Melonie Parker says that nowhere in the “child-sized dreams” of her youth could she imagine the impact and responsibility she currently holds as Google’s chief diversity officer.
Parker and her brother, children of a bank teller mother and factory worker father, were the first in their family to attend college. Silicon Valley is a long way from the predominantly Black and working-class neighborhood in which Parker grew up, in High Point, North Carolina. Now Parker is helping shape diversity efforts for 140,000 employees at one of the most important companies in technology.
Parker’s professional growth was largely focused through Lockheed Martin, where her promise was recognized early and was fast-tracked straight into a talent program for future leaders. She was promoted repeatedly, building out expertise in human resources, workforce, strategy, and a bevy of skill sets before moving to Sandia National Laboratories as vice president of HR and communication.
In 2017, Parker joined Google, where she has helped spearhead high-profile and highly transparent pilots and initiatives to not only source new and diverse talent but also make every single Googler feel like they are where they belong.
Parker spoke with Profile about Google’s ongoing commitment to diversity, inclusion, and belonging.
Google has been incredibly transparent about its diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts. What underpins that public commitment?
It’s important to step back and note that we’ve been publishing our diversity report since 2014. Google was one of the first companies to publish such a report. We have the largest publicly available data set, so you can track year-over-year and see the progress that we’ve made. It’s part of the stewardship capability that we have, given our brand position. I think of us as both leaders and learners, and we do both transparently.
We don’t just want to share what has been working well. We also want to openly share the challenges we have. There are many companies that look at how we’re leading and are looking to us for guidance. None of us are in isolation with the challenges we face. Google continues to measure and publicly report its efforts on hiring, progression, and retention every year.
Could you detail some of the commitments to racial equality that have been undertaken after CEO Sundar Pichai publicly dedicated Google to these efforts in June 2020?
I am so excited and delighted by the work that our Black Leadership Advisory Group and Black Googler Network have done over the past year. At the start of the racial reckoning movement that was undertaken last summer, we recognized that we were part of that movement, and our Black leadership was able to advise our CEO and his team.
Sundar was very interested in the experience and perspective of Black executives at Google, and not just what was happening internally. We came together a few times with Sundar and talked about our experiences.
Sundar recognizes that what happens to Black executives outside of work lends itself so well to the internal experience here. Our Black leaders serve as advisors and consultants to the racial equity program management office that we set up internally. We didn’t want to put the burden of work on those who are underrepresented, so we partner with subject-matter experts for that.
Our Black Googler Network works alongside our Black executives to curate communities where they don’t naturally exist. The idea is to make a company as big as Google feel small for the Black community.
We had an incredible Juneteenth in 2021. We educated through celebration and focused on equity across the world. Erykah Badu made an appearance and performed as well, and we conducted a fireside chat with author Clint Smith and activist Brittany Packnett Cunningham. We also heard stories from our own Googlers.
What does Google’s commitment to belonging look like from your perspective and what have those efforts looked like over the last year?
We have made a lot of headway this year, due in part to our incredible partner john a. powell, who leads the UC Berkeley Othering & Belonging Institute. We’ve really tackled belonging from the perspective of the primal fear of not feeling like you are part of the group.
Because people cling to what’s most familiar, that usually equates to people who are more like you. We’ve taken an intentional, almost scientific, approach to how we look at belonging.
I like to say that our goal for culture here is “No Googler Left Out.” We want everyone here to feel valued, supported, heard, and recognized for their contributions.
We’re continuing that journey because it really feeds into our racial equity commitment and is part of a number of the pilots that we’re currently running.
As someone who has found themselves the only person of color or woman in a meeting, what has your own growth around DEI and belonging looked like throughout your career?
That’s true. I certainly have, but I have worked really hard to change my thinking, and I’ve encouraged my daughter to do the same. I want to be careful that I’m not walking into a room as “the Black woman” or putting on a moniker that will make me any less than my full self. We don’t have to put labels on ourselves. I want to show up as Melonie, with full rights and privileges.
I can’t do anything about labels that other people may put on me, but I can control how I think about it. That’s really important in how we’re leading at Google and how we’re changing the face of who sits in what roles.
Here I have the opportunity to amplify voices to our most senior leaders across the company, and that is a responsibility I take incredibly seriously. That responsibility also encompasses my personal values of empathy and curiosity, as well as the willingness to put myself in someone else’s shoes.