Julie Li started her career in financial services but became frustrated when her predictive analyses didn’t take employee happiness and motivation into consideration. Julie understood the positive and negative impact employees and strong leaders can have on business success. Her realization pushed her to attend business school and ultimately pursue a career in HR.
At Namely, Julie started as a senior director of people operations and helped grow the team from one to five employees. Almost a year and a half later, Julie is bringing her passion for diversity and inclusion to the Namely community in her new role: senior director of employee experience & diversity and inclusion.
We sat down with Julie to learn more about her new role.
How did you end up in your role at Namely?
Before I came to Namely, I had spent my entire career in financial services. I was working at Citibank as the vice president of global diversity and talent management. Before that, I worked in corporate and investment banking.
One of my first jobs was in London working as a global business manager for HSBC. I was working on strategic plans and partnering with our senior leadership team. While I was in that role, it dawned on me that an organization’s leaders play an instrumental role in determining whether the business will be successful. My job was to crunch the numbers and forecast how the business would perform in the future, but I didn’t feel confident in our ability to meet those targets. I saw the effects poor leadership was having on our internal teams. I knew the teams better than some of the senior leadership—I knew who was thinking of leaving and who wasn’t sold on the company mission. That’s when it occurred to me how crucial your people are to business success. How you treat, manage, and inspire your employees was so much more interesting to me than crunching numbers, so I decided to go back to business school.
I ended up at Namely after our old CPO reached out to me through LinkedIn regarding an opportunity to lead the people ops team here. I hadn’t heard of Namely at the time and I was immediately enticed by the company’s values and mission to “build better workplaces.” The job description matched exactly what I was striving to do with my career.
I replied to his message, we talked about the role, and I was sold.
Your new title is “senior director, employee experience & diversity and inclusion.” What excites you about the role?
I’m thrilled that I get to focus on diversity and inclusion. In my old role, I was doing onboarding, performance, compensation, experience—soup to nuts HR! It was very fun and I was able to grow the team from one to five employees, but I’m so excited to now focus on the work that I’ve personally felt so passionate about and help build a better workplace for Namely.
Through this role, I’d like to create more awareness, educate employees, and build a better, more inclusive, workplace. We want people to feel like they belong here and that their voices are heard.
Why are diversity and inclusion important to you?
I moved to the U.S. very unexpectedly when I was in third grade. I didn’t speak any English when I moved here and the transition was very challenging. I think that experience made me realize how it feels to be an outsider. It shaped my view of the world and fed my interest in learning about other people and their experiences. I’ve always been personally drawn to creating more awareness and trying to get people more comfortable talking about diversity and inclusion.
Having D&I in the workplace is so important because we spend so much time at work. The people you work with might be different from the people you spend time with in your personal life. At work, you have to collaborate, communicate, resolve conflicts, and work towards a common goal with people who are different than you in so many ways. Oftentimes, companies just assume that if you put a bunch of talented people in a room, there’s going to be magic. That doesn’t always happen organically. There’s some work that needs to be done to get to that point. I want to help create a work environment where people feel inspired to share their ideas and do their best work.
What is the most challenging part of diversity and inclusion?
I think the most challenging part of D&I is changing hearts and minds. You’re asking people to talk about things that can be uncomfortable to address. You’re asking people to work with people different from themselves. For some, that change can be uncomfortable. You’re asking them to be open, vulnerable, and not be afraid to make mistakes and say the wrong thing. That’s challenging. You can bring in really great and diverse talent, but if they don’t feel like they belong and are included in decision making, then we’re still failing from a D&I perspective.
Now that you’ve worked on D&I at two very different companies, how have your challenges differed? What’s unique about working in diversity at a company like Namely?
Your approach needs to be different. Attracting diversity can be a bit easier at a large company. Global corporations can partner with schools and organizations to get more diverse talent in the pipeline. Once you bring diverse talent through the door, a business can cultivate their skills, mentor them, and promote them. You won’t see D&I efforts show in two years. Change can be gradual, but if you are truly committed, you’ll start to see a workforce that is more diverse and inclusive.
At a smaller company, like Namely, the pool for talent is very competitive and it can be challenging to hire senior-level talent that is diverse in background and experience. For example, for senior engineers, located in New York City, with 15 years of experience, the talent pool is smaller and more competitive. Which is why, especially at a small company like Namely, it’s critical to focus on the inclusion piece. You want your company to stand out. Mid-sized companies need to build a great workplace and focus on employee experience. That will serve as a pull factor and help you attract top talent from all different backgrounds.
If you weren’t in this role, what would you be doing?
I really like what I do. If I wasn’t doing this, I still would be talking about diversity and inclusion as a D&I consultant or coach. I’d be coaching executives on how to be better leaders and how to build a more inclusive workplace.
What’s your favorite thing about working at Namely?
I love that everyone really believes in Namely. There’s so much passion for what we’re trying to do and so much and pride in the company.
What’s your favorite office snack?
Most recently, the Chex Mix. I’m trying to stay away from sweets, so I’ve been going for the salty snacks...not that they’re any better for you.
What's something your co-workers don't know about you?
I’m such an open book. I feel like they know everything about me. I think the more you share about yourself, the more you invite other people to share about themselves. That helps create an open work environment.
What do you like to do outside of work?
I have a 2-year-old daughter so my life is consumed by being a mom outside of work. I have a long commute to New Jersey, so I don’t see her as much as I would like to on the weekdays. On the weekends, I’m usually just hanging out with her doing really fun things like grocery shopping and more grocery shopping.
Who has inspired you to get to this point in your career?
At my first job at HSBC, my manager’s manager was a huge source of support for me. He always believed in me and saw my potential. When I told the team I was leaving for business school, a lot of people were just concerned about what would happen after I left and how they’d fill my position. But he was always so supportive and open to hearing what I wanted to do with my career. He recognized that I wanted to do more and he didn’t question my choices. He was actually the one who wrote my business school recommendation. His support helped me decide to go to business school and have the confidence to switch into a completely different field - HR!
At Namely, our coworkers are one of the top reasons we love what we do. The Meet Namely series spotlights real Namely employees across the company. Stay tuned for more from the series to learn how we put HR for humans into practice.