Q&A with Zuora Chief Diversity Officer Valerie Jackson

By Tien Tzuo October 25, 2020

Here at Zuora  we believe that subscriptions and subscription platforms have the power to provide easier and more equitable access to products and services when and where we need them. We are witnessing a democratization of everything from software and entertainment, to food and fitness. Wherever you live, whoever you are, you can find and access what you need with more ease and economic agency through a subscription. Because of this, the solutions that Zuora provides and the companies who use them are fueling more inclusion in their work.

Since our founding, we have used that same lens to develop our culture, throughout our company, sales, engineering, marketing, customer success and more. We empower employees to be the “ZEO” of their own career and grow through their work and be exactly who they are, authentically. So the search for a Chief Diversity Officer earlier this year was one that we took great care with and had the opportunity to learn as a company how we could prepare to support that work in preparation of their arrival.

We’re excited to announce a new member of the Zuora executive team, who is going to provide us with leadership in this work, our Chief Diversity Officer Valerie Jackson. Read the press release here!

A passionate developer of people and opportunities, Valerie Jackson has focused on building and leading inclusion and talent initiatives in global companies for nearly 15 years in the technology and legal industries. She was most recently the Senior Director of Global Inclusion and Diversity at Procore Technologies and got her start leading D&I initiatives at Sutherland Asbill & Brennan LLP in 2007, recruited by former Georgia state representative and candidate for governor Stacey Abrams. Earlier in her career, Valerie practiced corporate finance law and served as an international policy advisor and negotiator for the U.S. Public Company Accounting Oversight Board. A proud Atlanta native, Valerie has lived in 6 countries and now calls Southern California home. She earned her undergraduate degree in Government and International Relations with honors from Harvard University and her law degree from Georgetown University Law Center.

Valerie, tell us how you got your start leading inclusivity and diversity efforts. 

I like to think my journey has been built on serendipity and hard work. I’ve received many blessings and opportunities throughout my life, and I continue to benefit from the hard work of those who came before me, especially my parents.

My mother, Valerie, integrated her high school, was the first in her family to go to college, and was one of the first Black women to earn an MBA from Wharton. She taught me perseverance, resilience, and how to dig into life with grit and grace.

My father, Maynard, was mayor of my hometown of Atlanta for many years, and I grew up watching him fight for equal opportunities and representation for all kinds of communities. As the first Black mayor of a major Southern city and the youngest in Atlanta’s history, my father emphasized the importance of empowering people socially and economically, taught me about servant-leadership, and believed strongly in the power of companies to drive positive change in our societies.

That’s why I do what I do from inside companies: We have such a powerful opportunity to improve the lives of everyone in our ecosystem; our employees, their families, the communities we work in and customers alike.

I was given my first opportunity to do this work in a company when my friend Stacey Abrams (serendipitously) recruited me in 2007 to leave the practice of law and help her law firm become more inclusive. I’ve been doing this work ever since!

What’s your personal ethos?

“Love all, serve all.” I think I may have read that on a poster in a Hard Rock Cafe, but it really resonates with me. My job is to help companies do and be better by putting people and culture first, and endless love and empathy are at the very core of that duty.

What drew you to Zuora?

I would say it started with that first conversation you and I had. For many of us, and especially for me, 2020 has been a year of great reflection and inner examination. I was in the process of doing some of this inner work around how to continue aligning what I do at work with who I am in life when you reached out to me to talk about your vision for Zuora and this role.

I get a lot of calls for CDO roles but it rarely comes from the CEO directly. Your action really showed Zuora’s commitment, and critical thinking about what the company and the team needed, and that drew me in. You had personally leveled up the CDO position to the Zuora leadership team, reporting directly to you, so that we can succeed in this type of work.

I focus on people and culture for a living, and after learning about those two ingredients at Zuora, I became attached. (One of my conscious biases is working with great people and good humans!)

I love to build and Zuora is a company building the future, today. Subscriptions are a key part of life today, as is a real need for companies to leverage culture to drive business.  We all want to work at a place where we feel seen, valued, respected, and inspired. I’m personally inspired by how Zuora and the ZEOs are changing the game, and am thrilled to join the team and help with the effort.

What do you want to accomplish in your first few months at Zuora?

I think of myself as an optimization engine for the company. It’s my responsibility to create accountability for healthy frameworks and habits of inclusion that build a better world for our employees and our customers — and maximize human, social, commercial value for all.

To do that right, I need to spend my first few months at Zuora asking a lot of questions, listening and thinking. Without casual hallway conversations, Zoom will be my lifeline to get to know the company. As a lifelong student of people, I’ll be undergoing a sort of cultural audit. Examine the present, co-create a desired future state, and design and plan to close the delta.

I’m not coming in with a one-size-fits-all solution — I don’t approach my work or my life that way. We’re all worth a custom approach that will evolve into long-term benefits.

How will you measure success?

Hiring and headcount is just one piece of the diversity puzzle. Static numbers can reach a goal, but if employees of all backgrounds leave via a revolving door, it’s not creating meaningful change. That’s why engagement and behavioral information are critical. Hiring rates, retention, promotion, and internal movement are all data points we need to measure. But so are inclusive behaviors, and the experiences created within teams through inclusivity.

Diverse teams create more conflict — and that can be a good thing! The key is leveraging that intellectual friction for innovation. Inclusion keeps people from all walks of life, unlocks new perspectives. It’s the use of those perspectives that makes the difference between intellectual friction that moves us forward and interpersonal conflict that can push people out the door.

If I am doing my job right, then I am only one of many ZEOs who are thinking differently and doing better at every opportunity. We can all try something new on for size and if it aligns with what we want to accomplish, we dive in deeper. The positive effects of diversity should impact every employee and empower every customer. People are at the crux of everything.

What’s your advice for ZEOs?

First: Never “should” on yourself. Wisdom from my amazing mother. Second: Let’s identify our highest and best behaviors, actions and outcomes, and strive to get there in a way that uplifts us all, minimizes harm, and maximizes value. Because we’re all in this together.