Sitting at the Intersection of Inclusion and Impact

I recently had the pleasure of sitting down and speaking with Melynnie Rizvi who is Deputy General Counsel and Senior Director of Employment, Inclusion, and Impact at SurveyMonkey. Melynnie holds a powerful role which includes leading both diversity and sustainability. We talked about her journey in this work and some of the important things she is doing at SurveyMonkey to advance racial equity and justice. Here is our conversation, as part of our ongoing Racial Equity in Action series.

CJ: Melynnie it is really great to spend some time with you talking about your work and catching up on what you are up to. It is always interesting to learn about the paths people take in their sustainability careers. Could you share a little bit about your current role, your path, and what else you are involved in? 

MR: In my current role, I oversee global employment law, and lead SurveyMonkey for Good, the company’s diversity, equity, inclusion, and social impact initiative.

Prior to SurveyMonkey, I was the senior director of global employment, litigation, chief sustainability & diversity officer, and chief compliance officer at Veritas, a global technology company. I was also a director of global employment law at Symantec. And previously, I was a partner at Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith and an associate at Baker & McKenzie.

During most of my career, I have worked as an employment attorney, working with companies to ensure they are complying with employment laws and also creating a positive culture and environment in which their employees can thrive and succeed. I began working in social impact work at my previous company, Veritas, where I was asked to build their social impact and DEI program, while also leading their global employment law team. I was then hired by SurveyMonkey as their first employment lawyer and to launch SurveyMonkey for Good, the company’s philanthropic initiative, in conjunction with taking the company public.

Currently, I also serve on the boards of Watermark, an organization focused on empowering women, and Fresh Lifelines for Youth. I recently completed the Northern California Grantmakers’ Racial Equity Action Institute and The Leadership Consortium, Harvard Business School’s Executive Leadership Acceleration Program. I received my JD and Bachelor of Commerce degrees from the University of Alberta, in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

I feel that my legal education and experience is an asset to social impact/DEI work because there’s so much mutual benefit and intersectionality between cultivating a positive workplace culture that ensures employees are treated lawfully and fairly, and fostering a diverse and inclusive workplace.

CJ: Why does doing this work matter to you personally?

MR: Doing social impact and racial equity work is personally important to me because I am a multiracial woman of color, born and raised in Canada, by a white single mother. Growing up in Canada, I was one of the only people of color that I knew, but I never felt that I did not have the same opportunities as anyone else, nor did I ever feel like I was treated differently because of the color of my skin. Even though I grew up with very modest means, I had the same access to things like healthcare and education that everyone else did.

I moved to California as an adult and have since personally experienced racial profiling and the heartbreak, trauma, and inequity that communities of color face. I have a ten-year-old multiracial son who motivates me to do this work so that he can grow up in a society where the color of his skin won’t determine his future and he will have the same opportunities to succeed and live a happy, healthy life.

CJ: Stakeholders, including employees, customers, and shareholders, are expecting companies to do more where racial equity is concerned. Could you tell us a little about what you are doing to advance racial equity/justice in your work at SurveyMonkey? 

MR: At SurveyMonkey, we are determined to be a committed anti-racist organization and have embarked on a journey to develop and implement a long-term racial equity strategy that uses our products and resources to dismantle racist systems.

One of the ways we have done this is by creating freely available survey templates and guides that enable other organizations to gather data around issues such as racial justice, racial equity, and belonging and inclusion. Our goal is that the organizations will then use this data to make decisions that create positive change in their workplaces and communities.

Our most recent Vendor Diversity survey template is particularly exciting because it supports companies in gathering data about the diversity and inclusion practices of their suppliers, vendors, and partners, and choosing to give their dollars to businesses that value diversity, equity, and inclusion. These are the behind-the-scenes decisions that may seem small in isolation but collectively add up to dismantling often subconscious legacy racist systems.

To learn more about how SurveyMonkey is working to be an anti-racist company and how we’re using technology for good, see my recent blog post.

CJ: As someone who sits at the intersection of sustainability and equity, could you share some examples of how these functions can come together for maximum impact.

MR: Diversity is not just about creating diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplaces, but also about cultivating equitable and inclusive communities as well.

One way we have linked sustainability and equity is through our products like SurveyMonkey Contribute, which provides people with a free, simple way to give back. For every survey taken on the Contribute platform, SurveyMonkey donates $0.50 to a nonprofit partner of the survey-taker’s choice. To date, we have donated more than $15 million to non-profits. Many of our non-profits partners that have received funds are doing important work to advance racial equity and support communities of color, such as The Boys and Girls Club of America, The Bail Project, Fresh Lifelines for Youth, and more.

Another way that we bridge sustainability and equity is through working to bring equity to competitive grant-making. This year, we launched our Universal Grant Application. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, non-profit organizations worldwide are facing increased demand and financial challenges that put their critical work at risk. Now more than ever, they need increased and flexible funding to serve communities as the effects of the pandemic continue. Oftentimes, nonprofits that are working to serve communities of color have small operating budgets and lack resources to dedicate to creating compelling materials to submit for competitive grants. Our universal grant application template levels the playing field by providing a template grant application that all organizations can use, which allows for more time spent serving communities and maximizing the impact of their work.

Visit https://www.surveymonkey.com/mp/for-good/ for more information about SurveyMonkey For Good.

CJ: What’s next for you in this space?

MR: Right now I’m working on a few exciting projects that challenge SurveyMonkey to think about how we can further leverage our resources and platform to advance racial equity in the places where we live and work, and how we as a data company can bring people and organizations together to move the needle on the issues that support our values of giving back to our communities and standing for equality. There are so many issues within racial equity that we can lend our voice to, such as gender and racial pay equity, supporting entrepreneurs of color to recover from the economic impacts of COVID-19, and our most recent initiative, vendor diversity.

CJ: I often tell people it is important that they build diverse networks both personal and professional. What do you think is most important for professionals either entering the workforce or already working now when it comes to diversity/racial equity? 

MR: Understanding how to integrate diversity and racial equity into how organizations do business. So many professionals get into this work because they are passionate about racial equity issues, want to make change, and think that if they are able to work hard enough, others will follow them and do the right thing. In order to have the most impact, however, you need to understand how businesses operate and integrate diversity and equity issues into your organization’s day-to-day operations.

CJ: That is great advice Melynnie. We so appreciate this opportunity to learn more about you and the important work you are doing to advance racial equity at Survey Monkey. How can we stay in touch with you and continue to learn about the important work being done? 

MR: Thanks for the opportunity to continue this important conversation. I look forward to staying connected on these topics. You can always find me on LinkedIn.

Continue to follow our Racial Equity in Action series on the Presidian Blog, where we explore how, as sustainability and impact leaders, we can move the needle toward a more equitable and just society. Our series sits at the intersection of racial justice and social responsibility and features insights from the PGS community as well as external experts and thought leaders. Our goal is that through these shared insights we can better address racial inequity as a part of our day-to-day interactions and careers. If you’re looking to accelerate or shift your career, live your values, and lead with purpose, consider joining an upcoming cohort at PGS.