Inclusive Hiring and the Fallacy of the Binary Race Narrative, with Pendo’s Jess Jolley

Growing up in rural North Carolina, people would always ask Jess Jolley, “What are you?” or “What are you mixed with?”  In the South, you were either white, Black, or other, and as a light-skinned Black person, that wasn’t always easy. And as Jess would discover by looking into historical records, race is not a binary construct.

Jess Jolley is the Head of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Pendo.


Jackie Ferguson: Hi, and welcome to season four of the Diversity Beyond the Checkbox Podcast sponsored by The Diversity Movement. I’m your host, Jackie Ferguson equality advocate and certified diversity executive. On this show, we discuss how diversity, equity and inclusion benefit our workplaces, schools, and communities by sharing the stories, insights, and best practices of game changers, leaders, and glass ceiling breakers that are doing the work to make our world a more understanding, welcoming and supportive place for us all.

Jackie: Welcome to our show, and thanks for listening. My guest today is Jessica Jolley, Head of Diversity Equity and Inclusion at Pendo. Jessica, thanks for being with us today. 

Jessica: No, thank you so much for having me, Jackie. 

Jackie: Of course, of course. Jessica, I love to start with a little about your background, your family, your identity, whatever you’d like to share. 

Jessica: Yeah, no, Jackie. So I’m originally from North Carolina. I grew up in rural North Carolina, so 40 minutes from Durham, North Carolina. And I grew up on a farm and I’m actually back there, so have come full circle after living, you know, in New York and DC, back in North Carolina. And I come from a family of farmers. So my great-grandfather was a tobacco farm, you know, his nephew still farms to this day. And same for, this is my maternal side of my family, same from my father’s side. So they’re from Eastern North Carolina, Halifax County. And this long history of farmers and entrepreneurs and educators, in terms of family histories. You know, ended up going to school here in North Carolina, I’m at UNC, left and went to Carnegie Mellon, but I’m back here in the state. 

So I’m a proud north Carolinian. and when it comes to just like identity, and I know we’re going to talk about this today, but when I think about my racial identity, you know, I identify as Black, my parents and both my parents identify as Black, but I’ve really started to, as I’m going through this journey of understanding kind of race and my ancestors and history and going through my own journey of anti-racism, you know, understand race and colorism and privilege.

I’ve really started to learn so much around this concept of race and this binary concept of like, what is it to be white and what it’s, what is it to be nonwhite, and how that has showed up just looking back at and my ancestors and just really understanding, you know, what that’s looked like over the past, you know, couple of decades for them.

Full Episode Transcript

Diversity Beyond the Checkbox is brought to you by The Diversity Movement, hosted by Head of Content Jackie Ferguson, and is a production of Earfluence.  For sponsorship options, email

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