Felicia and Rachel speak with the lovely and talented Amaia Arruabarrena, Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at ezCater. Amaia’s growth at ezCater shows not only her commitment to helping people but the company’s investment in making real, meaningful, and lasting change.
Rachel Murray (00:05):
Welcome to the She Geeks Out podcast where we talk with brilliant folks all about abolishing inequity in the workplace.
Felicia Jadczak (00:12):
This past season we focused on various aspects of doing the actual work of diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace.
Rachel Murray (00:19):
We’re so excited by some of the conversations we had. We wanted to release the entire interview in all of its fabulous glory. So these are fabulous bonus episodes that you will be hearing in completion. But before we dive into those, we want to give you an update on the inner workings of SGL. So what are those inner workings?
Felicia Jadczak (00:42):
Well, I guess we should maybe introduce ourselves first. So first on the agenda and the inner workings of SGO. I’m Felicia.
Rachel Murray (00:50):
Trash. I’m Rachel.
Felicia Jadczak (00:53):
I’d like to clarify, I’m not trash-.
Rachel Murray (00:55):
Felicia Jadczak (00:55):
… But we are trash because we did not plan this out as well as we could have. But that’s how we roll.
Rachel Murray (01:01):
Felicia Jadczak (01:01):
Embrace the awkward.
Rachel Murray (01:02):
That is one of our things.
Felicia Jadczak (01:04):
In any case, we have had a lot of stuff going on. So a couple highlights that we would love to share before we get into this interview. First of all, we are now a team of eight people.
Rachel Murray (01:14):
Felicia Jadczak (01:16):
Our newest hire is Akyanna Smith and she’ll be running public programs for us.
Rachel Murray (01:20):
What do public programs mean?
Felicia Jadczak (01:22):
Basically, what it sounds like, but essentially anything that we’re offering, whether it’s on a community side, diversity, equity, inclusion, training, webinars, cohort programs, all of that stuff for the public as opposed to our private client work. And we’re still going strong. So if you’re worried about that, no worries. We are still very much doing incredible client work on the private side as well.
Rachel Murray (01:47):
We are very busy. And for those of you who’ve known us from back in the day, pre-panini as some of us like to refer to it, we used to do a lot of in-person events on the community side, and we are excited about what’s going to be coming up in future as well. So stay tuned. You can find us on the She Geeks Out website and all of its glory there. And so yeah, I’m glad that you mentioned that we are going strong on client work. We have been very, very busy. It’s why we’ve been able to grow our team doubling in size over the past few years, which is really wonderful. And the other big exciting thing that we did is we launched Rise Together, which is a new community that’s open to all. Before, back in the day. We really focused on those with marginalized gender identities. And then what we wanted to do though is expand it to include everyone who is interested in abolishing inequity in the workplace.
And so what we did was we said, okay, we’ve got this online community, we want to make it open to everyone. And so we’re calling it Rise Together very intentionally. And so that’s a platform you can find on the Mighty Network site. We’ll put the link in the show notes. But essentially what it is, it’s a place where people can gather, talk about any issues around DEI, if you have a marginalized identity, we have spaces there for you. We list all of our events. Anything that’s exciting happening, some news, usually it’s depressing news but sometimes we try to have it be nice news.
Felicia Jadczak (03:10):
Rachel Murray (03:12):
I know, we try, we try. There’s wild news too. So we include that as well. So, that’s a little bit about the Rise Together community.
Felicia Jadczak (03:20):
And if any of you are like we love Felicia and Rachel, how do we get more of them? Well you will definitely find us very active over there, so check it out. In addition to Rise Together and all of our public programs, we are constantly planning new stuff for you all. So we’re planning out some exciting new programs, events, maybe some in-person stuff. So basically stay tuned because there’s a lot in the works. We are heading into the end of the year and we’re already gearing up for a really busy 2023.
Rachel Murray (03:48):
And it is worth noting that the day that this comes out is election day. Yes.
Felicia Jadczak (03:56):
Is that a good or bad thing for us?
Rachel Murray (03:58):
Well, I’ll just be prescient and say everything’s going to be fine. And-.
Felicia Jadczak (04:03):
… you think is awesome.
Rachel Murray (04:04):
Exactly. But yeah, if you haven’t voted already and you’re listening to this and you’re like, Why should I bother voting? Well we do have some information on that also, if you’re curious, we’ll probably put that in the show notes as well. It is an incredibly important time to vote. If you haven’t been paying attention, it is very understandable. The world is wild and so wanting to cocoon is completely understandable. This is the time to just take the day if you haven’t voted already, early voting or mail-in voting, to head over to your polls and yeah, vote.
Felicia Jadczak (04:36):
Make it happen.
Rachel Murray (04:37):
Yeah, make it happen. So without further ado.
Felicia Jadczak (04:41):
Let’s get onto the actual interview.
Rachel Murray (04:43):
Yeah. Who are we talking with?
Felicia Jadczak (04:45):
Well, we are going to start out with Amaia Arruabarrena who is the director of diversity, equity and inclusion at ezCater. And she’s really a long time friend and partner. She geeks out. So we had an awesome chat with her. I just re-listened to this a few days ago. It was great. We need to talk more with her. I was still learning and taking notes as I was listening. I’m sure you all will as well. And yeah, excited to have you all listen to her words of wisdom.
Rachel Murray (05:13):
Yay. Now onto our chat with Amaia.
Felicia Jadczak (05:16):
Hello. So Amaia, we are so happy to be here podcasting with you today, and I’m really excited to dig into everything with you, because we have a long history between you and SGO over the years. And so why don’t we start with you just giving us a quick intro to who you are, your career story. And I know that you have a lot of stuff that you’ve gotten into over the years and I also love to eventually get into how over the time you’ve been able to incorporate some DEI work into your job.
Amaia Arruabarrena (05:45):
Thank you first of all so much for having me. I am so excited to be a part of this podcast and I’m just so excited about everything that She Geeks Out does always, as you mentioned [inaudible 00:05:55] really. Such a big fan. Yes, we have a long history together and it’s been so cool to watch how you all have grown and developed and the new things you’re taking on and the new ways we’ve been able to partner because it’s coincided with as my career has grown and evolved and changed. And so it’s been a cool, the way we’ve overlapped has been really cool. But hi, I am Amaia Arruabarrena, I am the director of DEI for ezCater, which is a tech company based out of Boston. A little bit about me, I didn’t start out in this work, I didn’t even have any idea this could be my job or this work existed in the world when I was a wee youngin in Las Vegas.
So born and raised in Las Vegas and was planning on being a doctor. So went to school and pursued sciences and all of that. And one way or another in the wild journey that I’ve had, have ended up doing this work and could not be happier about it. I don’t know how deep into that you want me to go because I’m sure we’ll get into more of it as you ask questions. But it’s been a really, really interesting journey. And I think what has led me here, or most importantly what led me here is lived experience and recognizing the inequities that exist in essentially every system in this country around the world. But we’ll stick to this country because we know it best, inequities that exist in every system and how there are so many barriers to accessing opportunity to so many different people for so many different reasons.
And just wanting to be a part of breaking those barriers down and helping to create equity in systems and wanting to help people. And then I found out it was a job that I could actually do. So that worked out really well for me.
Rachel Murray (07:33):
Well let’s get into it.
Felicia Jadczak (07:34):
Rachel Murray (07:35):
So when you’re talking about it, talk a little bit about your career journey where after you said no thank you med school, what happened?
Amaia Arruabarrena (07:43):
Yeah, so there were a few things that were happening simultaneously. I had, so as I mentioned, I was born and raised in Las Vegas and I had just moved to Boston and one of the reasons I moved to Boston was to continue pursuing the medical field, Boston has a huge community for that if you haven’t heard. Some pretty important schools are there. And in the meantime was like, well while I’m figuring this out, I should get a job. I need a job. And I found ezCater on Craigslist because this is… And this is one of the, when I talk about barriers to unnecessary barriers and how people don’t even know to access opportunities, coming from Las Vegas and from the service industry and growing up in a completely different world, working in a completely different world, I didn’t know where else to look for jobs.
To me that was like you, things were posted on Craigslist. And what I came to find out was that ezCater was one of the only tech companies that was actually posting on Craigslist that isn’t typically a place that tech companies would go at that time to post jobs. Came across the job listing for ezCater. It sounded really cool. I hadn’t heard of the company, at this time it was… I think when I joined we were only about a hundred people, around a hundred people. Hadn’t heard of the company, but it sounded cool. It was tech, but it was also food. And coming from working in the service industry in food restaurants, lounges, hotel casinos, all that, it felt familiar in that sense. So I joined the company because I was like, okay, I need a job and this sounds cool and I think this is a good place for me to be in the meantime.
And then was continuing to pursue my career in the medical field. And I was miserable, and I had been miserable for a while, but it was hard to admit to myself because I had for so long thought I was going to be a doctor. And for anyone else who comes from immigrant parents, or I feel like Black and Brown parents, first generation for college or in the United States, you go for the big stable jobs, lawyer, doctor, those were the two that’s like go be one of those. It was ingrained in me, you’re going to go to school, you’re going to have a better life. You’re not going to have to work as hard, you’re not going to have to do these labor jobs and go and pursue one of those, because those are the big stable jobs. And so I wanted to help people. I was good at science, doctor, it was. And so I had spent, at this point, half of my life, convinced that I was going to be a doctor. And that was it. That was the goal. Be a doctor, that’s what it means to be successful.
But I was really, really unhappy doing that. And it took a while for me to start being honest with myself about that, because letting go of that was like, well then what do I do? And I’m fortunate that I was having this moment at the time that I was introduced to this whole other world that I had no idea existed, which was the tech world, luck and timing. I join ezCater and I’m exposed to, truly jobs, I had no idea were jobs. There was everything about the tech world. So this was back in 2016, so I moved to Boston in the spring of 2016 and I just, yeah. So this was opening my eyes to a whole world and all these other possibilities that I didn’t even know about.
I actually had, it was our CEO, Stefania. So I still work for ezCater. And it was my CEO, Stefania, who sat me down after we had, I had organized for our company to do the Walk for Hunger. So Project Bread puts on the Walk for Hunger in Boston and we had done it, a group of us from the company had gone and done the walk together. And at one point in the walk, I had been chatting, our CEO, Stefania and her husband attended the walk for a little bit. And I was chatting and sharing with her husband that I wanted to be a doctor. So the next day at work, this was on a Sunday. The next day at work Stefania pulls me aside, she goes, What’s this I hear about you want to be a doctor? What? And I was like, Oh. And so we get to chatting and she’s like, Listen, I’ll support you in whatever you want to do, but is that really what you want to do? Because I just see other things in you essentially.
And she said something that sounds so obvious, but honestly for me was maybe the most profound thing I’d ever heard at the time, was I told her, I really want to help people. And she said, Well, there’s more than one way that you can help people. And I was like, Honestly, before you just said that, it really never clicked in my brain that there could be something else I could do and still help people in the way that I wanted. So all these things happening at the same time, the fact that ezCater was so small, the fact that I had the opportunity to go on things like the Walk for Hunger with our CEO and her husband, the fact that I had just moved to Boston and was exposed to these new jobs, all of this happened. And I was like, Okay, it feels I can finally be honest with myself and let go of the fact that this isn’t really what I want to do with my life. And it had felt wrong for so long.
We all know when something doesn’t feel right for us, we can feel it internally. And I had been fighting that for a long time, and fortunately that I did, I admitted I don’t want to do this. And was met with so many opportunities at ezCater because this coincided with a time that we were experiencing exponential growth as a company. So now this was 2016 into the beginning of 2017, our company was doubling in size every year. We’re growing, we’re growing. And with that came opportunity and I was just so fortunate to be in a position where things needed to be done. We didn’t have the people in place yet to do them, because this was happening so fast. And I was like, Hey, I want to learn about that. Hey, I want to do that. And got the fast track exposure to all things, here’s what a tech company is, here’s how it operates, here’s the people in talent function. And that, that’s when I started getting exposed to the world of DEI.
And then over time, that developed into, okay, now we’re big enough, we need this as a full-time job. And the pieces just started to fall together. Yeah, very fortunate with the way that timing worked out. Yeah.
Rachel Murray (13:26):
I have a question. Can I ask Felicia a question?
Felicia Jadczak (13:28):
Yeah, go for it. Go.
Rachel Murray (13:29):
I love that story and thank you so much for sharing it. I think it’s really, there’s some stuff to dig into there, but what’s top of mind at the moment is thinking about how you had some folks believe in you and had this opportunity to grow in a company, which seems like rare these days. People are always leaving to get opportunity. So I just would love to hear some of your thoughts around that. And really, and I don’t know if you’re the best person to speak to us since you were on the receiving end of it, but being in a position where you have folks that very easily could have been like, Amaia is so good at her current job, we do not… That fear of losing someone at that current job and then to be able to say that they’re going to grow. And I just would love for you to just talk about that.
Amaia Arruabarrena (14:18):
Yeah. Oh absolutely. You are so right in that, that I was, again, very fortunate, that I was surrounded by people who were supportive of my growth and who saw that I was hungry for more and I wanted to keep doing more. And were like, Okay, we need you to take it on, take it on and saw that. I think, and I mean this in the best way possible, I think they saw it as it’s symbiotic. It was good for me, it was good for them. And that the more I was growing and taking on, I was staying at the company because I was able to grow and take more on, and I was still doing this work for the same company, even though my role would evolve and change. And I think I was just very fortunate to see people who recognize that, because so often we do see that, where people get, you’re so good in this position, as a manager you make my life easier having in this position, I don’t want you to go anywhere.
And then they miss that, that will, absolutely that they’re still going to leave, because people can only be kept in this place of being stagnant for so long. And so I think one of the responsibilities of a manager, a good manager, is recognizing this in your people and getting out of their way, doing what you can do to support them vocalizing like, Hey, I recognize this in you, you recognize this in you. How can I support you in doing what you want to do? Even though, yes, that means they won’t be in that position anymore, but there are so many wonderful people out there who are waiting for that opportunity and it won’t open up when we keep people in them. So instead of having this thought process of it being so finite and limited and there’s only one, it’s like, no, no. The more we grow, the more we open those doors and we talk about sending the elevator back down, all those things, the more we do that, the more opportunities it creates for other people to have their chance to shine.
And so I was very fortunate to be surrounded by people who did the former, which was just support me and give me space to grow and let me take more and more on.
Felicia Jadczak (16:22):
Love that. Do you manage people yourself now, Amaia, or?
Amaia Arruabarrena (16:25):
I do. I do. So I started, I’ve been managing people for about four years now. My team has changed a lot over the last few years because of COVID, and my position has also changed, the company has changed, but I’ve been managing people since I think 2018 is the right answer. Yeah. And I really love it. I love being a people manager. One of the reasons I wanted to manage people was to be the person I always wanted to have. And for so many different reasons. And I’ve had phenomenal managers and I’ve had not so phenomenal managers in my life, in any job, definitely not just in tech, but in any job I’ve ever worked. And knowing the difference of what… Even just the conversation we had, the difference a manager can make in how you feel about yourself and your experience and your energy and just, there’s so much that goes into that. And one of the reasons, I said earlier one of the reasons I wanted to be a doctor was to help people. One of the reasons I do my job is because I just want to, however I can give support, anything in the way that I think everyone should have, I’m just like, yeah, if someone’s got to do it, let me be me. I want to do it. I want to make sure.
Felicia Jadczak (17:40):
Love that. I have a lot of questions. I know Rachel does too. So many questions. I want to get into the DEIs part of your role, but maybe we can put a pin in that for the moment because we’re doing a little bit of back channel chatter and there’s a lot of questions that are popping up around the management piece of it. Rachel, do you want to hop in with some questions on that front?
Rachel Murray (17:58):
Yeah. So you’re already starting to answer it, but I would just love to hear your thoughts on what does make a good manager. And also just as a follow-up, what are some of the challenges that come into play, particularly from an equity lens?
Amaia Arruabarrena (18:12):
Yeah. Oh wow. That’s a really wonderful question. And I think the answer changes depending on at what point, what manager you are. So are you a new manager? You’ve been a manager for a few years, or now you’re a more senior manager? I think the challenges can be different. I think one of the biggest challenges that I see for new managers for sure, but can also continue at all levels is how you feel successful in your role. Because when you’re an IC and you’re, sorry, individual contributor, when you are given something, here’s your project, here’s your task, here’s whatever it is, it’s like, it’s very clear when you have done something. Do this, you completed it, you did it well. Okay, great, you’re doing good at your job.
Managing people is not as black and white. And we love, we know this, as humans, we love when things are binary. We love when it’s this or it’s that. We can categorize it, our brains are happy and people management is not, it’s not like that. So the way that you are deemed successful in your role, the way that success is defined for you significantly changes when you become a manager. And so I think one thing that I would do when I first became a manager, because you do, there is we are all human and we have egos. It’s natural to be like, okay, but I still want to be seen as competent and good in my role. And you see this work that you used to do and now you’re having to hand that off. And how do you know… You don’t want to take credit for people’s work, but you also want people to know what you’re doing. And it’s just this weird space to exist in it first. And that’s totally normal.
And I think, so for me, when I was new, something I would repeat to myself over and over again is my team’s success is my success, my team’s success is my success. And that it is not about how much work I can do, it’s how I can empower and support my people in growing and doing this work. If you have brilliant people on your team, get out of their way, let them be brilliant. Let them do the things they are capable of doing. It doesn’t make you look unnecessary, it makes you look like a great leader. To me, that’s what a great leader does, is recognize people’s strengths, give them work that allows them to flex the muscles that they have, bring the best out in them, and then bring the best out in the team. And just repeat that to yourself, my team’s success is my success. I think that’s a big challenge for managers at first. And it can continue to be, if you don’t ever have that reckoning, I guess.
Rachel Murray (20:51):
So good. I’m going to stop talking, I’m going to let Felicia go, but that was just brilliant. Thank you Amaia.
Felicia Jadczak (20:55):
I know, I’m like definitely, I’m like, okay, I got to internalize on these messages too.
Rachel Murray (21:02):
Felicia, I have been talking a lot about that, I was like trust, making sure that you trust the team because I think especially as female leaders, we have a tendency to be super perfectionistic. Is that a word? I don’t know if that’s a word.
Felicia Jadczak (21:13):
It is now.
Rachel Murray (21:14):
It’s now. Just made it up. Made it up. And so yeah, I think letting go is particularly hard because you want everything to be perfect, but just everything you said was Mwaa, chest kiss. Okay, now I really won’t need myself, I promise.
Felicia Jadczak (21:25):
Well, on that note though, I think it actually is a good bridge to another question and we will get off the management and train eventually, I promise. But it’s so good. So we’ll keep on it for a little bit longer. What, in your opinion or your experience, has been a great way for you to build trust and make connections with people on your team? Particularly in the last couple years when we’ve had the challenges of being remote and hybrid where perhaps we weren’t before as a team.
Amaia Arruabarrena (21:51):
Yeah. Strong communication, open communication, transparent communication. Whenever I first have someone join my team, I talk to them about my management style. I ask them what type of management style they like, what environment do they work best in? How can I best support them to be successful? And then make sure that we’re on the same page about what does that mean. When I say strong communication, people hear me say that, I’m like a broken record. I think we all think we’re better at communicating than we actually are. And for me, communication is the end all be all. So if we can have good communication, then I think we have already solved more problems than we’ll never know because we’ve prevented them. We solved them before they started. So I, what’s important to me when I’m having conversations with my team is, are you hearing this the way I’m saying it?
So let’s make sure… And then when my team tells me something, I repeat back to them, Here is what I think you said, this is what I heard. Is that right? Does that sound right to you? Does it sound right to both of us? Are we actually on the same page or do we just think we’re on the same page? The importance of being really present and listening. And then also, I really mentioned this a little earlier, but I really do try to check my ego in everything that I do. And so I know it can be hard to be transparent with things. And when in a scary time, like what has happened last couple of years where we experience layoffs, things were uncertain for a really long time. Not just at work, but everywhere in every aspect of our life. And we can start to, when things feel so out of control, we naturally want to control. And so I can’t control everything, but I can control this. So I’m going to hone on what I can control.
And I say power not in a super negative sense, because again, I want to go back to this is such a human thing in need, but knowledge is power, information is power. And when you’re afraid, when you don’t know are layoffs coming again, am I next? I want to make sure that I’m seen as vital to the company. You start wanting to hold onto things. You want to be the person that people have to go to ask questions. You want to be the person who’s seen as the, Oh, Amaia made that decision. And so it can then start to feel like you want to hoard information. And I try to be really aware of where I was at, why I was there, and check myself and check why I was doing things consistently.
And then be as transparent with my team as I could be and say, Hey, I’m going to tell you everything I can tell you and I’ll tell you, if you ask me something and I can’t tell you, I’ll tell you I can’t tell you it. And I’ll do my best to tell you why. But for me, what’s in my brain, I want in your brain, that is how we can be the most, in my most efficient, most successful. Everyone’s on the same page. We don’t have any miscommunication is what I’ve got, you’ve got. Tell me what questions, let’s get clear. And then that way we can just hopefully continue to move forward together in whatever that looks like. And whenever that changes, we’ll do that dance again, because that was what I leaned on. Just being as transparent as possible, communicating as much as possible.
Felicia Jadczak (24:58):
I have a follow-up question if you don’t mind me jumping in, Rachel, there’s so much to dig into here and I’m taking notes on for my own purposes too. But one thing that I know I’ve struggled with in the past as a newish middle, I don’t want to call it middle aged manager, but you know what I mean, is managing people whose styles and work style and communication style, and even if they’re introverted versus being more extroverted, is really different than me. And it sometimes can be hard to adjust to that when it’s not your mode of work, or what you’re familiar with. And is that something that you’ve had experience with, or any issues with, or even mistakes made? And beyond that too, beyond communication or work style differences, as we’re seeing more and more generations come into the workforce, I’m curious if you’ve had experience working and managing people who are of different generations than you and how that’s played out.
Amaia Arruabarrena (25:53):
I want to start by saying, especially working in DEI, we talk when we say, Well what does diversity actually mean? And it’s just, it’s difference. It’s difference and it’s difference in all different ways. And so I think starting from there and going, what it looks like for somebody to be successful is not exactly the same for every single person. What it means for somebody to be excited or dedicated or a hard worker does not present exactly the same way. There’s no mold for that. And so with that, if we believe that, which I do deeply doing this work, then I can recognize that and go, okay, checking my assumptions and bias about what that looks like. And starting from, like I said I start with the conversation with my folks the first time I bring them onto my team and I say, Hey, tell me about you, tell me your working style. Tell me what you need. Tell me how you like to interact. Because I am in a position of power as the manager.
And I do believe with great power comes with great responsibility. Thank you Sutter and that will forever be. But it’s true. When you are in a position of power, I do think the responsibility lies with you to be adaptable and adjustable. And that’s also just the job of not just being in a position of power but being a manager. So I think of it as a teacher, when you’re the person who’s teaching a subject, not everybody learns the same way. It’s your job to be able to adapt the way you’re teaching something to people’s learning styles. I feel exactly the same way about management. It is my job to be able to work with you until I understand how do you need to hear this, or how do I need to show you this for it to click for you? What do you need from me and how can I adjust myself to make sure I am giving that to you? Because it’s my job to set you up for success.
So I think it’s just super important to really get to know your people and to know yourself. I think, actually I should have started there. I think so much of doing this work well in any capacity is knowing who you are and being very self-aware. Because if you don’t know why you’re doing the things you’re doing, if you don’t know where your motivation comes from, if you don’t know where your biases are, if you don’t know that, it’s going to be really hard to be aware of when they are affecting your behaviors and your actions.
So I think being really aware of who you are and then really knowing your people deeply, knowing them deeply, and coming with an open mind of the way you are, you are a whole wonderful person and you are brilliant and talented and gifted and all of these things, which is why you’re on my team. I’m so excited to have you here. Let me not mess that up. By then, trying to fit you into a mold of like, well this is how I do things. So, that’s how you should do it. Absolutely not. Show me how you do it, because you might teach me something.
Rachel Murray (28:34):
Amaia, that is how I used to manage people.
Amaia Arruabarrena (28:38):
Rachel Murray (28:39):
No, no, no, no. The bad part. I was like-.
Amaia Arruabarrena (28:41):
Rachel Murray (28:43):
Yeah. When I was a first manager, I love telling this story because it’s so true. I was a manager and it was like, well I was promoted because I was really good at this thing and now I’m managing the people, and so I’m clearly so good at this thing. Y’all should do it the same way as I’m doing it. Bad choice. So I would love to know at your advanced age, how’d you get to wise? How did you learn all of this? Did you make a lot of mistakes? Did you have a mentor? Did you listen to a lot of podcasts? How did you get this? Or do you feel like this is just a natural, you just came out of the womb like this?
Amaia Arruabarrena (29:21):
I think it’s a combination of who I am as a person and I feel like I’ve always been very introspective, I guess, maybe that’s the right way to say it. I think about this all a lot. But I also, I think some of it came from not having it. So being very aware of when I went through something or when I had a manager who didn’t support me or who treated me a certain way, or things just felt wrong or I didn’t understand. Just really processing that and thinking about, okay, what was happening here? And then how do I not do that? Absolutely. Absolutely. The plus side of having a bad manager, totally. Where it’s like sometimes you’re exposed to things and I do, I’m grateful for them because it’s like, wow, I experience firsthand the impact this can have on somebody. I also, I am so grateful for the manager I have right now.
I report directly into our chief people and culture officer Janine. She is the most wonderful human. And I tell her, I try to tell her regularly because of who she is as a manager, I feel empowered to be who I am as a manager, because I know there are people who are going to hear this, who are feeling I would love to be that way. And I am not in a place where I can be that way, because I’m not in a system that supports that. I don’t have a manager that supports that. And that’s very real. That’s very, very real. That’s something that deeply saddens me when I think about how many people out there are affected by that. So not just the manager who doesn’t get to be the manager they want to be, but then of course all of their reports who are then impacted by that.
And so I’ve had incredible people to work from and learn from, and the not so incredible people who I also learn from. And then, a huge fan of Brene Brown. Love every word that comes out of her mouth. I’m like a genius. Adam Grant I follow, and Simon Sinek, they’re just a handful of people. I know I’m forgetting many people, but those are the ones that come top of mind that they just say things in a way that clicks for me. And I want to say it seems obvious when they say it. It’s absolutely not obvious a lot of the times when you are in it. I try to really internalize it and think about what that means, draw from experience, be self-aware, all of those things at the same time. I think it’s a combination of all of that and just, I deeply care for people. I really, really love people.
And that is definitely just who I’ve always been as a person. I really love humans. As messy as we are, I deeply care about the human experience. And I know so many times people are fighting battles. We have no clue that they are. And if there is a way that I can, even in just one area of their life, help them or make it easier for them or support them or make them feel seen or valued, then I know I want to do that. And this is my area that I can affect. So I try to stay there even when I’m having the worst day. Just remember that.
Rachel Murray (32:28):
Love, tears, emojis. I’m going to just mute myself again. But I just wanted to acknowledge that.
Amaia Arruabarrena (32:36):
All the hearts. All the hearts, I just wish we were in person, because then I just feel like we’d have 50 weeks, we’d be like, okay, just hug it out.
Rachel Murray (32:42):
I know. Can we just hug? Because the people. Yeah, Felicia, feel free to go ahead. I know that we’ve just been like, we have a million more questions.
Felicia Jadczak (32:49):
Yeah, well I had so many more questions, but everything you’re saying is really resonating because I feel like I can just think back as you were talking, I’m thinking back to my amazing managers, my terrible managers, the managers that were amazing and I didn’t realize it at the time because I didn’t know how hard the job was. And I find that, I think a lot of the challenge I think around management that you’ve been touching on and that we’ve been digging into comes from the fact that it’s overlooked because especially in tech companies and then the tech industry, we really value the “hard skills.” Can you code? Can you do this, can you do that? And the soft skills are always, not always, but oftentimes overlooked or not supported. That leads me to your current role, which is you’re heading up DEO ezCater.
And that is a really interesting bridge to what we’ve just been talking about because that’s also a role that is a newer role in general for not just the tech industry but in general. And there’s not a lot of educational programs or universities that are even teaching people how to do this. A lot of times it comes from lived experience. And so I’d love to have you maybe touch a little bit on how that came to be and how did that come about for you? What that looks like. What do you actually do in your job? Because I feel like it’s so hot right now. So I know a lot of people are probably really interested to know how you went from your previous role and function at ezCater into that position.
Amaia Arruabarrena (34:17):
Yeah. So the work of DEI, which I didn’t know was the work of DEI, I had been doing in my personal life for many years. So just when one of my degrees being exposed to so many different psychological studies, anthropological studies, sociological studies of just the way our systems in this country are structured and how that is affecting certain groups to this day, how they were set up and how they continue to affect certain groups to this day. And as I learned about this, so this is also on a total side note, but it did matter a lot, or it affected this a lot for me. I had been in a physically abusive relationship. I was in a domestic violence situation and I got out of that and I started going to therapy.
And so I think what I learned so much from that, well, there’s not one thing, I learned so many things from that was that when I was going to therapy and learning about this profile of a person, I also started to learn about all of the systems that allow things like abuse like this to continue and why there are certain groups that are more susceptible to this abuse. And that happened at the same time that I was getting really into learning about all of the different systems and structures. I became very passionate about it because I was absolutely that person who before that had happened was just the thing you always hear people say, Oh, I would never be in that situation. I would never stay or I would never let… Blah, blah, blah, blah. All the things that we say because we don’t understand. And I was that person who said it.
And that was really a huge moment in my life of being like, Wow, there is so much about so many experiences that we don’t know, that we don’t know, it’s like you don’t know until you know. And that translated into different identities and different communities and situations. And so it was this big moment of connecting so many dots. And yes, absolutely never really understanding what it could feel like or what contributes to this thing being able to happen to you. That was at the same time that I was trying to go through the higher education system and being a first generation American, but also I’m the first person in my family to go to college and having no guidance, the best of intentions from my parents and family, but no one knew. And also seeing how so many systems were set up for people not like me.
And just there were so many inequities and this is all happening at the same time. So in my personal life when I’m just becoming so apparent what it is, and then looking back on, as I was growing up and the sexism and racism and things that I had faced and not realized what they were, too young and didn’t really understand. It was all kind of coming together. And I was like, okay. So I had started doing this work and educating people about it and posting and trying to spread awareness and in my personal life, but having no clue this is a job that you can have no idea. So that started, I was doing all of that. I’m sure I missed something there, but that’s the gist of it. And then like I said, fast forward, I moved to Boston, I started this tech company and once I decided I didn’t want to be a doctor anymore, then it was that moment of, well, what do I do? And so I had, fortunately, this coincided with the company growing a lot, and there was a role on our then talent team.
So talent team, it was three people and it was a talent coordinator role. And fortunate for me, I was the first person to be in that role at ezCater. And it turned into a talent, everything role. And this was also where my manager at the time, his name’s Greg, he was one of those people who was like, he just got out of my way in the best way possible. He was like, I need support in this. You want to take it on? Great. I trust you to take it on, take it on. And he just let me take on more and more and more. And so I was learning at warp speed. And so it went from, Oh, I’m a talent coordinator to doing everything under the sun and the talent world. And one of those things was, Hey, we have to focus on DEI. And I was like, What’s DEI? Cool. And then learning. And I was like, Oh, this is really amazing. This is something we focus on and do here at a company. This matters to us.
Oh wait, and there are people we partner with who were also focused on this. And that was at the time that I first met with you all and started partnering with you. And so I was like, Oh, this is definitely something I want in my world always. But it also wasn’t a full-time job yet. So it was part of the job and it was something that I kept with me through all of the different roles I had at ezCater. Another thing that I was very fortunate with ezCater was at the time I joined, we were super… And we still are, there were very supportive of people, if you have an idea, if you have initiative, we want to support you in it. Giving back to the community, volunteering, being involved in communities was something that was super important to me. And we didn’t have an established program. And so I created this proposal and I went to our CFO at the time and said, Hey, here’s my proposal for a volunteer program. I think we should have it. I think we should have a budget. And they let me do it.
So, that was something I did that was outside of any role that I had. So I worked with him and our CEO, Stefania. We created our, here’s what we focus on, here’s our budget for it. And they gave me the space to run with that as well. So I had that. Started working in Talent, had DEI, or I was now being exposed to as DEI as a part of the world. And these were two things that were always like, I need to stick with this. I don’t know.how I don’t how I’m going to grow and evolve. I don’t know how things are going to change here. Again, I was just like, for the first time in my life, I don’t want to be a doctor anymore, so what am I going to be? But I knew I wanted to stick with those things.
So as I continued through ezCater I did, I hung onto those things. So I worked actually directly for our CEO for a while as her executive assistant for about a year. And then I went back to our talent team that had grown and I transitioned back as our, my now current boss, our chief people and culture officer Janine started. So when she started and I came back to the team as a manager now, she was the one who really started to build out the other functions of a people team, because prior to her joining, we had been very focused on talent. We had still done other people things because we had to as a company, but she was the person who really came in and was like, Okay, we’re going to flesh out these other areas, and DEI was one of them. And then it went from there. And I can keep going. I don’t know how much… But I would say those are the biggest pieces of, to what led to the role that I’m currently in existing.
Rachel Murray (41:33):
Wow. And when did you take on that role? How long have you been in it?
Amaia Arruabarrena (41:37):
That was 2018. So almost four years since then. Yeah.
Rachel Murray (41:42):
Amaia Arruabarrena (41:44):
Four years. Yeah.
Rachel Murray (41:45):
Well, and we’ve been working together, which has been of course a delight, not a surprise. Would love to hear though, what does DEI programming look like for ezCater? How have you evolved it? What does impact look like and all that?
Felicia Jadczak (42:00):
I feel like we should throw in a spoiler alert that SGO is involved in some of this-.
Rachel Murray (42:05):
I know we have to put a little asterisk, there’s affiliation. So yes, if you are comfortable sharing that, we are, of course, it’s one of the reasons why I wanted to have you here.
Amaia Arruabarrena (42:16):
Oh, of course. Of course. And I actually am super happy to speak to that process because that was a super in depth process of choosing in that. And there was a reason behind that, which I will get to. So, okay, so I started in this role, everything’s great, we’re focusing on it and wonderful things, and then COVID happens, and things just flipped upside down, and were so uncertain for a while of we’re all just this holding formation. And then it was the summer of 2020 and George Floyd is murdered, and Brianna Taylor had been murdered a few months prior, Ahmad Aubrey had been murdered. And our company was no exception to the racial reckoning that occurred countrywide and then also industry-wide. So I know other industries were affected by this as well. But I think there was a huge… Tech is historically and infamously super underrepresented when it comes to racially underrepresented groups.
So historically, racially underrepresented groups in tech are people who identify as Black, Hispanic, and Asian. And it’s a problem. And we’ve known it’s a problem in tech. And I think with the summer of 2020, people were just fed up, they were fed up of it, I think it was the, we reached fever pitch and we were not exempt from that. And our employees were like, we need to be doing more. We were like, You’re right. We need to be doing more. And so that really kicked off a very important journey for us, which I think has led to where we are now for sure. And also opened a lot of doors that previously were not at the company for DEI work. So we started by saying, what does DEI mean to us? And because as much of a hot topic as it was, it was finally getting the attention it deserved, but it didn’t mean that everybody was going about it in the same way, or that it meant the same thing to everyone.
And I think that there were definitely, and I think it spanned the entire spectrum of companies who really took, were like, Okay, we need to do better. And actually tried to do better to performative. And people who were like, What do we need to say? What do we need to donate? And then can we just go on and pretend this didn’t happen? So it was super important, I think, for us to start by saying, what does it mean to us when we say we’re committed to this? When we say we prioritize this work, what does that actually mean to defining it for us? And so we started there and defining it as we want to create a company that reflects the communities we are a part of. First, we are nationwide. Now that we’re a remote hybrid, we have hybrid, we have employees all over the country. United States is the great melting pot, we’re an incredibly diverse country. So if we want to reflect these communities, we also need to be incredibly diverse.
Starting there and saying, Okay, great. That’s one piece of it. But these three pillars, diversity, equity, and inclusion, you have to have them all. They all have to be prioritized and happening together to be successful, otherwise you’ll be filling a leaky bucket, meaning you’ll be bringing people on who don’t feel included, who don’t feel like they have access to opportunities or to be able to succeed, and they’re going to leave. So it’s holistic work, in that it all has to happen together. It has to be prioritized together. So we said, Hey, okay, if we want to reflect these communities, we need to get working on that because we don’t currently. We also want to create that environment where people can be exactly who they are and they’re not afraid to be that person. They’re not worried that they won’t be taken seriously, respected, looked at as professional, given a chance to be promoted, paid as much as they should be if they don’t put on their I’m at work now hat.
We don’t want have multiple hats. I want you to be the person you are when you come to work. We want that from our people. And so that’s the environment we’re working to create. And then looking at equity in all of our systems. Most of us, I don’t want to say a blanket statement. Most of us want to get paid. We are going to work because we want to be paid for it. And as much as we love our jobs, if we stop getting paid, we’re probably not going to keep going. So I think that what’s super important is to say, okay, it’s one thing to have a diverse population, it’s another thing to make sure that everybody feels included and accepted and that they can be exactly who they are. But if we do not have equitable systems, if they’re not paid equitably, if their performance is not evaluated equitably, if they’re not giving chances to promote and to grow and to develop, and they’re not given access to stretch projects, they’re not going to stay.
So we have to address all of these things at the same time. We have to look at all of them, Oh, how do these all fit together? And what are we doing in each of these to be the most diverse, the most inclusive, and the most equitable company we can? So we started by saying, Okay, that’s what DEI means to us. Now what do we do about it? So our employees had, and they told us, Listen, here’s what we need to be doing. Here’s what we’re not doing that we want to see here. I spent a lot of time with Janine, our chief people and culture officer, and Jen, our VP of culture and DEI. And we looked at best practice and we also knew there had been things that we knew we wanted to do for a while, that we just had not been able to move forward, that we were finally in a position to start moving forward with.
So we got a dedicated budget. And one of the things that we had heard loud and clear and that we had been wanting to move forward with is that we need to have opportunities for continued individual learning. So DEI is not something that I do in a silo, it’s not something that my team does. It’s something everybody does, and everybody has to be a part of. I cannot change the way you think. I can’t force you to learn, I can’t do any of it. The only person who can do that is you. Each of us individually have to choose to be open. We have to choose to question, to challenge, to think critically, to be okay being wrong, all of us. And so the best thing I can do is set up an environment where you feel safe doing that and then give you the opportunities to do it.
So, that’s what we focused on. We focused on, okay, how can we make it clear to people that we support you in this journey? It’s a learning journey and everybody’s starting in a different place. We support you wherever you are and we are going to give you opportunities to learn, to grow, to see. And that was where the training through you all came into play. And it was very important though, because I knew what a massive move for us this was. And so I did not take that lightly. I vetted, I think around 10 companies in depth. Yeah. It was like, because it was I… Listen, so I’m the biggest fan of you all. I will shout your name from every rooftop that I can. And it was very important to me that it wasn’t like, Oh, Amaia just loves them, and she’s been partnering with them for so long, that’s why she chose them.
No, it was really important to me that it was like, no, no, they’re the best option for us clearly, clearly, clearly. And everyone felt that way. Everyone who I had pulled into that process and we were able to build out this program of continued learning for folks that’s still happening, we’re still doing at ezCater that I’m hoping to, as we’re finally getting through most of the big first wave of having everybody go through it, build onto that. Yeah. So, that’s one of the ways that we’re moving this work forward. There’ve also been a handful of other things we’ve done from the equity standpoint. We do a pay in promotion equity analysis. Yeah. What else do we do?
Well, we make sure that we’re partnering with as many different communities as we can, that we’re aware that we’re incorporating as many voices as we can, that we’re holding ourselves accountable to this work, that we’re keeping ourselves honest and creating as many opportunities for feedback. Yeah. There’s a handful of other stuff I could get into, but that’s I’ll stop there.
Rachel Murray (50:21):
Thank you so much.
Amaia Arruabarrena (50:23):
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. So nice to see you both. So nice to meet you.
Rachel Murray (50:27):
Wasn’t that amazing?
Felicia Jadczak (50:28):
Absolutely. Absolutely amazing. I hope you all enjoyed it as much as we did recording. Thank you so much for listening, and please don’t forget to rate, share, and subscribe. It makes a huge difference in the reach of this podcast and by extension of the work that we do.
Rachel Murray (50:44):
If you’re looking to further your own knowledge and gain support alongside other incredible people, join our free community at risetogether.shegeeksout.com. You’ll get a welcoming, built-in support system grounded in the values of diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Felicia Jadczak (50:58):
You’ll also have access to bonus episodes, additional resources, courses, webinars, coaching, and more.
Rachel Murray (51:06):
Felicia Jadczak (51:07):
So why wouldn’t you join? Do it.
Rachel Murray (51:09):
You’d be wild not to join. This was great. Thank you so much.
Felicia Jadczak (51:14):
Yeah. Well, bye Rachel. I’ll see you on the flip side.
Rachel Murray (51:16):
Yeah, we’ll see you next time.
Felicia Jadczak (51:18):
Rachel Murray (51:18):