A thesis formed in the early days of her career guides the diversity, equity, and inclusion work of Jessica (Jess) Jolley.
If companies intentionally create an environment at work where people feel comfortable (and can thrive) being themselves—from their cultural backgrounds, experiences, passions, music tastes, or religious views—the place becomes more diverse and ultimately, more inclusive.
Jess has had the chance to prove that thesis in corporate America, as a nonprofit leader, and startup founder. Now, she’s bringing her insights and experience to Pendo as our first director of diversity, equity, and inclusion.
“I’ve worked with large companies where it’s hard to change culture,” Jess says. “Being part of a company that is growing past the startup phase, where you can truly get to know the teams and make an impact, I’m excited to be a part of that.”
The search for a DEI leader began over the summer as the Pendo leadership team recognized the need for full-time focus on building a more inclusive company.
Jess presented a diverse background, starting with the Communities of Color (C2C) affinity group she launched as a volunteer project at Deloitte. With a focus on retaining diverse talent, she and her co-founders supported more than 400 women of color through education and training, community building, and mentorship. That helped lead to a consulting project to create My Brother’s Keeper Alliance, an initiative of the Obama Foundation with the mission of addressing persistent opportunity gaps facing boys and young men of color.
She eventually joined the organization full-time as deputy director of strategy and operations, where she worked with Fortune 500s to diversify their hiring pipeline and organized Opportunity Summits across the country, resulting in 1000+ job placements for men of color. Demand from corporations for help establishing DEI programs and curriculum led Jess and a pair of colleagues to form their own consulting firm, Generation Titans, eventually spinning out a community and crowdfunding platform called Reunion to connect Black, LatinX, and Indigenous founders to resources.
Jess also has roots in North Carolina, growing up on a rural tobacco farm not far from our Raleigh headquarters, attending the prestigious North Carolina School of Science and Math, and obtaining her bachelor’s degree from the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill as a Morehead-Cain Scholar.
But what really drew our attention was her perspective on belonging.
“A lot of DEI programming is based on recruiting and training, but at the end of the day, is there trust in your teams that employees can be accepted and understand how to thrive with their differences?” Jess says. “I’ve seen companies have support at the leadership and grassroots level, but fail to make the connection at the team level. How people operate within their teams is critical for belonging, and ultimately, retention.”
Jess’s focus comes from an experience early in her career, when a mentor at Deloitte noticed her quietly taking notes in a team meeting, afraid to speak up. His advice was formational: If you’re not contributing, then no one knows the value you bring.
“Having a mentor and manager who created a space where I could be authentic and bring my real self to work meant I was able to thrive. This really stuck with me and I wanted to make sure more people had this type of environment,” Jess says.
While Jess is laying out her plans and programs for the year ahead, her biggest goals are to attract that diverse talent and foster a culture where those individuals can grow and thrive.
Learn more about Pendo’s diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts here. And check out the following DEI resources, courtesy of Jess:
- Ted@Work – Rosalind Brewer – How to Foster DEI At Work
- Dr. Robin DiAngelo on Jimmy Fallon – Topic – White Fragility
- Vera Myers – How to overcome our biases?
- Call to Courage – Brene Brown (Netflix)
Other resources and tools: