Learning to Lead in a New Way as the Executive Sponsor of People of Color at HubSpot

Working for nearly 30 years in a variety of roles, I’ve become accustomed to jumping into projects that need fixing. I’ve found success in leading projects that need revitalization and in building teams that make an impact. My experiences in various roles has helped to build my confidence as a leader.

Recently, I took on a new role. One that I am still trying to build confidence in.

In December of 2017, I was asked to be the Executive Sponsor of the employee resource group People of Color at HubSpot (fondly known as POCaH). The mission of POCaH is to create an open, welcoming and inclusive environment for HubSpotters of color and the community. We do this by creating safe spaces to discuss challenges, accomplishments, and provide resources for career development and educational opportunities.

I wanted to jump in, but was unsure how exactly to proceed because I knew that my standard playbook wasn’t going to work for this type of leadership role. I wanted to ensure I could make an impact, but how could I possibly do that without first-hand experience or knowledge?

95% of the tech workforce is white. I am a part of that 95% statistic. I’m not treated differently because of the color of my skin or where I come from. I can’t begin to imagine how that feels for employees, no matter how hard I try to put myself in someone else’s shoes. I was intimidated to relate to my colleagues in a completely different, more vulnerable way, but it’s ultimately why I said yes.

I knew the role would be a challenge, but a rewarding one. It would mean that in some small way, I’d be part of supporting and advocating for our employees.

As the executive voice, my role is to actively listen and understand the concerns, challenges and proposed solutions of HubSpotters and represent the group at the executive level to push for action. So far, I’ve focused most of my efforts on empathy, and here are a few things of value I have learned since becoming the Executive Sponsor of POCaH.

A Small Effort Can Make a Big Difference

Companies have a responsibility to build diverse teams and promote differences of thought. Leaders and managers within the organization have a responsibility to make that environment inclusive. When I joined POCaH in a more official way, I admit I didn’t know where to begin or what to do to make a difference. I quickly realized that I was thinking too broadly. I wanted to “solve” the root cause challenges, because that was the role I was used to. I took a step back and realized that even a small effort would make a big difference. I started with: Stop being afraid to talk about diversity and inclusion.

We can make an effort to get comfortable talking about diversity and inclusion and the issues around it, just like every other important business issue. Simply talking about it might not seem like an action, but there is power in transforming the topic from a sensitive taboo to a business issue we trust each other to talk about and solve together.

There’s No Diversity Without Inclusion

There are half as many African Americans and Hispanics in tech as in the rest of the private sector. So, like many technology companies, we have some hard work ahead of us in order to be the diverse company we want to be. Research by Deloitte identifies a very basic formula as it relates to the topic: Diversity + inclusion = better business outcomes. The formula shows that while similar, diversity and inclusion are separate concepts and both are needed to reach a desired outcome.

I felt comfortable describing and explaining ‘diversity,’ and relating building diverse teams as a hiring and retention equation. My understanding of ‘inclusion’ was not as strong. It’s much more fuzzy, because it’s much more personal. It’s different for every person and from team to team. What I found helpful was watching a 3.5- minute video called Inclusion Starts with I. It’s the simplest and clearest explanation of the topic I’ve seen.

I’ve learned that creating an inclusive workplace is a business objective that requires leadership, focus, resources, and commitment above and beyond what’s required to hire a diverse team. It’s important to continue to educate on the differences of diversity and inclusion so that the topic doesn’t turn into having a one-size-fits-all solution.

Continued Education is Vital

In January, I attended a fascinating POCaH-sponsored HubTalk by Dr. Robert Livingston, a lecturer of public policy at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, about the perceptions of racism. He spoke about Aversive Racism Theory, proposed by Samuel L. Gaertner & John F. Dovidio, which has ultimately led to implicit bias or implicit stereotype. It is the term used to describe the “unconscious racist feelings that emerge despite supporting racial equality and regarding themselves as non prejudiced.” Or as Dr. Livingston explained, it’s racism in 2018: “In ambiguous situations, a discrepancy in outcome emerging solely on the basis of race, and perpetrators having no idea they are responsible for that.” This was eye-opening to me because it means that continued education of current day prejudices is vital.

POCaH meets regularly to discuss current events, hosts workshops (the last being on how to write an inclusive job description), and has its own active Slack channel where articles are shared and conversations continue. The goal is to create an environment where people can have open, respectful dialogue and learn from one another. Only by understanding others’ experiences, can we actively solve for a better future.

Knowing When To Use Your Voice

Throughout my career, I’ve learned how to use my voice to create change, to inspire teams, and ensure success. Part of my role as Executive Sponsor is to use my voice as a leader to speak louder, be more aggressive and demand more action on behalf of the group, but it’s not just my voice the executive team needs to hear. It’s the voices of HubSpotters who want to share their stories, express their frustrations and propose solutions.

So I partnered with our Chief People Officer, Katie Burke, to get some of our employees who are most passionate and vocal about diversity to speak on a panel exclusively to our executive team. It had a powerful effect that resulted in increased energy, attention and resources being applied to diversity, inclusion and belonging at HubSpot.

The last nine months have been a humbling journey. I continue to stretch and challenge myself to become a true ally in addition to an executive voice. The role has pushed me to use my voice in a completely new way and has taught me that not everything is a quick fix.

Perhaps the biggest learning I’ve had is that we have to be vulnerable, we have to be human.

My first step in being more vulnerable was saying ‘yes’ to being the exec sponsor for POCaH. I have a lot to learn, and a strong, smart, inspired group of employees in POCaH to help me grow. I hope, in some way, I can one day help them do the same.