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One year in action: Meet the Pinterest Ombuds team

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Ombuds (om-buhdz): A confidential and impartial resource that provides a safe place for Pinterest employees to raise any work-related concerns. As an independent function reporting directly to our CEO, Ombuds acts as a sounding board to understand situations, provide a balanced perspective and share advice and conflict-resolution tactics. 

Today, we’re celebrating one year of Ombuds by reflecting on the work this team has done to create impact within Pinterest, learning about the importance of having an Ombuds program and introducing you to the individuals who make this work possible. Meet the Ombuds team! 

Hey there, Ombuds team! We’re excited to sit down with you all today. Let’s start with an introduction. 

Donna: Hi there – my name is Donna Douglass Williams and I lead the Ombuds team at Pinterest. Though I started my career doing work as in-house corporate counsel, I’ve been doing Ombuds work for many years. I felt drawn to this work because it gives me the opportunity to help brainstorm creative, constructive resolutions to workplace conflicts and other concerns informally, in ways where people feel heard and empowered to engage in their own problem solving. I was led to Pinterest both because of the challenge of starting a new Ombuds program in the tech sector, and also because of our mission – to bring everyone the inspiration to create a life they love. I really wanted to be a part of a mission like that! My favorite part of Pinterest is that people are encouraged to bring their full, authentic selves to work, as well as pursue their passions outside of work. Oh- and PinFlex! I think it’s revolutionary, and we should be shouting from the rooftops how Pinterest has designed a flexible work model that works well and is so appreciated by employees.

Teresa: Hi! My name is Teresa Ralicki and I am the Ombuds Lead here at Pinterest. I came to Pinterest for an opportunity to do the work I love (ombudsing) but also knowing the energy and support would be there for parts of the job I love the most but felt stifled in the past. Those include working with data, working collaboratively internally and getting to use my creativity fully in all aspects of the work. My favorite part of Pinterest is that when I, or others, provide a creative, new or unexpected way of approaching something, it is celebrated and appreciated.

Shawday: Hello! My name is Shawday Berstler and I am the Senior Ombuds Specialist at Pinterest. I joined Pinterest (as a longtime, active user and lover!) in August of 2020 as an Administrative Business Partner. I was first attracted to Pinterest because of my love for the platform, as well as my alignment with the company mission and values. I have over 10 years of experience in business support roles – and I was ecstatic to bring that experience to Pinterest and grow here while being a part of the incredible culture. I moved into the Ombuds Program Manager role in February of 2022 to help Donna build and launch the program. While I’m newer to the Ombuds field, the moment I learned what an Ombuds was and that we were launching a program – I knew it was the field I wanted to pursue. I feel it’s the work I was called to do because helping others is what truly fills my cup! My favorite part about Pinterest is the people! Pinterest is full of compassionate, authentic, inclusive, socially-conscious and brilliant humans that are just amazing to work with and be around. Also – the Workplace Team pop-up events! I love the intentional opportunities to take a work break every now and then to be crafty and create new things with colleagues.

Describe what Ombuds means to you. 

Team Response: An Ombuds is many things: a listener, a confidential resource, a conflict strategist, coach, educator, mediator, resolution artist and change agent. All of these roles stem from the primary one – a listener. Ombuds are dedicated to helping employees feel like they can be their best, most authentic selves in the workplace. We are here to support people and ensure they have the tools they need to feel supported and safe at work.

Why is Ombuds important to Pinterest’s culture or any company’s culture? 

Team Response: Ombuds are important to a company’s culture for a number of reasons. Ombuds strengthen the listening culture, and when employees feel heard and have access to a resource that supports adherence to core values and organizational integrity, that can boost employee engagement, collaboration, trust, psychological safety, positive team dynamics, productivity and morale. Organizations tend to list their values and what they say about how they want people to feel in the workplace, and Pinterest is no exception. What can stand out as a difference between organizations is which ones do the work of trying to live up to those values and hopes and which ones don’t. Having an ombuds function is a great step in showing an intention to walk the walk, and the importance of Investing in a program dedicated to supporting employees having an additional way of getting the support they may need. The Ombuds can be a great (or helpful) resource for employees to share workplace challenges and explore resolution. This helps to create a more inclusive and supportive culture, and dialogue around the employee experience being heard and valued. 

Can you share your Ombuds moment with us, a moment where you really felt the impact of your function? 

Donna: I think I feel the impact in what I call “before and after moments.” Difficulties at work can permeate every part of our lives, and so many who reach out to us can be very emotional, apprehensive and unable to see a clear way forward. Frequently, when we’ve had an opportunity to provide Ombuds support, these employees feel more empowered to engage in a resolution process, and more hopeful that the situation can improve. Just that sounding board part of our function can be very powerful. When people let us know how grateful they are knowing we are available to listen and collaborate with them towards problem solving, I feel like we’ve made a difference.

Teresa: I’ve felt the impact of our function in many small moments. For example, after speaking with a visitor 1:1, I’ve heard comments such as: 

  • “Wow, this conversation took the clouds away.”
  • “It felt good just to be heard.”
  • “I feel like I actually have a plan now.”

Comments like these help me feel the impact of our function in what can seem like a small way on the outside, but I guarantee it feels big to that person.

Shawday: I have my Ombuds moments every time someone shares gratitude for our program and/or the support we provided, but interestingly, I actually started having my Ombuds moments before I even started in the role! After I accepted the position and began telling my teams/colleagues about the new role I was about to step into, it was a chance to explain to people what an Ombuds was and what the program’s function was – as many still didn’t know at that time. People reacted by saying what an amazing role and program it is, how impactful the work is and how awesome it is that Pinterest saw the value in creating and investing in this program. That was incredibly affirming! I also experience this feeling constantly in working with Donna and Teresa. Seeing their passion for this work and learning from their breadth of experience is awe-inspiring and I am grateful every single day that I am a part of this team.

We have to ask…what are you currently Pinning? 

Donna: So I’m planning to redo my bedroom soon, and I’ve got a Japandi board – checking out ideas and designs that combine Japanese and Scandinavian style elements. I love the minimalism and simplicity of the style, and also that it focuses on comfort. I’ve also become obsessed with plants! For years I traveled a lot, but now that I work primarily from home, I’m spending time discovering new plants and how to properly care for them. I recently nearly killed a maidenhair fern, but then revived it! So Pinterest is helping me with my plant babies.

Teresa: My nine-year old step daughter really wants to make a furry costume, so I have been trying to learn how to do that!

Shawday: I am constantly pinning new vegan/plant-based dishes I want to make, so my recipe boards are always growing! I’m also currently pinning leg-sleeve/tattoo ideas, summer fashion and a number of DIY craft ideas like impressionist paintings, resin coasters and floral arrangements. Oh – and homemade dog treats!

Thank you for joining us today and creating impact within Pinterest and beyond. 

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