At a moment of unprecedented attention, investment, and opportunity for the emerging field of Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG), leaders are asking: Who is best preparing their organization for the society of the future? Who is innovating today to meet decades-long environmental and social goals? Who is setting standards that catalyze their industry’s change for the better? Who is defining what bold and aspirational look like — and how best to advance that work in practice?
Enter NationSwell’s ESG Next, an exemplary group of investors, executives, authors, philanthropists, social sector leaders, academics, and field builders who are helping to shape business as a force for social and environmental progress, advancing — and even pioneering — the most forward-thinking and effective programs, initiatives, technologies, methodologies, practices, and approaches.
For this installment, NationSwell interviewed Miriam Warren, Chief Diversity Officer at Yelp, about how her childhood home was the beginning of her journey to the field, the three questions she asks herself before pushing for corporate action amid pivotal social moments, and the fellow leaders that inspire her leadership.
Greg Behrman, CEO + Founder, NationSwell: How did your professional and personal journey lead you to this work?
Miriam Warren, Chief Diversity Officer, Yelp: My journey started as early as my earliest memories. I grew up in a home where I was the only person of color, and the only one who looked like me. Growing up without other Filipinos meant that I was always trying to understand how I fit in with my family, and more broadly, what family means. I didn’t have the words for it then, but that was the early spark that had me thinking about building communities where different people (myself included) can feel like they belong.
I found my way to the corporate world, and eventually to Yelp, where I built the some of the first communities of contributors to the site. Eventually, I turned that same attention inward to help build the employee community at Yelp as its first Chief Diversity Officer.
I feel grateful to be able to do work that is meaningful, helps others, and brings light to issues that aren’t talked about enough.
Behrman, NationSwell: How do you make sense of this moment in ESG? Where are we now, and where do you think we’re going?
Warren, Yelp: Despite the narrative that some parts of society want you to believe, the idea that businesses have social responsibility is not a new one. From the emergence of the cooperative movement in the late 19th century to the creation of the first corporate charitable foundation in the early 20th century, plenty of historical influences—Quaker principles, labor movements, and fair trade practices, among them—have laid the groundwork for demonstrating that businesses have a broader responsibility to society.
More importantly, the idea isn’t going anywhere. The stakes feel even higher than before, whether we are talking about political polarization, climate crises, social and economic inequalities, or any number of other core issues that define and threaten our society. Businesses will play a critical role in supporting their customers, communities, employees, and other stakeholders, particularly to the extent that other institutions that have historically served them are failing.
Behrman, NationSwell: What are some of the programs, strategies, or initiatives you’re leading at Yelp into which other field builders should have visibility?
Warren, Yelp: We should all strive to be more proactive and less reactive, and the way to do that is to have a preexisting framework for evaluating issues so that we can feel like we are happening to the issues and not the other way around.
Yelp’s framework asks three questions: how does the issue map to our values? Does it matter to our stakeholders? And most importantly, are we uniquely positioned—through our platform or our business—to drive positive impact?
Let’s take reproductive healthcare access as an example. Our values align with the notion that bodily autonomy matters. It was also clear that the issue matters to our employees, many of whom are located in states contemplating or enacting restrictive abortion bans. We hoped to drive positive change by introducing a travel benefit to ensure healthcare equality for all our workers regardless of what state they were in. We also knew that consumers use our platform to find reliable information about reproductive healthcare services, and that we were therefore uniquely positioned to help them find what they were looking for.
Behrman, NationSwell: To which leadership practices do you attribute your success?
Warren, Yelp: I have always felt strongly about the concept of calling people in, not calling them out. We’re all on a learning journey, especially in this type of work. At one time or another we’re going to use the wrong words or frame a situation in a potentially problematic way. I want to cultivate an environment where people can make mistakes and know they have space to learn from it.
It takes a lot of energy to do this work and to maintain the grace, compassion, and patience to meet people where they are. I welcome the opportunity to explain why people use different pronouns than you. I’m happy to discuss your confusion over Black History Month. I won’t lose my cool when it comes to enumerating the challenges that many women, and particularly mothers, face in the workplace. My goal is to engage positively, and if someone feels positively toward me, there’s a good chance they’re going to walk away with a better understanding of why these issues matter to others if not to them.
Behrman, NationSwell: Who are the leaders that inspire your leadership?
Warren, Yelp: Rodney Foxworth is always at the top of my list. His mission-driven work is incredibly inspiring to me and informs a lot of the way I think about many things, from economic development and philanthropy, to being an effective nonprofit board member.
Erin Baudo Felter at Okta is a fellow tech funder and social impact practitioner whose work I hold in high regard. She and I met through another colleague in this space years ago, and it’s been so useful to think together through issues we’re both tackling.
Lastly, I’d spotlight Vignetta Charles. She is the CEO of ETR, a nonprofit organization committed to advancing health equity globally. Vignetta’s leadership awes me while also reminding me that laughter and friendship go a long way in making this work sustainable.
Behrman, NationSwell: What are you reading that inspires your leadership?
Warren, Yelp: I cannot overstate how powerful “The Persuaders” by Anand Giridharadas has been for me. It has given me an incredible amount of hope in a time that sometimes feels hopeless, and it’s given me a lot of fuel to keep going. One of my big takeaways from the book is that people who are engaged in changing minds and bridging divisions should talk much more about what we’re for—not just about what we’re against. That notion has really resonated with me and I’m working on applying it expansively in my life.
To learn more about how our ESG Next honorees are shaping business as a force for social and environmental good, visit the series hub. Yelp is a NationSwell Institutional Member. To learn more about membership in NationSwell’s community of leading social impact and sustainability practitioners, visit our site.