Written by Lisa Ottieri
Arianna Huffington runs Huffington Post, an influential digital news platform. She has also been a senior adviser to President Barack Obama and a partner at AOL. Nathalie Dupuis is the global chief diversity officer for Xerox Corporation, which has a market capitalization of $26.4 billion. She had a one-year executive change of position at Xerox, where she was one of the executives whose efforts led to the company’s current strategy focused on diversity.
Why did you leave an executive position at Xerox to help start a digital news platform?
Well, to be honest with you, that is exactly what got me to start the Huffington Post. I was an executive for six years at Xerox, and during that time, I had an opportunity to really observe the company on a much broader level. When I left the job I had, I wanted to try something new, to go to another industry and just see what was going on. I was not interested in doing online radio.
What made you think online news would have a sustainable future, given that it had already failed once with Newsweek?
It’s been an amazing journey. We started the Huffington Post in 2005, and at that time, digital news was considered a kind of hot area — people said you could just do more online and have more traffic. And now, seven years later, the Huffington Post has grown to about 70 million global unique visitors per month.
Then how did you become the chief diversity officer for Xerox?
The vision for Xerox going forward is really focused on the Internet, where we were really at a crossroads. I had begun working with the company when the digital revolution started, and as we began to explore the possibilities for Xerox with the Internet, we realized we weren’t doing all that we could do with the technology that Xerox had. We realized we would really be better off if we had a chief diversity officer in the leadership of Xerox, to help us with this digitally driven future.
What’s the difference between joining a startup company to create a new business opportunity and joining an established company?
Well, the difference between a startup and an established company is really their business model. If I’m starting Huffington Post, the first thing I would do is look for an angel investor or a syndicate of angel investors who could help finance the company — not just with money, but with expertise. In an established company, it’s a much different story. My job, as a diversity officer, is to make sure that the organization is in alignment with this values-based culture. My job is to make sure that the organization is committed to diversity.
I find the attitude and the process of a startup refreshing, but I find the attitudes in established companies to be more mixed.
I see companies that will say we want to be a diverse organization, and then move very slowly, and want to hire a handful of people from outside the company in terms of diversity, rather than saying, ‘We need to open our doors, and we need to hire more people from other organizations.’ There’s a belief in a lot of companies that they need to have a CEO who is from outside the company.
Are you successful?
I’m trying to, but that’s not the first thing on my mind. I think it’s the second on my mind is, ‘How can we make sure that the initiatives we are undertaking are going to be in line with our own values?’ To me, that is much more important than a measurement of percentage of people from different groups to whom we hire.
And I think the third question I think is, ‘How can I make sure that our processes work within our diversity objective?’ What we did at Huffington Post was we asked ourselves, how are we going to have equal representation in both top management and in editorial staff? We said, ‘Hey, we want 50-50 top management.’
Are the results of such a plan the same in established companies or startups?
Different companies will have different goals, but generally they have the same objective. I think what is true about startups is they are generally willing to put a very significant number of employees into that process and to say, ‘Here’s a number. Here’s what you have to do to meet that number.’
In established companies, where we are pushing on the processes, that may not be the first thing on the minds of many people. But I think it’s an important factor to add to the equation.
(Reporting and editing by Lisa Ottieri)