The Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Journey at Adobe, Inc.

January 12, 2021

This is the first of several case studies covering the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) best practices of leading Utah businesses. We spoke with Wendy Steinle, Adobe’s Site Leader in Lehi, UT, and Archana Thiagarajan, head of the DEI efforts on the Lehi site leadership team.  

DEI at the Corporate Level
Founded in December 1982 by Charles Geschke and University of Utah grad John Warnock, Adobe (ADBE - NASDAQ) has more than 22,000 employees worldwide and 2020 revenues of $12.87 billion. Its flagship products support the world’s print, digital media and digital experience, and are the embodiment of science, technology, engineering, art, and math (STEAM).

DEI is a corporate priority for Adobe. Under the overarching vision “Adobe For All,” the company emphasizes the importance of inclusion and empathy for all employee groups.  Adobe has seven Employee Resource Groups, supporting employees from underrepresented groups. These groups include Access at Adobe (disability inclusion), Black Employee Network (BEN), Pride at Adobe (LGBTQ+), Women at Adobe, Asian/Pacific Islander at Adobe (APIA), HOLA (Hispanic and/or Latinx at Adobe), and Veterans at Adobe (VEN). In Lehi, as in other Adobe sites, these support groups are run by volunteers within the organization – people who also have day jobs.

In addition to the Resource Groups, Adobe is supporting equality in several other ways. In 2020, for example, the company reaffirmed global pay parity after initially achieving global pay parity in October 2018 and will continue to monitor this every year. Adobe is also paying attention to “opportunity parity,” examining fairness in promotion and horizontal movement across demographic groups.

A number of managerial training programs focus on inclusion and unconscious bias. As a result of these corporate-wide efforts, in fiscal year 2020 women represented 33.5% of the global employee base, a 5.5% increase from fiscal year 2015. Additionally, in fiscal year 2020 women represented 37.7% of new hires.  

Utah Background
Adobe expanded operations into Utah in 2008 with the acquisition of Omniture, whose SiteCatalyst product became a foundation of Adobe’s digital marketing division—now expanded to encompass all aspects of a world-class digital experience. Today, nearly every division of Adobe is represented in Utah including Finance, Engineering, Marketing, Operations, Sales, and more. Since 2008, Adobe has been the focus of several EDCUtah projects.

Thiagarajan remarks: “When I came here to join Omniture, people asked me if it felt weird to be the only Indian. I would think yes, but I’m one of only four women here too! The perception and the experience have changed in the last decade.”

Current employment in Utah is about 1,500 people. With the completion of their second building in Lehi, total Utah employment is likely to expand to 2,300 people. Over the past five years, Adobe’s Lehi site has doubled the percentage of women hired and increased representation in all of the underrepresented groups they support.

Lehi is regarded as a growth site for Adobe globally. According to Steinle, leadership at the California headquarters has recognized the ability of the Utah site to not only deliver excellent talent and quality of life, but also to support company values within their hiring practices and workforce support programs. That view is shared externally. In 2019, the site won the Women Tech Council’s Impact Award for its DEI efforts.

The Lehi Employee Experience
The site has several programs designed to create a safe space and atmosphere of inclusion for all employees.

First, they hold a lot of celebrations, a number of which are put on by the seven Employee Resource Groups mentioned above. All employees are invited, and the events take place in the main atrium of their building. Event programming seeks to highlight commonalities as opposed to differences. Turnout is typically high, and people walk away learning about other cultures, for example, Diwali, the Indian festival of light, and how it’s similar to some traditional American festivities (think food and fireworks).  

The site also invited a local Imam to talk about Islam. Steinle says: “It was a fantastic dialogue. There’s so much shared history and theology. I am grateful to work for a company that gives me the opportunity to expand my understanding of others. These events help our site to have tremendous cohesion. We have learned how to celebrate and adapt, and we feel richer for it.”

Second, the site hosts what are called “Allyship” panels. People from underrepresented groups tell their story and invite those curious in the audience to ask questions, even if those questions may be awkward or difficult. As one example, they did a panel on immigration, and a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, recently returned from an international religious mission, asked, “If I meet an immigrant, and I’m fluent in their native language, should I address them in their native language or in English?”

Through these panels, the company strives to break through the haze that can have people backing away from what they fear or don’t understand. By inviting them to join in the dialogue, Thiagarajan explains: “We give people an opportunity to learn that things they thought of as ‘other’ have so much connection to their own experiences.”

Another best practice is called the Diversity Leadership Experience Program. It started off as the corporate Women Executive Shadow program, but has expanded locally to provide mentorship not just for women, but also for high-performing employees from diverse backgrounds.

Thiagarajan says: “When you hire great talent, you need managers to nurture that talent. You become a different manager when you understand other people’s context and learn what makes them comfortable and able to perform their job in the best environment for them.”

A fourth best practice is called Leadership Circles, which is more intimate. The executive team hosts discussions on various topics. Specific employees join these conversations by nomination or request. Steinle says: “We try to have deep and meaningful discussions. An employee brings their best creative self when they feel accepted and understood. We work to create a sense of safety where people can bring their authentic self to work and share how it feels to be them.”

As an example, this program – during the height of Black Lives Matter protests nationwide this summer – spurred the Black Employee Network group to develop resources for aspiring allies (e.g., podcasts, movies, books, etc. that can help others understand the Black experience more fully). Steinle also sent a heartfelt message on the topic to all employees.

Lastly, given the advent of COVID-19 and resulting move to working from home, Adobe pivoted a number of employee engagement events and programming to virtual environments.  As an example, in 2020 the company evolved its annual diversity and inclusion event to a weeklong, virtual experience called Adobe For All Week.  The event brought its global employee community together to build inclusion, empathy and connections through executive presentations, guest speakers, and employee storytellers, including two Lehi-based employees.

Fostering the Diverse Talent Pipeline
Adobe has a number of initiatives to ensure they find a diverse set of candidates for any open position.

First of all, site leadership recognizes that the company needs to start earlier than college when reaching out to diverse youth. Adobe staff offer Adobe product training classes in high schools, middle schools, and non-profits such as SpyHop, where many of Adobe’s products are put to use.

Under the “I Heart Tech” initiative, the company annually invites underrepresented high school students to visit Adobe and “build a broader vision for themselves and for their futures,” Steinle says. The most recent group they hosted included teen mothers working on their GEDs.

In 2020, Adobe established a dedicated Diversity Talent Acquisition team to accelerate its focus on recruiting Black, Hispanic/Latinx, and other underrepresented candidates. Once a candidate is identified, there are a lot of initiatives in the background to ensure the interview and onboarding processes are done in an appropriate and effective manner.

Thiagarajan says: “For one thing, every recruiter strives to have a diverse candidate slate in place for any open position. Another tactical element is that all managers go through diversity training. A third tactic is to make sure that hiring panels are diverse, that it’s not all white males in the conversation with the candidate.”

According to Steinle: “Everything we do to attract and retain diverse talent makes our products better. Not only is supporting diverse talent the right thing to do, but it also helps Adobe succeed as a company.”

Site Leadership at Adobe has a site council representing six areas that employees are passionate about. In addition to DEI, the other five areas include Nonprofits, Sustainability, Fun, Wellbeing and STEAM. Based on anecdotal perception from around the globe, Lehi is recognized as the #1 most involved employee site throughout the entire company.

Advice for Employers
Few Utah companies can match the worldwide scope and resources of a company like Adobe. What are Steinle and Thiagarajan's advice for smaller companies?

Steinle remarks: “DEI does not crack open in one day. Define your core values. Top talent wants YOUR purpose to align with THEIR purpose. Then start small. It doesn’t have to cost a lot of money, because people want to be part of something. Pick one thing and make a goal for it. People are fulfilled by driving action toward a purpose they are passionate about.”

“On the organizational side, be transparent around progress. You will make progress on what you measure.”

Thiagarajan concurs: “I am still at Adobe because of Adobe’s values. I can’t underline that enough. It’s authentic.”

How do you sell diverse talent on Lehi?
Steinle says: “We make sure candidates meet representative employees during the interview process so they can ask questions about inclusion and belonging.”

Thiagarajan adds: “We tell diverse talent that Utah is building its diverse community. Coming here is an opportunity to make a difference – your voice will be heard. Yes, you can go to the Bay Area or New York, but look at the opportunity to help Utah and to play a role. You can have an impact.”

“Be honest about the challenges. But talk about quality of life. Utah is incredibly beautiful, has short commutes compared to other sites, and has strong family values. And I love having a hiking trail right behind my house.”

Fun Fact Sidebar
A decade ago, a dozen Lehi employees marched for the first time in the Utah Pride parade, according to Thiagarajan. The number of Adobe employees that marched in the most recent Utah parade topped 400. It was the largest showing within Adobe – even bigger than in San Jose.