There is no single track that people can follow to get into DEI work. Some of us just happen upon it by coincidence while others create their own route into DEI work as a means of self-expression or even self-preservation. Join in the conversation with Rachel, Felicia, and some of our SGO partners on their how into the DEI space. While the journey looks different for many, the reasons why they stay are very similar. This work is important and this work is needed to create lasting change in workplaces.
Contributors to this episode are:
02:12: Amaia Arrubarrena talks about her journey to becoming director of diversity, equity and inclusion at ezCater.
14:43: Dr. Erika Powell shares her unique arc to becoming a DEI consultant and how it’s different for everybody
21:27: Fatima Dainkeh asks those who are interested in getting involved in this work to ask yourself some questions – why, what, and who?
26:36: Elisa Campos-Praetor reflects on how she started down this work, particularly in tech, an industry she wasn’t initially familiar with
28:30: David Tedeschi shares his experience growing up in a homogeneous environment to gaining more awareness and understanding of difference through his lived experiences
31:35: Anna Whitlock discusses how her genuine interest in people, how they operate, and what their drivers are brought her to focusing on DEI as a core part of her work
36:20: Karina Becerra talks about her experience as a remotely located manager for a company based in Utah and how she’s bringing an equitable lens to her hiring and managing practices
39:14: Snaedis Valsdottir shares how she became passionate about and an advocate for accessibility best practices at work
45:37: Dr. Victoria Verlezza on what DEI is and things to consider when considering a career in DEI
49:04: Kia Rivera also discusses what DEI is, as well as intersectionality
51:30: Erin Learoyd on ways being a DEI practitioner can be challenging while focusing on the tangible aspects that show movement toward a more equitable workplace
Amaia Arruabarrena (00:01):
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.”
Felicia Jadczak (00:14):
You don’t have to have that ERG leader title, or DEI lead title, or responsibility in order to infuse this kind of mindset and approach into your managerial style, your work, and building your team.
Anna Whitlock (00:27):
Not just a curiosity, but actually something that is integral to the social impact that we each have on our individual lives and our communities. And that is just profoundly important to me because I don’t feel like I otherwise am adding a whole lot of value to this world.
Snaedis Valsdottir (00:45):
Ask a lot of questions. Gather people around you who support you and just get ready for the long haul of maybe doing the same thing, like having the same conversations again and again. It is worth it, you can make a difference that way.
Felicia Jadczak (01:05):
Hi everybody. I’m Felicia.
Rachel Murray (01:06):
And I’m Rachel, and welcome to the SGO podcast, the She+ Geeks Out Podcast.
Felicia Jadczak (01:11):
This season is unlike any that we put out so far. What does the future of work look like when we’re thinking about diversity and inclusivity and equity, and what does it look like for different groups of people?
Rachel Murray (01:21):
We got to interview so many incredible people.
Felicia Jadczak (01:23):
You’ll also be hearing some little snippets and interjections from our facilitation team.
Rachel Murray (01:28):
You’ll get their perspectives on what DEI really looks like in the workplace from a practical, actionable standpoint. So let’s go.
Rachel Murray (01:40):
When we talk about DEI initiatives and the She+ Geeks Out Podcast mission of abolishing inequity in the workplace, we know it’s a big topic and a big purpose. But we start by focusing on individuals. There are so many different ways into this work and just as many ways to get involved.
Rachel Murray (01:55):
Today, we’re talking to a variety of organizational leaders, DEI facilitators, trainers, authors, recruiters, and more, to learn from their learning and career journeys.
Rachel Murray (02:07):
Here’s Amaia Arruabarrena with her journey to becoming director of diversity, equity and inclusion at ezCater.
Amaia Arruabarrena (02:13):
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.
Amaia Arruabarrena (02:51):
It’s been a really interesting journey, and I think 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 that’s 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.
Amaia Arruabarrena (03:35):
There were a few things that were happening simultaneously. 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 I, in the meantime, was like, well, while I’m figuring this out, I should get a job. I need a job.
Amaia Arruabarrena (04:03):
And I found ezCater on Craigslist because 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 job. 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. I think when I joined, we were only about 100 people, around 100 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, I think this is a good place for me to be in the meantime.
Amaia Arruabarrena (04:46):
And then was continuing to pursue my career in the medical field. 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 in the United States, you go for the big stable jobs, like lawyer, doctor, those were kind of 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. So I wanted to help people, I was good at science, doctor it was.
Amaia Arruabarrena (05:37):
And so I’d 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? 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. I joined ezCater and I’m exposed to truly jobs I had no idea were jobs. It was our CEO Stefania… So I still work for ezCater and it was my CEO Stefania who sat me down after I had organized for our company to do the walk for hunger. 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.
Amaia Arruabarrena (06:34):
So the next day, this was on a Sunday, the next day it works to finally pulls me aside. She goes, “What’s this I hear about you want to be a doctor? What?” And I was like, “Oh, you know.” 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.” 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.
Amaia Arruabarrena (07:16):
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 the time that we were experiencing exponential growth as a company.
Amaia Arruabarrena (07:41):
So now this was 2016, into the beginning of 2017 and 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 kind of got the fast track exposure to all things, here’s what a tech company is, here’s how it operates, here’s the people and talent function. And 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, this as a full-time job. And the pieces just started to fall together, very fortunate with the way that timing worked out.
Felicia Jadczak (08:33):
You’re heading up DEI, ezCater. 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, how did that come about for you, what that looks like, what do you actually do in your job. 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 (09:10):
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. One of my degrees being exposed to 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 kind of 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.
Amaia Arruabarrena (10:00):
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. And I became very passionate about it because I was absolutely that person 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 a huge moment in my life of being like, wow, there is so much about so many experiences 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.
Amaia Arruabarrena (11:00):
It was like this big moment of connecting so many dots. 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 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 there were so many inequities and this is all happening at the same time. So in my personal life, when it’s 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.
Amaia Arruabarrena (12:04):
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 in my personal life, but having no clue this is like 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 I transitioned. Once I decided I didn’t want to be a doctor anymore, then I was hit with that moment of, well, what do I do? Fortunately, this coincided with the company growing a lot, and there was a role on our then talent team.
Amaia Arruabarrena (12:48):
So talent team, it was like 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.
Amaia Arruabarrena (13:23):
And so it went from like, 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? And there are people we partner with who are also focused on this?”
Amaia Arruabarrena (13:53):
And 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 kind of kept with me through all of the different roles I had at ezCater. That was super important to me. And we didn’t have an established program. 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.
Amaia Arruabarrena (14:35):
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 kind of 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 what 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 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.
Dr. Erika Powell (15:21):
So who am I? I am Erica Powell or wait, I guess I should say it in my fancy way, Dr. Erika Powell, I hold a doctorate in instructional design and technology. My bachelor’s is in cultural anthropology and my master’s is in intercultural communication. So all that to say, when I think about like, wow, you have been around the world, doing a lot of stuff, what is a thread that connects me? And it always has been the workplace. I’ve held tons of different roles. I have helped people get up on power lines in the gas and electric industry and have done leadership development, emotional intelligence. I had the wonderful opportunity in 2019 to join Crunchyroll initially as their program manager for learning and development. And as time and circumstances would have it, that role grew into the head of learning and development and engagement as well as diversity, equity and inclusion and belonging. That is a mouthful.
Dr. Erika Powell (16:39):
Since then, I have branched out on my own as an independent consultant. I do a lot of DEI work as well as leadership development and emotional intelligence work. So that is moi in a nutshell. Part of what got me into DEI work in the way that I’m into it now was a few years ago, I went to Wisdom 2.0, this was way in the before times, way before the pandemic was even a blip on a sparkle on someone’s eye or blip on the radar. I got a chance to go to Wisdom 2.0, which is a big conference here in San Francisco, spiritual yada, yada, yada. And I’ve always been curious about, well, how do we tie the spiritual with the very real isms that happen to people? I get it, and I also want to see maybe it’s because I’m coming from a Quaker background and we’re just like, “Yeah, we can be spiritual and we can have justice.” They hold that dialectic very well.
Dr. Erika Powell (17:44):
And so long story short, I got a chance to witness a presentation where they were talking about allyship. What is allyship in the body? And there was a woman on stage and then there were people who were supporting her from a somatic perspective. And they kept saying to her, “Where do you need us to position our bodies so that you have a felt sense that we are allies here with you?” And it was almost as if the camera or life had slowed down. This was live, so I was actually there on the floor. But it was like life was moving in slow mo and you could see if the person moved to the right, if the person moved to the left, if the person did certain things with their body, how that was impacting the person who needed an ally in that situation. And I feel like that was a real game changer for me and it drives much of how I do the work that I do in DEI now.
Felicia Jadczak (18:47):
So you mentioned that as a practitioner, you’ve evolved over the years. And this moment feels like it maybe was the start of some of that evolution for you or part of that. And I’d love for you to speak a little bit to that because I think that a lot of times, especially in the space with people who are not coming into the conversation from a lived experience lens, there’s this natural reflex to look at DEI practitioners as the experts and we have all the answers and just tell us what to do. And so we’re human beings too. And I know I’ve evolved over the year. So I’m really curious what your evolution has looked like.
Dr. Erika Powell (19:28):
When I first started, I was like, “Yes. This is the culmination of everything I’ve wanted to happen in my life. It has the cultural anthropology, it has the intercultural communication. I have found the promise land. Woo-hoo.” And initially I came in as like, “Well, whatever differences we have, we can surmount them. This is what we’re here for.” And as I’ve matured or evolved in this space, what I realize is that the differences do matter. And it’s in talking about the differences and how they impact our lived experiences that we actually get movement and shift. Now, when I was first starting off as a DEI practitioner, I didn’t want to get too much in the heat because I think the question that every DEI, or the fear that every DEI practitioner lives with that they will probably never admit to you, let alone themselves is what if somebody says the thing.
Dr. Erika Powell (20:47):
And we all have different things that will set us off. For me, the thing is I’m talking to a privileged group and they say, “Well, why does this matter?”, or “We don’t want to shift or change because we don’t want people to take our jobs.” That’s my thing. Other people have their thing and you can look at the diversity wheel and identify your various things.
Dr. Erika Powell (21:16):
And it was as I started to evolve and get more comfortable with this work for how we can actually get to the other side of these conversations and tap in to the humanity that lies in our differences, I became more comfortable. And now I’m like, those are the conversations that I want to have. So I feel like that arc and I feel like every DEI practitioner has a different arc. Some folks have a different trajectory. For me, I’ve landed in the, “Hey, I want to be able to have these conversations with folks and see how we can get them to the other side,” because that’s where I feel like then we can start to get different policies. Then we can start to get different behaviors in the system. That was my arc.
Rachel Murray (22:10):
That was Dr. Erika Powell. Let’s talk a bit more about what DEI really means and how we approach this work. Here’s SGO staff, DEI programs and training manager, Fatima Dainkeh.
Fatima Dainkeh (22:20):
If someone wanted to get started in the DEI space, whether they’re thinking about being a leader in the community or in the workplace, the first thing I’d say is really ask yourself why. I know we often talk about intent versus impact in the facilitation space. And what that means briefly is that our intentions don’t always align with the impact. So whatever I might have hoped for might not necessarily align with the outcome, even if my intentions were great. And a lot of times, we might want to jump to create change. We might see an issue in the workplace or an issue in our community and we say, “Hey, I want to be a change agent.” And you need something to of guide you in terms of how you’re going to do that work. And so asking yourself why gives you that guide. And obviously, your answer might change over time. We’re humans we evolve. But that answer sort of helps you understand what is it that you’re trying to address?
Fatima Dainkeh (23:24):
Are you trying to create change within your community because you feel really bad about the privilege that you have and you want to do something about it or are you trying to create change within your community because you recognize that if folks are liberated, then you two are liberated even with your privileged identities? And the reason why I brought up those two things as examples is because when we’re doing this work, it’s really easy to make it about us individually. But when we think about the work broader and recognize that the impact that we’re having isn’t just about us or isn’t just about the person next door or our coworker, but it’s about future generations, it’s about the next person that comes to the workplace, it’s about the next neighbor that moves in, then you’re in the space to recognize that your why is always consistent. It’s not based off of a timeline, it is a way of living. And so that’s the first thing I would say, get clear on your why.
Fatima Dainkeh (24:24):
And then the second thing is get clear on your what. So what is it that you’re trying to do? It can get really overwhelming when you think about doing DEI work, because we are literally using corporate terminology to do social justice work. And some of the things that are happening on the ground, we don’t always bring it into the workplace because of various reasons, such as defensiveness, folks not feeling like they want to change because workplaces haven’t been talking about what we’re talking about now, or denial or oppression Olympics, where there’s this space of, “Why are we talking about this identity group when I struggled?”
Fatima Dainkeh (25:12):
And so there’s so much that needs to be unpacked when we’re talking about change. So when you understand what, that gives you another guide in terms of what are the steps that you need to take to create or support change. Who are the team players that need to be part of the conversation because you can’t do it by yourself. And when you’re thinking about your what, also remembering that whatever it is that you’re doing isn’t going to be the only thing to dismantle oppressive structures, for example, or to create the change that you want to see. So that’s the second thing.
Fatima Dainkeh (25:47):
And then the third thing, I sort of alluded to already, but it’s the who. And so who is in your corner? If you’re someone that doesn’t have as many social privileged identities, who can you tap as an ally so you’re not getting burnt out? Who can you make sure is supporting you? Do you have a change team, so you’re not doing all of the things by yourself? Who are the stakeholders? So if you are doing DEI work in the community, have you asked the community what they wanted first before assuming what it is that’s needed? If you’re doing DEI change work in your workplace, have you gathered data to see what employees or coworkers want before you pull out a DEI strategic plan? These are things to think about.
Fatima Dainkeh (26:32):
And then how is really just the process that you’re always going to keep going back and forth with. So really creating a clean, yet flexible action plan. And the reason why flexibility is going to be key is because things can change, ideas can change, our world is changing. And so sometimes what’s happening in the world might be reflected in terms of what’s happening in the workplace. So you need to pause and recreate and adapt. And so your how is helping you think about what are the pieces that I need to put in place? How am I measuring change and effectiveness, whether that’s qualitative data or quantitative data, and then continuing that process. So those are the few things I share with folks who are like, “Hey, I want to do this work in the DEI space. I want to lead in my community or workplace, but I’m not really sure what to do.”
Rachel Murray (27:31):
Here’s Elisa Campos-Prator, senior recruiter of Scott’s Cheap Flights.
Elisa Campos-Prator (27:37):
For me, being again, first gen in tech, I had no mentors. I had nobody to really give me any kind of guidance. And I think that was a pretty low for me initially, coming into tech because I was like, “I don’t even have a network. Who can I ask these questions to?” And that seven years ago too. Slack was just barely coming out and there were no Slack groups the way that they are now and the community, a remote community, was pretty scarce. And so honestly, I learned to basically A, speak with conviction in anything and everything I do, and really try to forge my own path because even if I didn’t see one, basically just meant that we needed to make one.
Elisa Campos-Prator (28:23):
Being kind to myself. I was really hard on myself initially I think when I first started out, because I was like, I need to learn everything and anything as fast as possible. And honestly, yeah, self-care was not an option. And so being kind to myself, knowing that yeah, if I’m not able to be 100%, how can I give 100% in my role, to my community, to my family and friends.
Elisa Campos-Prator (28:49):
And then I guess highs are honestly, once you start, it’s you don’t have to be good at practice. I continuously did my job. I started understanding the tech in general, like within a product in any company a lot better. I started understanding the terminology. I started getting networks, connections. And continuously asking questions, I think that was a really high for me where I was able to finally find a community similar to myself and being able to be like, cool. We were able to express the same challenges that we had seen individually and just be able to re-energize myself by connecting with others and knowing that it’s okay that if I take a break here and there, everything is still going to work at the end of the day. It’s going to be fine, basically.
Rachel Murray (29:49):
David Tedeschi, a consultant for the World Bank Group’s Women, Business and the Law advisory group talks about his own experiences.
Felicia Jadczak (29:58):
Given your impressive career and the work that you’re doing right now, have your views on, I guess, allyship or even just some of these gender differences that we’ve been touching on, have they changed at all as a result of the work that you’ve been doing?
David Tedeschi (30:12):
Oh, absolutely. I came from one of the most homogenous towns you’ve ever met. The ideas of equality just weren’t something that was talked about. It didn’t seem like it was anything that needed to be talked about because there, everybody was at least visually the same. I went to school at Colby College, which is a lovely, very progressive place. But has always struggled with diversity issues because who wants to go to central Maine? It’s hard to get people… There’s a bunch of Canadians there because it’s actually warmer, but it’s hard to get people from the south or from Singapore to say, let’s go to central Maine. That being said, my first wife, my ex-wife, was a Malaysian student at Colby who I met while I was at Colby. So there is more diversity than I’m letting on. But it was still, you can go there and you can live in a bubble and you don’t know anything about what other people are going through.
David Tedeschi (31:10):
Your myopia is so strong because no one’s asked you to question it. And I think first off, marrying a Chinese foreign national who was not Christian, not raised a Christian country and then moving to both Malaysia and India in the past and for the first time experiencing what it was to be the other, begins to break that armor and break through the chinks in that armor where you start to see the world, not from the perspective that you had evolved while growing up, but by actually having a lived experience that you could at least empathize with others. And then through the work at the ICTY in Bosnia and the work at Interights in London, and then back being a prosecutor, you can see not only gender differences and racial differences, but you can see economic differences.
David Tedeschi (32:08):
And all of a sudden, you get this worldview that you have friends from every different race and every different economic class. And you begin to think, what am I doing to contribute to the protest that I see? Do they have weight to them? Do they a heft to them? What is it that they’re trying to say? Maybe I should listen and communicate and hear what they’re trying to say. And then working on this team, I am the only man on the team, I’m the only American on the team. And to work with the people that I am working with, you have to learn, or at least you attempt to learn the entire issue from all angles. And you can’t help but change your own perspective once you start seeing the world from other people’s eyes.
Rachel Murray (33:05):
Here’s Anna Whitlock, director of people, strategy and culture at LabCentral.
Anna Whitlock (33:08):
I think my career journey kind of started without any glamor or intention whatsoever. I moved to Boston 15 years ago after having basically lived the life of a work to travel person, just work really hard, save a bunch of money, quit the job, go travel, spend it all, rinse and repeat, came here to kind of not do that anymore and was just looking for a job to pay my rent. So just throwing resumes everywhere and landed at the Cambridge Innovation Center, which is kind of a co-working space for entrepreneurs and startups. It was a really small company at the time, about 15 people, and started in a really operational role with that team. And as the company grew, the opportunities to get involved also grew. And as a young, ambitious, interested in most everything person, was able to jump from different teams and learn about different aspects of the organization.
Anna Whitlock (34:14):
And throughout that, really started to identify how much I like talking to people and understanding their motivation and what it was that they cared about and then aligning that with our organizational values or not, and being a contributor to those decisions. And so through happenstance and me telling the person who did hiring 20% of his time, I said, “Can I just start interviewing everybody that comes in the door?” And he said, “Sure.” And eventually that became a full-time role that was identified. And they said, “Anna, do you want to lead up our hiring initiative as a first full-time hire?” And at the time we were probably about 50 or 60 people. And so had a opportunistic fortuitous moment where I was able to start doing that work. And through a lot of blood, sweat, and tears learned how to do this work through talking to people who knew what they were doing, who were mentors to me or trying something and experimenting.
Anna Whitlock (35:17):
And through that, became more and more kind of personally, professionally and socially aware of how intertwined diversity, equity and inclusion is with the work that is talent acquisition and retention and policy creation. So that opportunity allowed me to build my career on that side and start to engage with professionals in the realm of diversity, equity and inclusion. And then having been with that organization and growing it from about 15 to 350 people in a global organization said, “I think I want to go somewhere else and contribute to them building out their processes that I learned through banging my head against a wall at CIC,” and came over to LabCentral. And had great relationships with folks beforehand that allowed me to make that transition very smoothly and have been really happy to come here and kind of own not just talent acquisition like I did at my previous role, but also the talent development, benefits, compensation, HR, all of those aspects.
Anna Whitlock (36:23):
I have a deep interest in people and culture, and that has transferred so much into the work that I do. I’m avidly curious about other people and how we are different and how we are the same. And when people are similar, rejoice in that and want to share kind of that experience. And when they’re different, similarly, want to rejoice in that and my curiosity flags are piqued to be, as an example, I just met someone the other day who had come up through working in the Air Force. And I was like, “That’s just not a world that I’m familiar with. So tell me all about it. What was it like? How did you land there?”
Anna Whitlock (37:04):
And so I think it, maybe wasn’t quite an awareness moment of the diversity, equity and inclusion piece directly, but more an awareness of my interest in people and wanting to be almost desperately aware of how people operate and what drives them. And then in recognizing, especially through world events and how those differences can tear people apart, it has become for me and so many people, not just a curiosity, but actually something that is integral to the social impact that we each have on our individual lives. And our communities. And that is just profoundly important to me because I don’t feel like I otherwise am adding a whole lot of value to this world. It’s like I’m a body and I exist, but how can I be adding in my small way that actually matters.
Rachel Murray (38:01):
Here’s Karina Becerra, director of customer advocacy at Podium.
Karina Becerra (38:05):
Now at Podium, it’s a company based out of Utah, I am building an entire organization from scratch. And that also means introducing equitable hiring, building a team and culture associated with making people happy with what they do every day. Despite the fact that it’s technology, we’re supporting customers, cool, that’s a day to day, but I want people to genuinely be happy. Started off kind of leading customer success. We transitioned, we have a new COO from Shopify who has big, bold ideas, aggressive goals for our growth and that included creating a product support team again, or envisioning what that looks like. So not at all my background, but again, it’s like, oh, there is something there about me that I love bringing of organization to chaos, ensuring that there’s like a people centric view to that and was given this opportunity. So now I’m the director of this entire team. Have never done it before, but I’m doing it and people are super engaged.
Karina Becerra (39:15):
So I have always been a really great motivator and I have always aligned myself with wonderful leaders. I’ve always been very complacent with being the second person holding up somebody. And in these two last opportunities, I decided that, wait, I know how to do this. I’ve been doing this for so long, but now I can actually own it and lead it and be responsible for it. So it was more about asking to be honest, I asked for this opportunity, and I know that I could do it because I’ve done it before. I’ve done it, aligning with other leaders along with other directors or VPs of organizations. So I knew I could do the work. It was more of raising my hand and saying, “Yeah, I’m committed. I can do this,” and them believing me. And now it’s amazing.
Felicia Jadczak (40:14):
I love that Karina because I think there’s two thoughts that have come to mind as you were sharing. And the first is what’s great about your experience and what you’ve shared so far is that you don’t have to have that ERG leader title or DEI lead title or responsibility in order to infuse this kind of mindset and approach into your managerial style, your work and building our team. So I think that’s really important because a lot of people I interact with sometimes get hung up on that or they say, “Well, I’m,” fill in your title, or “I’m at this level. What can I do to make this different or to change things?” And so it doesn’t have to be tied back to a really specific role or job description.
Rachel Murray (40:57):
Here’s Snaedis Valsdottir, product manager currently with SparkPost, talking about her previous experiences with HubSpot.
Snaedis Valsdottir (41:04):
It started off when I was a consultant, or my role was implementation specialist, I was working with customers. But I really enjoyed working with customers, particularly from the business strategy point of view, learning about all these different companies and helping them get started with the HubSpot marketing and sales tools. But I was really wanting to have a bigger impact and I was exploring different ways, different opportunities and career paths that could lead to having a bigger impact on more customers. And so I was taking some classes back in 2017 at Bentley University and the classes were part of their user experience certificate program. One of the options was called digital accessibility, or designing for accessibility, something like that and it had a brief description. I knew very little about accessibility at the time, what that even meant. I knew it was generally about how people with disabilities use technologies or how they use the computers specifically in our industry, but didn’t really know much beyond that. But it seemed interesting, so I signed up for that class.
Snaedis Valsdottir (42:27):
Learned so much in those couple of days, became really fascinated by the impact that accessibility has on everybody in our day to day lives, whether we realize it or not, it’s everywhere. Not just digital, but just in real life in the world. And was really wanting to take what I’d learned and continue learning about digital accessibility at work, at HubSpot. Assumed that HubSpot, someone at HubSpot, I imagined that there would be a group somewhere that was already doing something for accessibility because HubSpot is such a user focused and customer driven company and just very people centered. And they were already doing a lot around diversity and inclusion overall. So I just assumed that this would be included.
Snaedis Valsdottir (43:24):
And when I started asking around about it, I found that there wasn’t really any awareness across the organization. There were some people in individual teams, just dispersed throughout the organization who were knowledgeable about accessibility and were doing what they could within the scope of their role to make things more accessible. But there wasn’t any larger effort to make a bigger impact beyond what those individuals could touch. So I saw it as a great opportunity to do something more and I basically gathered all those people that I’d found in room and we started working on trying to make it something more. From what I remember, it was not super well organized on my part. I just was like, “I don’t really know what I’m doing. I have an interest in doing something about accessibility and I think it would be a great fit for the company and a really good opportunity for us for a lot of reasons.” But I didn’t know what I was doing.
Snaedis Valsdottir (44:34):
I think that was apparent from the first meeting. But I just got people together and said, “Hey, let’s do something. What can we do?” Started the conversation that way. I think in retrospect, if I were to do it again, I would have more of an agenda and some ideas. But really I was just so new to it, I didn’t know what could be done. I was not as knowledgeable as I am now about even what the development process is for product and how that impacts digital accessibility and that kind of thing, because at the time I was still in my just customer support type of role. I made sure to make those connections and kept having conversations, asking questions. And I think that anybody can have a positive impact on the accessibility of their content, their website, their products. I think the most important thing is just to start asking questions and start spreading awareness.
Snaedis Valsdottir (45:33):
And I think that some of the easier ways that you can really make a lot of progress with accessibility, at least from a digital perspective, is in the content that you create for your website. A lot of people tend to think first when they think of digital accessibility, think of the most technical parts and think, that’s something that a developer has to make sure to be doing. Well, actually it’s something that everyone needs to be aware of and thinking of. A developer, certainly in the way that they build a website, there are things that they can do to help make that content more accessible. But when somebody is writing a blog post or writing an email, even those things, their best practices. Ask a lot of questions and gather people around you who support you and just get ready for the long haul of maybe doing the same thing, having the same conversations again and again. It is worth it, you can make a difference that way.
Snaedis Valsdottir (46:37):
Yeah, I think that would be the main advice, which sounds very vague. But really, you just got to be ready to be very persistent and tenacious and just keep asking. Keep asking questions and keep having those conversations. Despite having worked on this for years and promoted it for a long time and planning to do that again, I think I know a lot about accessibility. But I never feel like I’m the expert. And I think that’s a very good example of imposter syndrome, of course. But I want to say that for anyone out there, who’s thinking of promoting some kind of diversity, equity and inclusion effort at their own company, it’s okay that you’re not the expert. If you feel like you’re not, which is probably going to be the case, you’re probably not going to feel like you’re the right person for it. And that’s okay. You don’t have to be the expert to be asking questions and learning and influencing other people to learn and improve as well.
Dr. Victoria Verlezza (47:52):
Hi, I’m Dr. Victoria Verlezza. I use pronouns, she and her. And I am a facilitator here at She+ Geeks Out. I have a doctorate in human development and specifically I think about and work with folks on a holistic approach around DEI, diversity, equity and inclusion work. To these conversations, I bring a variety of identities. I am a white autistic woman who happens to be queer, and I am Jewish and I’m neurodivergent. And I have a lot of intersecting identities that provide me interesting and different world views to have conversations like the conversations we’ll be having throughout our time together.
Dr. Victoria Verlezza (48:37):
So for me, defining DEI, diversity, equity and inclusion, they fit nicely together, but first let’s talk about a definition. Diversity, in and of itself, is a concept, is the presence of difference or representation, whether that be apparent or non apparent. Inclusion is, are people feeling valued? Do they stay at their workplace? Do they feel like they belong? Equity is having access, is having the opportunities, the resources and the things that folks need to ensure the same outcomes, success and desired outcomes for all folks.
Dr. Victoria Verlezza (49:25):
The way they fit together is kind of like a puzzle. In my mind, the way I think about it is they each enhance the others and they fit together to support employee thriving rather than surviving. So if we have all of these elements present, someone will thrive theoretically in their position or at their organization rather than just show up and do the work and leave. If all of these things are actively promoted and supported and encouraged, someone will be able to do their best work, on a daily basis.
Dr. Victoria Verlezza (50:06):
The considerations or questions a person might need to address when beginning their DEI journey might be their why. Why are they invested? What is it that they want to get out of their journey? How are they approaching the work? What is their lens? What is their vantage point? How will it serve them as an individual to start looking at themselves as a racialized being or a gendered being or someone who is trying to learn more about someone else that they’ve never considered before.
Dr. Victoria Verlezza (50:38):
Something to consider is what are you bringing to the table, and do you have a growth mindset? Do you have a mindset of willing to lean into your own discomfort or unease, or are you willing to look at your own life? Not just who you are now, but how you got to where you are. Are you willing to dive deep and figure out how you were raised, for example, or how you were socialized made you who you are now and how can you change the trajectory going forward? And how can you learn more about who you are, the lens that you have, but also look at it from a different perspective and think about other peoples’ perspectives and lenses.
Kia Rivera (51:22):
So I’m Kia Rivera. My pronouns she/her/hers. And I’m a DEI facilitator at SGO. I identify as a queer woman of color, mixed race. The way I like to define diversity, equity and inclusion is diversity being the presence of difference. So we think about a party, everyone’s invited to that party. Inclusion, everyone’s means are being met and that everyone is feeling as though they can be their full selves within a space. So again, if we’re using the party analogy, they’re able to contribute to the playlist. And then equity is everyone has an equal and equitable space and presence within the workplace, for instance, if we’re going to really go into SGO’s mission. And then again, if we’re going to keep going with the party analogy, that everyone is able to dance in the ways that they want to as if no one is watching. So that’s the way I typically define diversity, equity and inclusion.
Kia Rivera (52:18):
And the way I see them all fitting together is as a puzzle piece. We can’t have one without the other if we really want to abolish inequity in the workplace. And that’s how I look at diversity equity inclusion, because I think it’s really important that each of them play into each other and that when they all come together, that’s when we’re able to abolish the systems of power, privilege and oppression when it comes to the world, and then specifically, back to the workplace.
Kia Rivera (52:41):
So intersectionality, we could talk all day about intersectionality. But it’s a framework coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw in the 1980s. And it talked about how we all have a multitude of identities and how those identities intersect. So not to use the term in its definition, but really how those things come together and how they affect how we are perceived by the world and how we move through the world. So if you think about an intersection when it comes to cars and you think about your multitude of identities, how they all come together and how you might experience power, privilege or oppression based on those identities. So using myself as an example, how I move through the world as a queer person of color is very different than maybe Vienna answering these questions as a white person, with her multitude of identities. And how we experience the world is very different based on our identities, even if we have shared identities, just because of power and privilege.
Rachel Murray (53:36):
You just heard from Dr. Victoria Verlezza and Kia Rivera, two of the incredibly brilliant DEI facilitators at SGO and some all around wonderful humans. Here’s Erin Learoyd, DEI program manager for New Balance.
Erin Learoyd (53:48):
For me, the biggest challenge in this work has been the pace of change. And that’s just due to, I want things to change. I want things to be better, I want to be able to make improvements. I would love to wave a magic wand and have it all be better. I can’t do that though. So instead, I try to focus on having actions and results that are intentional, meaningful, sustainable, and just focus on as long as we’re still making progress, that’s what really matters.
Erin Learoyd (54:22):
But another challenge for me, I’ve been so grateful for the resources and the network I have within New Balance. This company’s whole deal is empowering people. It’s right in our brand purpose statement, which is independence since 1906. We empower people through sport and craftsmanship to create positive change and communities around the world. But I’m pretty new to the formal DEI space in corporations. And I would love to have a more robust, external network of peers to lean on and workshop with. I learned so much when I have access to the perspective and experience of others. I love to absorb it all, tease out the parts that are relevant for me right now and hang onto the rest for future situations. So feel free to hit me up on LinkedIn folks. Looking for a broader external network, and I’m thankful to SGO for being a part of that network so far as well.
Rachel Murray (55:23):
Thanks so much for listening, please. Don’t forget to rate, share and subscribe. It makes a huge difference in the reach of this podcast and by extension, this work. Make sure to tune in next week when we talk about what it looks like to work from a healthy place as an individual, a people manager, and as an organizational leader. If you’re looking to further your own knowledge and gain support alongside other incredible people, join our free community. You’ll get a welcoming built in support system grounded in the values of diversity, equity and inclusion. You’ll have access to bonus episodes, additional resources, courses, webinars, coaching, and more. Check it out at shegeeksout.com/community. This episode was written, produced and edited by Vienna DeGiacomo, hosted by Felicia Jadczak and Rachel Murray. The guest features in this episode where Amaia Arruabarrena, Dr. Erika Powell, Elisa Campos-Prator, David Tedeschi, Anna Whitlock, Karina Becerra, Snaedis Valsdottir, and Erin Learoyd. Our facilitators were Fatima Dainkeh, Kia Rivera and Dr. Victoria Verlezza.