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Inside Microsofts’ Journey to Creating a More Inclusive Workplace

By championing Diversity and Belonging discover how Microsoft is leading the way in Inclusive Workplace Culture

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Imagine walking into work every day and feeling like you can be your authentic self. That's the goal of Microsofts' AppNexus, the company that's revolutionising the tech industry with its diverse and inclusive workplace culture."


In today’s business world, there is a growing recognition that diversity and inclusion are key ingredients for growth and success. But while many companies pay lip service to this idea, achieving a truly diverse and inclusive workplace is much easier said than done. At AppNexus, Chief People Officer Brandon Atkinson has made it his mission to create a more inclusive culture at the company. In a recent interview, Atkinson shared his personal journey as a champion for diversity and inclusion, as well as the steps AppNexus has taken to create a more inclusive workplace culture.

AppNexus is a tech company bought by Microsoft that provides services to help customers buy and sell online advertising. When Atkinson joined the company, it was a small startup with only 28 employees. However, as the company began to grow, Atkinson noticed that the majority of new hires were white men in their late twenties. This lack of diversity concerned Atkinson, and he knew something needed to be done.

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To start, Atkinson and his team changed the job descriptions to use gender-neutral language and diversified the interview process. They also had open conversations within teams to explore when they did not feel like they had a "big tent culture." Atkinson changed his own behaviour by being more mindful of how his word choice impacts culture, making improvements to the onboarding process, and avoiding “fratty” behaviour in the team.

Atkinson became the Chief People Officer and knew that company-wide improvements were needed to accelerate progress. To do this, Atkinson and Nithya Das, SVP, General Counsel, created a Diversity and Inclusion Steering Committee. The Committee supports defining and executing AppNexus’ diversity and inclusion strategy, including setting measurable goals. The group has matured over the years and is now made up of a cross-functional, cross-tier group of leaders.

The D&I Steering Committee’s first task was to define what inclusion means at AppNexus. Their working definition is the following: “AppNexus tries to make each individual feel safe being their authentic self in all aspects of work at AppNexus through inclusion. It’s the responsibility of the company and all AppNexians to create a community where everyone feels involved, valued, and respected.”

To work towards this goal, the D&I Steering Committee created three pillars for their diversity and inclusion strategy:

  • Diversify the pipeline

  • Galvanise communities

  • Create an inclusive and global AppNexus

The committee takes on smaller projects to work towards these pillars, including engaging internally with AppNexians, investing with external partners to improve the pipeline, enhancing corporate practices around compensation and performance management, and measuring diversity and inclusion. A project manager keeps the team aligned on how they’re progressing toward their goals.

AppNexus also shares progress on diversity and inclusion with their board of directors and operating team.


They also share this information with employees, as AppNexians expect transparency. Atkinson believes that sharing progress with the company creates forward momentum because it helps establish “social accountability.” He says, “Google actually did the world a big favour when they started showing their demographics, essentially they established a norm.”

Recently, Microsofts' AppNexus began tracking the diversity of applicants with a focus on creating a more diverse company. People voluntarily provide their demographic information on applications, which allows AppNexus to see how people progress through the hiring process. “It allows us to dig in and have conversations with leaders to unlock bottlenecks in the hiring pipeline,” says Atkinson.


As Microsoft introduced employee surveys, they identified groups that were experiencing lower levels of inclusion, which allowed them to start creating positive change. As Atkinson says, “It’s the discussion that you have following the data which provides crucial insights for creating a more diverse and inclusive workplace. By taking concrete actions based on the results of the survey, AppNexus is able to further their goal of making every individual feel safe to be their authentic selves at work. Atkinson believes that this approach has been critical to their success in creating a culture where everyone feels involved, valued, and respected.

Article Details

 Feature with:           Brandon Atkinson, Chief People Officer 

Written by Team Hyer

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