Doniel Sutton’s Unique Style of HR

Whether it’s inspiring fashion trends in her personal life or initiating HR strategies at PayPal, the SVP of people ushers a caring approach that brings out the best and brightest in everyone

As the SVP of people at PayPal, Doniel Sutton encourages employees to be authentic and open Photos by Gillian Fry

Doniel Sutton makes her way to a few locations around the Golden State, pausing occasionally for a photo or two showcasing her latest fashion inspirations. With a bright and vibrant California landscape serving as her backdrop, Sutton shares that fashion has always been a passion of hers, but for reasons that may not be obvious.

“I really want to inspire women to feel good about themselves,” Sutton says. “I like to celebrate women and encourage them to take risks with fashion—whether that’s incorporating a bold color or stepping outside of their comfort zone to experiment with different styles. Ultimately, what we choose to wear is not only a form of creativity and personal expression, but it’s also a reflection of who we are and how we feel inside.”

Doniel Sutton PayPal
Doniel Sutton, PayPal Photos by Gillian Fry

When she’s not creating content for her fashion blog about her latest inspirations, Sutton can be found at PayPal’s headquarters in Silicon Valley. In addition to being named one of Savoy Magazine’s Top Influential Women in Corporate America in 2016, Sutton was most recently recognized with a Bronze Stevie Award for Human Resources Executive of the Year. And she was honored as one of Black Enterprise’s most powerful executives in corporate America.

Just as life imitates art, the way Sutton describes her passion for fashion is the same emotion she uses when describing her leadership approach as PayPal’s senior vice president of people.

“I receive a lot of personal gratification from helping people reach their highest potential and become the best version of themselves,” she says. “I’ve been fortunate to achieve the level of success I have because others in positions of influence have been willing to invest in me. I feel a sense of obligation to pay it forward and help advance the careers of the next generation of leaders.”

Now, Sutton is introducing a new style of HR innovation at PayPal that is turning heads in Silicon Valley and across the business world with a hands-on strategic approach that focuses on creating a culture of caring for all employees.

“Building a culture takes time, and it’s a long journey. There’s no foolproof way to tell when you’ve achieved your desired state, but you’ll know if you’re on the right track based on how you feel,” says Sutton, adding that because PayPal is constantly acquiring other companies, it reinforces the importance of having a unified culture. “Our goal is to bring everyone along in that journey and help them understand and connect with PayPal’s mission and our values to drive inclusion, collaboration, innovation, and wellness.”

Those core values not only make up the framework of PayPal’s culture, but they’re also key elements in Sutton’s HR strategy and initiatives that all relate to doing what’s best for people.

“As part of that strategy, we’ve been a long-time partner collaborating with PayPal in designing and delivering integrated leadership development solutions,” says Carolyn Robertson, VP business development consultant for Right Management. “The strength in our relationship has always been our ability to incorporate PayPal’s best thinking about its culture, core values, and people into our recommended approach. We care deeply about PayPal’s mission and understand the important role global leaders across the organization play in executing PayPal’s vision. Sutton and her team are focused on what’s critical to driving PayPal’s business: their people.”

Helping others was a passion Sutton discovered early in her career. Growing up in the Midwest and studying finance as part of her undergraduate studies, Sutton realized that becoming a CPA wasn’t going to be fulfilling. An internship during her first year in graduate school helped her discover that her real passion was in the field of HR. “I felt such a connection to not only the work, but more importantly the people, and being able to see the solutions come to life in a very real way,” she says. “I got such satisfaction from that.”

Now, that compassion and insight have formulated into an innovative HR plan for PayPal that is making it even more of a destination workplace for today’s best and brightest.

The Importance of Conscious Inclusion

Actively seeking diversity of thought and valuing uniqueness is especially important to the culture of PayPal, and Sutton has made it a priority for employees to actively understand one another. As a result, Sutton and her team launched the conscious inclusion initiative.

“We are taking a very innovative approach to how we’re launching this,” says Sutton, explaining that there are two, ninety-minute facilitated sessions for employees to connect face-to-face and discuss what they want to achieve culturally. “It’s a huge commitment, and I’m really proud of the way we’re going about it because it is quite cutting edge as compared to what some of the other companies are doing.”

Over the years, Sutton and PayPal’s leadership team have committed to building a global team of employees that reflect the communities where they work and live, as well as the diversity of the customers the company serves.

Initiating an Agile Workforce

PayPal encompasses nearly twenty thousand employees in more than fifty offices around the globe, which means collaboration and incorporating an agile workforce are necessities for how individuals are assembled to execute on strategy. Because of PayPal’s numerous acquisitions as well, inspiring an agile workforce that can respond to change in a timely manner is key.

“Within the people organization, we invite a lot of feedback from our business partners and we’ve adopted some of their core agile product development principles as a best practice for how we deliver better service and support to our internal customers,” Sutton says. “For any initiative, it’s really about engaging the right stakeholder groups early in the process to collect feedback and make adjustments in order to effectively implement a service or tool.”

Sutton says there is still work to be done in this area across the people organization and for PayPal overall. But the company is heading in the right direction, which in turn has provided more high-quality experiences for employees, as well as the company’s customers.

The Rise of Data and Analytics

One of the greatest strides Sutton has made at PayPal when it comes to HR initiatives comes from the use of data and analytics. Once a manual process, new automated workforce insights tools have allowed data far beyond gathering head count.

Now, Sutton and the leadership team capture a wide array of employee data through their insights platform and other HR channels. As a result, there is now an opportunity to turn that data into actionable insights, Sutton explains. For example, the PayPal data analytics team developed a model to predict and identify potential retention risks by leveraging data across compensation, performance, and operations.

“In this example, leveraging our data in new ways enables us to take proactive measures to prevent the risk of attrition from occurring,” Sutton says. “We can now proactively assess promotional opportunities or even initiate a development conversation. The key is turning data into an actionable insight, which really gives us the advantage to be more effective and add value as strategic business partners to our customers.”

Here’s to Health and Wellness

Sutton has launched several programs to support employees when it comes to their health and wellness, all of which revolve around the desire to live by the company’s values that are woven into all of PayPal’s endeavors.

Starting in 2018, PayPal began offering assistance to employees who face catastrophic events, such as natural disasters or personal tragedies. It is not a loan, and employees can apply for funding to help make the process of rebuilding as painless and as quick as possible. Since its launch, hundreds of thousands of dollars have been requested.

PayPal has also extended paid bereavement time from five days to twenty days for employees who lose their domestic partner, spouse, or child. Sutton praises PayPal’s leadership team, as she says these decisions came about organically as a result of wanting to improve the lives of employees.

Sutton and her team also introduced on-site childcare or reimbursement for off-site care for parents in PayPal’s India office. “This is a great way to encourage that morale and collaboration, and it really reinforces the core values,” she says.

Despite the recognition Sutton has received for these initiatives, she will be the first to credit her team, and just like the intricate threads of high fashion, nothing can come together successfully without collaboration top-of-mind. And just as she inspires everyone with fashion to see themselves at their best and embracing their own unique style, she brings that same mind-set to her role at PayPal.

“I’m often struck by the difference that exists between what we think of ourselves versus how others might view us, so I make a concerted effort to be authentic in my interactions at all times and with everyone,” Sutton says. “And in those interactions, hopefully people perceive me as open, inclusive, full of humility, with a lot of passion for what I do.”


Right Management, a Talent Development partner of PayPal’s for 12 years, is pleased to recognize the accomplishments of Doniel Sutton, PayPal’s SVP of People. Doniel’s People team is focused on driving forward a culture of collaboration, innovation, wellness and inclusion. Right Management is honored to be a part of these efforts through delivery of our Emerging Leaders Program, an 8 week leadership development experience that includes assessments, coaching, and executive involvement. We look forward to continuing our work with Doniel and her team as they leverage talent development to inspire an engaged, productive and loyal workforce. Learn more at www.right.com.