Diversity really matters and is what we need to do to be competitive

Rachel Quon
May 15 · 60 min read

We hosted our fourth Seat @ the Table in partnership with LinkedIn and like all previous Seat @ the Tables, this event brought together a range of voices: still climbing the ladder to be in a position to do something about it. Christina Hall, Chief People Officer at Linkedin, opened the event by sharing why diversity and allyship is so important to LinkedIn. Rachel Thomas, Co-Founder of LeanIn, then presented how things show up in the workplace for women today with the data and facts. We then moved into the panel session moderated by Martina Lauchengco, Operating Partner at Costanoa. The panel featuring four incredibly talented leaders — Ariel, Chris, Keri, and Nancy — shared their stories and advice to inspire us.

The transcript below is lightly edited for clarity but are the speakers in their own words as they shared the data and their stories.

The featured speakers include:

  • Ariel Cohen, Co-Founder & CEO @ TripActions
  • Chris Louie, Sr. Director, Talent Acquisition @ LinkedIn
  • Christina Hall, Chief People Officer @ LinkedIn
  • Keri Gohman, Chief Platform Business Officer & President @ Xero
  • Martina Lauchengco, Operating Partner @ Costanoa Ventures
  • Nancy Douyon, User Experience Lead @ Uber
  • Rachel Thomas, Co-Founder & President @ LeanIn

You can also watch the full discussion here.


Martina: When we started Seat @ the Table a few years ago now, Costanoa wanted to make sure that we were inspiring conversations and action around having more women have more seats around more tables in tech. And as a boutique venture firm, we felt it was important to not just invest in the technologies and companies that were changing how business got done. But we believed it was equally important to invest in the people, and processes behind how those companies were being built. And so that’s why we created this forum.

We know that this is a long journey that all of us will be on, we don’t expect change to happen tomorrow. But know that this forum and every conversation you have after this, can make a difference. Last year, we had a woman that was so inspired by this conversation, she went home to her husband, and said, “You won’t believe how inspiring this event was, and how important having a diverse pipeline is. And how much diversity can help improve company performance.” And her husband, who was a VP of finance, or is a VP of finance at a high tech startup, realized, “We’re feeling flat in our company. And maybe it’s because we’re all white guys leading this company.” He also realized he was interviewing for a controller position, and that the entire pipeline he’d been interviewing was all male. So the very next day, he went to his head of HR and said, “I want you to make sure that 50% of my pipeline is women.” And she started crying. And she said, “Thank you so much for asking this of me. It is so much more powerful when the leadership takes ownership, than me trying to start this myself. This is how we create this change at this company.” So it was one woman having one conversation, that’s now having a huge impact on an entire company. All of you have the power to do that. And that’s what we hope to inspire through this conversation here tonight.

I want to say one thing about tone. A few months ago, I attended this absolutely inspirational conference called the Watermark Conference for Women. Its founder is right here, so thank you for doing that. It’s about women’s empowerment and professional development. And this year, we had Gloria Steinem saying, “Your time is now.” And Renee Brown, talking about authenticity and vulnerability. And Serena Williams, who is one of the most extraordinary powerful women I’ve ever seen, physically present. And in between these incredible speakers and workshops, you have this lunch where you sit down with strangers. And I happen to be sitting in between two guys, which were the first guys I’d seen all day. And so I asked them, “What is this experience like for you?” And they said, “Honestly, it’s really intimidating. Because the content and the conversations are really important and interesting, and we want to take them back to our teams. But they’re so oriented around women. And we don’t feel like we’re actually supposed to be part of this conversation.” So, tonight is meant to be very inclusive, because we want to make sure everyone leaves here with conversations they can have, that create the change that we are all seeking.

This would not be possible without a great partner providing this incredible space. We want to thank Christina and LinkedIn once again for hosting this for a second year. Christina is the SVP and chief people officer at LinkedIn. Christina Hall, tell us about why this is an important conversation for LinkedIn.

Christina: Hello, everyone. As she said, I am Christina Hall, and I have the pleasure of leading people here at LinkedIn. And it is certainly one of the better parts of my job, to get to welcome people to events like this one. I think it is so important to have this dialogue with all of you here in all of your different perspectives on so many questions and so many discussions. And I welcome you to LinkedIn.

I also wanted to just talk a little bit about why I think tonight’s discussion is so important. One of the big topics tonight is going to be about allyship, and the importance of that. And I think it’s really one of those things where, when Martina asked the question, “Have you had a special person who’s done something for you in your career, who’s taken a special interest?” For so many of us, we have these seminal moments that we think about, and that person who did that thing that made all the difference.

For me, I stood up when Martina asked the imposter question, because I’m the head of people here. I’ve had the job for about a year and a half. If you would have asked me 10 years ago, if this would be what I was doing, I would have no idea. I was very much in a different place in my career, in terms of thinking that I was more like a lawyer and a compensation person, and much less like an HR person. And at that point, I was managing the compensation team at Facebook. And I was there for a little while, and I wasn’t quite sure it was a fit for me. And I was offered a position at LinkedIn. And at that time, Facebook was doing great. But it was also the name brand. And I was like, “Well, why would I go to LinkedIn?” And it seemed like a big quandary for me. And so I took a huge risk, to send an email to my old boss’s boss, the CEO at Intuit, this guy named Brad Smith, who’s just actually stepped down from leading into it. I had worked with him from afar. We were not super tight, but I knew that he knew LinkedIn because he had our CEO, or head LinkedIn CEO, on his board. And so I just shot him a note and asked if he had any advice. And Brad took the time that day, when he got the email, to call me and talk me through it. And it was so great to have someone take the time to walk through pros and cons with me, and give his perspective on it. I felt like it was so generous of his time, and it help make the difference. And then, when we hung up the phone, he called Jeff Weiner, the CEO of LinkedIn, and said, “You got to have her.” And it was so epic. And it ended up being such a great thing in so many ways, which was all totally born of just me getting over my anxiety of sending one email to the guy. That one email, which felt like a little beyond the comfort zone, because we weren’t direct reports, and we weren’t close buddies, was the beginning of just this really nice moment.

And, I won’t say that I talked to Brad Smith every week, or that we have developed this deep mentor mentee relationship. But he was such an important ally. And I think that those kind of moments can be so impactful. And I know that as a woman, sometimes it definitely takes a little extra to get beyond that discomfort with doing something that might be pushing. Might be a tiny bit beyond our comfort zone. And I see that in data all the time. So LinkedIn published something called the Gender Insights Report, based on data we see of the 610 million members of LinkedIn. And in it, you see some things where you’re just, it’s a little bit cringe worthy. Because you see that women are 26% less likely than men, to ask for a referral. So that’s on LinkedIn, and we’re talking about an online platform, right? This isn’t having to walk up to someone at a cocktail party, or send them in a grave note. We’re talking about sending an email request on LinkedIn, women, 26% less likely. And so think about how much opportunities being lost there. Because we know that referrals are one of the key differentiator to get people interviews, and to get people jobs.

And the other side of that is, then with what we see as women apply for jobs, they are actually more likely than men, to get the jobs that they’ve applied for on LinkedIn. I think the number is 17%. And then as you get to more senior roles, the number increases to 18% for women. So in a way, I want to make the early call to action, to think about just those moments of being brave. And taking that step. And I hope that tonight’s discussion will lead to us thinking about these different ways where, either you could stretch to be someone’s ally. Or you might stretch to ask someone to provide some guidance for you in that way. And I’ll hand it over to the panel.

Martina: We all know as we were hearing from Christina, that data provides clarity. Oh, okay, I’m 26% less likely to do this, I should do something about that. And last year, when we had Rachel Thomas with us, sharing the Women in the Workplace data, people talked about how seeing the numbers in black and white made really clear what work remains for us to do. And so we asked her back, because it was so well received. And so I’d like to bring up to the stage, co founder and president of Lean In, Rachel Thomas, to walk us through the Women in the Workplace data.

Rachel: Thank you very much for being here. And particularly, for all you men in the room. There’s a famous Gloria Steinem quote, which is, “When the eventual revolution comes, you will get a pass.” So, thank you for being here.

So, I want to start with a question. What percentage of black women do you think, have never, never had an interaction with a senior leader at their company? Does anyone want to throw out a answer? A little participation?

Okay. I’ll go right to, 59%. You’re a smart audience. I usually get caught with these a little bit. But think about that for a minute. Almost 60% of black women in today’s workplace, have not had an interaction with a senior leader. Just let that sink in. That is one of our findings from the Women in the Workplace study. And for those of you who aren’t familiar with it, it’s the largest study of its kind conducted in the US every year. We do with our friends at McKinsey & Company.

Over the course of the last four years, we’ve done it. 450 companies employing almost 20 million people, have participated. This year, 300 plus companies are signed up. And we’re about to fill the study in the next, the survey, in the next couple of weeks. And interestingly enough, and I’m bracing you, this is a lot of data fast, and a lot of it isn’t good. But I think it’s validation for the women in the room, and I think it’s a call to action for all of us in the room.

But what the findings show us, year over year over year, is that, women remain underrepresented at every level in corporate America, and we’re stuck. The numbers are not changing. So, the further you look in organizations, the fewer women you see. Just one in five C suite executives is a woman. And less than one in 25 is a woman of color.

Before I go further, I want to stop and pause for a second. And I just heard that LinkedIn data, so women need to do more. But what we see in our data, and we’ve seen it for the last four years, is that, women are doing their part, our part. So if you looked at research from 15 years ago, it would say that men negotiated at higher rates than women. We don’t see that. Women and men are asking for raises and promotions as often as each other.

The other thing has been conventional wisdom for years, that women are opting out. We do not see that in our data. And I want to say again, we have the largest data set on what’s happening in the workplace I think, of any organization in the US. Women are not leaving the workplace. They’re staying at their companies at the same rates as men, and they’re generally staying in the workplace as the same rates as men. In fact, only 2% of men and women roughly tell us that they’re leaving the workplace to focus on family. And that is because, most families need to have both people working. And both people committed to bringing income into the house. So, women are doing their part.

Then the issue is, what else do we, as people who care about this issue, as leaders, as organizations. What do we need to be doing? So I’m going to share three things that we see in the data that I think are important for you to understand. The first is, we don’t think the glass ceiling is the real problem. And I want to be clear, there is a glass ceiling and some women are hitting it. Everybody I think, knows, but for 30 years, we’ve been talking a lot about the glass ceiling. This concept that women hit an invisible barrier and can go no further.

And again, there is a glass ceiling. But if you look at the numbers, the disparities at the top of organizations, both for promotion rates and hirings, have really started to close. What we really see is that, women stumble on the way right in the door. So women have been getting more college degrees for 30 years, than men. And yet women are less likely to be hired into the entry level in organizations, just slightly less likely. But that means, women are left behind from the get go. And then at that first critical step up to manager. That first promotion that gets you on the path to leadership, men are far more likely to be promoted.

For every 100 men promoted to manager, 79 women are, 60 black women are. So, by the time you get to the manager level in organizations, two-thirds of managers are men. And one-third of managers are women. I want to be clear, every organization has a different looking pipeline. This may not be the case for your individual organization, but if we look at what’s happening across the workplace, these are the numbers.

Let’s stop for a second and think about, what’s the problem with this? Two-thirds men, one-third women. That means there are fewer women to hire from the outside, as you get further up the pipeline. And there are fewer women to promote in your organization. So you are literally stacking the deck against women, right from the get go.

The other thing I would say is, I think this points to a problem that we believe is of incredible importance that lean in, which is, there’s too much bias still baked into hiring and promotions. So, we know from a lot of research, that we, and when I say we, I mean all of us, of all genders in the room. We are more likely to overestimate men’s performance and underestimate women’s performance. And as a result, research shows that women are often hired and promoted based on what they’ve done, what they’ve already accomplished. Where men are often hired and promoted based on potential. We believe they can get there, we believe they can do it.

And so if you think about it, we’re with this bias be most likely to rear its ugly head. It’d be at the very beginning of your career, when you have less of a track record. So you can either say, men and women must be materially different at the entry level in organizations. Or you need to say, there’s something else going on. So one of the big things we think is happening is, there’s a lot of bias baked into the system.

Also, I would suspect that since we’ve been talking about the glass ceiling for 30 years, organizations have put more focus at the director level, the VP level, the Senior VP level, to level the playing field. And now we need to shift our focus earlier in the pipeline. We love numbers. We love math, so we did the math. We do not close the gender gaps at the step up to manager. We think we’ll remain stuck. We do not think the pipeline will move. On the flip side, if we close the gap at the step up to manager, we think over the next 10 years, we’ll start to see the numbers change dramatically in management. So, we need to focus on the very beginning of the pipeline, and that’s step up to manager.

The other thing is, when we talk about women’s experiences in the workplace, we rightfully talk about big issues like: sexual harassment, equal pay, the maternal wall, or the bias that new mothers face. And these are all critical issues that we’re doing work on as an organization, and I know many of you in the room are doing work on.

But the other thing I think it’s really important for us to understand is, women are having a crappy experience at work. And this matters. So 65 or 64% of women experience what are called microaggressions. And I want to be clear, men experience them too, people of color, LGBTQ people. This is not something that is just reserved for women. But a lot of women experience microaggressions. And I’ll give you a couple of examples. And my guess is, the women in the room will start to nod.

Being spoken over in a meeting. Putting an idea out on the table and then watching it run away from you, and somehow it’s someone else’s idea. I’ve heard a couple have been there, in the front.

Having to provide more evidence of your competence, even though you have the expertise. Being mistaken for someone significantly more junior. And here’s the thing, and I’ve experienced them. And actually I’m willing to bet, everyone in the room has experienced some of these things at some point in their career. Regardless of what you look like, what your gender is, or what your sexual orientation is. We’ve all experienced some of this. But it happens to women a lot.

And what experts would say is, the phenomenon is death by 1000 paper cuts. Not one of these on their own, are rocking your day. But when they’re happening to you all the time, as part of your everyday experience, they wear women down. So, we know that women who experience microaggressions, are three times more likely to think often about leaving their organization. So, if you managed a team, or managed an organization, I’m going to say that again. Women who experience microaggressions, think about leaving their organization often, three times more often than women who don’t experience them.

We also know that, microaggressions are connected to another phenomenon that we looked at a lot last year, in Women in the Workplace, which we call the only-experience. So, one in five women say they are the only, or one of the only women in the room at work. Not surprisingly, senior level women say it more, and women who work in technical fields. And onlys are having a significantly worse experience than women who work with other women. They are more likely to experience microaggressions, far more likely. They report they feel left out, on-guard, under pressure to perform. And they are twice as likely at some point in their career, to have been sexually harassed.

I think that if we don’t watch ourselves in our efforts to get to diversity, we sometimes end up with tokenism. We check the box. We have one woman so one woman is enough, or one LGBTQ person, or one person of color and that is enough. And true diversity, as we all know, comes with real numbers. Just think about this for a second. If you’re the only in a room, you have additional scrutiny. You feel the pressure that you’re representing everybody like you. You are less likely to speak up, push for your ideas, challenge the status quo. And yet, that’s what we need people in our organizations to do to be successful.

One way to think about this, just maybe a mindset shift, is, unfortunately, we’re not going to have more women until we move the pipeline. But I think conventional wisdom is, I’ve got 10 teams, I’ve got 10 women, I’m going to put one woman on every team because check the box, I’ve got gender diversity. And I would posit that, maybe a better way to think about them might be, I’m going to put two or three women on fewer teams. I’m going to have some teams that are all men. And I’m okay with that, because I believe the women on those other teams are having a better experience, and that matters.

The other thing we see is that women of color, face more barriers and get less support. And the numbers here are really stark. So women of color are promoted more slowly. They get less support for managers and senior leaders. And they experienced more and more types of microaggressions. And you can see the numbers up here, this is particularly acute for black women.

And many of us in the room know this, but this is because women of color, face biases for being women. And they face biases for being people of color. And these compounding or intersecting biases are greater than the sum of their parts. And this is so important for all of us to understand, particularly again, those of you who lead teams and lead organizations. Because here’s the kicker, women of color are more ambitious than white women. They are more interested in being senior leaders, top execs in organizations. If we can figure out how to better focus on the unique experiences of women of color, and lift them up, we are cultivating future leaders.

So, those are the three things I wanted to talk about tonight, that the data shows us that aren’t going so well. And now, the three things that we can do about it. So the first, you read that and you go, treat gender diversity like the business priority. Doesn’t everybody do that? And the reality is, I don’t think so. The numbers do not tell that story. Because think about it, what do you do when something’s a business priority? You set goals. You make them public. You track progress, you share metrics openly widely with employees. And you hold managers and leaders accountable for hitting those goals, and you reward them when they do.

We all know what happens in organizations is what gets tracked and rewarded. And yet, only 10% of organizations are currently setting targets for gender and race. 12% share a majority of their diversity metrics with employees. And I want to be clear, a much larger sharing a couple of metrics, but only a small amount are really committing to share a majority of their metrics. And then only 16% of companies are holding their managers and their leaders accountable for progress on diversity. We need to treat it like a business priority, because it is.

The other thing is, we need to address bias in hiring and promotions. From my earlier comments. So we know that about less than 50% of companies mandate diverse slates, and less than 27 or 26% do for internal promotions. And yet, there’s a lot of research that shows mandated diverse slates work. So I’m going to use the NFL as an example, like a good example. So, chuckles aside.

Back in the early 2000s, the NFL put what’s called the Rooney Rule in place. So for those of you who don’t know what it is, it mandated that there was one person of color on every slate for head coaching roles. At the time, they put it in place, just 6% of head coaches were black or Latino. Today, that’s over 20%. They’ve moved the numbers by always having mandated diverse slates.

And two things I think, are really important to say when we talk about diversity slates. One, everybody’s got to be equally qualified. You don’t put people on the slate that are less qualified, have less work experience. That is not truly a diverse slate. And then the second is, the newer research shows us that, one woman or one person of color on a slate, is not enough. You really need two per slate to really move the dial. The other thing we know is, only 6% of companies are using blind resume reviews. And yet, the research around this is really clear, there’s a lot of bias in resume reviews. I’m going to share two data points with you.

So one, there was a study done, if you took a resume. And all you did was replace the woman’s name with a man’s name, same resume, nothing else changed. The odds of being hired went up by 60%. Similarly, in another study, if you took a stereotypically black sounding name, and replaced it with a name that was not stereotypically black sounding, so Kamal to Greg, was the exact study. And Leticia to Emily. It effectively added eight years of experience to that candidate’s resume. We need to work as hard as we can to level the playing field. Part of it is blind resumes, blind assignments. So we’re really focusing on what people have accomplished.

The other thing, and the good news is, a lot of companies, over two-thirds, or about two-thirds sexually. Over two-thirds, are using clear consistent criteria, for their hiring. But I would throw out, to all of you, I think that’s table stakes. So first of all, I think it sounds good in theory, and it’s hard to hold up on practice. And so we need organizations to be pushing further.

An example of an organization that’s done a great job with this recently is Airbnb, audited their performance review process. So they made many changes. I’m sure I’m short changing everything they did, but I’m going to share two of them with you. The first is, they moved from qualitative, written, mostly written evaluations, to a five point scale. Because research shows that, when you move from qualitative to quantitative, it reduces bias.

The other thing we know from research is that, women tend to underestimate our own abilities. And men tend to overestimate theirs. There’s a lot of research on this, I’ve done it with my husband a couple of times, it’s a data set of one. But I’ve done it with my husband a couple of times. And it turns out that that does indeed track in at least the Thomas household. And in all seriousness, they removed self evaluations, because they know that that can be a very biased part of the process. So pushing beyond clear and consistent criteria, and pushing further is important.

And then we know that only 19% of employees are involved in hiring, and 4% of employees are involved in performance reviews, get unconscious bias training. And that’s just not setting people up to understand how implicit bias works, to understand how to check their bias. So well-meaning people, are going into these processes and stumbling into bias pitfalls. And when I say well-meaning people, I mean all of us. I mean, all genders, we all do this.

“We need to empower managers to drive change.” — Rachel Thomas

The final thing is, we need to empower managers to drive change. So let me just dork out for a minute. But there’s this concept in social science called the frozen middle. So you’ve got senior leadership, they’re on board. They think that it’s a great idea, they’re all in. Rank and file employees are amenable to making a shift, changing the culture, changing programs and processes. But if managers are not on board, it gets stuck. Change gets stuck in the frozen middle.

This makes a lot of sense. Because for all of you managers in the room, you are on the front lines of decisions that impacts who gets promoted, who gets stretch assignments. You’re shaping the culture on your team. You have such an impact on your employees’ day-to-day work experiences and advancement.

And here’s the thing, all of us, it doesn’t matter gender, managers are falling short. So when you ask employees, they will tell you, but less than a third of managers consistently challenge gender biased language and behavior when they see it, when it happens. Less than half of managers are encouraging a diversity of voices in decision making. And only about a quarter are able to or providing guidance on how to improve gender diversity. And I do not share this to beat up on managers. My bigger message is, what do companies need to do to empower managers to be part of the solution, to be change agents.

I already talked about unconscious bias training, but only 44% of managers get it. And I just don’t know how we expect people to challenge bad behavior, if they don’t know what it looks like. And how to model good behavior, unbiased behavior, inclusive behavior, if they don’t know what that looks like. So it’s critical that managers get unconscious bias training.

And then, only 16% of companies I mentioned earlier, are holding managers accountable, and people do what they’re held accountable to do. And only 5% are rewarding them for making progress, and we all do at work, what gets rewarded. And interestingly enough, a good example of this is back in 2015, Intel put a bonus in place actually, for all employees, if they hit their diversity goals. They have met or exceeded their diversity goals every quarter since. And back to treating it as if business priority. When you say to all your employees, there’s a bonus for moving the dial on diversity, you have made it a business priority.

So before I wrap, I want to do, do want a little plug for, we just released 50 ways to fight bias, a new program. Which I think, is really relevant to a lot of what I shared with you today. A lot of how we’re going to level the playing field is, and let’s be clear, there’s big systemic issues, there’s policy issues. But a lot of it also is, getting bias out of our workplaces. And that means all of us need to understand how bias works, and commit to be part of the change. The program at the heart of it, is a deck of cards, 50 cards. And on the front of them is a very specific example of bias in the workplace. So you’re in a meeting and a woman colleague is spoken over or interrupted. On the back of the cards is a recommendation for what to do. And then a data driven explanation, a research driven explanation for why it happens.

And the cards address a lot of things we talked about today: bias in hiring and promotions, microaggressions; how to identify them, how to interrupt them. What managers can be doing better, and really what we can all be doing better. And they are accompanied by a series of six short videos. And when we say short, we mean short. They’re 60 to 90 seconds each.

We worked really hard to distill the information down to the very basics. Five of them are on the most common types of bias that women experience in the workplace. And the sixth is on the concept of intersectionality, which is so critically important. Because as you know, women of color, LGBTQ women, women with different backgrounds, experiences, education, disabilities, experience more bias. And understanding intersectionality is critical beyond just understanding what women are experiencing, because all of us experienced biases because of different parts of our identity. So we on the way out, we have sample packs for all of you, so you can grab a pack. And then online, you can find out more. The videos are online, they’re free. There’s a free presentation version of all the cards, and there’s actually a free digital version that you can use on a phone or an iPad. So that is the end of my plug, for 50 ways to fight bias.

And before I close, I just want to say what I think everybody in this room knows. But this is not just about lifting up women, or lifting up people of color, LGBTQ people. This is about lifting all of us up, because diversity really matters. We know people on diverse teams are more committed and work harder. We know diverse organizations generate more profits. We know they outperform their peers. We know they tend to be more innovative, because there’s a diversity of ideas coming to the table.

I know we’re all here because we believe it’s the moral thing. It’s the right thing to do. But we also should not forget that this is what we need to do to be competitive, and stay competitive. So thank you very much for your time. Please grab a deck of cards on the way out, and I can’t wait for the following conversation.

Martina: We’re going to move into the panel part of our evening tonight. And the way this is going to work is, we’re going to have them do brief lightning talks to introduce their perspectives and their stories. And then we’re going to move into the panel section. If there’s a question you feel moved to ask, feel free to tweet it to her story, before 7:10. And we’ll try and incorporate those into the questions that we’re asking our panelists. So when we put together the Seat @ the Table panel, it’s always an exercise in trying to find totally amazing people that can really share great stories, and tips for everyone that’s here.

And so I reached out to the network and say, “Hey, who’s going to be amazing?” And Sherry Mac, who’s here, said, “Stop everyone you’re talking to. You need to meet Nancy Douyon, because she’s amazing.” And I met Nancy and I said, “You’re absolutely right.” She’s a user experience at Uber. She has a phenomenal story. And let’s turn the floor over to Nancy.

Nancy: My name is Nancy Douyon. I hail from Haiti by way of Boston, most people ask me Port-au-Prince, because that’s the only place they know. I’m from Aux Cayes, Haiti, which is the south side of Haiti. We are farmers by the coast of the beach. So, the dream. My family lives in Haiti. I’ve traveled to about 70 countries, I consider myself a cultural Human Factors engineer. So I help tech companies expand into other countries, and be conscious about how their products impact people from a cultural perspective. And so, think of that in a sense of consciousness. You can’t just spread things from little old expensive San Francisco, to the next billion users.

Currently, I’m working at Uber, and I’m helping them cross the marketplace with their scale in what is called Uber everything. It’s everything, as you can imagine. But I previously worked for places like Google, Cisco, IBM, Intel, you name it. I’ve impacted in some way, Pfizer, I’ve impacted their design, their information site. Baxter, mechanical kidneys, things like that. And so, I’m very, very passionate about something I call the three S’s, which is systematic impact, scale, and change, social change. Especially from a systematic standpoint. So hopefully, I’ll get to share a lot more about the work I’ve done. And how I’ve been able to do this as a multiple, multiple minority. I’m Latina, black, queer, like everything. I’m serious. Throw ageism in there, because this skin, that you can’t tell how old I am. I tell you. Just throw it in there.

Martina: Fully intersectional.

Nancy: Fully, fully.

Martina: Excellent. Well, likewise, when I went out to the network, I said, last year, we had Nick Mehta, who basically left here with about 300 more super fans. And we’re like, “Who can follow that?” And my friend, Mike, said, “I know exactly the person, because he lives his values every single day. And he has built his company around being diverse, and hasn’t had to actually institutionalize it, because it’s been so natural for him.” It is Ariel Cohen, who’s the CEO and co founder of TripActions. Ariel.

Ariel: Yes. It’s interesting because, we talk about the metrics and diversity, and all of these things. And it brought me back to why we’ve started, me and my co founder. Why we’ve started the TripActions. And it’s actually it was our second startup, so we could actually ask the question, “Do we want to do it again?” And I don’t know why we came up with yes. But it’s really about culture, right? I think that when you go in and build your own company, it’s really not about the money or the exits, or the headlines and all of this. It’s really about building your own culture. Really, fostering the values that you believe in. And really, that’s in a lot of ways, the story of TripActions.

And when I’m thinking of what we are doing, which is really corporate travel, and it’s about bringing people together to eventually meet face to face, you do it globally. So diversity is super, super, super important. So interestingly enough, I was listening to the stats earlier. TripActions, 50% of the employees are women. And, in fact, 57% of my staff are women, right? So, very different. And I actually agree with you, that it starts here. And it also needs to come from here. And interestingly enough, we actually didn’t put any goals or stuff like that. But we are making sure that we are hiring correctly, and it’s really value-driven hiring.

When we are hiring, it actually first starts with values, mission. And only then, we are actually starting to check; what is your capabilities and experience in all of these things? And I think it really creates an impact around the diversity. So, this is pretty much my story, you will have more questions. But definitely excited to be here and share more about what we do.

Martina: Thank you, Ariel. And likewise, I asked Christina. I said, “Do you know anyone, a director at LinkedIn, that might have a really interesting story to tell?” And she just said, “Yes, I know the perfect guy. Because even though he’s the Senior Director of talent acquisition at LinkedIn now, he started his career off at McKinsey. And then was a senior VP of Product Marketing at Nielsen. So he understands all these different aspects of what it’s like to be in a variety of different companies.” So Chris Louie, please tell us about your story.

Chris: Sounds good. I’ll tell you guys my D&I awakening story. It took me about 21 years of living to actually get woke. And it’s not that I was unexposed to, or unaware of discrimination when I was growing up. I grew up in a small town in New Jersey, and I was one of three aging kids in the school system, because I have two brothers. So, I got my fair share of name calling. I got the fake thing, all that stuff, right. But it’s a little bit like the Kellyanne Conway quotes about the 2016 election, right. “I was offended. I was offended. But I didn’t think that I was affected.” And what I mean by that is; did well in school, went to a good college, got internships, got a job that was whatever, somewhat attracted the people.

And so while I thought I was perhaps seen as different, I didn’t think I was treated differently. This is where the until part comes in. I didn’t think I was treated differently until about two months into that first job out of undergrad. And I remember sitting in the office of the guy who was running the overall analyst program, and I was going to be helping out with recruiting the next class.

So sitting there, waiting for him, he comes in, bunch of papers in his arms, right? The guy stumbles, chops the papers, they splay all over the floor. I reached down to pick up a piece of paper to hand back to him, and I’m looking at it. Read it, it says, “One black female, one black male. One Hispanic female, one Hispanic male. One Asian female, one Asian male.” And I’m like, “Hmm. That’s me.”

And so, what does that mean? I had a good run at that company, did well there, right. Got good ratings from my managers, et cetera. But I thought I was incepted in the back of my head. And it was, am I here because of me? Am I here because of a quota? The entire time that I was there. And that thought and that feeling still sticks with me today, as I’m at LinkedIn now, running inclusion recruiting. And as we are doing a lot in the D&I space. And as we think about things like Rooney Rule, and have it going on. And as we think about things like, URG talent review. And as we have talent marketing focus on specific groups.

And as we have events where, a lot of the folks coming to a given event, of a certain complexion or a certain gender. Basically, as we do all these things to drive out bias, and to drive in equity towards inequity. I think to myself, “Hey, are we doing the things that will actually have people that are intended to feel valued, and not feel like, again, they’re a part of a number, or a part of a quota?” And so what that tells me, what that does for me is, it says, “Hey, as we do these things, that are going to really drive better representation in our company, better diversity, we need to hold ourselves to a certain bar.” And I think that bar really comes into play in the form of, every person attending that event should have a feeling of belonging. We talk about this at our company a lot.

We talk about diversity as in, “Hey, let’s look around the table, and let’s see who we’re inviting to the table. I’m sure we’re inviting a diverse group to the table.” We’re talking about the inclusion in terms of, let’s ask them for their point of view. Let’s give them the opportunity to speak.

But then we also talk about belonging. Let’s create an environment where they feel that they can actually speak their minds. And so, that’s what we need to do again, as we try to drive diversity in our company. Yes, so that’s what I think about. That’s my diversity origin story. I’m excited to be here talking about this.

Martina: Great wise words, and a wonderful story. Keri came into my ecosystem through an executive search. And sometimes you will do these, you take these calls in these meetings, not because the person is necessarily the candidate for the job, but because you’re trying to calibrate the market. And I met Keri, and that she was absolutely phenomenal. And so when we were trying to think about, who would be great on this panel, I reached out to her. And she said, “Yes, I’d love to do it.” She’s the chief platform business officer at Xero, which is one of the leading SMB accounting software firms in the world. Keri, share your story with us.

Keri: Excellent, thank you. And I was equally impressed when I met you. It was really awesome to see your passion for this, and other topics. So just to give you a sense of my experience, from a career perspective. I have found a real passion. You don’t hear this often for financial services and banking. I know, bored your mind right now.

And what I love about financial services is, it is an industry that is inherently complex, often does the wrong things. Deeply in need of complete rethink and reinvention. And it matters. It matters to people’s lives. What we do, the work we do at Xero is incredible, because we help small businesses change the odds of success. And statistically, about half of Americans either own or work for a small business, and we know they’re the backbone of the economy.

And so I found my way in all this sexiest industries you can imagine. Accounting, banking, a bit of investments, and wealth management. And so it’s been a really incredible journey. And now, I’ve bounced between technology and traditional financial services. And it’s been an incredible experience. And I’ve had the opportunity to do really significant game changing roles, like running small business bank for Capital One, and really fixing what was going on.

And the thing that’s been interesting though is, I didn’t know what my career was going to be when I started out. In fact, I started out in a very traditional household, I have a lovely family. I had all the good support. My dad worked for DuPont. I went around the country every two years moving with him, so I’m a corporate brat. But he had very traditional expectations for me. And his expectations were, I would be an awesome wife, an awesome mother.

And I love those ambitions too. And I think I’ve done a pretty good job there. A reasonable job. And what was really interesting is, he wanted me to be educated, but there was just no ambition there. So I similarly had no ambition for myself, other than to be a great wife and mother, which again is a fabulous ambition.

When I got through school, I started working. And of course, I started out in advertising and marketing, because it sounded sexy. And I had to start working because darn it, I wasn’t married yet. And so I started working, and I really discovered quickly that I have no creative capabilities, but that I’m fantastic at tenacity and business development. And also thinking about the strategy behind the marketing we were doing.

And one day I went to GE, and I knocked on the door for a sales call. Went in and chatted with them and they called me back and said, “Hey, we’d love you to come work at GE.” And I called my dad, and I said, “I just got a job offer at GE.” Which at the time, was an incredible company for leadership and development and winning in the marketplace. And my dad said, “Are you sure you’re ready for that?” And I said, “Yes, I am.” And I walked right in. And the thing that’s been amazing, I’ve had wonderful support. But I’ve really discovered how to develop my career along the way, and found my way.

And I’d share with you, I’m excited today to share with you everything I screwed up, because there’s a lot of that too. But the thing that really has stuck with me, and been tenants of my success, have been, find something you really care about, that you’re super passionate about, and intellectually curious. Typically, I also find that in places that the company has ignored, that have massive potential. Say yes to everything that you can afford to do time wise. But raise your hand. And I’ve also really said yes to experiences I didn’t choose, but that have ended up being incredible.

And then finally, really making sure that I’m owning my path. And so we’ll talk a lot about that. I don’t just lean in, I control very deliberately what I do, and I build my world around me that I think can help make me successful. And I believe that every woman and every man can have it all, it’s just what that definition looks like for them. So I’m excited to continue the conversation about the journey that we’ve all mutually had.

Martina: Fantastic. Well, since you brought it up, I’m going to start with failure that you learned from. And the most powerful failure that you really brought forward with you as it helped reshape your career. So, Ariel, let’s start with you.

Ariel: It’s actually related to a previous startup, we sold it really, really, really early. And when you do that, it’s as I said earlier, it’s really not about the financials. You look at this, and you said, “Okay, so I’ve just wasted a year of my life building this startup, that ended up being a feature in another company.” So, it really helped us. And I did it with the same co founder, and it really helped us to really reflect and think, “Okay. When we were doing the next one, how are we going to do that? What markets are we going to address? How do you build a long-lasting company?” So this was a failure, but it was a failure that really actually brought us to TripActions. So, it was actually an important one.

Martina: Brought clarity to what you wanted to bring to whatever you did, next.

Ariel: Exactly.

Martina: Nancy, how about for you?

Nancy: So, I’m great at failure. I got an award for it. But I really embraced. It is great. I mean, I think that the one thing, I’ve worked at a lot of companies. I just named a lot of the top companies that a lot of people dream to work at. And the one consistent thing I’ve seen with these companies is that, I work around people who are looking for the next gold star. They’re the straight A students that don’t know how to validate themselves. So, they wait for you to validate them with their quarterly performance reviews. Right?

And so when you start to see that your own esteem comes from other people’s perspectives, you start to wonder if you’re seeing the world correctly. And luckily for me, I’ve been to over 70 countries now, and so I understand culture and failure very, very differently. Everything is a learning opportunity, and what a gift that is.

I’ll share a particular story. You guys can tell some thing’s not like the other here. I’m in yoga pants, Ethiopian garb, and things are about to get real. Can I curse?

Martina: Yeah, absolutely.

Nancy: Well, I just got to get that out the way.

Martina: Absolutely.

Nancy: I don’t know if children are watching. So shit’s about to get real. I remember a time that I was working at Google on a project called at the time, project Fi. You guys know it? Google fire project Fi is? It’s Google’s wireless phone network. I was one of five researchers. I was one of five people. I was the first researcher on that project.

And within a half hour, they taught us how to build a phone network, which blew our brains, and told us we had one year to put it together. Which can be a bit overwhelming. I was tasked to, in a think tank type of way, build the differentiators within this product that would make us a global, crazed entity. And I remember why I was so excited about it. I came up with I want to say, 1000 ideas, but I only showed them 300. And they said, “Great, we’ll take seven.” And eventually, as I got closer and closer to launch, I realized that with limited resources, we weren’t going to be able to do everything.

They said, “We’ll take three. We’ll take two. We’ll take one. Nothing.” And companies where you have to launch pretty quickly, you can’t just say, “Well, nobody took my idea.” So, I went to Ethiopia. I know that doesn’t make sense on the grand scheme of things. But I want to prove that some of the points that I made in some of these differentiators, were going to make a difference if we consider them. And I am a believer that there’s a reason why people like black things or underrepresented things.

There’s something about giving somebody the least resources that scales really well across the globe. Why? Think about it from a financial standpoint. If I had nothing and you’ve given me the worst part of a pig and I’m making bacon, that’s probably going to scale well. And so here I am, coming back, and there’s whispers around the office about somebody who’d ran up some large bill in Ethiopia. And I was quite impressed because I was the only black person on the team, and nobody thought I did it. Come on. We are getting racist.

And so here we are, and I’m like, “Who would do such a thing?” At this point, our team had grown to I want to say probably, about 40 people. And I knew I was going to be called into the office. And the whispers were that the bill was about $1500. Great. $1500 is a drop in the grand scheme of tech. Maybe.

I get to the office, where they set me down. And they had a report ready, an explanation ready for me. And they said, “Nancy, did you take a look at your bill?” I said, “Well, if you consider some of the design implications or things I had suggested, there are things in this report that are going to completely change the way this product works around the globe, especially in the United States.” They kept interrupting me and said, “Nancy, did you look at the bill?” “Well, I just want to talk about why I would take the chance to go to Ethiopia and do something like this.” They’re like, “Look at the bill, Nancy.” I had a, what is it? In one day, I lost 26, $27,000 in Ethiopia. And so, it’s not like I did it on purpose. I wasn’t trying to spend that much money.

And they asked me, “What do I have to say for myself?” And the comment I made was, “Oh, my God, I just saved you guys a billion dollars. I mean, this is amazing.” Because I found something that they probably did not consider. And I won’t give you too many details about why in this particular case. We have a government like Ethiopia charging $19,000 per gig to access their internet, and we’re trying to entertain the world by saying, “Hey, for just $10 per gig, you can get on this platform.” I’m pretty sure none of you would like to see a bill with 19,000 per gig with the data running behind your software, because of your Facebook messenger. I don’t want that.

“With every failure, there’s something to learn.” — Nancy Douyon

And so as a result of that, I actually ended up getting a platinum award. And amazingly, right? I mean, a failure that turned into something that was really rewarding, by taking a risk. And in general, the way I see failure, is not like failure. I think after working in tech for so long, over 15 years, I started to see it as an opportunity to show new things.

So now, I can talk about failure in a way that’s always rewarding. I think that people look at me and they assume that, “Oh, God, she’s going to screw everything up.” And you know what? I love it. I’m here to stand out, I’m going to stand out. And I’m going to turn it around and turn it into a story that’s going to be a winning story. Because with every failure, there’s something to learn. That’s where you can have the opportunity to create guidelines. That’s an opportunity to shift the way you do things. So that’s my little story of failure. I just got to smile through it and hope for the best. Please don’t lose $27,000 in your company, this is not an advertisement for that.

Martina: Keri, you shared a story with me in one of our conversations. Where you had a particular leadership style earlier in your career, that you have evolved massively in the last four or five years. And it was easy to look at where you were and say, “Well, that’s supposed to define success,” but you found a new path to it. Can you share a little more about that story?

Keri: Coming into financial services companies early in my career, with no experience, no expertise and no plan for what I was going to do, was pretty scary. My background was advertising and creative. And so I started taking advantage of every opportunity I had to learn, which meant getting my MBA, which GE funded, which was amazing. Really making sure I took advantage of all the learning opportunities. So, getting my six sigma master black belt. But the behavior that there’s a really bad, thank you. There’s a really bad behavior that I also learned, which is, how to fit in.

I spent most of my career in a really great suit with a pop of color, and really feeling like I needed to be like everybody else around me. Now, like many of you, particularly in financial services, I spent a lot of time in rooms with mostly men, who were awesome men. But nonetheless, I always felt a little out and a little different. And so I learned to put on the garb of fitting in, which also included things like having all the answers, developing this persona that I carried. I was afraid to curse in meetings, I was afraid to be who I am. I was afraid to have open conversations. Now, I really asserted my perspective in meetings. But I also did it in a more tentative way.

And so, I spent a lot of time looking perfect. And making sure that I had all the answers, that I was never off. I prepped like a maniac for everything I did, which made me feel really comfortable. But once I started managing people, I ruined their lives a little bit, because I over-prepared for everything, just saying. And so as I got more senior in my career, I continued to hold on to these things. Because I thought they were the reason that I’ve been successful. I thought my personality of being perfect, having all the answers, never being wrong, was precisely what people wanted. And that it was the enabler of my success, and I see a lot of nods in the room.

What became really apparent as I got further along in my career, is that I’d spent this time. And they say you spend your first 40 years building up your armor, and the next 40 tearing it down, which is pretty much what happened. And my team, what I realized is that, I wasn’t comfortable being who I was at all. I was terrified of it.

I went to this, I had this amazing leader at Capital One, John Witter, who’s now over at Hilton. He brought in a whole conversation into our company about diversity, that I didn’t realize I was terrified of. In fact, all the women left the room and rewrote all the things we thought. And then we presented them back, and I was literally shaking standing in the room. This is just like five, six years ago. Because I didn’t want to talk about the fact that I was a woman. I didn’t want to be honest about that. It was like, I don’t even want you to see who I am. Obviously, they know I’m a woman. And that I’ve got a husband and kids and all of those things.

But what I realized is, I had been being something that wasn’t authentic, and it was starting to create distance from my teams. I realized that I just wanted to be who I was, and that all of that work that I was doing to project something perfect, was creating a capacity constraint for me.

And so I started having real conversations. I started going to these different groups, and they said, “Hey, Keri, we want to hear from you.” And then I just started talking about all the things I’d screwed up, and who I am, and what I’m passionate about. And people came back to me, including my own team who I knew really well at this point. And they said, “I just like you more.” And they said things like, “I get it.” And then they started sharing their stories. And I realized that there were some things that I was doing, and hopefully it won’t take you this long, that were blocking my own capacity. So when I stopped doing that, I realized I was spending a lot of time putting up that front, and a lot of that physical energy.

My team started feeling more comfortable being who they are. And I started making deeper friendships at work. Do you know? I don’t know if you guys have done this too. In my Facebook, I had a Facebook for friends, and I would not let anybody I worked with on it. Ever. And I don’t do anything that crazy. I mean, come on. I’ve got a bunch of kids, and I basically work a lot and hang out with them.

But I was so afraid to let people in. And it was funny, I was talking to an old boss. And he said, and I was sharing this revelation that I’d had. And he goes, “You know we’re friends, right?” And I was like, “Oh, yeah. We are friends.” This front was prohibiting me from getting to the next stage in my career, because people couldn’t know me. And there was almost an invisible barrier. And so while I hate to admit that it took me so long to realize that, once I did, magic started happening. Magic started happening for my teams, because I created an environment where they could be themselves. I created capacity. I’d made deeper friendships with people at work that will endure forever. And I’ve been having more fun.

And now at Xero in particular, it’s been really important to me as I’ve come on board, and I’ve been there for a few years. To create an environment for my teams, where they can be myself, and I’m having the most fun I’ve ever had in my entire career. And they’re right there with me, and we’re going to all be lifelong friends. But it just took me way too long to get there. So I hope that’s helpful to some of you, but a little bit of perspective. And always hindsight 2020.

Martina: So, Chris, in your particular role, we’ve all talked about diversity, and it’s easy to carry that forward. But how do you make sure that the conversations you have with hiring managers, since we’re talking about management, isn’t one about diversity, and it really is one that is grounded on teams that are highly productive, and our performance? And there’s an environment where everyone feels they can come up, come and be their best self at work. How do you make sure that that’s the conversation as opposed to hiring and diversity?

Chris: Two things. One, to your point, you have to start with the actual need of the hiring manager, the need of the organizational leader, the need of the business. And then you have to find the connection point between that and the need for diversity. All those stats that we saw earlier, the reference to more diverse teams perform better in lots of different ways, all valid, all legit. And we need to trumpet that stuff all the time. But what I would assert is that, that’s insufficient.

Why is it insufficient? It’s insufficient because people can get it at a 30,000 foot level, or an academic level. But then they get back to their desks. And then they think about, if they’re a salesperson, the number that they need to hit. If they’re a product person, “Hey, we need to ship this product. We need to get this amount of user adoption.” Or whatever the stats are that you’re looking for.

“You have to start with the actual need of the hiring manager, the need of the organizational leader, the need of the business. And then you have to find the connection point between that and the need for diversity.” — Chris Louie

And so, if they’re really going to live it, if they’re really going to feel. If they’re really going to believe that message of, “Hey, this drives better business performance,” you need to get specific, and you need to force them to get specific. And you actually need to have the why question, the why discussion. But it’s not why in the sense of, why would I have a more diverse team? Or why would I prioritize this? That’s table stakes. Like, this is where your culture comes into play, and your values. And how your leadership team’s really role modeling.

Yes, diversity is our number one priority. Christina, Jeff Weiner, they say it all the time. And they say it consistently, every single time we have an all hands, and in their leadership team meetings. That’s great. But you need to then have the discussion around, “Hey, this is why diversity matters for your team. And this is why it matters for whatever,” all the way down to this wreck. So, link it to the specific business, even specific business performance.

Martina: Some things you brought up that are really important are, culture and values, and that being the grounding for a lot of the conversation. And Ariel, you shared a story with me about how, despite not having goals and metrics that you measured yourselves around, you created values. And a way of being with the company that just let those things organically grow. Can you share that with the rest of us?

Ariel: I think there was this period in time in Silicon Valley, that VCs started to have the founder assigning this diversity things. And actually, I didn’t want to sign it, because I thought, and I think you made this point earlier. That it’s not about setting a goal of, “Okay, we need these ratios and these metrics.” Again, it’s about values. It’s about hiring correctly.

And interestingly enough, we never at TripActions, had any diversity goal. And we were usually measuring it after the fact. So in fact, the stats that they’ve shared, we needed to pull them out before I came here. So we knew that we are okay, because you look around you. But we never really made it a point to go and measure and put metrics around it.

What we are doing and we’re paying a lot of attention. It starts with me and then my staff, and then everybody. We are making sure that there is no end. You don’t see any type of discrimination. And it’s interesting because, what we saw, what I saw actually is that, when it comes to payroll, even if you are, you can have, as I said, 58% of my staff are women. So you’d expect for the organization table, at least would be equal. And you definitely see some bias there against women. And then, those are things that we definitely paid a lot of attention and corrected.

“It’s about values. It’s about hiring correctly.” — Ariel Cohen

So it is important for me, it is important for my co founder. It’s important for our entire team. But it’s also important for us not to be that deliberate, improve these goals. Because eventually, we have business goals. But definitely to be extremely cognizant of the various things that can impact any type of bias across the board.

Chris: Can I add something on top of that? So, we have a different stance for goals. We have goals, we see them. Our executives had put them into their OKRs. We think it’s important because it helps us understand where we stand, and whether or not we are making progress. And whether or not we’re making enough progress. But I would second the point on values. I think the values are not just critical, but probably the most important thing.

Number one, because it ensures that you’re living out those goals authentically. And then, not in a forced way or in a compulsory way. And then number two, they’re the things that actually keep you doing the right things as a company, when nobody’s looking. And I think that’s critical. And that is what allows you to create and have trust in your workforce.

Martina: Really quickly, we’ll just go down the line. Nancy, who was your biggest advocate in your career?

Nancy: It’s probably the people who actually doubted me. But before I get into that, do you mind if I piggyback on what you both said?

Chris: Go for it. Yeah.

Nancy: I will tell you guys straight up, I’m not a fan of diversity. Not a fan of it. I feel like they are looking for individuals like me who they’re trying to increase, and they talk a lot about trying to numbers, like you said, but not necessarily trying to retain the talent that they have. And also, I think we talked so much about diversity from the standpoint of values. But we don’t actually talk from the standpoint of who’s actually impacting at the end of this? So I mean, I’m going to always look at things from a product standpoint.

When Snapchat first released their technology, for example, they didn’t recognize that their technology was trading yellow face for Asian features. So they were literally leaving slants on people’s eyes. When water faucets first came out with light sensors, I don’t know if you guys know, light bounces off a light. So when you put something dark under there, what do you think happens? Absorption. So go get you a black friend, and go find a light sensor in a bathroom and see what happens.

The point is, I get to see every day in my life, as being an actual minority in the field, is a different person in the field. To an extent clueless, some of these products are going out and impacting people. And so when they get into the homes of the next billion users, and I’m saying, it doesn’t even work for me. That’s pretty shocking and disappointing. In fact, when I even teach or talk about design, I’ve done presentations where I’ve done talks that are called diversity and design, inclusion and design. And I’ll tell you the last one in a moment.

When I’ve done diversity and design, the people that show up are black and Latin X people. When I’ve done talks that are called inclusive design, black, Latin X and Asian people started introducing this concept called humanizing design. Guess who shows up? White men. Right? Shocking. It’s the same talk. It’s the exact same talk.

And so I think part of understanding, at least for me, when you try to talk about values, I think part of it is understanding your own bias. Your own implicit and explicit bias, and being okay in accepting that. So the example I give is, if I were asking you to build a mobile for my child, I’m sure you weren’t trying to try to ruin my child’s life, or like a baby. I think it’s pronounced mobile.

The little thing that spins around? Mobile. English is the second language. So, we have this thing rotating. If I asked you guys to build it for my child, I’m not talking about gender, maybe a baby boy, baby girl. You might say, let’s throw some stuffed animals, some airplanes, some trucks and planes. You’re really providing me some of your empathy.

But here’s where your empathy doesn’t go far enough, that baby is looking at the bottom of stuffed animals, and the wheels and different things. It’s not that you didn’t care. It’s that it’s really not that easy sometimes to see the perspective of another person. And so what’s happening right now in the industry is, we’re running around speaking for the other individual, and not actually presenting them to speak for themselves. And so, I coin myself as a person who can look at any product in industry, and tell you the gender and racial makeup of their team. I am so serious about this, because most things don’t work for me. So, it’s like an easy peasy deal.

But, to answer the question that you had about the role models in my life. In my culture, Haitian culture, we don’t believe in role models per se. I know you were going to say that word. We definitely admire a lot of people. We believe that each of us are meant to be unique and different, and there’s something very beautiful of our individual light. So I love whatever this is. But I do admire the people I dyke with. I really do. Again, I’m from the Latin X spectrum, so I’m going to come a little firing with things, when people doubt me.

Talking about, “Ooh. Mm. You don’t even know what you did.” Right? Not even sure. But I remember, I won’t name the company, but I worked as a human factors engineer. I remember walking into a room. And there was a couple of things I noticed right away, when I started this job. One, the people would speak to me and say, “You know what? Let’s take it easy on you, Nancy.” And then I would see the Asian guy sitting next to me sweating. And they’re like, “Let’s give him the hardest problem possible.” And I’m like, “Why does he get an opportunity to learn it and I don’t?” Or I’d go into a room, and many, many rooms. And security officers would stop me and say, “I’m sorry, this is a private space for engineers only.” What do you do? For me, I changed up my weed every day, to be like, “Got you. Same black girl.”

But, not everybody has the opportunity to do that. So I got a really early start in learning that, when people doubt you, I turn it into humor, I turn it into opportunities. I’ve been dragged into rooms where they offered me severance packages, because other people were acting racist-like or sexist behavior towards me. And I really feel it’s not about trying to, I guess I would say, banding these labels. I hear these constant talks about the same things over and over and over again.

But let’s talk about what’s actually bringing us here. Let’s talk about the actual products that are impacting. Instead of just saying the same thing about, it’s important. I know it’s important, but nobody cares. That’s the reality of it. Nobody seems to care that it’s important for us to all be in the room. So, I like to show it by proof. Showing you, “Hey, guess what? Because you didn’t consider women in this product, you lost a lot of fucking money. A lot of money. Because guess who’s making the household decisions? Do you think it’s the men running around making these decisions? The women are the influencers. So if you don’t appeal to us, guess what? Ain’t nobody spending no money. Okay?” So it’s really about talking, and I think in that instance. Being as honest as possible with these things.

So, my haters are my motivation, thank you. And so hopefully, I answered that question.

Martina: I think one of the really important things that you’re talking about also, are the labels that we put on these conversations. Even the labels that you put on the exact same talk, and who decides that they are a part of that conversation as a basis of that. And just as an invitation for everyone who is here in this room, if you go back and say, “I can have a diversity conversation in our office,” it’s the same people who will show up. And you really want to make it as inclusive as possible around performance, around values, around business imperatives, around. You don’t want to lose a billion dollars. And that’s going to bring far more people into the conversation and into the dialogue, which is what we really all want to have.

I have one question from the audience that we’re trying to get to really quickly, which is, how do you act as an ally for employees from underrepresented groups? Does anyone want to take this on?

Ariel: I can actually maybe describe a project that we are very soon going to start. So, you think about every startup, every company here in Silicon Valley, it’s very much entitled. People are starting to assume that you get equal opportunity and life is great, and all of this. So, we thought a lot about it. And we asked this question, “How can we show our employees, all kind of people: minorities. People that actually, we didn’t think that had the opportunity to be successful to begin with.

So we actually partnered with [Shaka 01:15:36] [Senghor 01:15:36], who is basically have this, it’s called ARC. Which is, how do you bring people that were in jail back to society? And you can think about a lot of worlds in startups, in tech companies, that could be relevant if you give people the opportunity. So of course, there has to be some process and training and learning and these things. But what we think, and we’ll see it’s pretty much in the beginning, we think that it will actually provide perspective to all of our employees, of what actually equal opportunity means. Because you can have a seat here, and our HQ is in Palo Alto. You cannot really think about the equal opportunity when your entire perspective is something between Stanford and our HQ. So I think that’s really part of how we are thinking of say, providing other perspectives.

Keri: I’d also add, one of the things that I think is really important is, to be what you are representing in the marketplace, and in big and small ways. So I’ve the great fortune at Xero, for the first time in my career, working with our founder, who had a 50/50 board, 50/50 leadership team, 50/50 team, across the board globally. And was really committed to doing that. We have a ton of work to do on ethnic diversity in each of our markets, but really excited for the first time, to work at the table with at least equal representation of women and men as a start.

“One of the things that I think is really important is to be what you are representing in the marketplace, and in big and small ways.” — Keri Gohman

And we are a New Zealand based company that’s gone worldwide, we’re in 180 countries. And we are taking a lead in our marketplaces on establishing goals, being much more aggressive about going at every level through the company. And really being out and in the marketplace on LGBTQ, representing in our communities. And it’s something that has been really important to the company. So making sure, we are leading our markets as much as we can, and going further that one step forward.

In Australia, they’re just starting to actually require boards to be 50/50. And so now we’re getting well ahead of that, and establishing broader sets of goals. Not just on gender diversity, but in ethnic diversity as well.

I’d also say in very small ways, it’s awesome to work with a cohort. I’ve never before had a group of women that I get to work with every day, where we get to command attention. So we recently brought in the CEO that transitioned from the founder to the next person. And he had some different perspectives, which we didn’t agree with. And we were able to collectively say, “That’s not okay for our teams.” And it reached out on behalf of the team, and from a more powerful position. And say, “Hey, we need to make sure that our goals are more aggressive. We need to make sure that we’re not …” And also things like, “You can’t say that. That’s not okay.” And it’s just given us a lot more power at the tables.

I think it’s really important to drive and be an ally, by being what you want to be. And we’re not quite there, and so I don’t want to say that we’ve got it all figured out. But we’re really making an effort, and being leaders in our market. And then really going that extra mile to really push for change, with the folks that are at the table, which is amazing. And as Chris said, we have to be in big and small ways every day. Every day.

Martina: And Keri, I think one of the things you’re talking about is, there’s what you do as an organization from a leadership perspective. But then Nancy, part of what you were talking about was, it’s what we do as individuals every single day, and how we move forward what we’re talking about. So it’s not talk, and it’s actually just walking the walk.

Keri: Yes.

Nancy: Can I add two steps to that? Step one, recognize your privilege. Step two, leverage your privilege. Literally, leverage it. If you know you are in a position that may be a bit more powerful, step aside and give somebody else an opportunity to shine.

So I’ll give you an example where I recognized my privilege. I’m not going to name the company, but I went to a company sale conference and saw that, all their speakers were white folks. And all their performances were black people. They had a drum line, they had a jazz band. They even had a white woman get on stage and say, “You know what I feel like doing, because these sales numbers are so good? Like doing the dougie.” 40 black children ran out to the audience to show the audience how to do the dougie.

Somebody in front of you is like, “You can do it too.” I’m like, “We can find you another job. We don’t have to do this.” But what I ended up doing by leveraging my privilege in that moment, with the, what is it? There was 13 out of maybe 17,000 tech, not tech folks. Sales people in the room. I went and spoke to the head of the person because, that was the space that I could do. And I said, “Hey, did you recognize that that was a disaster, and really quite embarrassing for me as a person of color? To sit there and watch you basically tell me what my worth was as far as arts and entertainment?”

And the comment that was given to me was, but we’ve done this before. And I said, “Well, I guess you didn’t do it with me. Because I’m going to speak up about these things. And so again, if you are in a room and you are a white male, and you see that, maybe you’re speaking a little bit much. Maybe fall back, you know what I am saying? Maybe look for a woman and say, “You know what? I’d love to hear what Nancy has to say.” Maybe it’s not about the quotas. If you don’t like the numbers, that’s all right. But you still have an opportunity to leverage your privilege, to actually get somebody into the room to increase the managers that are women in this field.

You guys just saw these numbers. What are you going to do now, with that information? Hopefully, you’ll do something differently. That’s what a real ally does. It doesn’t just talk about the fact that, “Well, I believe women should be paid fairly.” What are you doing about it?

Martina: So that is perhaps a perfect segue to your next assignment, which is, to make sure you have two minutes to process everything that we’ve talked about here on this stage. To figure out what your action plan is. And we have three things for you to think about. One, go ahead and change the slides to an allyship at an advocacy workshop, that’s actually being put on by our friends at SAMI, which is on June 18th. Thank you very much. This is where you can register, it’s bit.ly/AllyIsAVerb. And if you want to go deeper on what can I personally be doing to become a better and more effective advocate, this is the place where you can do that. We’ll also tweet it out.

You also have on all of your seats, a little card called deal me in, which might give you an idea to inspire how to make your own workplace more inclusive. I picked this one out because, we are guilty at our firm of being bad about this. Ensure you don’t assume women on your team will do the housekeeping chores like, taking notes, or bringing the birthday cakes. Rotate these roles on a level playing field. This is something we can do better at. So this might inspire conversation.

And then of course, you have the postcard that has some other specific tips and tools for advocacy, provided by our friends at AcuityWorks. So go back to your same friend that you had your two minutes with. We’re going to take about a minute and a half to process all of the things that we just said. So you can develop your own personal action plan of what you want to do when you leave this room, and do differently tomorrow. So we’ll take a minute and a half to go through that.

Thank you very much. All right. I know there’s so much that everybody wants to do. And it’s always a hard thing to close this down, because we could listen to these guys forever. I do want to say a very special thank you to our amazing panelists. You guys are phenomenal. And we wish we had more time to get more of your stories. But hopefully, you’ll stick around and share some of them individually.

I also want to take another opportunity to thank our hosts, our generous host at LinkedIn, for having us, hosting us in this amazing space. Christina, thank you.

Martina: Let’s tell people about that rather than doing it, just because I think we are out of time. So, Chris is just going to tell you really quickly, about a way that you can use LinkedIn to find everybody that was here. So, just tell them what the name of the feature is?

Chris: Obviously, it’s important to keep this conversation going, foster the community. A way to do that is connect with some of your neighbors that you just spent many minutes talking to, in different breaks. So the way to do that is, go open the LinkedIn app, you make sure Bluetooth is on. You can click on the my network thing on the bottom, the little people symbol on the bottom. And then in the middle of the screen, toward the top, you should see a find nearby. So you can look around, you tap that, and then it will populate with a list of other people nearby.

Martina: That’s very true. I was saying, it’s going to bring up everybody that’s in this room, and you can do that.

Quickly before we break, I want to say another special thank you to the people that actually make this evening possible. And that is everyone at team Costanoa. If you guys could all stand, team Costanoa. Team Costanoa. And also a very special thank you to some of the guys, if I could just have your attention, because this person really needs to be recognized.

She was the very first person I told about Seat @ the Table, and she said, “Let’s do it.” She’s been my partner in crime in making it happen, ever since. Rachel Quon, thank you so much.

And before I bring the final person up on stage, I want to end with a really quick closing story. Which is, this weekend, I did my first mother daughter 5K at a race called the mermaid race. Which by its name, you can assume that it was intended for women, people came dressed as mermaids. Everyone in the race was a woman, everyone registering this was a woman.

But the moment we got out on the racecourse, the first guys directing us at the turn were men. And the very next place where the path was diverging, you could turn left, you could turn right. It was men that was showing us the way. And I kid you not, 90% of the people out on this course handing out water, supporting us, cheering us on, were all men. And it really struck me, because it felt very much like, “Gosh, this is the perfect metaphor for my career in tech.” And that it’s always been the guys showing up, supporting me, pointing out the way to go. And it has been really helpful in shaping me reaching my finish line.

So the message is, not just to run your own race. But whatever race that you are running in your career, make a point of showing up at someone else’s. Be their support, help point them to the finish line. Hand them that water along the way, be their advocate. Because that is how all of us win.

The last person I want to say thank you to, to bring up on stage for our closing remarks, is my biggest advocate. He’s been my boss for multiple times in multiple companies, in multiple years. He’s the founding managing partner of Costanoa Ventures, he’s going to close us out, Greg Sands.

Greg: Thank you. Okay. So, there’s an obvious question of, why am I here? And the first answer to that question is because, Martina Lauchengco is amazing. So let’s thank her for her leadership in putting this together, along with Rachel. And in starting the conversation in the context of our firm, and continuing the conversation industry-wide.

And look, I think what you guys said today, continue to live your values in big and small ways. And that is literally all we’re trying to do, is to live our values in big and small ways. We want to create an extraordinary venture capital firm that works with founders to create extraordinary companies, and many of them are here.

But it’s also the case that extraordinary companies are places that are inclusive at their very core. They are places where people feel a sense of belonging when they come to work, because they’re committed to the mission at hand, not just punching the clock. And we want to be a firm where people feel that way when they walk in the door. And so, this is just one part of our doing our job. And we thank you for being part of our journey and part of the conversation with us. Thanks very much.

Martina: Thank you guys all so much for coming. You can get on to your Warriors game. We’ll be here on stage for a couple of more minutes. Thank you very, very much for being here tonight.


Costanoa Ventures

We back tenacious and thoughtful founders who change how business gets done.

Rachel Quon

Written by

@costanoavc | former player for @chicagoredstars | @stanford alum

Costanoa Ventures

We back tenacious and thoughtful founders who change how business gets done.

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