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Inclusive Leadership – An Ongoing Journey

Posted by Marthe, Shruthi, Diarmuid |

A commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) are embedded in Criteo’s Open and Together values. Three of the company’s leaders talk about how awareness, understanding and curiosity contribute to embracing and living DEI principles.

Do you recall when you first became conscious of what inclusion means? 

Shruthi: In my career, I would like to believe I was aware of it early on but probably didn’t have a specific term for it until I attended a session on belonging.

Diarmuid: The same for me, there wasn’t any single moment, it was more gradual. Working to support those from economically disadvantaged backgrounds helped increase my awareness and made me want to dig into what’s behind it.

Shruthi: For me too, it was volunteering on community giving programs that triggered the inclusivity spark.

Has your personal background had an influence?

Marthe: Yes, definitely. Growing up, I saw the prejudice and struggles that my Singaporean mother was subject to when we moved to my father’s native country, France. It exposed me to those who feel excluded and who bear the incredible weight of feeling that they need to blend in to belong. I realized how much easier it would be if those who have privilege would just be more open, more curious, less judgmental, normative .

Shruthi: As a woman of color who has lived on different continents, I know what it means to feel excluded. And, every time I have faced discrimination and barriers, it has made me an even stronger advocate for inclusion. My partner is a man who is a feminist and that also has had a profound and truly empowering impact on me.

Diarmuid: I think it goes back to childhood, when we stand up for those mistreated by school bullies. However, in entering the world of tech, I confess to having bought into the cliché that “girls don’t like coding” but it’s not until I started questioning the reasons behind this that I started seeing the toxicity and the behaviors of some type-A personalities in the environment as causes that it opened my mind up to thinking about what we need to do to change this.

Do you remember a first action that you took as a leader to promote DEI?

Marthe: When I was transitioning from my studies to a work environment, I remember bumping into a lot of gender-related hurdles. Someone gave me Sheryl Sandberg’s book “Lean In” around then, which was very much of an “aha” moment. It spurred me to leverage what I had experienced myself to help create an association just after arriving at Criteo. I wanted to help women make the transition from higher education to their first job, helping them to overcome self-limiting tendencies, make bold choices and go after what they truly want to do.

Diarmuid: When I started my current position as CTO, I worked with the R&D HR team to look deeper at whether there was any gender-based pay disparity in our organization and took actions to address it. Now our CEO Megan Clarken has now pushed through this same approach globally at Criteo.

Shruthi: This wasn’t the first thing, but I remember in a previous company when we were going through the promotion calibration and there was a woman rated as “on maternity leave” and I said, “Excuse me? You can’t exclude someone from promotion just because they’re on maternity leave!” I subsequently promoted a woman while she was on maternity leave. It was a first for that company, which ultimately became the norm.

Can you talk about the importance of understanding how someone else feels by walking a mile in their shoes?

Diarmuid: Marthe, I remember a conversation when you were recounting to another male colleague and me about some of the things you’d experienced in your career and how shocked and angry we felt. A lot of developing that understanding and opening our minds comes through listening to others. Don’t assume you know what’s in someone else’s mind.

Marthe: We need to look at things holistically. Hurdles encountered are not just in the workplace. You may not know how it feels, for example, to take public transportation late at night. Even if the risk isn't high, you can feel a sense of physical vulnerability. Experiencing such a feeling can have an impact beyond the situation itself. It's certainly true for me. I'm very sensitive to body language that conveys physical domination.

Diarmuid: Yeah, your own experience can mislead you. I’ve come out of meetings thinking that everything went wonderfully and then hearing from others that they experienced something very different that I didn’t pick up on.

Shruthi: We’ve got to stay curious about other people around us, and how they are feeling or their current state of being. Our empathy "muscle" needs to be always ON.

So, how do we dig in to better understand the perspective of others?

Marthe: We’re lucky to live at a time when there’s a lot of data and literature available that can be eye opening, particularly when we may not have access to a trusted relationship with someone from a different background who can tell us how they’re experiencing something different than ourselves. Books like “The Culture Map,” “Lean In,” and “White Fragility.”

Shruthi: One thing we can do is practice non-judgmental behavior when we encounter something new. If someone walks in wearing a pink jumpsuit, say, how do we change how we’re wired to not immediately judge someone?

Diarmuid: I feel like I’m still working on it and trying to do my best to hold back the inner judgment. I know it’s changing when I feel I’m admiring someone for doing something brave like wearing unusual clothes. I’m no longer thinking, “What’s wrong with them?” Instead, it’s more, “What’s wrong with me for reacting that way?”

Marthe: One of the things I try to do when I encounter someone who seems different is to transcend the surprise and ask myself what new perspective this person is bringing to the table.

Do you have a role model of someone you think of as an inclusive leader?

Marthe: Shruthi and Diarmuid!

Shruthi: Diarmuid and Marthe!

Diarmuid: It’s true, we found each other! If I look more broadly, I think of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau who insisted on appointing a diverse cabinet of ministers.

Marthe: Satya Nadella, is a leader I admire who really changed the culture at Microsoft. Although, here at Criteo, I really admire how Megan, our CEO, opened with a courageous conversation on her first day in Nov 2019. For me this demonstrated her natural inclusive leadership style. She made DEI a priority at the highest level of Criteo's agenda through her personal sponsorship and advocacy. Just by doing so, many have felt empowered to lean in and collectively we've gained more awareness and taken bolder decisions. Pay parity is just one example. I've noticed first-hand how this commitment to a more diverse and inclusive workplaces translates into the (re)design of key processes.

Diarmuid: Megan Rapinoe, the U.S. soccer player. She’s not afraid to stand up for gender parity in pay and for Black Lives Matter, whatever the commercial consequences.

How do you respond to a belief that diversity is somehow in conflict with excellence?

Shruthi: We really need to define excellence, not only for ourselves but to everyone. We need to show the strong correlation between them, presenting both the data and the stories. For me you have achieved excellence, if you have considered diverse approaches, thoughts, feelings and people.

Diarmuid: There’s also an aspect related to education in countries like France or the US. Companies have probably drawn too deeply from the well of the elite schools, at the cost of not having enough diversity to succeed in an increasingly diverse world. Innovation comes from having a diversity of ideas so in many respects its actually an enabler for diversity, not in conflict.

Marthe: I’ll just walk the path and think of all the things we need to do as leaders to ensure that diversity blossoms, get these things done and consequently demonstrate that diversity is not just A path to excellence; it is THE path. It’s about bringing proof points and highlighting all the extra positive “collateral” impacts. They are usually quite uplifting!


Chief of Staff to CEO Megan Clarken


Executive Managing Director

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