Understanding the impact that Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging has on a business

March 15, 2021

Misty Gaither, Global Head of Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging joined Indeed CEO Chris Hyams to discuss the importance of celebrating Women's History Month; finding purpose through a non-traditional career path -- and why no one should feel like "one of the only” people.

- Hello, everyone! I am Chris Hyams, CEO of Indeed. And welcome to the next installment of "Here to Help." This is our look at how Indeed has been navigating the global impact of COVID-19. Today is March 8th. We are on day 370 of global work from home. At Indeed, our mission is to help people get jobs, and this is what gets us out of bed in the morning and what keeps us up at night. And March is Women's History Month, and today is International Women's Day. And throughout this month on "Here to Help," we are focusing on these issues that matter so much right now. Today I am delighted to be joined by Misty Gaither, our Global Head of Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging at Indeed. Misty, thank you so much for joining me.

- Thanks for having me! Happy to be here.

- Fantastic, well, let's start where we always start these conversations, with a check-in. How are you doing today?

- Today, I am actually doing pretty good. My heart is beating really fast 'cause there's a little bit of nervous energy for this interview, but it's a good way to start the week. I actually took a few days off last week, spent some time with girlfriends by the water, had a time to rest and kind of recharge. So it's been a good start to the week. Outside of like personal, just feeling good, obviously there's still a lot of information being consumed around COVID, the vaccines, concern for family, and just taking in as much information as I possibly can, but it's kind of like our norm at this point. So it's going well.

- Well, today is International Women's Day, and last month was Black History Month. And as the director and head of Global Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging, why are moments like these so important, and why do we celebrate them?

- I think these months are important because it provides a focused amount of time for us to really reflect on the contributions of women, and then you mentioned Black History Month previously, and we can uplift the groups that contribute significantly but are often overlooked. A lot of times I think about the erasure of women and of black people and significant contributions. And we just take time to acknowledge that. It's a refresher for history. And then I think it also highlights where we still have opportunities to improve. And so when I think about my experiences as a woman, as a black woman, how I show up at work every day, some of the things that I might be penalized for are the same things that men get rewarded for. So as I think about this, it always reminds me of the success and likeability, and how it's negatively correlated for women but positively correlated for men. And so I think when we talk about taking moments and an entire month to recognize that, we can look at our past, we can look at the progress, and we can also continue to be forward-thinking. And what I really enjoy about where we are today is that we can have these conversations from an intersectional lens. As women, we are all minorities, but my experience is very different from someone who identifies as Latina or Asian or white women. And so I think we're at a point where we can really kind of own what those differences are and collectively work to make sure women are present in critical conversations.

- So, in your job, your area of focus, you think about these things all the time. Your path into this field was not a linear one. Can you talk a little bit about how you got to this place and some of the pivots that you've made along the way?

- Sure, and I'll invite you to kind of jump in if it gets a little bit too long. So, right, I tell people all the time I have like this unconventional or nontraditional path to working in HR and doing DI&B work. I actually, you know, I'm from Compton, California, and I am the first in my family to go to college. And so when I was thinking about school, like second grade is actually when I decided I wanted to be a pediatrician. I just wanted to help people feel better when they got sick. And I did all the things. I went to a medical magnet high school, I volunteered at a hospital, and then I was like, "No, this is not the way that I'm going to live my life." And so I went to school for business, and my first job out of college was with Altria Group, which is the parent company for Big Tobacco. And so I couldn't quite justify working in the tobacco industry. It was all a very selfish reason, you know, like good platform to start a career, a lot of autonomy, a lot of responsibility very early, but working in tobacco, I think the only thing I can come up with was, okay, I'm helping small business owners maximize profitability on this category. And so that lasted for about seven years in three different markets. And then I found myself working in banking. And I would always say, "It's like the lesser of two evils," or kind of pick your poison, because they were both highly regulated, highly scrutinized. But banking felt a little bit safer or more comfortable. So I had a stint doing retail banking and also business banking. And the interesting thing about my banking career is that someone thought it was a good idea to let me open up a branch without having any banking experience. And so that's my first experience of being a first, in a positive way. Someone kind of just bet on me. And so I did that for a while, did some org transformation work in some of the other offices, and then I said, "I want to actually get closer to the business." And so, as I was servicing customers, I really started to be more interested in the business customer. And so I thought, how can I... I mean, 'cause banking is deeply personal. And so I worked in markets that were serving specific demographics. And when you have to have conversations with people about their money, it is exhausting, and managing a team, and growing a deposit base. And so I said, "I want to do something a little bit different," so I did business banking, and I was managing a small to mid-sized business portfolio of clients based in San Francisco. And that's when I started to see a lot of these tech companies. There was a lot of activity, whether it was money movement, or I was evaluating like their credit threshold and tolerance, et cetera. And I said, if I'm going to be in the Bay, I need to be in tech. But none of this was, like, feeding me. It didn't feel good. And so I said, "Let me just take a step back." And this might sound cliche, but I literally wrote down, "What is it that I want to do?" 'Cause I refuse to think I have to work the majority of my life and that I can't find fulfillment and make an impact. And so I started to really think about my experiences, like being one of the only people who look like me, or being confused for the other black woman that might've been there. And so I said, "I want to give people the education and the tools that I didn't have while I was having this experience, and just help future generations that are coming behind me." And so what does this look like? And so I found this company. It's Code2040. It's a nonprofit that focuses on racial equity and inclusion in tech. And it was the best opportunity because it combined my business expertise, and then I also got to work in this space of social justice and racial justice at the same time. And I still can't believe that I get to do this kind of work every single day. And so it was like the dream job, and it came to a screeching halt summer of, I think, 2018. And I received notice that they were downsizing. My team was being completely eliminated. And I said, like, "Oh my god." I couldn't even tell my family because they weren't excited that I was leaving this amazing job at JP Morgan Chase to go and kind of do something that I was passionate about. But because of the relationships I built, getting to see and meet with some of these tech leaders, whether it was the D&I head or a talent acquisition leader or someone over university recruiting, I had a ton of opportunities to interview and kind of know where I wanted to land next, kind of doing this work in-house. And so I won't say I was unemployed, but I wasn't fully employed, 'cause I ended up consulting for a early-stage startup that actually kind of plays in the same space that we play, like recruitment and hiring. And then after that was over, I landed at a tech company where I was the first diversity inclusion business partner, doing work that is very similar to when I first arrived here at Indeed. And so that's my story, so definitely not linear, and that was a very expedited version of it, more like a jungle gym. But definitely happy I took the risk. I have to say, living in the Bay Area, it makes it a lot scarier when you have those moments. But staying true to what was important to me was critical, even when I didn't know what the next step would be. I went through some interview processes and I had the audacity to remove myself from them when something didn't feel right about the culture. And so I'm like, where did this boldness come from? Like who do I think I am, especially after always being told, just be happy to be somewhere? But I had reached a point where I said, "If I go somewhere, I don't want it to be for a short amount of time. I want it to be for a length of time where I feel like I can make an impact." And so thankfully to my alumni network, my sorority sisters, it was a soft landing, once I finally found footing and started to work full-time again.

- So a lot of what you were talking about kind of along the way, it felt like, is maybe getting closer and closer to your values and the values of an organization aligning. Can you talk a little bit about the importance to you of the values of an organization?

- Sure, I think the values of an organization are so important, and I think it's what grounds the work that you do every single day. And if you find yourself in a difficult moment, like as an individual, whether you're struggling with the work assignment or what's being asked of you, you can always kind of go back to the values and the mission of a company. And when I think about my role and where I sit and how that aligns to the values, we can only be successful as a company if everyone is finding the job, like if we're helping all people get jobs. And I think it's something to be said for the motivation that you have every single day. You're not going through the motions when the mission is kind of bigger than you as an individual. And when I think about the values that I've had at all the other companies that I've worked for, there's always been something that has drawn me to them, whether it was integrity or putting the customer first, and these are obviously not hours, but just over the length of my career. But I think we can connect everything that we do in terms of impact to the value and to the mission. And if you don't have that connection, I think that you have to kind of reevaluate what you're doing everything for. So it really makes a big difference when you can be connected to the mission of a company.

- So over the last year of doing this podcast, we've had a lot of discussions about inclusion and the importance of inclusion, both in our business, and in terms of how we show up in the world. Can you talk about your thoughts on inclusion in the workplace, just to pick a narrow topic here?

- So I think about it from two perspectives, right? I think about how Indeedians feel, like how I feel, like as a person. Do I feel included in discussions? And let's just take a step back, like day one, you know, when we were in the office, when I step on any, we don't call them campuses, but into any one of our offices, what is that feeling that I get? Am I comfortable approaching someone that I don't know asking for help, asking a question? How do they respond to me? And then of course, are there people around that I can relate to or kind of find my tribe and connect with? And then when I might find myself as the only person in the room, is there someone bold enough who recognizes that, that is saying, "Hey, well, what's your opinion?" Or if I have an opinion, I feel comfortable to say, "Well, I actually kind of see things differently," or, "I'm hearing something else," like, "Well, have we tried this?" It's that sense of being able to contribute. But I also see inclusion as like infrastructure and process. And I think we over-index on the feeling of inclusion, but we don't look at the systemic processes and systems that we have, that exclude people every single day. And so I think when I am approaching the work, I like to say, I think head first and heart second a lot of the times, because I'm always thinking about how can we make processes that have been in existence, like, better? And so when I think about some of the things that we've been able to do, it's like, how do we embed DI&B into the business so that it's not just adjacent to what we're doing? How do we make it a part of our DNA so that every decision that we make, there's someone in the room, and not just me, not just someone on my team, who says, "Hey, we actually don't have a perspective from this group," or, "We've been doing it this way for so long. We should probably try something new." So yeah, again, for me, inclusion, it's the people piece but it's also the systems piece. And I think you can only be successful if you marry the two, or at least you can be successful long-term if you marry those two things.

- So you just mentioned about feeling excluded, and I think for a lot of people, the idea of inclusion, it certainly sounds nice, but it might be hard to wrap your head around what it actually looks like or what it actually means, and sometimes looking at the opposite is helpful. So that's one of the, I think, mechanics that we've had at Indeed, is talking about exclusion and what that means. And so, how do you think about the value of understanding the impact of exclusion?

- So I think we often get stuck in having a conversation relative to our experience at work. And so we only want to think about it in the four walls, the four walls of Indeed. And so exclusion, I think it's deeply personal. I think we can all recall a time when we've been excluded from something. You know, the time you didn't make the team or the time you thought you should've been invited to the party and you didn't. All of these things have an impact. And I think it forces people to think about just like the commonality and just to be thoughtful around the humanity of it all. And I think making progress and responding to or respecting the differences is really what's important when you think about the impact of exclusion and how we've been approaching it at Indeed. And something that came up as we were kind of working through a lot of 2020, or everything that 2020 threw at us, it is, we walked down this path of responding to the group that had the most need at the time. And so a question was raised, "Well, if we're so focused on this group, then is everyone else feeling excluded?" And so it's like this game that people want to play a little bit, and say, "Well, we can't have inclusion and exclusion at the same time." And I'm like, "Well, we focus on the group that has the greatest need, and then we help those who don't understand have empathy and understand how they should be responding to those groups as well." And so I think keeping both at the forefront is what's really important in the discussion. And you can't have one without the other. We're always going to be doing something and someone is not going to feel a part of it, and I think that's the challenging part of this role, is that as we're focused on, you know, our Asian community because of xenophobia or we're focused on the black community because of Black Lives Matter, or we're focused on parents and caregivers because of the unique challenges that they face during the pandemic, people who can't identify with those groups are inherently going to feel left out. But I challenge them to try and join the discussion, because I'm sure, if they can just empathize and show show some humanity, again, and kindness, that we can have a better, I guess, environment for everyone else, for everyone involved, I should say.

- Yeah, so I think that that touches on, you know, some big part of your work is in helping people understand these fundamental issues and what it is that the DI&B team is trying to do. What are some of the common misunderstandings that you encounter about the work that you do?

- I think people think this work is, like, fun. I think they think that it's all fun, that it's a lot of fluff. And we do have a lot of fun, and this is obviously, I think, pre-COVID. I think when they think DI&B, they only think about inclusion resource groups. They don't think about the bigger picture of the work. And I think they don't see the business impact we can have. And so how this adds value to our company, like I like to say, we actually function in terms of like risk mitigation, one thing that's coming up is, you know, we just committed ourselves, and we had this successful Super Bowl ad, and it was a huge risk to actually kind of get this captive audience. And we ended up getting an Inclusive Award for that ad, but it was because we worked so closely with Jennifer Warren's team to ensure that we were creating content that was going to be culturally relevant. But I think that that type of experience and that business partnership is not something that first comes to mind for people. I think people misunderstand the changing demographics of not just our country here in the U.S., but globally. And so, just taking a step back, when I talked about working for Code2040, the name 2040 was intentional, and that's because by the year 2040, the U.S. is actually trending where minorities will be the majority of the population. And so I think people are not thinking about progress, and how this has a significant impact on how we build products, how we build tools, how people will look at our company, and how we actually can help meet the needs of our customers by embedding DI&B into the business. I don't think they understand that it gives us a competitive advantage. And right now, people are really inspecting in a way that they haven't before, to determine if this is like a performance, and if it's marketing and advertising, or if it's something that is really our competitive advantage over all the other tech companies. So in summary, I think people think that it's okay to have it adjacent to the business. I think people think that it's a nice-to-have, even with all the data. And I think people are fearful about what is uncovered when we start to have these very intimate conversations. And I think that that is the biggest kind of thing that's misunderstood is that we have the option, and we really don't have the option as a business to treat this as something that's not important.

- So you touched on a couple of things that have come up in the last year, and obviously, the whole world of work had to adapt pretty quickly because of the pandemic. And for you, it all happened pretty early on in your Indeed experience. What was it like in your role to suddenly have everything that's happened, starting last February and March, kind of unfold?

- So, I was about three months into the role. I was in New York the last time we were all together. And that's when the nervous energy about the pandemic really started to kind of hit. You know, we were still kind of planning. We thought we were just going to be shut down for a little bit. And obviously, here we are a year, a year-plus later. But personally, I was really concerned and I was nervous. I didn't know that, or I didn't expect, that DI&B would continue to be prioritized, not specifically at Indeed, but I thought this would be a really big opportunity for companies to actually look at where they could start to cut cost and reduce expenses. And when you look at what influences companies to make decisions, when we look at the leadership of our country, with so much resistance to this work, I was personally fearful, but then that quickly turned around. All it took was like one thing, and our team was inundated. And imagine being new to a company, and I came in supporting job seeker, internal platforms, and recruiting solutions. And also, just by nature of who I am, my family would say that I'm pretty bossy, but you know, I started to recognize some challenges or some problems that I wanted to tackle. And so then I'm transforming the team and how we show up in the workplace every single day. And so, as we're facing this pandemic, you know, with the rise of xenophobia, the Asian network bought forth some ideas of what we can be doing to support that community. Our team was slammed. The volume of inquiries to the Inclusion @ handle was unmanageable! And we didn't have an opportunity to sit back and say, "Give us a minute. We're going to build this strategy. Then we'll deploy it, we'll test it, and then we'll see how it goes." It was, you know what, this is what we need to do, and we need to do it fast. One of the things that was really important to me, excuse me, as we started to do this work, and especially because we're such a thought leader in this space, is as we're sharing information externally, does it match the experience that our Indeedians are having every single day when they log onto this computer? And that information absolutely came from the top. And so I was really grateful that this was like our moment. And so it was like, you need us at this point, and you can't continue to operate without us, and so we started to get a ton of requests for facilitation. People wanted to pick our brains. So we actually have Pick Our Brain documents, which gives people a list of every single thing they can reference. It really propelled the work in a way that I couldn't have imagined without the pandemic. And so it still is giving us a lot of... We have a lot of momentum and tailwinds from the beginning of the COVID pandemic, that helps us as we continue to work in a more, I guess, stable, if you will, environment, as we're still getting used to being at home.

- So what are some of the big things that you felt like you learned in this process, about Indeed and about the people?

- So I felt like Indeed was really progressive, really bold, and definitely willing to kind of take risks and kind of push the status quo. Personally, I felt empowered to do some things that I likely wouldn't feel comfortable doing at any other company. And so I think the overwhelming majority of people wanted to do what was right. Everyone's like, "What can I do to help?" I think people were willing to take their own personal time to learn more about any issue that they didn't necessarily have to invest in before. And for the people who wanted to be on that journey, that's where we decided to invest our energy, invest our time. I also learned that for everything that was going well, that we were still early in our journey. And you know, I've learned that, in order for this work to actually be done, like, we have an amazing leadership team, like, the fact that you can get on the Q&A and talk about... I always tell my friends, I'm like, "My CEO talks about Killer Mike." Like, "My CEO is reading Ibram's books." And so those are the things that you don't always see or hear or understand, without having this moment of reckoning, if you will, where everything comes to the forefront and everything is more and more transparent. And I also find that people are having a deeply personal time at this moment. And it's on both sides, right? Like as a black person experiencing this, it's personal for me for a number of different reasons. As someone who's not a part of the majority, it's also personal for them, because it's like, "Well, am I wrong? What have I been doing? Am I not, you know, who I said that I am? Am I a bad person because I don't know all of these things?" And so it's like, how do we find the balance in the middle so that we can just kind of heal and learn and continue to grow? And so I think Indeed for me was like a safe place to do a lot of that work.

- So as we wrap up, one thing I like to kind of do at the closing here is looking ahead and thinking about, obviously, the experience of the last year has been extraordinarily challenging for so many people in the U.S. and around the world. And everyone is looking forward to a time when things will, quote, return to normal. And obviously we know that things are not going to ever be exactly the same as they were before. And some of that is good, right? 'Cause we have new perspective on things. And so I guess my last question to you is, how has your perspective from the last year of experience changed for good?

- So, the more I think about that question, and this might be hard for some people to believe. I know, especially my team, because I think they see this bold force to be reckoned with a lot of the time, like having these difficult, very hard conversations with people in positions of power. But I have been reluctant to do a lot more by sharing my personal story. Like I didn't typically talk about being from Compton or talk about challenges growing up. And I think that in the same way, companies have had to make a decision. Like there's no playing in the middle at this point. You're either, kind of, you're in or you're out. And I mean, people aren't inspecting that. And so even for me personally, it is what am I waiting for? Like me playing small serves no one. And even if everyone is telling their personal story, that there's still room for my story, because it's unique to me. And so using my voice a whole lot more. I'm a huge fan of Luvvie, so I'm like professional troublemaker. I'm continuing to get into good trouble. Sometimes it's not so good. But then also being authentic. Companies have had to find their authentic voice in all of this and their space for the woman that is here before you, who is from Compton, who went to Florida A&M, who's now a professional. And so the more I step into that, the more I feel like I can connect better to not just the black community, but to everyone, the more they understand my perspective. And so I would say, that has been been a significant thing that's going to change for 2020. And lastly, I'll just say, the empathy that I'm able to find, not just for my personal community, but for all groups that I represent in this seat, I want everyone to find that same empathy, as well. But I think what's changing for 2020 is, even if you don't find that empathy for the groups that are in need, I hope people understand the sense of urgency and the significance that is needed in business for us to actually be more transformative and respond to kind of like the future state of everything that we've experienced.

- Well, Misty, thank you for sharing your experiences today, and thank you for joining us for this conversation, but really, thank you so much for everything that you do for Indeed and for the world, in your job every day.

- Thanks, Chris!