I want to share the letter I wrote to our company that addresses Pollen’s approach to diversity and belonging.
There has been a lot of discussion about diversity recently; in the news, on social media, in social groups and at Pollen. Ultimately diversity and inclusion, with a focus on a true sense of belonging, relates back to our company's purpose: we say we want to give people bigger lives, but we’re failing if we don't do that for everyone. So I wanted to take the time to address why we’re making a huge investment to strengthen this focus and why everyone needs to be part of that change in order to be successful here.
We all have a deep human need to belong and connect. When psychologists talk about belonging, they mean our emotional need to be accepted by members of a group - not for monetary gain or social status, but to feel seen, understood and accepted for who we are. It affects our mental and physical health, our sense of happiness and our sense of self. It is in our evolutionary DNA to want to affiliate with others and be accepted; we are all driven by this powerful need to belong, but everyone has had experiences where they haven’t.
My own story of feeling like I didn’t belong was as a child; I was kicked out of six schools and classed as a disruptive underachiever, and as a result I left school hating learning, whereas I love learning today - feeling like an outsider makes it impossible to be your best self or unlock your full potential. I tell this story because everyone has one - while the need to feel like we belong is universal, so is the experience of feeling like we don’t. We want Pollen to be a place where everyone feels like they belong, which means creating a place of psychological safety where everyone is able to be their most authentic self.
We are on track to become a huge global company across many countries and markets and to be successful we need diversity, so we must develop a strong inclusion muscle now to succeed. In order to do this we need to develop a growth mindset towards belonging; this means being eager to listen, question, be curious and feel safe when doing so. It means being committed to getting it right, while understanding we will sometimes get it wrong, but that those setbacks are opportunities to learn. It is only through doing this that we will build empathy and a deeper understanding of each other, so that we can create an environment where everyone can be at their best.
An example of this for me was a powerful email that someone in the company sent to the leadership team (he has kindly agreed to me sharing this here) during the Black Lives Matter protest, about being a black man in the world and at this company, to help us understand his experience. While we have always wanted to create an inclusive environment, his email helped us understand what he was going through and that sometimes, our intention does not translate into the impact we want to have. It's not good enough to simply say we are 50% female and 30% ethnic minorities across the company.
We have to be able to look within and ask ourselves uncomfortable questions like why, when we value diversity, are the majority of decision makers in the company white men?
We've been asked whether we are going to start promoting diverse candidates over those who are not. We have been open about our commitment to ensure representation in decision making positions to correct the current imbalance; our approach is making diversity a focus when recruiting for senior roles externally and running programmes like our women's initiative Illuminate and other upcoming diversity and inclusion initiatives, to empower underrepresented groups internally. When we promote internally our focus will not be on diversity, but on somebody's ability to nurture an inclusive environment. The signature of a future Pollen leader is someone who can build and foster inclusion as well as teach others to do the same.
With all of the above in mind, we are adding Community as our fourth cultural driver, alongside Freedom & Ownership, and Mastery. We’ve always invested a huge amount into the community in areas such as coaching and events. It's something that people really love and feel is special about Pollen. We built our whole culture on the drivers of intrinsic motivation because we believe the best talent loves what they do, and we don't believe you can truly love what you do if you don't feel like you belong. Our culture drives our purpose, is living and breathing, and shaped by everyone here, and so I want us all to reflect on how we can empower each other to live a bigger life.