This Company develops underrepresented talent for leadership roles

The well-targeted and uniquely-designed programme, Ignite, was started as a pilot project last year at Zendesk, to train and mentor employees from the underrepresented sections of the society


Many companies show their intent to hire people from diverse and underrepresented backgrounds. In fact, some companies do hire such talent to score in the areas of inclusivity and diversity. But what happens next? What about the career progression of such talent once they are hired?

Zendesk, a SaaS-based technology solutions provider, runs a leadership-development programme for employees who come from the underrepresented sections of society.

Talking to HRKatha, Meiyea Neo, HR director – APAC, Zendesk, shares that the Company has a dedicated programme to build leadership skills and competencies in employees who come from underrepresented backgrounds. The programme is run globally, where employees from these sections across geographies are mentored and coached to grow into capable leaders.

As per Neo, Zendesk ran the Ignite programme as a pilot project last year and this year will see its second edition.

Even employees from India have been a part of this programme. “Ignite is a very uniquely designed and targeted programme for creating leaders from diverse and underrepresented sections of the talent pool in the Company, offering them a clear path of career progression,” enunciates Neo.

Though Zendesk did not have ready data at hand on the exact number of people impacted by this programme, it does have a structured way of selecting people for the Ignite initiative.

Selection process

Since the Company also has different employee resource groups representing diverse talent, the leaders of these employee community groups are given preference. Going forward, people can self-nominate themselves for the programme following which there is an evaluation process by the manager and other teams. Only then is the individual selected for the programme.

“Ignite is a very uniquely designed and targeted programme for creating leaders from diverse and underrepresented sections of the talent pool in the Company, offering them a clear path of career progression”

Meiyea Neo, HR director – APAC, Zendesk

“During the selection process, we aim to pick individuals from diverse groups and functions. As we have limited seats for the programme, the candidates are also evaluated on their performance by their managers,” reveals Neo.

The focus of this programme differs from region to region, depending on the various diversity and inclusion challenges specific to the region. For instance, in the Americas, where it is a challenge to have leaders from the African American community, the programme would aim to target that issue. In the APAC region, representation and visibility of women leaders is a challenge, so the Ignite programme would try and focus on that challenge of the DE&I strategy.

Once all the candidates are selected, they undergo leadership development training, mentoring and coaching.

Training process

The training is imparted via different channels to ensure holistic development of the individual participants into leaders.

“The leadership framework of Zendesk is divided into three parts — leading oneself, leading a team and leading the business. Therefore, leadership skills around agility and communication are imparted to the participants in this programme,” asserts Neo.

Tools such as external mentoring, group coaching and fireside chat with executive leaders are used to develop leadership competencies in the participants.

Benefits of the programme

What happens next for the participants after going through this programme?

As per Neo, the greatest reward for this set of talent is the recognition and visibility they receive from some of the top leaders in the organisation.

Additionally, it is very rare for such underrepresented talent to get an opportunity for holistic training in leadership competencies. It is a golden chance to be exposed to leadership skills and training, which can come in handy in their future roles.

Lastly, the leadership skills these talent possess and the recognition they receive for the same gives them an edge when the Company is evaluating high-potential talent for leadership roles. “This will make a difference when the managers are recommending names for promotions,” points out Neo.

Zendesk has more than 6000 employees globally with presence in India too.

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