Hiring And Employment Branding For Startups Putting Together a Diverse Workforce

Keith Cline @ VentureFizz, Kellie Wagner @ Collective, and Jiun Kimm @ Samsung Next

Startup Grad School Stage
Ascent Conference 2020

Kellie Wagner [00:00:01] And it’s true.

Jiun Kim [00:00:02] yeah

Keith Cline [00:00:04] It’s 11, 30, so let’s get started. All right, well, thanks, everybody, for joining us today. Hope everyone’s safe and healthy, of course, and that you’ve all been enjoying the different panels and discussions from the U.S. conference. So all is going well. Today’s topic that we’re going to be talking about is putting together a diverse workforce for startups. So I’m super honored to be moderating this panel because it’s a very important and meaningful topic, especially with all the challenges that we’re dealing with around diversity, equity and inclusion. So I’m Keith Klein. I’m the founder of Entropies, which is a recruitment website and employment branding platform for companies in the tech industry. So I’m joined by two experts in this field. So we’ve got Kelly Wagner and Jim Kim. So instead of me introducing the two of you, I thought each of you would just take a few moments to introduce yourselves. I’ll start, Kelly.

Kellie Wagner [00:01:00] Sure. Hi, everyone, my name is Kellie Wagner. I’m the founder and CEO of a diversity equity and inclusion company called Collective. We partner with high growth startups, scale ups across a variety of industries, definitely a concentration on tech and consumer brands to help them really build a holistic diversity and inclusion strategy and bring that to life through implementation trainings and process development, et cetera. So I’m really excited to be here with you all having this super important conversation.

Keith Cline [00:01:41] Jiun, how about you.

Jiun Kim [00:01:42] Hi, everyone. I’m Jiun. My name is Jiun Kim, I’m the head of diversity and inclusion at Samsung next. And a little bit about next, we are the innovation group building a global ecosystem for transformative software and services. We do that by supporting builders and founders through investments, partnerships, acquisitions and with our product arm. And so we are committed to a diverse and inclusive, not just team, but tech ecosystem overall. And so you are really excited to be here as well.

Keith Cline [00:02:13] All right, let’s dig deep, because we just have twenty five minutes, so we have a lot to cover this a very important topic. So DI diversity equity inclusion, D and I diversity and inclusion? So it’s different acronym. So we don’t really care what acronym is being used. But let’s just talk about what does it mean, just as a holistic point of view and what does it what does it matter for companies? We want to start.

Kellie Wagner [00:02:36] Yeah, I mean, it’s so funny. This is an ongoing conversation in this space. Whatever you want to call the space itself is there’s all these different acronyms DEI, D and I, DEIB and really the various meanings, diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging, starting to see people integrate words like justice at the root of it. It’s about how are we fostering workplaces and ecosystems that value different perspectives, backgrounds, identities, and not only having those identities and backgrounds represented, but making sure from an inclusion standpoint that people within these spaces feel seen, understood, valued. And then from an equity standpoint, that we’re not just assuming that everyone has the same needs or have the same starting places, but really are making sure that we are providing people with the resources and support they need to feel empowered and thrive so that they can do the best work that they are there to do. And that may look different for different people.

Keith Cline [00:03:51] And so you have kind of like a broad overview of a portfolio of companies like what does it all mean for companies?

Jiun Kim [00:03:59] Yeah, yeah, I mean, definitely one hundred percent, everything that Kelly said, and I know we were talking about this before where we were saying, like, we don’t care what people call it as long as we’re doing the work. And I think ultimately, really, this work is about people and it’s about outcomes. And to Kelly’s point about equity, the end results always have to be to be creating the systems and structures that ensure every single person at your company has the same access to opportunity. And so often I say like diversity and inclusion is a journey, but equity and even justice is the destination. And really, if I’m going to be frank, I think it is just as work to what Kelly said. Again, this is a word being used more and more. And I think it is only when companies are treating people justly and fairly that we can reap the full benefits of the work because otherwise you’re not going to have anyone who wants to come to your company and do the work with you. And I think it often ruffles people’s feathers sometimes to hear that word being used. We are in the business of profit and maximization. But to me, it’s not an either or. I think it’s a both. And which means we can be motivated by the business case, which absolutely shows diversity and inclusion leads to stronger results, greater outcomes, higher profit. And we can be motivated to treat people justly and fairly. And I think we literally can’t reap the benefits of this work fully. If we don’t look at it through both lenses, I think we’ll all operate more effectively and courageously in the work if we value it for what it is. And so I think ultimately, as a business leader, having that orientation is incredibly important.

Keith Cline [00:05:36] Yeah, and I mean, it’s it goes without saying this has been a very challenging year around this topic. And if there is a silver lining, I think it’s raised awareness across, you know, lots of industries, not just the tech industry, but since that’s where our audience is largely focused in the tech industry. You know, you look at steps maybe Google took back in 2014 when they published their first diversity and inclusion report. What do you think it means for companies that like the tech industry as a whole? Like what do you think this means as far as take an action? Like what? Why is now a moment that there’s different change occurring?

Jiun Kim [00:06:20] Let’s go for a concert. Yeah, so I think, you know, when we say this moment to be clear, we’re talking about the moment that has has resulted that the murder of George Ford, which took place at the end of May. Obviously, there were a number of injustices that happened. And we know that historically these are injustices that have impacted the black community. They just want to kind of clarify what we mean by the moment. And I think in the same way, this moment for us as individuals, it’s about our introspection of who we want to be in society. I think it’s the same for tech companies. So tech companies looking internally to understand that tackling the moment is not about brand or reputation, but about doing the hard work of making a long term commitment to diversity and inclusion. And I think that’s something that’s been really exciting for me as a leader in this space, to see a lot of people kind of doubling down on that commitment. I think specifically here, pursuing authentically and I work right now means a willingness to sacrifice, make hard changes, potentially messing up, potentially being called out and having the hard conversations that as a business leader you probably never imagined you would be having with your employees. And so when you talk about challenges, I think some of the challenges related to what I was saying before is just pushing ourselves to understand that doing the work well means accepting the power of the work in both the business case and its opportunity to bring just access to everybody. And I also think as a leader, when we’re willing to do the more challenging work of ensuring that DNI is not just about representation and optics, but when we do the work of understanding that it is about leveraging our teams and ideas to be more creative, innovative, forward thinking, all of those things, we’re just going to go farther than we have before. So I think it’s a moment that’s been sparked by something so terrible. But but also there’s a sense of optimism, I feel for all that we can do moving forward because we’re finally having these, like, honest conversations about about what it means.

Kellie Wagner [00:08:37] I would also just add that I think this is a moment we hit, we hear the word thrown around a lot and people saying like we want to be great allies as organizations. We want to be a culture of allies. And I think something that this moment is really surfacing for me, particularly as you saw some of the backlash, the company space that made these very grand public statements about Black Lives Matter and then found themselves in situations where they didn’t have the positive response that they thought they were going to get is that, you know, there is going to be that that pushback back and sometimes you are going to get called out. And the question is, do you double down on the work in those moments? I think it’s very easy when you are a company and you’re trying to do the right thing and you’re getting lots of praise and recognition and positive reinforcement, it’s easy to feel like galvanized to do this work. And I think what tech companies are having to face and address right now is there are going to be call ups. You are going to get it wrong. And how do you keep how do you use that to spark motivation, to keep working and to keep learning from your mistakes and doing better and where it’s it’s an ecosystem of iteration and learning. And I think we need to really bring that same mindset into the space and work and not be discouraged by the moments when we are faced with employees, many black and Latin X employees and indigenous employees who have been kind of underrepresented and under empowered in the workplace when they’re saying, I’m burnt out, I actually don’t trust you. I don’t trust that the work that you’re going to do is actually going to happen. How do you keep doing that work anyways and showing instead of telling and understanding where those feelings are coming from? Because I think there is a sense of honesty, unfiltered honesty. We’ve gotten this permission to say, you know what, this has been a bad experience for me and I don’t trust you. And how do we continue to show up for those populations anyways rather than saying, oh, they’re ungrateful, why don’t they care that we’re trying to do this? So I think that is that is a challenge that we’re going to have to push through. But when we can and we do, I think on the other end of that is the trust that we’re looking for and the connection and the empowerment.

Keith Cline [00:11:16] The diversity, equity and inclusion, it’s on the radar for all the companies we’re dealing with, I mean, we’re dealing with over two hundred sixty companies in the tech industry and it’s on the forefront. It’s like the leading part of discussions now, which is amazing if you’re a founder just starting out. Right. And this is something that’s important to you as it should be. How do you get started? Like what are the tactical tips that you would give to founders on starting out and trying to build a strong workforce that is diverse? Do you want to start cause you’re looking at especially the whole portfolio and of course, Kelly’s working with lots of companies from a know capacity, but you want to start.

Jiun Kim [00:11:55] Yeah, sure. So I’m really excited about this question because we actually recently launched a DNI Resources for Startup Guide. It’s a free open source guide available for any startup or company. So if you go to Sansing next dot com about page, you can find it on there now. So encourage anyone to download share. There’s an email address where you can reach me. I’d love to talk about it, get feedback. And the reason we did this case. Exactly to your point, so many companies are talking about it. As a CBC that has our own set of portfolio companies, we believe it’s our responsibility to share some of the things that we’re doing and and to make the areas in which we’re working with these porticos have DNI be a central part of it. And so this guide establishes the work around three, what we see as key areas to serve as a jumping off point so as to establishing foundational elements. So determining your wife, setting up your structures for accountability. There’s a section, of course, on recruiting and hiring, which is incredibly important. So doing that with diversity, equity, inclusion in mind and then building a genuine, inclusive company culture. And so what we’ve done in each of these sections is created or not created what we created our own in-house resources, which we’re kind of sharing with others to make their own. And then in the section, we also have a place where we talk about consultants and vendors in the space that we love. So we’ve linked Kelly’s company, the Collective, on theirs to everyone. Be sure to check that out. But yeah, we’re really excited about it. And and think, you know, there’s there’s so much that companies in early stages can do. And so we’re excited to be a support in helping them do that work.

Keith Cline [00:13:42] What do you think, Kellie?

Kellie Wagner [00:13:44] Yeah, I mean, I would echo so much of what he said, which is there are resources out there. I think what I really saw in the face of Kohat even was this willingness for so many companies and consultancies to put out free resources to guide companies as budgets were being cut, as people were really trying to figure out what do we do, how do we adapt? Because Coolpad also serviced a lot of the challenges that were unique to this moment. And so we put out a pandemic proof tool kit. You can also find online. There are amazing resources like project include a place that I send people that is free, that has a lot of really tactical, tangible advice. And I would say it does go back to one of the things that DMZ around creating that foundation. So one really getting clear on your why I think in this moment it is a thing that a lot of companies skip over in their desire to just get down to action, which is I get it. And people want really tangible tactical things to do. And what I find is that without laying the groundwork of accountability and determining your North Star, it’s really easy for this work to take a backseat when other things become a priority. So until you’ve clarified, how is this actually going to help our business outcomes and how is this going to help our culture and make sure that everyone in our organization is primed to do their best work? It’s very easy to treat this as kind of a side project when you start to have to really get down to what do we prioritize as an organization. And the second thing I would say is really getting used to talking about it as a collective, where are really values led organization. And so we talk about values all the time. I bring it up constantly in terms of behaviors that we should be engaging in with our clients, with each other. I sometimes feel like I’m a broken record, but it creates so much clarity that our values are really, really important. And I would say Similarily would be introducing it into conversations with candidates, not just candidates from underrepresented backgrounds, but can all candidates. Right. So that they understand that by signing up to be a part of your organization, this is something that matters to you. And this. These are behaviors that are expected to be part of the culture. In turn, you’re setting yourself up to be able to better serve the underrepresented talent that you want to bring in because you’re making sure that this is this is really woven into your DNA and people are comfortable having some of those uncomfortable conversations.

Keith Cline [00:16:36] And it’s OK. I get.

Jiun Kim [00:16:41] I just wanted to echo Kelly’s point about bringing it up during the Canada experience. I think we’re finding more and more and have been for quite a while that people, no matter what their background, their racial identity, what role they’re applying for, are going to ask companies hard questions like what are you doing about DNA? What does it mean to you? I’ve definitely been on the interviewer side where I’m getting all of those questions. So to Kelly’s point, like, you have to be able to understand your why everybody at your company needs to be able to articulate your lie as well, because it’s built into the culture, because they see how it connects to the work. I think that is an incredibly important point.

Keith Cline [00:17:20] And I think it’s you know, it starts from the early days of the company, especially from the founders. So I think of a podcast episode I did with David Cancel, co-founder and CEO of Dreft, which some of the leadership team from Drift have been speaking at this conference. And from the early days, I think within the first time you’ve been the first five employees he hired a talent acquisition. A recruiter to focus on building out a diverse pipeline from day one, and that was a mandate that he made. So it was just from the early part of the company, which, you know, once you start building that into your culture, day one, obviously it can have very strong benefits long term. Now, for a company that is kind of already been building and there are maybe one hundred people, or maybe they’re beyond that and they’re now looking at their numbers and percentages, they’re like way behind the eight ball, what advice would you give the companies that at that stage you want to start?

Kellie Wagner [00:18:18] Sure, yeah. I mean, I think that certainly it’s easier. The earlier you start, but it’s never too late. I would say that at that point, really going back and taking a critical look at your systems and processes, I think a lot of times organizations that are at that point get into this mentality of we just have to start hiring more diverse candidates. And what I would say is the actual better step to take first is to figure out how you’ve got to where you’ve got to in the first place. Right. So why are you in an organization at this point of one hundred plus or even thousands of people? That is very homogenous. So looking at your performance review process, looking at your recruiting process, understanding where bias is showing up and acting as a barrier is actually more important. Right. Because otherwise what we see is that what we call the the leaky bucket is that you’re going to spend a ton of money going to conferences like Grace Hopper, having booths, trying to convince people from different underrepresented backgrounds to come. And I think, you know, you can put a compelling offer out there for some people if you throw enough money and they will take that risk, but they will stay. And so that impact is going to be really short term. And when we think about people saying, we’ll decide, is it how can we be efficient? That’s a really inefficient way to to spend your money and invest in this work.

Keith Cline [00:20:00] What do you think, Jiun?

Jiun Kim [00:20:01] Yeah, I would definitely agree with all that. It’s not to it’s harder, but not too late, has Kelly said. And so there are a couple of things that I think about as well. So as we said before, determining your vision for that DNA culture you want to build and doing that by having a listening tour to understand, particularly from your most marginalized groups of employees, like what is a culture of belonging mean to them? How do you build that into your game plan and every part of the structures? And I think there’s often times where people mask inclusion and, you know, it’s whatever it’s what everybody wants. Like, we have to listen to everybody, of course. But but this work in terms of equity is ensuring that we are especially listening to those who are most marginalized. So particularly those groups where you may only have three or four employees, it is the most important to listen to what they feel like they need, creating measures of accountability. So setting up those systems to track data for your progress, both on the demographic information side and also qualitative data so people can share in free form and their experiences with. And I and then I would say the last thing that’s really important is ensuring there’s Buy-In in both the top and the bottom. I’ve been in organizations where it’s just employee base or it’s just leaders like it has to come from both. There has to be a meeting of the middle aligned around a strong culture and particularly from the top most leaders, their ability to articulate why the work is important to them individually, why it’s important to the business and a willingness to make what is a long term commitment in this work. Something I had talked to a lot of leaders about is that DNA is a bit different in the sense that those those quick business results you want to see quarter by quarter, it’s going to look different. We’re going to look at data differently. The outcomes are going to come at a different pace. That doesn’t mean it’s less important. And we just have to get comfortable with what the difference is there. And so I think I would just add those points as well.

Keith Cline [00:22:08] Well, do you think that should become part of almost like the you know, when there’s a board meeting, there’s like, OK, how are we doing with sales? Are we doing with funding for the next race? There’s all these key metrics that are discussed in a board meeting. Should this be part of it? Like you’re like Google has their diversity and inclusion report. So how are we doing as it relates to that?

Kellie Wagner [00:22:26] Absolutely

Jiun Kim [00:22:28] Yeah, I. I. Go ahead, Kellie you can go.

Kellie Wagner [00:22:32] I was just going to say, and this goes back to a lot of what John is talking about in terms of accountability metrics, if you are not building it into your regular reporting, if you’re not building it into the ways that employees are, their performance is assessed into bonus structures, et cetera. And then you are not sending the message that this is actually as important. Right. Because anything important to the company gets measured and people get assessed on their performance around it. So you have to treat this the same way. And that does mean reporting out on it in the in the way that you would report any other function in the company. I think that that’s really important. And I also just wanted to add in in terms of kind of high impact things that companies can do that are really trying to turn that ship around. It’s also think about where you’re you are kind of infusing diversity to a lot of organizations will really focused heavily on internship programs or entry level employees. And you have then now brought in diversity. But a lot of those folks then don’t work in positions of power or in positions to make decisions that can impact the business and impact future hiring. I heard once that one of the best places that you can focus having more diverse talent is on your talent acquisition team, on your team, because they’re the ones who in many cases that are thinking about those recruitment structures, are thinking about those people processes and can bring that lens right to the table. Similarly with managers, how are they empowering? And that doesn’t mean to put the weight on those folks to do all of the work. But it’s just thinking about how are you bringing in different types of people and then giving them actual power to to be a part of changing the culture.

Keith Cline [00:24:28] That’s great advice. And I’m just looking at the clock. Looks like we have one minute. So, Jim, if you want to just add some closing thoughts there, just expand on what Kelly shared.

Jiun Kim [00:24:38] Yeah, sure, and we’re just going to say before and absolutely and it’s part of our organization wide performance indicators, so how we’re measuring DNA and tracking towards it is on the same level of importance as what our Ventures team is doing, our product team is doing. And we were doing that before my arrival. And so when I got here and saw that, I was like, OK, like, you don’t really care about this. I’m glad I’m here to totally echo that as well.

Keith Cline [00:25:06] Well, I think this is going to power off from what I was told, so, Kellie and Jiun, thanks so much for taking the time to share all your thoughts and the great advice. And, of course, check out those resources that they mentioned on Samsung Naksan collector’s website, because they’re very, very useful. So thanks again for your time.

Kellie Wagner [00:25:22] Thank you.

Jiun Kim [00:25:22] Thanks, everyone.

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