Meet the HR Tech keynote speakers: Dr. Tolonda Tolbert

This is the seventh in a series introducing our keynote speakers and their HR Tech Conference topics. Read more here.


Diversity, equity and inclusion have been cornerstones of Dr. Tolonda Tolbert’s career–from her more than 15 years facilitating education workshops for the Anti-Defamation League to her work creating long-term strategic D&I planning for Fortune 500 and 1000 companies. In 2018, she became a co-founder of Eskalera Inc., which relies on AI, data science and evidence-based findings on D&I and bias to help medium- and large-sized companies fuel employee engagement, productivity and growth.

Tolbert, head of strategy and culture at Eskalera, will share her insights on how organizations can ensure current conversations on diversity and inclusion yield actionable results, including through tech, at the HR Technology Conference. Before her Oct. 29 keynote, “Culture Matters: How to Interrupt Systemic Discrimination From the Top-Down and Bottom-Up,” Tolbert spoke with HRE about her work and offered advice for how HR leaders can center D&I on their agendas.

Dr. Tolonda Tolbert

Your career has had diversity and inclusion embedded throughout. Can you share why and how this area became your focus?

Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) has always been a passion of mine, mostly because it is such a huge societal issue that can take over half of the population out of consideration for work. To be able to work and thrive in society is not a privilege, it is a right and I wanted to be part of the solution. Ultimately, I have a deep value of fairness and DEI was a way to live that value in my work.

Eskalera recently marked its second anniversary. How different is the organization today than when you founded it?

As a young company, we have been able to grow our team, and do it in the way that reflects our values. We are half people of color and half women–I’m very proud of this. We have tremendous multi-generational talent and people coming from all different walks of life that are united by our shared mission of DEI.

What were some of the most important lessons you brought to Eskalera from your own career that have helped the organization find success?

One of the most important things that I keep a laser focus on is eating our own cooking. That means we have to practice what we preach and, in the start-up world that is fast and furious, it is a challenge sometimes. I also believe that if you treat your talent well, they will go to the end of the earth for you. So, making sure that we are developing people is a pillar in our company culture.

Related: Why this diversity officer sees D&I as a strategic enabler

What is your advice for HR leaders about how to keep DEI at the forefront right now, amid all of the competing priorities driven by the pandemic?

This is not a zero-sum game, and the pandemic has made important inclusion practices even more salient. At the end of the day, employees who feel valued and included at work contribute more, and that supports ALL business goals. As we face these unprecedented challenges, innovative thinking is the only way to survive and thrive–and creating demographically diverse teams is the shortcut to innovation.


For more information or to register for the free, virtual HR Technology Conference, click HERE.

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Jen Colletta
Jen Colletta is managing editor at HRE. She earned bachelor's and master's degrees in writing from La Salle University in Philadelphia and spent 10 years as a newspaper reporter and editor before joining HRE. She can be reached at