Zebra CEO Makes Commitment to Fostering a Culture of Belonging: “Active Listening Leads to Real Action.”

April 21 will be a “Day of Understanding” within Zebra Nation. But we really want it to be a global day of action. Our CEO Anders Gustafsson explains how you can join in.

CEO Action for Diversity and Inclusion (logo)
by Your Edge Blog Team
April 20, 2021

At Zebra, we believe that all employees must play an equal role when it comes to moving the needle on issues related to inclusion and diversity, whether they’re executive leaders or interns. Though we come from different backgrounds, we all share the need to feel heard, respected and accepted.

That’s why we have declared April 21 our 2021 Day of Understanding, which is an initiative sponsored by the CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion™ coalition that Zebra CEO Anders Gustafsson committed to last year. Anders recently sat down with us to talk about the purpose of this event, how it supports Zebra’s inclusion and diversity (I&D) goals, and how you can get involved:

Your Edge Blog Team: Can you tell us a little bit about the CEO Action coalition?

Anders: Nearly 2,000 CEOs of the world’s leading companies and business organizations – myself included – have signed a pledge committing to make the workplace a safe space to have complex, and sometimes difficult, conversations about diversity and inclusion. We have a number of inclusion networks, diversity-focused councils and I&D champions at Zebra. We also collaborate with several diversity outreach partners on a local and global scale. However, CEO Action gives Zebra another opportunity to engage with change leaders on key I&D initiatives, including people with whom we may have not been connected otherwise.

Your Edge Blog Team: Why did you decide to commit to CEO Action, specifically?

Anders: I know, just as my peers do, that change starts at the top. The CEO Action group was formed to champion the very values that we strive to live by across Zebra Nation and that I personally hold. I made a commitment several years ago to become more accountable for inclusion and expand my own understanding of the issues companies face today. I want to help drive changes that will make the places where we live and work more inclusive.

Inequality has been a long-standing issue that affects almost every person in some way at some point in life, whether it stems from racial, gender, religious, cultural or age biases. Even if you haven’t personally been a victim of prejudice or discrimination, you may know someone who has been – or you may bear witness to injustice and find yourself in a position to intervene in a meaningful way. And many individuals are starting to recognize the existence and impact of their own unconscious biases thanks to the hard conversations being led by CEO Action signatories and other social equality advocates.

If we want to change the course we’re on, every single person – myself included – must be brave enough to listen to what others have to say, speak up when needed and become more aware of others’ realities. We must be willing to challenge certain ways of thinking, including our own.

The CEO Action group is giving me access to a network of peers and change advocates who, both individually and collectively, have the means to elevate awareness of I&D issues on a global scale. The resources and support I receive from these 2,000+ coalition signatories and group organizers enable me and the rest of the Zebra leadership team to drive tangible progress. We receive guidance on how to properly initiate dialogues with employees and our business stakeholders about I&D issues, and we engage in listening sessions to gain a better understanding of what’s happening in other companies and communities. We, as a company, can’t insulate ourselves from the issues happening outside of our four walls.

Your Edge Blog Team: Why do you feel a Day of Understanding is so important to Zebra Nation, especially given the day-to-day work being done across the company to foster a more diverse and inclusive culture?

Anders: Without understanding the current climate, we won’t know what needs to change, or what actions we need to take to elicit change. So, we must have open, honest conversations about the biases that people are still encountering either within themselves or in their interactions with others. The challenge is that I&D is not a topic that comes up naturally in the course of the day for most people. Even if it does, some people may be uncomfortable talking about these issues in a more casual manner.

By hosting a Day of Understanding, we’re giving people the opportunity to share what’s on their minds and ask questions without judgement in a safe, structured way. It is also another opportunity for us to remind everyone within Zebra Nation of the importance of empathy, understanding, awareness and allyship at work, at home and in our communities. We all have blind spots that need to be checked every once in a while. The Day of Understanding allows us to stop and really think about our unconscious biases.

Your Edge Blog Team: What else are you doing personally to help increase awareness of unconscious bias and foster a culture of belonging at Zebra?

Anders: I have committed to expanding my understanding of the issues facing underrepresented groups by becoming an ally of each Inclusion Network at Zebra, which includes participating in Inclusion Network-sponsored events. I participate to learn, but I also think it’s important for others to see my active involvement, which reinforces how seriously Zebra is taking inclusion. I also hold what we call “zChats,” which are Zebra’s version of roundtable discussions, to have candid conversations with employees at all levels within the organization. In zChats, I remain curious, ask questions, and take away key learnings that I personally act on. I also bring these insights back to the senior leadership team so we can collectively learn and align on additional changes that are needed to make Zebra an even better place to work.

While I’m committed to always listening and learning, I serve as a proud champion for what Zebra is doing in the I&D space by consistently using my voice to show proactive support. For example, I dedicate time to the topic in my quarterly global Town Hall meeting that I host for all Zebra employees. Though I personally take the time to talk about our I&D progress and celebrate successes, I also invite a diverse group of speakers to lead conversations on a number of topics that represent the breadth and depth of our I&D commitment. I want our dialogues to be meaningful to the entire Zebra community. At the global scale, I also share insights on current events and issues that impact our Zebra employees such as systemic racism and unrest. I choose to lean into those moments and ensure employees know they have my support and that Zebra has resources for them.

And a smaller, yet very impactful way I drive inclusion is by casting the right shadow in my day-to-day interactions. I’ve become particularly aware of ensuring that everyone in the meetings I’m a part of has an opportunity to have their voices heard. I watch attendees closely and call people out by name if I think they may not feel empowered to speak up, and I encourage those leaders around me to do the same.  

Your Edge Blog Team: What is your ultimate I&D goal for Zebra? And what do you think it will take to accomplish that goal?

Anders: Our ultimate goal is to have everyone feel safe, respected and accepted within Zebra Nation. We want every employee to feel as though they truly belong and can bring their full selves to work each and every day. We want to eliminate any biases that might impact one’s mental, emotional, and physical well-being, while giving Zebra Nation a fair and equal chance for growth and development.  

To reach our goal of inclusion both in how employees feel and what opportunities they are given, we must first have an open, frequent dialogue to understand the biases that may exist and figure out a way to apply those insights to every day “change opportunities.” Actions always speak louder than words – though, sometimes “speaking up” is the best action in this case. At Zebra, we will continue to create this space for growth through our seven Inclusion Networks, our “Inclusion IQ” training, and candid discussions within our individual teams. As I mentioned, the goal is to drive action and give all employees the tools they need to actively foster a culture of belonging. Those individual actions, when multiplied across the organization, can be so powerful in driving the culture we all want to be a part of.

I hope you will join us on April 21 in observing a Day of Understanding. Schedule some time to talk to your friends, family, colleagues and neighbors about the hard issues. Ask for input about their realities. Don’t judge. Just listen and learn. 

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Editor's Note: 

We encourage you to join the #DayOfUnderstanding conversation on social media. You may also be interested in these related reads:

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Your Edge Blog Team
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