I recently had an opportunity to chat with one of Oracle’s top executives, Chief Information Officer Jae Evans, who was one of only 50 executives just named to the prestigious Forbes CIO Next: 2022. Jae is a huge champion of diversity and inclusion at Oracle, and is a sponsor of several internal groups focused on empowering and including people of diverse backgrounds and talents at Oracle, including the Executive Diversity Council, which is led by our CEO Safra Catz.
Below is a lightly edited transcript of our conversation, which touched on her leadership values, the importance of mentoring, being intentional about removing bias as a barrier to success and career advancement, and the importance of developing trust.
Jae, you have had an incredibly long journey with D&I [diversity and inclusion], predating your arrival at Oracle, where you’re a sponsor of a number of Employee Resource Groups, or ERGs. Can you share what next steps can be taken as you think about hiring diverse talent and the process at the Oracle Cloud Infrastructure (OCI) group you support?
We’ve been doing quite a bit at OCI to help ensure a diverse and inclusive hiring process in partnership with recruiting, focusing on how we write our job descriptions, along with having a strong culture of behavioral-based interviewing, based on specific job competencies and OCI values to minimize bias and to ensure we make data-driven hiring decisions. We also have a global standardized interview process so that all candidates, no matter their background, are evaluated the same way. We also partner with professional organizations like Grace Hopper, the Society of Hispanic Engineers, AfroTech, and the National Society of Black Engineers, to cite some examples, and we've increased our diverse representation in our pipeline and in building relationships with our URM [underrepresented minority] communities.
We've been intentional with diversity recruiting for campus pipelines for Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Hispanic-serving institutions. We also have an executive partnership with Morgan State University. We sponsor non-traditional pipelines, including coding schools for women and gender diverse, such as Ada Academy, return to work programs such as Oracle Career Relaunch, which rolled out globally this year, and military veteran bridge programs. So I'm proud of these programs, on OCI’s progress, and what we've put in place, considering we spend a lot of time seeking highly skilled talent in this competitive market.
We all have biases. Let's just be real. Myself, 14 years in D&I—we all have biases. It's all about how do we mitigate bias. Have you ever in your own experience experienced any forms of unconscious bias? And if you have, how did you deal with it? How'd you manage it?
I was talking to a colleague who got married recently and I congratulated her and her husband, and she corrected me and said it was her wife. It was an assumption that I made wrongly, and I was apologetic. And I learned from that, and now I reference significant other or I say partner, which is not associated with gender. So I too also can have unconscious biases, but I try to learn from them.
For my part, I've been often mistakenly referenced as Mr. Jae Evans. And one time when I met a supplier for the first time, he blurted out to me that as a person who heads up infrastructure, engineering, and operations, he thought I was a white male.
I responded to him, "Fortunately, I'm a female and glad I'm different than you expected because it takes a lot to do this role and be in this role and be successful at it." That was my way of trying to address the fact that I am not a male. I am a female and I am not Caucasian, I am Asian. I think constant learning is the most important thing, for myself and for others.
At your previous employer you started a mentor circle, which you’ve brought to Oracle. Can you explain why that was important to bring here to Oracle?
The specific mentoring circle that I did at my previous company was with women in technology who were ranked as top performers with high potential. The dilemma was that we kept seeing a lot of middle managers leaving the company. And we were seeing a big gap between middle management and executives.
Among the challenges I was seeing and hearing were things like not being recognized for their work, or having someone else take recognition for their work, and difficulty having certain types of career and personal development conversations and handling these kinds of situations, or knowing how to bring themselves and their ideas to the table, without constantly having to feel like they had to be the loudest talker in the room.
So we started having these honest conversations and it wasn't just me giving them advice. It was actually a really collaborative group, and because it was a safe place to have those conversations, they were able to build the courage to have those conversations and to have those interactions with their managers.
And as a result, I started to see that some of them got promoted. Some of them moved to a different area of opportunity. And we started to see this progress versus before, when they were like, "Hey, I think I want to leave the company because I'm not really happy with what's going on."
So that happened at the previous company. Then fast-forward here, when I came to Oracle, I’ve established a mentoring circle of high-performing female leaders .
So we're having these honest conversations here at Oracle, and I'm using that information to initiate discussion with my peers along the lines of sponsorship, advocacy, and action to develop and retain great talent: "We need to be conscientious about this. Otherwise we're not going to make progress."
My last question is, do you have any books or videos on this topic that you can recommend?
Leading a team can be challenging, especially when you're new to it or when there are a lot of changes taking place and things are moving at a fast pace. And that's when it's actually the most critical time. I was given a book by one of my former managers, called The Power of Genuine Leadership: How Authentic Leaders Earn Trust.
You won’t learn how to effectively manage a team just by reading a book, but one key element for you to learn is you can’t lead if people won’t follow, and the key element to that is building trust. The book references the Authenticity Trust Model, which calls out three critical components of authenticity, which create trust when applied consistently: communication, coaching, and respect.
Related to this, I had the opportunity to attend the leadership consortium series led by Harvard Business School a few years back. One of the main professors, Frances Frei, talked about the trust triangle. Just having diverse teams doesn’t mean you will be more productive, but if you create conditions of trust and encourages diverse teams to bring their unique perspectives, ideas, and experiences, you can expand the amount of knowledge your team can access, which helps with making great decisions. She also has a TED Talk on this.
Thank you, Jae. Thank you.
Traci Wade is vice president, global head of diversity and inclusion at Oracle.