Talking Purpose With Carolyn Berkowitz, featuring Shai Poulard, NerdWallet

ACCP Staff

ACCP’s President and CEO is excited to speak with Shai Poulard, Global Head of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging at NerdWallet, to learn more about her path to this position, and why she believes the more DEIB aligns with the overall business strategy and is linked to successful results, the more individual employees and DEIB programs can thrive.

How did you get your start in corporate citizenship?

I didn’t actually start my career in DEIB—I was originally in a completely different industry and function. I worked in biotech after my undergraduate program and thought I would grow in the clinical research career path. However, as often one of just two or three women of color, my time in Biotech was very isolating. I didn’t feel empowered or fully supported, so I searched for what interested me and drove my success. Although I enjoyed the work I was doing, I decided what was best for me was to make a complete pivot into DEIB, and I’m so glad that I did.

I got my MBA and started working in CSR, then landed a position in L&D. From there, I quickly identified the inequities and gaps in how companies approach learning and development, which led me to look more into the field of DEIB. So many companies forget that cultural upbringing impacts how we communicate and give feedback. I wanted to help companies realize this and understand that there’s so much nuance that needs to be recognized.

The field is evolving rapidly. What are the most important skills and knowledge corporate social impact professionals need to stay ahead of the curve and be successful in the future?

Reiterate the need for continuous evaluation of internal processes. The DEIB landscape is dynamic, and professionals must have a clearly defined north star that aligns with business and organizational culture. This involves continuously evaluating internal processes to ensure inclusivity, creating a space for employees to provide candid feedback, be authentic, and excel in their work, thereby driving business results.

Leaders, in particular, need to be intentional in soliciting feedback, paying close attention to what is said, and the patterns of behavior that could indicate gaps and limitations in the organization’s inclusivity. Stress the role of strategic alignment in DEIB efforts. A thorough understanding of how your function fits into the company’s operations is crucial, ensuring that the work becomes integral to its success.

Despite ever-evolving priorities, the more DEIB aligns with the overall business strategy and is linked to successful results, the more individual employees and DEIB programs can thrive. This necessitates the identification of opportunities for value creation while mitigating risks.

What advice or lesson learned do you most often share with members of your team or other CSR professionals?

I strongly emphasize the significance of fostering allyship and promoting accountability in leadership. Employers must consider establishing an environment where everyone can be acknowledged and perform to the best of their abilities, regardless of their budget or job description.

They should prioritize inclusion and belonging for underrepresented groups and broaden their horizons beyond race and gender to accommodate differences in communication styles and other aspects.

Considering the current landscape corporate social impact professionals are working in, what are the essential things you suggest for them to make a priority?

As leaders, it’s essential to understand that creating an inclusive culture is a long-term commitment that requires engagement and support from day one. This means that when a CSR or DEIB leader joins the team, they should be acknowledged and supported. In addition to creating an inclusive culture, it’s also crucial for CSR and DEIB leaders and teams to prioritize creating a culture of pay equity.

At NerdWallet, compensation is a crucial aspect of ensuring that our employees are treated fairly and equitably, regardless of how they identify, and we review all compensation data and incorporate it into our salary and benefit changes. We also conduct a twice-yearly pay equity process to ensure our practices align with our values. Thanks to our commitment to pay equity, we were among the first companies to be certified by Fair Pay Workplace. To maintain pay equity, we also undergo rigorous evaluation during each performance review cycle to ensure our commitment to fair compensation practices.

Who’s someone you admire and why?

The person I admire the most is my mother. Her unwavering resilience and the ease with which she handles even the most challenging situations have always inspired me. She embodies someone who never gives up—for her, every hurdle is an opportunity to learn and grow. No challenge is too small for her to tackle, and no obstacle is too big to overcome. I owe her a lot of my drive and work ethic, and I am grateful for her lessons.

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