Editor’s Note: Martin Luther King Jr. was a paragon of civil rights activism and a loyal defender of human liberty. On his 94th birthday, we spoke with Alteryx’s Chief People Officer, Doniel Sutton, about Dr. King’s enduring legacy and its importance today.
Q: What is most important to remember as we commemorate Martin Luther King Jr.?
Doniel Sutton: First, while there has been much progress over the last 50 years, the work continues. His teachings continue to affect every facet of our lives, whether that’s professional, personal, or societal.
Second, Dr. King lived his life in service to his mission, which was all about serving and advocating for the rights of others. That servant-leadership is something we all should strive to embody. And third, I am always reminded of the tremendous courage he exhibited in the face of opposition. That requires super-human-like conviction and strength, and it’s one of the characteristics that stands out most about his legacy.
Q: How has Dr. King and his legacy influenced your life?
Doniel Sutton: Dr.King has been such an inspiration to me and countless others. One of his most memorable (and my favorite) quotes is, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” What a simple yet powerful statement! We must recognize the importance of using our voices, speaking up, and not being complicit in matters that create systems of oppression and harm, especially towards marginalized communities. This is very personal to me and something I try to role model as much as possible. I now understand I exist on this earth not just to improve my own personal well-being, but I have a broader purpose to support and enable my entire community.
Q: How can more companies encourage their employees to speak up about important issues like these?
Doniel Sutton: One of the most significant things any company can do is decide how they respond to demonstrations of courage. Do you recognize it? Is it one of your stated and celebrated company values? Do you honor those who take that step? People tend to replicate things that they see. The more we can be role models for rewarding those who demonstrate courage, the more it will show others that it’s not only acceptable but it’s encouraged.
Companies can start encouraging this by simply giving people the right tools to leverage and creating forums for employees to speak up. While doing the work of DEIB [diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging] requires resources, change can also be created in the smallest, simplest of ways. However, it requires intention. It requires purpose.
Q: Outside of the workplace, how can more people speak up when it matters?
Doniel Sutton: There was a time in our culture when everyone minded their own business. You didn’t get involved in things that didn’t concern you. However, our society has begun to shift and the notion of being a bystander, bearing witness to others being harmed, is unacceptable, and rightfully so because we know that not taking action can have profound effects.
Now, I’m not suggesting that one needs to put themselves in harm’s way or put themselves at risk for any sort of violence. But action and advocacy can occur in many different ways. It could be reaching out to someone else for help or creating a distraction. We all have to figure out what we feel most comfortable with. The most important thing is that we just don’t sit by and watch it happen.
Everyone has the opportunity to speak, and you don’t have to feel like you have to do it by yourself. We can band together. But we can’t afford to turn a blind eye or only focus on ourselves. We have to think about the greater good.
Q: How can organizations or communities best act on their DEIB efforts?
Doniel Sutton: There are a ton of organizations out there that are clamoring for people to get involved and get engaged. It’s not about writing a check. Sometimes it’s just about lending your time. And again, finding opportunities where you can serve and leverage whatever gifts you’ve been blessed with to contribute to society.
Q: Do you think about DEIB any differently now than you have before?
Doniel Sutton: One of the things that has been talked about more over the last couple of years has been mental health and its role in the sense of inclusion and belonging. I think some of it has been brought about by COVID, but you just have no idea what people bring to the spaces they occupy. It’s more important than ever to be conscious of who you’re working with. Ask what’s going on. Then listen, not just with your ears, but with your heart.
People facing any kind of mental health challenges are another disadvantaged community that Dr. King’s message could also very much support. He was all about equality, equity, and standing up for the voiceless. In some respects, people who suffer from mental health issues don’t have a voice. Even though we’ve normalized it a little — it’s more common to talk about our therapists, for example — there’s still so much shame associated with it, and I’m seeing a lot of bias. So again, creating safe spaces for us all is very consistent with what he stood for and taught.
We also must remember that we work in a largely virtual environment. We’re not sitting side by side with our colleagues anymore. So how do we build connections and community with people that we don’t really get a chance to spend time around? These moments require more of us and more of our focus and attention to create safe spaces and support one another.
“To make meaningful change, my overall advice to companies is, it’s not enough to talk about it — you got to be about it. You have to start to create space to prioritize it.”
Learn more about Alteryx’s DEIB initiatives.
Doniel Sutton has more than 20 years of strategic and global human resources leadership experience at Fortune 100 and Fortune 500 companies, including Fastly, PayPal, Prudential, Bank of America, and Honeywell. She currently leads all human resource-related functions at Alteryx. Her career has been hallmarked by partnering with business executives to transform organizations, implement new business models, and execute global people strategies. Her many career achievements include being recognized by Black Enterprise in 2017 as one of the 300 Most Powerful Executives in Corporate America and being awarded the 2018 American Business Award’s Bronze “Stevie” HR Executive of the Year. Most recently, Doniel was named one of the Top 50 Women Leaders in SaaS in 2021 by The Software Report.