you seem to keep up internally, you struggle. Identifying ADHD burnout from the outside can be extremely difficult. Your honesty and transparency will position you to determine if your environment is supportive and inclusive.
How to Support Colleagues Dealing with ADHD Burnout
The experiences above may not resonate with you personally, but perhaps you’ve noticed other people you work with describe or experience them.
If you’re a manager, there are several ways you can support colleagues with ADHD (as well as neurodivergent employees more generally) to help prevent burnout. Ask for clarity on when they have felt the most supported at work. Discovery questions like, “how did you feel at that time?” or “how was the pace of that project?” can help you to understand their actual capacity.Download this free guide if you’re looking for more ways to support your neurodivergent coworkers. Work with your DEIB and HR team to develop new neurodivergent inclusivity standards to help you stay ahead of the ADHD burnout cycle.
💎Worried about bias in the workplace? Watch the video to the end to find out how to reduce it!
📼Avoiding bias in the workplace requires a lot of effort. Play this video to get three top tips that will help you. You'll hear from Ben Lopez, Talent Acquisition Manager for EMEA at Workiva, who shares advice on how to create a more fair, equitable environment where everyone feels welcome and has a seat at the table.
📼Acknowledging bias in the workplace is the starting point. Tip #1: Recognize Bias. Take the time to recognize your own bias. Both conscious and unconscious. And look out for bias within teams and among peers. Work together to understand how you can all avoid each of those biases that you may encounter.
📼Avoid sneaky bias in the workplace! Tip #2: Rely on a structured process. Whether it's about interviewing, promotions, or performance reviews, relying on a consistent, fair, and objective process will help guard against bias. Document the process to keep both you and your peers accountable. And when it comes to interviewing, work with your peers and other participants to define clear questions and objectives to cover with each candidate.
Reduce Bias In The Workplace By Knowing Different People - Tip #3: Widen Your Network
Don't always engage with the same people. Widen your internal network, and interact with different teams, and different departments. Get to know those with different life experiences, different academic backgrounds, and different work experiences. Understanding those who are different from us allows us to be more empathetic and create an environment where we all feel a sense of belonging.
📨 Are you interested in joining Workiva? They have open positions! To learn more, click here.
Get to Know Ben Lopez
With a robust background in recruitment, Ben is an agile and well-networked talent acquisition leader. He’s been recruiting high-caliber talent around the globe for 15 years, spanning SaaS software, professional services, oil & gas, and healthcare across four continents. If you are interested in a career at Workiva, you can connect with Ben Lopez on LinkedIn. Don’t forget to mention this video!
More About Workiva
Workiva was founded to transform the way people manage and report business data with various collaborators, data sources, documents, and spreadsheets. Today, people all over the world use their platform to seamlessly orchestrate data among their systems and applications for transparent and trusted connected reporting and compliance. At Workiva, they are innovative in everything they do—from how they build their software, to how they serve their customers, to how they treat their employees.