Cultivating connection: Benchling's Head of DEI, Roni McGee, champions a company culture of belonging and understanding

Kyrstin Lou Ward

Benchling's featured employee spotlight for the month of March focuses on Roni McGee, Head of DEI at Benchling. 

Roni brings over 10 years of HR and DEI experience to her human-centered, strategy-based approach to DEI. Roni’s passion for DEI is rooted in the belief that the work of inspiring individuals, transforming cultures, and empowering communities not only positively influence organizations but also the world we live in every day. Before joining Benchling, she was a Sr. DEI Consultant at Paradigm and holds a B.A. in Communications from Santa Clara University.

How did you get started working in DEI and what excites you about working in this space?

Technically I started working in this space when I was an HR manager at a previous company and immediately raised my hand when it became an area of focus. I’ve done people-related work my entire career and have always cared about how people feel in spaces (work and beyond), whether people have a voice or not, and if people are supported in their growth and development. Having the experience of being “the only,” the only Black person or woman, throughout my entire life also caused me to care about the experiences of “the only”, “the few” or those from marginalized groups in work environments—so working in this space was natural. It’s said you know what your true work is when you’d do the work for free, and this is work that I would do for free: making sure that people have opportunities, that people are treated well, and that folks feel connected to other people.

There’s a lot that excites me about DEI, but I am most excited about where it's heading. A very painful few years has brought a much needed reckoning for many and shifts to how DEI work is approached. We are finally not shying away from conversations about racism, privilege, anti-Black violence, anti-Asian violence and other topics that were considered “too uncomfortable” or “not appropriate for work”. We are requiring accountability in ways we haven’t before, and we are looking towards solutions that involve and incorporate social and restorative justice.

What made you join Benchling?

I was drawn to Benchling because of the leadership and strong culture. I had the privilege of facilitating a training with our execs as a consultant and was able to see their commitment to DEI as well as their willingness to learn, their honesty on what they didn’t know, and their humility. Any DEI professional will tell you that this work isn’t successful without the support of leadership, so that was one of my requirements for joining a company. The other was a strong culture, which was evident as I spoke to folks during my interview process. When I asked folks about the culture or if they had a strong sense of belonging, I kept hearing how empathetic Benchlings were, how driven they were by the mission, that they felt they had a voice, and despite being in a whole pandemic they still felt connected to each other.

When you think about building a culture you want to be a part of, what most inspires you?

A culture that fosters belonging and cares for its people in a way that allows for work-life balance are the two most important things that come to mind. Belonging is the foundation of everything—it’s what a strong culture is based on, and it’s where all the work that we’ll do will come from. It’s also something everyone relates to; as humans we need to feel like we belong.

As for a culture that balances the work and the personal, I think the last couple of years have made it clear that it’s essential to make space for what people are experiencing outside of work. A culture that encourages people  to take time when they need it, acknowledges really tough moments, supports the overall wellbeing of its people, and doesn’t make you feel the need to hide your emotions is one that I want to build. I love that we are building this type of culture at Benchling.

What are some of Benchling’s DEI initiatives?

To realize our DEI vision, to build an equitable workplace that reflects the world we live in, where Benchlings feel respected, connected, and supported in their growth, we are focusing our efforts around four key areas. * *

  • Attract:We want to hire and retain underrepresented talent across all levels through an inclusive hiring process.

  • Nurture:We want to make sure that Benchlings have access to everything from wellness benefits to moderated discussion spaces to employee resources groups. All of this will allow us to support Benchlings in work and life.

  • Development:We want to continue to build learning programs and resources for managers and ICs to scale in their roles and assist in creating an inclusive environment.

  • Social Impact:In addition to our internal work, we also want to give, advocate, and provide resources to address social issues that impact underserved communities.

We have a lot of work to do, but as I ALWAYS say, the responsibility of this work belongs to every person at Benchling. Thankfully, Benchlings understand this.

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