Table of Contents

Beyond the Box: Stop relying on your Black co-worker to help you build a diverse team

Respected analytics professional with extensive experience leading programs and teams in analytics, data science, and developer organizations.

If you are trying to figure out how one builds a diverse team, do not ask your black co-worker how you should go about doing it. Also, don’t assume the teams that lack diversity are the output from leaders who are down on their luck.

Just like it takes strategy and execution to build a diverse and inclusive company, building a diverse team is no different. In my session, Beyond the Box: Stop relying on your black coworker to help you build a diverse and inclusive team, we not only celebrate Black Excellence in Hip-Hop, but I explain how their lyrics or in my mother’s case infamous one liners have helped me build diverse technical teams at some of the fastest growing tech companies.

Browse this talk’s Slack archives #

The day-of-talk conversation is archived here in dbt Community Slack.

Not a member of the dbt Community yet? You can join here to view the Coalesce chat archives.

Full transcript #

Erica: [00:00:00] Hi, great day, everyone. Welcome to this juicy segment. Why do I say juicy? Before I get into that, my name is Erica and I am representing for dbt Labs all the way live from the 2 1 5. I am here with the lovely Akia representing HubSpot. You may be wondering why did I say ‘juicy.’ Well today, we are going to dig into one of the topics that many tend to shy away from, yes.

One of those race, religion, politics, and sex, but today’s topic is going to be race. Yes, the idea here is that there is going to be so much room to speak out versus keeping it all in. What does that mean? We want all the smoke. We want your questions. We want to know what you [00:01:00] think. We want to know it all.

Why? Because we all want to know about how to build diverse teams. Do we not? Akia has built one and she is going to share with us some of the juicy deets while diversity can mean so many different things. It could be age, it could be size, it could be race, it could be religion. Akia is going to share with us, give us a little peak through her lens, which is going to be specific about race, and she’s going to answer the question: "where can I find more African-Americans in this tech space?" Yes, it’s true. Even if you’re not ready for the day, it can’t always be night, so let’s get right. Lovely Akia, bring it on. Let’s see it.

Akia Obas: Thank you so much, Erica. That was an awesome introduction. It got me ready. I hope everyone [00:02:00] is ready as well. Hi, everybody who’s here. Welcome to this talk. Let me first [start] by just saying thank you, you could be doing anything right now, but you decided to be here with me, You could be doing anything right now, but you decided to be here with me. and so I’m super grateful. I’m honored. I am pumped about our next 45 minutes together before we jump into what I like to consider, really, the meat and potatoes of this talk. I wanted to first share with everyone what inspired me to not only apply to give this talk, but why did I title it "Beyond the Box: Stop relying on your black co worker to help you build a diverse and inclusive team. Folks, ready for that? [I’m] excited to share my story.

So here we are. This is how it went down. This is a picture of me, obviously. I remember it like it was [00:03:00] yesterday. It was a late afternoon, and I am trying to get it together for a presentation, a meeting— something like that, and I think I had 45 minutes t o get ready for this meeting. So like most people, when you waited till the last minute you’re in the zone, you’re determined to be prepared, and the only thing that can snap you out of the zone is this, right? We’ve all been there. I forgot to snooze my Slack. So I toggle to the Slack message. Don’t judge me. Remember, I have a whole 30 minutes, so don’t judge me. I toggled to the Slack, and this is what the Slack message read: "hi Akia, would you be open to advising me on how to recruit a more diverse team?" That happened.

[00:03:48] The Slack message #

Akia Obas: You can read the rest there on the screen, a true story. This Slack message was sent, and the first time that I read the message, I was [00:04:00] pissed. I’m not even going to like front, like, just being completely transparent. I was pissed. I read the message over and over again, cause that’s what you do when you get messages like that.

The next feeling that I felt was disappointment. I was really just disappointed in that leader. This was a leader that sent me the Slack message and the audacity that they had to Slack message me, right? Why me? I think we all know why they sent me this Slack message, but after a few weeks of thinking about, I started to feel inspired by the Slack message—inspired to share my story, inspired to share it with girlfriends of mine that are also in the tech space, shared it with a mentor of mine. But I also was inspired to apply, along with a pleasant nudge from an engineer on my team. Shout out to Isaac Marx, who also encouraged me to apply to this top.

[00:05:00] And so it was the Slack message that made me do it. That’s why I’m here. It was also Isaac Marx. So that’s why I’m here. That’s why I’ve titled the talk the way I did, but today my goal is really to have folks leave this talk with a strategy, and that’s the keyword. The strategy is not "go find a black person in your company and ask them if they know other black people you can hire."

Not to put anyone out there, but if you have asked a black person or a black colleague of yours that question or something very similar to that, the first thing that I would encourage you to do either today, tonight, tomorrow, but soon, is I want you to apologize to that person because Slack messages like this, questions like this, they’re insensitive. They’re flat out offensive, so don’t do that.

All right. But that’s why I’m here. This Slack message. All right. Let’s move. [00:06:00] Who here remembers the comments that were made by the CEO of Wells Fargo? It was like a year ago. The comments made national headline. These are the comments. So in a memo, this is what the Wells Fargo CEO said. So I want folks to take a minute to read this.

And as you read this comment, I’m just going to share with you that it’s simply not true. There is an amazing amount of black talent out there. For people that say they can’t find talent, diverse talent, they’re either not looking hard enough or they just don’t want to. Where do we start? I think the first step is that we need to dispel the myth about the lack of diverse talent, particularly here in the U.S.

Who here knows what an HBCU stands for? If you do share with everyone else in the [00:07:00] room, vote in the comments. If you [don’t], don’t worry about it. I’m going to tell you what it is stands for now. So according to Wikipedia, in HBCU stands for historically black colleges and universities. These are institutions of higher education that were established before the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the intention of these colleges and universities was to service the African American community. And guess what? In the United States, guess how many HBCUs there are? There are 107 HBCUs across the United States and many of them have pretty strong STEM programs.

So if you’re in the room and you’re a hiring manager or you’re a recruiter, and you’re looking for diverse talent, I want you to either take out a pencil and a piece of paper or Google doc or Word doc, whatever you do to take notes. I want you to be writing this [00:08:00] down. I want you to be typing this down. One university. Jackson State University is an HBCU in Mississippi.

They have a big data program offering not only a Master’s, but also a PhD and computational and data enabled science and engineering. Sounds pretty dope to me. You have, Howard University in Washington, DC. Morgan State University in Baltimore, Maryland. A&T in North Carolina, Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia, [and] Xavier University in Louisiana.

All of those that I just told, folks, those have top notch computer science programs. I researched that myself. I just went on Google and looked at HBCUs that have top STEM programs, and those are just a few. So I hope you took those notes. You also have professional groups and associations like the [00:09:00] National Society of Black Engineers or NSBE. Black MBA associations.

Those are professional groups that you can find diverse talent at. There are also job boards that are specifically geared at recruiting diverse and underrepresented talent. And those all on this screen are resources that I go through myself. When you think about the comments of the Wells Fargo CEO, that whole lack of diverse talent comment, is really a cop-out, right?

[00:09:33] Five jams #

Akia Obas: It’s just not true. And so that’s my first jam of this talk, step number one, first jam. If you want diverse talent on your team or at your company, you have to go to where diverse talent is. The whole lack of diversity at any company isn’t a pipeline problem. My previous slide just proved some of that.

It’s a lack of strategy. It doesn’t take luck to build a diverse team. It doesn’t take [00:10:00] reaching out to their black colleagues and saying, "hey, do you know more black people? I can hire." It takes a strategy. It takes a process. It takes going to different recruiting sources. And so that’s what I’m going to continue to share with you today: some jams that can help you build a diverse, technical team. And that leads me to my second jam. Don’t we just love this picture? This is a picture of my mom and my daughter, Layla. I knew I could get some kudos for sharing the kid picture. So there goes my second jam, step number two in building a diverse technical team is dedicated to my mom.

And she always said this: "a closed mouth doesn’t get fed." So if you’ve heard of this, I want you to chime in on the chat. If you haven’t heard the saying, don’t worry, I’m about to explain it. But my late mother, she said this a lot. It’s pretty basic. What it means is that you need to be vocal about what you want.

And when it comes to diversity, [00:11:00] inclusion, belonging, you’re not going to be able to reach those goals that you have. If you’re not vocal about them, you can’t reach those goals. If your recruiter, for example, isn’t aware of those goals. And so what that sounds is that, for me, when I was building the team currently at HubSpot, we were looking for seasoned and principal senior level analytics engineers.

And so I told my recruiter that I just, I just flat out, said, "I want to see some diversity in our candidate pool." And that was all I needed to say. It was that simple. My recruiter was awesome. He got to work. He used the traditional LinkedIn sourcing. He also posted the job rec to job boards that he saw that were geared towards diverse technical talent.

I also gave him a list of HBCUs to source from, he went to where the diverse talent is, and because of that, you know, why he did that is because I was vocal about it. I told [00:12:00] him what I wanted to see. And so that’s jam number two: a closed mouth doesn’t get fed. Shout out to my late mom. I learned a lot from this.

I use it all the time. My next jam is centered around bias. And so for folks that know what biases [are], go ahead and throw it in the chat. But who here has heard of implicit bias? If you have, that’s great. If you haven’t, don’t worry about it again. I’m going to tell you about it a little bit shortly, but implicit bias matters because everyone possesses some level of unconscious associations, right? And those associations have harmful effects when they influence your decision-making. And so my third jam on building a diverse technical team is centered around bias, and I’m leveraging, but I consider great lyrics [00:13:00] of Ice Cube. If you’re a hip hop head, you’re going to know these, but he has a song and the lyrics are "you need to check yourself before you wreck yourself."

And so when I think about those lyrics and what it means in terms of bias, it means you need to check your biases at the door. For me, just to be completely transparent with folks, I have biases, we all do, and my biases would sneak into my interview process in a few ways. One, what I would shamefully do is I would scan a resume.

Most people do that, but I found myself really favoring candidates that have, what I would consider, a strong STEM degree. So before I even met a candidate, I would look at a resume and I’d be like, oh, all right, this person has a BS in Computational Science and a Minor in Astrophysics. I don’t know, I just made that up. But the point is I would put people like that at the top of my pile. I would already associate them with "they’re super smart. They’re going to be [00:14:00] awesome in the role." And I remember talking to a mentor of mine who is now a CTO at a fast growing marketing company. I respect him as a technical leader.

I respect his opinion and I asked him like, hey, I’m building a data team. And he told me that one of his best hires was a young lady that didn’t have a CS degree. Nor did she have a degree at all? And I was shocked like, wow, you hired an engineer that didn’t come from like, a traditional STEM background.

And since then that message that he shared with me really stuck with. What does that mean? It means that I’m no longer looking at resumes before I meet someone or talk to them. I don’t do any type of stalking on LinkedIn. I leave that to the recruiter because I know my own biases. I’ve also eliminated small talk.

I used to do this in the beginning of a face-to-face interview. Hey, tell me about yourself. Tell me what school you went to. What do you like to do on the weekends? [00:15:00] I remove that because again, I shouldn’t care what school you went to, especially if I have biases towards certain schools I shouldn’t care what you do on the weekends.

If you’re a skier, if you’re a self-taught programmer, or, you learned on the job or you learned through school, none of those things really matter. They don’t increase the probability of a candidate being a good fit for the role. And so when you think about jam number three, Check yourself before you wreck yourself, like Ice Cube said, it’s really about knowing yourself and knowing your biases.

So for folks that are down with putting themselves out there, feel free to share with everyone else in the chat and share some of your own biases. Maybe you prefer recruiting from a certain school or certain industry, or maybe there’s industries that you don’t like recruiting from because we have biases of them.

Maybe you prefer candidates that worked with [00:16:00] Snowflake versus AWS. Again, I want you to just challenge yourself. Do those things really matter, do they guarantee your success in a role? I don’t think they matter. What I do think matters when you’re thinking about a technical role or a data role, it’s about what have they used. What have they built? That’s what really matters. Are they using modern tools and a modern data stack? And lesson is, know your bias. Check them right at the door before you really wreck your chances of building a diverse candidate pool. And that’s where it starts. jam number three.

So let’s move on to jam number four in building a diverse technical team. This jam comes from my top five MC list. If you’re a hip hop head in the audience, You probably have a top five MC list and I hope Biggie Smalls is on it. If it’s not, I question you, but Biggie [00:17:00] Smalls, he says in a song— no, I know you heard this before.

"Never get high on your own supply." That could be interpreted in many ways, but how I’ve interpreted that as it relates to building a diverse team is it’s really referring to that company referral kind of program. I believe, and this is gut feeling, this is anecdotal, but I always believed that the employee referral program reduced, kind of, [the] diversity in your candidate pool.

If you work for a company or an entity, or you’re in an industry, that’s majority white, those employees will typically refer candidates like them. Probably otherwise. And so I won’t just leave folks with anecdotal evidence. I realize I’m at a data conference, I’m a data person myself. I gotta show the receipts.

I got to show the data. So I did some research and found a Harvard Business Review article. I pulled data. They had pulled data from a PayScale study. And so for folks that aren’t familiar [00:18:00] with PayScale, it’s a software company focused on compensation. So in this PayScale study, they surveyed 53,000 US workers.

And they asked these workers how they came to apply to their current job, and if they have landed their job based off of an employee referral. The survey also collected demographic information, like job information, employee details, all of those things were collected, but when you hold everything else, constant, what they found is that females and minority applicants were less likely to report receiving an employee referral than their white male counterparts. More specifically, white women were 12% less likely to receive a referral. Men of color were a 26% less likely. Women of color were 35% less likely. And so what that [00:19:00] means, I’ve interpreted the data to mean that companies or the impact of that data is that companies that rely heavily on employee referral programs, they’re actually increasing their probability of creating a homogeneous candidate pool.

If that’s all you’re relying on and you already are in a white male dominated company and industry, if you’re relying on referrals, you’re most likely gonna get a candidate pool that’s homogeneous. So before you pull your trigger on hiring a referred candidate, I want you to leverage, really, my last jam.

And it’s the last jam that I’m going to share with folks today. And it is jam number five. It is inspired by Queen B Beyonce, herself from the song ‘Formation.’ And it’s okay, ladies, I’m conceded. I’m not going to sing it. I have a terrible voice, but how you move candidates [00:20:00] through your interview funnel should have a strict formation, right?

Especially for technical teams, candidates moving from one stage of your interview process to the next, it should be rules-based. It should be binary, right? Either you got it or you don’t, and so I’m going to give you all the cheat code. I’m going to give you my interview funnel, what I have leveraged to build my team.

[00:20:26] The interview funnel #

Akia Obas: And so for hiring managers, write this down. I hope you’re taking great notes. I hope you can leverage this and build your own interview funnel. But this is what I do for our current team of analytic engineers at HubSpot. The takeaway here, when you look at this pyramid is that we test for technical capabilities upfront. So before I, or anyone on my team has met a candidate, or has had a face-to-face, we’re testing for their technical capabilities. So if you start at the bottom of this pyramid, [00:21:00] I have my recruiter do a technical screening and the technical screening is a document that I borrowed from another team.

So shout out to the business intelligence team at HubSpot. They use this and I use this as well. It’s a list of questions and examples. A good answer and a bad answer. So for example, one of the questions on the technical screening is "can you tell me about your tech stack? Can you tell me about the tools that you use?"

So if they say things like "Excel is still our preferred tool for analysis," right? We all know that’s a bad answer. At least I hope this audience knows, like, that is a bad answer, but if they’re mentioning tools like dbt, or Looker, or Tableau, or Python, like all of those things are good.

Another screening question that we use is "tell us the difference between data science, data engineering, analytics, engineering, and data analysis." And so the goal of that first layer, [00:22:00] that bottom layer of the pyramid in our interview funnel, is really to weed out folks based off of the high level, technical or analytical knowledge. Folks that pass,that recruiter screening, they move on to the next level, which is level number two. This is our technical assessment, right? So we’re getting one layer deeper into their technical capabilities, and remember, no one has met the candidate yet except for the recruiter. So our technical assessment, in my opinion, is pretty rigorous.

I would recommend that hiring managers use a rigorous technical assessment, and I prefer to use the take-home technical assessment. People have different viewpoints on that, but I think as long as you implement strict deadlines, a take home should suffice. I’m not a fan of having candidates do it live. I think there’s just a lot of things that can impact their ability to perform their best. Who likes typing in front of people? I don’t know. I don’t like that. So we have a take-home [00:23:00] technical assessment, but in this take-home technical assessment, we’re using a points based grading system.

You either got the question, or you got it wrong. And so we’re also leveraging our senior engineers to grade these tests. [The] things we’re looking for, because it’s an analytics engineering role, we’re looking for "are they hard coding things?" That’s a, no-no. That’s bad.

We don’t want candidates that are doing that. We’re looking for things like, have they tested their scripts? In general ,are they approaching our questions from "what does this look like from a maintenance perspective? What does this look like from a skills perspective?" Are they making considerations for that?

And so candidates that pass that technical assessment, right? They’ve passed level one, they’ve passed level two. Now they move on to the face-to-face, right? The top of the pyramid, the beauty about this funnel is we’ve already tested their technical capabilities. We know functionally, they can do the job.

And so the order of those steps, I think are [00:24:00] key before we know if a candidate is black or white, or male or female, or old school or new school, if they’re a self-taught programmer, if they have a traditional CS background, we’ve already tested their technical skills. And so what that means is when we get to the face to face and we’re leveraging, like a panel of interviewers to help with the face-to-face interviewing, what I shouldn’t see in the panel’s comments is like, "this candidate isn’t technical enough." We’ve already tested for that. So we’re going to be looking for things like, how do they manage ambiguity? How are they communicating?

How did they think about problem solving? Those are the things that we’ll be looking for in the face-to-face. And the key here is that you want to keep your interview funnel consistent. Everyone, every candidate should go through your interview process the same [way]. It should be rules-based and that is going to help you remove some of those biases.

That’s also going to help you just create a fair practice in [00:25:00] terms of how you hire for technical roles. And those are my jams. But I do want to say before I close out, these jams are really just the first step in building a diverse and technical team. It’s really the beginning of the strategy of building a diverse technical team, and it’s about laying the foundation. [In] Diversifying, really you’re sourcing how you advocate for diversity, inclusion, belonging when you’re working with your recruiter. It’s about acknowledging your biases and challenging your perspective on what you think or have traditionally thought a "good candidate" looks like on paper.

Really rethinking how you leverage your employee referral program, how do you compare it to other sources, and laying the foundation, is also implementing an interview funnel or some type of standard process that’s as binary [00:26:00] as possible for technical roles. And this, like I said, is just the beginning. What we talked about today, this is scratching the surface.

For me, what I think the next steps are when you think about building a diverse technical team, it’s about tracking and pivoting, right? It’s about, "how are you retaining these employees?" And I think this is where the data comes in. If you’re not able to retain your diverse employees, you should at least have an understanding on why, what is it?

I think, the next step is also about empowering your diverse employees. Once you get them in seat, are you providing support and resources that they need to be successful? Are you helping them grow in their role in that the company. And so I obviously have to leave you with one cheesy line to close it out because I struggled with this last slide.

This one’s a hard one, but today’s talk is about really focused on the beginning, laying the foundation. This is stuff that takes time. My cheesy [00:27:00] quote of the day is, ta-da! Building a diverse team is a marathon. It’s not a race, it takes time. You gotta be patient. And so with that, I will take any questions and I will hand it over to Erica.


Erica: you. Thank you. Thank you. To quote one of your top fives. If you don’t know. Now, the chat is blowing up. People got a lot of things popping off. If you haven’t joined the chat yet, please do. The link to our Slack group is at the bottom of your screen. Pop in, ask a super awesome question, but right now I’m going to start it off with a question.

[00:27:42] Q&A #

Erica: The Harvard Business Review has an online article entitled "4 Lessons for Building Diverse Teams." The number one statement was know that it starts at the top. If a company’s top executives don’t view their lack of diversity as [00:28:00] they would any other business problem, demanding that key players focus on solving the issue, it’s unlikely that much action will be taken across the broader organization.

Okay. So let’s say a company has leaders that don’t see this as a priority in building diverse teams. How can you present it to be something that’s beneficial for that?

Akia Obas: That’s a great question. The first thing that I think about is I feel sorry for those companies, I really do.

There’s just so many studies done on this topic about the financial benefits of diversity. The most diverse companies are more likely to outperform less diverse peers in terms of profitability. There was, I think a study done by, I think it was McKenzie Deloitte, and they showed data that diverse companies outperform less diverse companies by I think like, 36, like 40% in profitability, right? That [00:29:00] is a huge chunk of money that you’re leaving on the table. If you don’t feel that diversity is important or impacts your bottomline, I would say there’s a ton of accessible data out there on the importance of diversity and the impact it has to teams and innovation, and, money and revenue. So I dunno if there’s anything I could say that could convince someone that doesn’t think diversity matters. I don’t think there’s a statistic I could share or a story I could share that could change folks’ perspective in 2021, given all the things that we’ve gone through over the past few years.

So I think the only thing that you can do is show them the data, show them receipts. It’s really not hard to find.

Okay, so

Erica: you would basically tell them cash rules, everything around me, cream. Get that money. Okay. All right. Here’s another question. Do you recommend setting a minimum applicant [00:30:00] diversity thresholds before moving further in the process?

Akia Obas: That is tough. That might be a tough one. I think, like, to that point, you need a process. I think it’s about understanding why aren’t you able to get more diverse candidates in your candidate pool? Where are you sourcing? Did your recruiter note that you want more diverse candidates in your pool?

And so I’m not sure the [what] threshold is going to solve there if you don’t have a strategy on how you’re going to get more diverse candidates in your pool. And then when you think about your interview funnel, like, how can you examine that with a fresh set of eyes to understand, "is there any biases in this interview funnel?"

What about if we look at our job description in itself? So I think there’s things that you could do prior to setting thresholds, because what would those thresholds be based on? What rule would you use? How would you pick a percentage? Is it 10%? Is it 50%? Like where does that come from?

I think you just look at what you, if you’re a hiring [00:31:00] manager or recruiter, look at your pipeline and who you’re talking to and see if there’s creative way. We listed out there’s 107 HBCUs that you could be recruiting for if you’re looking for fresh grads or if you’re looking for people that may not have that much experience, but straight from school, or two years out of a school or have some co-op experience because you have 107 HBCUs that you probably can recruit from. I don’t know if that threshold’s going to help if you don’t have a strategy to back up meeting,that goal post.

Erica: Okay. Since you did mention that it’s a marathon, not a race, how long does it usually take to build out a diverse team? And I’m sure that would also depend on the size of the team, but in your experience, how long does that, has it usually taken?

Akia Obas: Yeah, that’s a great question. Companies don’t become homogeneous overnight, right? Like, they just don’t wake up one day and your whole company was once [00:32:00] diverse and now it’s, it’s majority white.

And so I think you have to approach this from a place of patience and understand that dismantling it will take time. And I touched on this in my last side, but hiring diverse folks is one thing. That’s the first. But retaining them [and] providing them with equitable opportunities is a whole ‘nother thing.

And so if you’re not taking it, not only from a place of participations, but looking at it holistically in terms of "we’re able to hire diverse candidates, but are we able to retain them?" And what will that mean for our leadership team in the next five years? If we’re not able to retain these diverse candidates and talent in our company and grow them, that means we’re not going to be able to promote them into leadership because they will no longer be there.

So you have to think about it very holistically and understand that this isn’t "we’re going to do something and overnight it’s going to change." This is like, we have to [00:33:00] be committed every quarter, every year, forever to builds a diverse team and to build a diverse company.

Erica: Here’s another question from our Slack channel, what techniques can help one successfully field with the fragility of a coworker’s ego when they are called out, when trying to pull you in to diversify a meeting and or team? Spicy.

Akia Obas: Yes, that is spicy. And unfortunately I’ve been there and shoutout to the black people on the call or brown people on this call. I’m pretty sure you’ve been there as well. I think in this day and age, like you have to show up as your authentic self. So when people are stepping to you, asking you for these type of ,can you be the token, in a meeting or for an initiative? I think you have to challenge them and ask them. Put it back on them. Have them think about "why did I come to Akia for that?" I think you have to show up as your authentic self and hold people [00:34:00] accountable, and when you’re, when you’re comfortable and having that conversation, I think you have to tell them like, either "that made me uncomfortable" or challenged them on: why are you asking me? And see what they say. And I’m pretty sure in most of those cases, the light bulb will go off, hopefully, and they recognize how offensive that is or just inconsiderate and insensitive, that is, and it the can be for someone.

In your experience,

Erica: is there specific language to avoid and job postings, or an external communications that could be perceived as not being inclusive to BIPOC.

Akia Obas: Yeah, that’s a great one. There’s one that I really do not like and I’ve worked in tech my whole career and, we use it a lot in tech, which is ‘rockstar.’

I don’t like that. Not everyone listens to rock and roll. So people are not going to know what that is. So I think when you think about some [00:35:00] of the technical jargon or marketing jargon, that’s often used, that often represents the white experience in the world, remove that. If it can’t translate across genders, personalities, and background, then it’s probably verbiage that you don’t want to have in your job description. Rockstar is one of the ones that I don’t like that I think can be not welcoming to someone that is awesome at their job.

Erica: When you mentioned that it’s interesting because sometimes even the verbiage that we use as Americans as a whole could be so different than other English speaking parts of the world, some of our verbiage where people that are also English speakers, they’re like, okay, what does that exactly mean? So I guess it’s good to be mindful, overall.

Here’s another question that is interesting. When someone makes a request, like the one that you mentioned or use this phrase: "pipeline problem,: is that a time for education or [00:36:00] in your opinion, is it better to ignore things like that?

Akia Obas: Yeah. I think the first thing you have to think about is yourself and where you are and is that something you want to fight, right? Is that something, that you want to take on and educate that individual, or if you don’t feel like being bothered, don’t be bothered. I think often times when we think of, our black experience, sometimes people think that we’re obligated to educate them, that we’re obligated to set them. And if you don’t have the energy and you’re not in the space to provide that to the individual, I would recommend that you don’t. Think of yourself, be selfish in those situations, and if it’s something that you want to bring up to your HR business partner, I think that’s a great opportunity to bring up to your HR business partner or your hiring manager, "hey, this happened and made me feel uncomfortable. How can you support me?" And I don’t think you have to commit to educating everyone or to stepping up and saving the day. Sometimes you just gotta save yourself, especially if it’s, [00:37:00] messing with your own peace.

Sure. Here’s another

Erica: question from our select group. How does HubSpot address inequitable pay as a result of bias in the negotiation?

Akia Obas: That is a tough one, man. Y’all was letting me have it today, but I guess I asked for this. So there’s been a lot of conversations across the leadership team, and the finance [team] about how do we address inequitable pay.

And so that’s something that’s top of mind for the leadership team. We understand. HubSpot understands the biases that can that can be injected into the negotiation process. And so I think one of the first steps that we’re doing within the organization that I report into is standardizing our job roles, job titles, and salary bands.

And so I think there’s a lot of work that companies could also do taking a lesson from the HubSpot is look at where you’re at, especially when you think about [00:38:00] the data org and all the diversity as it relates to job titles, right? What are the expectations of the role?

Are we titling people correctly? How do you think about your comp bands and the progression of those levels? I think you have to first start with consistency and communicating that your plan to be consistent. I think the comp bands and the salary will fall into place, and I’m creating a more equitable work environment.


Erica: We did say we wanted all the smoke, so there’s, they’re living, they’re bringing it and your experience. Yeah. Okay. Drink a little water and then think about this question in your experience, how does it work to the benefit of the company to publicize aspirational goals or benchmarks re-associated with diversity?

Akia Obas: That’s a great question. Yeah, I think it speaks to transparency, right? In order to create benchmarks and goals, you need to know where you are currently [00:39:00] and transparency, in my opinion, is the first step into making an impact, as it relates to diversity inclusion and belonging, otherwise, why are we even here?

Why am I here? Why am I having that talk? I think that being transparent around your goals and aspirations, it’s almost like holding yourself accountable. We spoke about that earlier. Like data is everything. Show me your receipts. There is a quote and for the HubSpot is that are on this call.

You’ve heard this a million times, but Brian Halligan, one of the co-founders of HubSpot, says this and it really resonates with me, which is "you can’t just talk the talk, right? You also need to walk the walk." And I think transparency is about walking the walk. You’re honest and upfront with where you are and you’re drawing a line somewhere in the future about where you plan to be ,and I think that transparency is great for companies to share.

Erica: That sounded like a version of "don’t talk about it, be about it." [00:40:00] All right. Here’s another question from our Slack group. As you said, this requires patience and can be a marathon. In the early days of trying to address a diversity issue like this, the feeling of tokenism feels honestly unavoidable. How do we navigate that? If the company is not doing a good enough job, hiring and retaining diverse talent, but has outwardly recognized it and is set in motion a plan to address it, what to do in the meantime, when BIPOC employees can feel justifiably token.

Akia Obas: That’s a great one. That’s yeah, that’s a great question.

I think I’ll go back to my go-to, you gotta be selfish with what you’re willing to show up for, as it relates to diversity and inclusion, when you’re a BIPOC employee, you don’t owe the company anything but to do your role, right? Like you’re an engineer there to be an [00:41:00] engineer.

And so if you know the fight for diverse teams isn’t a fight that one have the energy to help with, or, the bandwidth or you don’t want to, I say, don’t. Take care of yourself. Be selfish. And I think that when you’re putting in the situation of tokenism, I think it’s about speaking up for yourself and letting your manager know, or your leadership know "I’m not comfortable playing this role and here’s why," or maybe you just say I’m not comfortable and you don’t give them a here’s why, but I think it’s about just being selfish and recognizing that you don’t owe your company anything as a BIPOC employee, except to do your job.

Last modified on: Nov 22, 2023

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