4 Soft Skills for Inclusive Leadership
Insight From Dropbox's Bree Bunzel
Who doesn’t remember their first lemonade stand? Sticky fingers perfecting the sugar level, refreshing juice over ice, stacking cups, drawing the sign on poster paper big enough for passing cars to read. Finally, standing at the ready, excited to collect coins from happy customers.
Since her first lemonade stand at the age of 10, Bree Bunzel has been passionate about happy customers. So passionate that she forgot to turn a profit. “My ROI wasn’t calculated properly. My dad started giving me a ‘101’ on running a business,” she shares, laughing.
Though Bree’s lemonade stand wasn’t a start-up success story, it was her first lesson in building a customer-centric business. Today, as the head of global customer marketing for Dropbox, Bree’s commitment to people extends beyond just her clients. She’s devoted to building inclusive teams where diversity is celebrated.
“Working in an inclusive environment helps build confidence, which in turn has helped me find my voice, celebrate my uniqueness, and be the best version of myself, both personally and professionally. I am building a team with that same intention,” she shares.
We caught up with Bree to hear how she developed her inclusive leadership style and why she believes it’s good for both business and people. Plus, she shared a few tips for how you can practice inclusive leadership, too.
New Cultures, New Challenges
Bree’s go-getter mindset, starting from that first lemonade stand, sparked a journey that would take her around the world.
She grew up in a Korean-American household where she gained exposure to both cultures from an early age. After graduating from university, Bree worked with Intuit QuickBooks in the US for 4.5 years, building marketing foundational skills. When the company opened an office in Sydney, Australia, Bree jumped at the opportunity to grow her marketing skills internationally.
“My first two years in Sydney were spent really understanding the local market — realizing that just because a country speaks English, it doesn’t mean it has the same culture, which in turn impacts how you deliver messages, invoke humor, and build marketing strategies that resonate on a regional level,” Bree shares. “This is when I started to develop a more global mindset beyond the ivory tower of HQ.”
A few years later, Dropbox reached out about an opportunity to lead Product Marketing in the APAC region. Bree fell in love with the company and culture immediately. Her responsibilities took her to Japan, London, and back to the United States. After the wrap of her Customer Advisory Board World tour, she was tapped on the shoulder by Dropbox’s Chief Marketing Officer to consider her next role: heading up Customer Marketing.
Now, Bree is building customer programs and communities to amplify customers’ voices and brands — all to accelerate engagement, influence growth, and drive revenue. To reach these goals, Bree understands the importance of building a safe, inclusive culture for her team first.
“I feel my role in Customer Marketing gives me a unique responsibility to ensure I’m building a team that represents the diverse tapestry of our customers globally,” she shares. “I’ve seen first-hand how the diversity of a team has led to amazing ideas we could have never come up with from a one-dimensional lens.”
Inclusion Is Part of Our DNA
Bree first leaned into inclusive leadership thanks to the culture at Dropbox. “The Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion team has built strong foundational education and programs to build awareness, empathy, and understanding as individuals and as leaders,” she shares.
Right away, Bree learned about Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) and the benefit of getting involved. “I have met friends and built connections through (ERG) programs like Asians@ at Dropbox. I’ve also learned so much about myself.”
As a Korean-American-Australian, Bree currently co-leads the Asians@ employee resource group for Dropbox’s APAC region and is working on building an Asians & Allies Tech Community with other company ERGs. Her goal is to build connection, community, and mentorship to support the next generation of Asian tech leaders.
Bree has also worked under several leaders that have demonstrated inclusive leadership practices, showing her what it means to feel heard, seen, and psychologically safe. This contrasts past work environments where Bree witnessed how exclusive leadership hinders collaboration, work productivity, and overall output.
“There have been times when I’ve found myself caught up in self-doubt, spending more time thinking about how to approach conversations than actually having them,” Bree recalls.
With the right support and mentorship, Bree is developing her own personal style of championing inclusion for her teams.
“I’ve been asking myself… how do I create opportunities to help my team feel seen and heard? What uniqueness can I draw out and celebrate for others to see? How can I create an environment where others feel safe to share their authentic selves?”
One strategy Bree embraces is the “Yes and'' attitude. “Yes and” is a tool from the world of improvisational comedy. It means taking inspiration and adding your own flair. Bree chooses the “Yes and” method as a way to encourage her team to get involved in internal groups that build a sense of belonging, help inspire their work, and create a culture of collaboration.
Inspirational opportunities at Dropbox include joining an ERG, leading a volunteer impact day, leading a Women’s History Month event, and even kicking off a hackweek project. This openness to opportunity continues to build a sense of belonging for both Bree and her team members at Dropbox.
4 Key Insights for Inclusive Leadership
“Ultimately, I want my team to have a safe space to embrace this journey of learning more about themselves, their teammates, our customers, and our craft,” shares Bree.
Would we love to be on Bree’s team? Absolutely.
But since we can’t all work alongside her, we asked Bree to share the top four characteristics we can all embody to lead with inclusion at the forefront. (Bonus — we even got a few of Bree’s teammates to share how they’ve seen Bree embody those qualities.)
First on the docket is empathy.
“People may not remember what you say, but they will remember how you made them feel. Building empathy leads to psychological safety, an environment that helps build a solid foundation for a team,” shares Bree.
Her strategy involves getting curious about people, what they value, and how they’re feeling.
“As a manager, Bree gets to know her direct reports as people first. Because of the safe and inclusive environment that Bree has fostered, I've never felt more comfortable bringing my whole self to work,” confirms one of her teammates.
Then, there’s humility.
“Showing modesty in capabilities, admitting mistakes, and creating space for others to contribute all help to build a sense of trust,” Bree says.
As a recovering people pleaser, Bree mentions that she used to be terrified by the idea of humility; however, she knew it was important for both her growth and the growth of her team.
One teammate commented on how Bree, “makes this vulnerable space safe by offering her own struggles, joys, and challenges so that others feel welcome to share theirs.”
Another characteristic Bree encourages leaders to embody is ownership.
She believes that sharing responsibility is a way to include her team members’ unique views in projects, as well as create a safe space for them to present their ideas.
“On the customer marketing team, it's far more likely that you'll hear about our programs from someone on Bree’s team than you will from Bree herself. This creates ownership over the projects and gives multiple people the chance to shine,” shares one of Bree’s teammates.
And the final piece of advice? Stay curious. Learn from those around you, ask questions, and check in on people. Bree confirms, “It’s important to have an open mindset and curiosity of others, listening without judgment and seeking to understand.”
“In meetings, Bree makes space for others to answer the question instead of offering the answer herself,” Bree’s teammate shares. “This has generated some fabulous planned and impromptu brainstorming sessions where our team is able to become more creative together.”
As Bree demonstrates, it’s possible to create an environment where everyone feels valued and diversity is celebrated as a strength rather than an obstacle. With a commitment to developing these four soft skills, you’ll be well on your way to inclusive leadership, too.
Looking to join a company that values inclusive leadership? Follow @lifeInsideDropbox on Instagram and check out Dropbox’s job openings here.