Nilka Thomas on communication style, diversity & inclusion, and getting your voice heard.

Nilka Thomas, Director of Diversity, Google

Nilka Thomas, Boulder’s first Changemaker speaker in 2017, shared with over 70 attendees the history behind how she came to land an opportunity filled role as Director of Diversity of Google. After 3 years and 3 different international posts, Nilka admitted she jumped at the opportunity to take on the diversity role with little experience working in that area previously. She now sees it as the best leap she’s ever taken. Read more for Nilka’s take on communication styles, inclusion and more.

On Pivotal Moments
“At Google, we pivot all day long, a lot is asked of you each day, however, last year when the VP decided to implement a re-organization which was needed. I was pretty comfortable in my massive list of responsibilities but had to take on something new…we called it the “innovation incubator”. We asked ourselves if we could leverage technology in finding out what diversity means in other companies, but in their own context. Each company has it’s own DNA, how does diversity fit into that? When you get people to pay attention, that is when you know you are right on track. Rebuilding a team to take on something risky pushes me out of my comfort zone but other days it feels like a huge opportunity.”

Creating a Culture of Inclusion
A member of the audience asked Nilka what ideas others might bring back to the their company culture to foster inclusion. Nilka explained that “you have to make it personal. It can’t be a quota you have to meet or an unrealistic numerical goal. Diversity is valuable. You need to get your leaders on board. Explain to them why it is important. At Google we help our leaders (who are mostly white or Asian men) search for an example in their own lives of how they experienced being different and teach them how to articulate their experience. Diversity is a benefit to the community, it’s valuable and not just a number. Not just about women and brown people, it’s about a culture that exists in the DNA of a community, company, etc. It’s easy for people to understand that when you take out the demographic culture. We have to ask ourselves, why are certain people not here and how does that diminish our ability to reach our full potential?”

Ask the Hard Questions
“When going outside of your comfort zone, start by asking the hard questions to understand the context of others. By gaining multiple perspectives, that is when you know you are on the right track. The reality of this work is that we are often we are having to account for what is or what is not happening. Even when I’m the lowest person on the totem pole, I go into the conversation or meeting with a plan. I’ve gotten better at holding my own. It’s easy to get intimidated, but from that place you can find your voice and find your way to give back and help educate people. It’s actually fun to get those guys to listen to you. I know I bring something to the conversation that they don’t have.”

Nilka’s Favorite Quote:
“If you’re in a meeting and you don’t say anything, then the question is, why are you in the meeting?

Our Favorite Quote of the Night:
“What I’ve become known for is making things and creating things but what I’ve decided I want to be known for is breaking things!”

Thank you Nilka for sharing your experiences with us and helping us get pivot-ready.