Dave MacLeod, Thought Exchange

An interview with Dave MacLeod, the CEO of high-growth company ThoughtExchange, about diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) and how it drives better business results.

Dave MacLeod is the Co-Founder and CEO of ThoughtExchange, the world’s most advanced platform for scaling crowd-sourced conversations in both the public and private sectors. Founded a decade ago in Rossland, B.C., the remote-first technology company is at the forefront of diversity and inclusion in the workplace. The company’s software supports thousands of underrepresented voices, helping leaders improve community decision-making by removing bias and finding common ground. Their client base includes American Airlines, Cineplex, Royal Bank and dozens of organizations across the public education sector.

Clarity Recruitment’s Shane Gagnon spoke to Dave from his home in Rossland, B.C. about diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) and how it drives better business results at a high-growth company like ThoughtExchange.

Gagnon: How has DE&I improved ThoughtExchange’s growth strategy?

MacLeod: There’s a nauseating amount of research that shows companies that have more diversity outperform companies that don’t. The more diverse we get, the better we’re going to compete. The more we compete, the happier shareholders are going to be. People say to me, “Are we trying to return money to our shareholders, or are we trying to do good in the world by being more diverse, more inclusive, more equitable?” The performance mindset is simple: this is going to make our company more successful. Just hire awesome people. That’s it.

"We don’t put quotas on our hiring, but we do actively seek out diverse candidates and question the hiring process if we’re not attracting them."

Close Quote

Gagnon: How have you ensured an approach to DE&I when it comes to building ThoughtExchange? Do you have targets?

MacLeod: When you look at an organization and see their masthead is primarily white men, there’s a good chance that a fantastic candidate who is a person of colour, or a really solid female executive, is going to say, “There’s some systemic racism happening within that organization and I don’t know if I want to apply.” At ThoughtExchange, we don’t put quotas on our hiring, but we do actively seek out diverse candidates and question the hiring process if we’re not attracting them. We hire smart people that understand diversity and inclusion and we educate the whole company on the benefit of understanding this. 

Gagnon: What’s been the outcome of including DE&I in this strategy? 

MacLeod: We have hired some amazing people, including our Head of Anti-Racism, Diversity and Inclusion, Karen Craggs-Milne, to work alongside all of our teams, and Dennis Carpenter, our new director of K12 Anti-Racism and Equity. Having the in-house expertise that Dennis and Karen bring makes sure our product delivers on its promise and that our company walks the talk. We’ve been able to achieve our hopes around gender diversity, and we’ve been working really, really hard to achieve the same outcomes around visible minorities and neurodiversity in our new hires. We’re heading in the right direction. We’re not there yet. 

"The performance mindset is simple: this is going to make our company more successful. Just hire awesome people. That’s it."

Close Quote

Gagnon: There can be such rigid thinking when it comes to hiring requirements, which can impact diverse hiring outcomes. How do you gain access to a broader network of candidates?

MacLeod: If you have a need for diverse candidates, your network is a silo. When you have a system where your friends and colleagues and investors look like you, you actually need a third party to breeze through that silo and access the exceptional talent [outside your network] and to accelerate your ability as a company to do so. People with a different perspective have more value to add. 

You recently helped us hire our new CFO, Andrew Oh. With broader access to outside networks, we got the best candidate. Full stop. He just happened to be a diverse candidate. We all live in an echo chamber tying our LinkedIn, social media and investor networks together, and a recruiter can help access the true network of talent outside your silo.

Gagnon: What do you tell people about diversity and how to approach it?

MacLeod: When I speak at an event, I start by saying there’s currently three African-American CEOs in the Fortune 500. There are more people named Dave than there are women. The average height of everyone in the Fortune 500 is 6’1 and I’m white and my name is Dave and I’m a CEO. I know that I have unearned privilege. It’s about recognizing I come from privilege and the next step is realizing how that limits your own thinking. Read Ibram X. Kendi’s How To Be An Antiracist or White Fragility and come to the conversation ahead of the game. Once you understand what it means to be anti-racist, it takes away the concern and brings you to a place of strength. 

Dave MacLeod is a facilitator, anti-racist and the co-founder and CEO of ThoughtExchange. He lives in Rossland, B.C.

Shane Gagnon is the Director of Recruitment, Executive Search at Clarity Recruitment and is one of Canada’s most trusted recruitment experts for early-stage technology companies. He is a designated CPHR professional based in Vancouver, B.C.