As the Chief People Officer at VICE Media Group, Daisy Auger-Dominguez is reimagining the workplace as we know it by putting action and empathy behind inclusion and belonging. A remarkable people leader with a forceful passion for equity that spills right through the screen, she joined us in our most recent Open Doors event to tell her story and impart her wisdom.
In an hour-long conversation with our CEO Roberto Ortiz that spanned everything from her cross-continental upbringing, the power of allyship, and the merits of vulnerability in leadership, Auger-Dominguez shared both thought-provoking anecdotes and actionable guidance on what it takes to transform our workplaces. Below is a recap of some of our favorite moments from the discussion. You can also watch the on-demand recording of the event.
Finding her identidad
Born to teenage parents—a Dominican father and a Puerto Rican mother—in New York City, Auger-Dominguez was raised in the Dominican Republic by her grandparents. “I went to an international school in Santo Domingo and grew up with kids from all over the world,” she says. “My best friends to this day are Danish, Chinese, Israeli, Dutch, and Mexican Venezuelan—you name it. What that upbringing allowed me to do was navigate differences from a cultural, heritage, and class perspective. I had one foot here and one foot there. I was constantly straddling different worlds.”
Auger-Dominguez returned to the states at 16, attending high school in New Milford, New Jersey where she felt “placed in these boxes as Hispanic, low-socioeconomic background, and immigrant. This was the beginning of me challenging my identity within the U.S. context.” She then went onto study international relations and women’s studies at Bucknell University. Her first introduction to corporate America was at Moody’s, where she started as a credit rating analyst and eventually moved into the philanthropy and DE&I side of the company.
“I had a great career, but I saw so many people who were smarter and harder working than me being sidelined and marginalized,” she reveals. “That's what led me to want to lead in the diversity and inclusion space.” After Moody’s, she went on to shape workplace cultures at leading companies like Disney, Viacom, Google, and now VICE Media.
So what, really, does an inclusive workplace look like?
An inclusive workplace is “where people manage to the human, instead of to the group and its biases,” says Auger-Dominguez. “It’s where empathy and human connection are valued in the same vein as productivity or innovation. What the last few years have taught us is that if we forget about the human component, we will not exist. If we treat humans as disposable and dismiss their abilities, talents, and magic, then we fail to exist as entities.”
According to Auger-Dominguez, there are two distinct types of companies: 1) ones in which leaders sincerely care about creating a sustainable workplace, and where people feel included and know what’s expected of them; and 2) organizations where all of the incentives are aligned in a way that makes it nearly impossible for that kind of sustainable culture to take root because “you reward high-performing people but let them slide on toxic behaviors.”
“An inclusive workplace is where empathy and human connection are valued in the same vein as productivity or innovation.”
Six ways for leaders to make inclusion a reality at work
Her message to leaders who are willing to prioritize inclusion and belonging at their organizations: “It starts with you. It starts with your own behavior: how you connect with people, how you engage, who you hire, who you promote, who you ask to speak at an event, who you consider for a high-profile project, and who you let go of. All of those decisions are part of that process and all of that leads to inclusive and equitable workplaces.”
She shares several key practices that any leader (or anyone, for that matter) can establish within their own teams and companies:
Give credit to those who aren’t in the room: “There are people who are doing all of the work and deserve the credit, but don't have access to the table. So it’s up to us to give them visibility. We have to name the people who are doing the work.”
Have regular check-ins with team members across levels: “I hold a skip-level meeting with every person on my team—60 people across several countries—in a single quarter. I have a check-in with all of them that's not related to a project, where I simply ask, How are you? What's going on? I have a team that I believe will fight tooth and nail for the things that I asked them because they know my intentions. I manage them based on who they are, what their lived experience is, and what their needs are, but that takes a lot of time and energy.”
Vulnerability: The key to unlocking trust within your team: “I always say my vulnerability does not diminish my ability to lead—it enhances it. I tell my team things about my life and about who I am all the time, because it's the way that I build trust with them. Consistency over time and transparency are how you build trust.”
“My vulnerability does not diminish my ability to lead.”
Empower every team member to speak up: “A rule of thumb I learned a long time ago is that nobody gets to speak twice unless everybody speaks. It’s a way of equalizing the voices in the room.”
Understand how remote and hybrid work impacts employees of color: “Being on screen has different effects on different people, especially for employees of color. Many folks prefer not to come into the office because they don't want to deal with the hostility of being different. I’ve also heard the opposite, where people struggle to speak up or feel connected because they may be introverted.”
Prioritize respect and empathy above all else: “I recently sent a note to all of my teams in the U.S. about adjusting to being back in the office, including reminders about office protocols like wearing a mask and completing the tracking app. But the other piece was about respect and empathy above all. I wrote, ‘stop being disrespectful and grumpy. Stop being rude when the front desk staff ask for your form.’ And I got so many emails from the entire facilities team afterwards saying thank you. I’d do it again and again.”
Leaning on the support of allies
Auger-Dominguez has frequently grappled with the struggles of being the “only” one: the only woman, the only Latinx team member, and the only person of color. “Throughout my career, I’ve been trying to bring more seats to the table while I had to fight and earn to keep mine,” she remarks. “There’s been times where I’ve been quiet. There’s very little power when you’re the only one, but you can find allies. People who will speak up on your behalf. We don’t have to do it alone.”
She advises people—no matter what their race, identity, or background is—to “look out for folks who want to be an ally and an upstander; those who want to support you.”
“Throughout my career, I’ve been trying to bring more seats to the table while I had to fight and earn to keep my mine.”
What Daisy Auger-Dominguez makes clear is that building a truly inclusive workplace culture requires a blend of boldness, vulnerability, and allyship. We hope you’re able to embed some of these practices into your own work in order to create meaningful change. For more guidance on building and growing equitable workplaces, keep an eye out for her upcoming book Inclusion Revolution.
Check out some of her favorite resources related to leadership and DE&I: