Understanding the person behind the job search

January 20, 2021

To kick-off a fresh new season of Here to Help, Indeed’s CEO, Chris Hyams is joined by Muna Hussaini, Chief of Staff to Indeed’s Jobseeker Organization.

Muna, who has worked in tech for almost 20 years, speaks about her personal connection to Indeed’s mission of Helping ALL People Get Jobs, and why equity is so important when understanding the mindset of job seekers.

- 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's January 14th, we're on day 317 of global work from home. And at Indeed our mission is to help people get jobs. This is what gets us out of bed in the morning, and what keeps us up at night. And we started this podcast back in April as a way to share how we were working to help people in the midst of this unfolding crisis. Today is our first episode of 2021, and I'm sure like a lot of other folks I went into 2021 with a feeling of relief. Thank God, 2020 is over and looking forward to things being brighter. And I think like a lot of folks also the first couple of weeks of 2021 had been rough. We've had a surge in COVID cases. We've had new lock downs across Europe and other markets, unprecedented political upheaval, and very relevant to what we do. The jobs report last week was in the US the first net loss of jobs since April. And those 140,000 jobs that were lost, it turns out were nearly all women and not just women, but women of color and unemployment claims report from this morning was ahead of expectations. So what this really means for us is that our work, our mission remains more vital than ever. So talk about that work and that mission, I'm delighted to be joined today by Muna Hussaini, Indeed's Chief of Staff for Andrew Hudson who's our Chief Technical Officer and the General Manager of our Job Seeker Organization. Muna, welcome and thank you so much for joining me.

- Good morning, and it's great to be here with you, Chris.

- So let's start off where we always start off with this podcast which is just to check in, how are you doing today?

- So, my family recently came back we went to road tripping to Colorado and we went skiing which is the perfect hijabi sport. Everyone is literally covered from head to toe, and so like, I love going skiing. But as with all road trips, it was a lot of fun, there was a lot of fighting, a lot of tears, a lot of crumbs on the floor in the car and we're glad to be home. But with that said, the last week has been rough watching what's been going down at the Capitol and I feel like I need another vacation, Chris.

- Hmm, we can work on that. So let's talk a little bit about what it is that you do at Indeed. So you the Chief of Staff to our CTO and the GM of our Job Seeker Organization, Andrew, tell us a little bit about that role and what it involves.

- Yes, so I guess I'm Andrew's right hand and I support the Job Seeker Organization in ways that are strategic, tactical or operational. And so like, what does that mean? When we think about strategic, if we look at our goals for Job Seeker what's our best approach for melding our short term with our longterm and the work that's happening across Indeed, and making sure we have alignment across SLT. When we think about operations, how are we building and managing our organization's capability to deliver with regular operational cadences and understanding and having full visibility to our portfolio of work. And also ensuring that we have a strong say, do ratio, and then for tactical this is probably the one that is the most varied and the most fun. On any given day I can be doing all sorts of different things whether it's chasing down legal issues or working on a communication for Andrew, or coming up with jokes for our bi-weekly Q&A which is probably my most favorite thing to do. But bottom line, I love being here, shout out to the Job Seeker Organization and Andrew for being a great boss, and I am throwing down the gauntlet for 2021 'cause Job Seeker's the best Oregon indeed. And if you have something different to say, come out here on Here to Help and defend your org.

- So I know from the very start of your experience here in fact, I've known you since before you started at Indeed, and even talking to you as you were considering this role, that our mission of helping people get jobs is something that has special significance for you. Can you talk a little bit about that?

- Yeah, so when I was younger, we moved a lot. And I remember when I was 11 sitting in our prayers slash office room slash sewing room. And my dad was pulling literally hundreds of handwritten letters out of a desk. He was sitting in a pile of letters. I don't exaggerate when I say hundreds. And he was just bawling and I remember walking in and being so concerned, daddy, what's wrong? And he started picking up the letters and saying this one, this is a boy, he's an orphan. He had six brothers and sisters and I helped him get through school and now he's an engineer. And this one her father died and her mother was a widow and she had four brothers and sisters and now she's a doctor and she's taking care of all of them. And each one of those pieces of paper represented a person, their entire family, their dreams it was a moment that like I can picture it in my head and I've grown up with this understanding that education is everything like my parents didn't tell me like you're going to go to college. It was just understood that that's what I was going to do because education means opportunity and success isn't just having two kids and a picket fence and a dog, right? Like sometimes it's just being able to support your family and put food on the table and survive, and that's what these letters were. These were people who were lifted out of poverty because someone helped them get an education, and ultimately help them get a job. And I remember sitting there and thinking like, wow, this is my dad but this is one person making a huge difference like literally to thousands of people. And it's something that has stayed with me for a very long time. That one person can make a difference, and that helping folks to get a job and have opportunity is a big deal.

- So I know that equity is a passion of yours, and I've heard you talk about equity in the job market and Indeed's role as an equalizer. Talk a little bit about that.

- Yeah, so I guess before I go into too much detail there it would be good to talk about what does equity mean? 'Cause a lot of people think equity and equality are the same thing and they're not. And so I'll tell a little story. So my dad now has retired and runs a nonprofit, and part of that is providing education to folks. And he had gone to visit one of his schools, and there was a student who was literally sitting two feet away from the board, Chris. And my dad asked the teacher, he said, "Look it looks like this kid can't see the board, please get him glasses." And he came back a couple months later, and the kid was still sitting in front of the board and my father was a little upset and the teacher was he said, "I offered the parent to go get glasses." And so then my dad said, "You know what, I'll just go take care of it." So he went to go visit the mother and it turns out she's a day laborer. She has lots of younger kids. She has no one to leave the kids with, and even if she were to take her son to go get glasses she has never taken public transportation before. She doesn't know how to navigate it and even if she got there, she thought, okay these folks are just going to laugh at me. They're going to kick me out. I'm illiterate, I don't even know what to ask for. It was too much for her to navigate. Just having the money to go get the glasses wasn't enough. And so when we think about equality that's everyone having the same thing. But handing her the money to go get the glasses, didn't ensure that her child was able to access the things needed. And she really wanted her children to have, her child to have those glasses, and so when it comes to opportunity just giving everyone the same opportunity isn't enough. We want people to have the same outcomes and fairness, right? Like we wanted this child to be able to see the board. And so understanding those two things and the difference between equality and equity helps us to deliver these fair outcomes for everyone. And so when it comes to our platform, I really do believe that we are a force for good in helping everyone get jobs and really being an equalizer, and so again, thinking about my own family my dad came here in the early 70s. He studied, he was getting his Master's in Engineering. And when he was done he literally applied for 70 or 80 jobs. And now remember, this is before Google, right? This is the time of snail mail. You had to actually like go hand in an application, mail it wait for a response back. And he was rejected, Chris from 70 to 80 jobs. And when you've come and left your whole family behind, and you're trying to get a good opportunity to then take care of everyone. There was a lot of stress and anxiety for him, like why did I come all the way here if I wasn't even going to be able to get a job? And so as part of his master's program he had been doing research. And while he was at the lab, his professor had a friend who came to visit from Gulf Oil, and his professor introduced him and said, "Hey you should meet my student. He's one of my best students." And because of that introduction he was able to get his first job and I guess everything's history. But I think back on that moment, what would happen if he didn't make that introduction? Where would he be? And you shouldn't have to know someone to get a job. And like that's what's really cool about our platform. Like all the jobs are in one place. All the employers have called out and said like, okay here's the requirements like we want to find the best person and this idea that merit, this ideal that we're trying to work towards that you hire the best person for the job, I think that that's really what is truly equalizing. 'Cause you shouldn't have to know someone or look a certain way or have the friends and family opportunity to be able to get a job. And like, it doesn't matter if you're from a small town or you grew up on one side of the railroad tracks like ideally the best person should get the job. And like, we kind of cut all that out and go straight to the core of what makes the opportunity the best opportunity and match for a job seeker and an employer. And so there's so many barriers to success, whether it's societal or institutional if you think about that story I told and I love the role that Indeed plays in being an equalizer there. And so Chris, speaking of this topic around barriers to success and building equity, I know you've been on this journey around focusing on equity and on social media you recently shared a stack of books you've been reading on a topic. Why do you care so much about equity? I'm just curious.

- Well, thank you for asking. So it's interesting. It's one of those things where I think it's very easy what I've discovered for myself that it's very easy to convince yourself that you understand the world because you see yourself as progressive or open-minded. And what happened to me actually is very recent is back in 2018 I had read a book by an author named Emily Chang called "Brotopia" which is a book about essentially frat culture in Silicon Valley around the misogyny that is really sort of baked into the tech industry, and it really resonated with me. Everything that was described there was things that I have seen throughout my career. And I at that time as I was reading that I looked over at the stack of books on my bedside table and saw that they were all books by men. And so I just decided, okay well, you know what, I'm going to spend the summer just reading women authors. And as I was doing that I ended up a friend had recommended "Americanah" by Chimamanda Ngozi a DJ who's a Nigerian author and this book just completely blew me away. And I went back and looked at that same stack of books and realized that they were not only all books by men, but all books by white men. So I decided at that point, okay well, I'm just going to read black female authors. And that then led to me really just wanting to dive in and explore learning about a world that I thought I understood that it turned out that I really didn't. And so this year I read a stack of books that were truly amazing. I think that at the end of the year the last couple or few that I read that really stuck out one is "Caste" by Isabel Wilkerson. Another was a "Stamped from the Beginning" by Dr. Ibram X Kendi, who also wrote "How to Be an Antiracist" but this is a history of racist thought in America over four and a half centuries. And then the last thing I read actually was a novel by a woman named Brit Bennett called "The Vanishing Half." And essentially all of these books this is part of I sort of think of this as a reading campaign for lack of a better word. And it's really become just part of my aspiration to be a co-conspirator for Anti-black racism. And that my very clear recognition is that as a straight, white, cisgendered, able-bodied among many other qualifiers man that my position of extraordinary privilege makes it nearly impossible for me to see the world as it is without deliberate effort. And so this is my what I think of as pretty low stakes deliberate effort to just learn about what's going on around me and what it leads to. And this is something that ties into how we think about our business as a whole is the more that I learn the less that I feel that I know. And I think it's actually a really healthy place to be in what we think of as beginner's mind, not certainty I think is dangerous. And so the more I feel that I don't know, the more open I am to considering new things, the more that has helped me see the world in a different way. So thanks for asking the question. Let me turn it back to you. So with this commitment around equity and equality, how does that translate for you at work? What are your efforts, are your thoughts around where we need to focus as an organization on building equity? The thing I take away from what you said, Chris is empathy as a driver, right? Not just looking at someone and their situation over there but to really put yourself in their shoes and understand what their experience means, what their vantage point is, where they're coming from and how that translates. And it's actually something I'm really proud to say that we do on a daily basis. And of course there's always more work to be done, but I'm really proud of being part of a group that our driving value is Job Seeker first, right? It's our number one value and this shows up in our work every day. An example that I can highlight around segmentation has to do with trucking. And so before I jump in here I just want to give a shout out to Valle Hansen who's a UX Researcher and Matthew Clark and Rob Fabianski in Product, because they were able to to validate some of these details. We think equality means treating everyone exactly the same, right? And when we think about all of the jobs that are on our site and all of the variations of ways that people apply for jobs we don't have this just like one single flow that works. And like, how are we thinking about our users? And what's the best experience for them and customizing this approach because what's right for someone in sales may not be the same approach for someone in nursing, may not be the same approach for someone applying for a waitressing job. And so, as the teams were doing research they uncovered that job posts and trucking the employers want them to call in they don't want an application. There's no resume, there's no online process. And obviously that's not a norm in the industry when we think about applying for jobs. And so many truckers were having trouble as they were going through the flow and toggling back and forth between like, okay, here's the application. Now I need to dial his phone number and, oh, I think I fat-fingered the number, right? And while it's so simple, the teams went in and clicked, they added a button that just allows folks to call to make their application in the flow which is what works out for the job seekers and the employers. And while it's simple having that empathy for folks, and understanding what's best for them and driving that customization for a cohort of users, is what the segmentation team does. And it requires putting yourself in their shoes and understanding what they need and taking that customized approach because there's no single playbook of, okay, for this job you must follow these 17 steps to make the best experience. Like it's a constantly evolving process. And if you think about the fact that COVID just hit, and it changed everything, our teams just react and they really put the job seekers first to understand what it is to give them not only the best experience, but the best chance at finding a job, right? And really being empathetic and caring in their approach. And not to assume like, hey, I know best but what do they need and customizing for that. And we have to take that view of empathy and personalization to provide equity in the process so that people can get the same outcomes. And it's so easy for us to forget that just like that pile of letters that I think about with my dad, that each of these resumes is a person, there's a family behind that. There's a community behind that. And like this work we do where we take the time to care and drive the best for our job seeker makes a huge difference. And so it's a big driver for me and a big thing. I know that the teams care about everyday in Job Seeker. And so back to you, Chris what are your wishes for us when it comes to the equity that we drive with Indeed as a whole what comes up for you as we think about the years ahead?

- Yeah, so when we look at the challenges specifically for all marginalized communities, there are a number of areas in the world, certainly in our country where those disparities become really, really clear. And there are different outcomes in the criminal justice system and healthcare and education, employment is one of the biggest ones. And as we know but employment and just the basic dignity of a job and the basic ability to provide for yourself and your family really underscores a lot of those other outcomes. You can tie the differences in health, education, criminal justice system to economic security. And so when we look at employment, we know and there are decades of research that shows that there are massive bias and barriers in the hiring process. And so our aspiration is to use our technology to reduce that bias and to lower those barriers. And that it's something that really just is kind of core to our mission, if our mission is to help people get jobs. We want to help all people get jobs. You talked about trucking is one segment you can look at every different group of individuals, and anywhere that we're not doing the best that we can where we're providing as even a playing field as possible, that's a flaw in our marketplace. That's something where again, we look especially over the last 10 months, right? There's been the worst economic crisis of our lifetimes. And at the same time we see on Indeed, there are employers who are trying to hire like crazy right now. So there are more unemployed people than there have been for decades, and there's people that's trying to hire. That's an inefficient marketplace and bias and barriers play a massive role in that inefficiency. So there's the doing the right thing, but there's also it's just our mission that says that we need to help more people and bias and barriers are an impediment to the fulfillment of that mission. So my wish, here's a brief story. We've been at this work. I wish I could say we've been at this work for 16 years since we started the company, we haven't been. But the last five or six years it's been really in earnest, and we've done work too improve the diversity of our workforce but also really to raise awareness and create empathy. And when we rolled out last year our new video interview platform and Indeed Interview, and started to help connect job seekers and employers in this new way, we do this weekly Q&As. We just had one yesterday with the whole company. And the questions that came up when we made that announcement were questions around, how are we going to ensure with video interviewing that we can provide accessibility for people that are hard of hearing or when we're doing video interviewing, there's a lot of research that shows that what you see in someone's background can give some hints to their socioeconomic position. And that that could actually create some implicit bias or explicit bias in the hiring process, and what can we do to protect? These are questions that to be frank didn't come up at Indeed five years ago, 10 years ago. There's a new sort of, I think awareness and empathy that we've been able to create through this work that will lead to very different outcomes, and for us to be able to fulfill our mission. I think more completely so that's my wish. So you mentioned the core value that we have around putting job seekers first. Can you talk a little bit about how that shows up in your day-to-day work?

- So I recently watched "The Social Dilemma" on Netflix and I had to say it gave me a little bit of pause thinking about working in tech and the role of tech, and as a parent who did not really do devices a lot, and now that this pandemic is hit and we're sort of stuck at home I've kind of, my hand has been forced to let my kids play online a little bit more, and I really had to explore, okay, I do work in tech what is the role that I am playing in the space of how tech impacts our lives. And then I started thinking about what we do here, and our value of Job Seeker first. And that if we have people online and we're learning about them what are we using that data for? It's to really help match them to the best job, help them get a job, help them get a better job, help them find and match with the right opportunity, so they can go back out in the world and live their best life. And it really gave me some solace to realize that is what we're driving for and that we're not part of this effort to just grab people's data and learn about them and then suck them in online and make people our products. No, like our product is providing connection and opportunity so that people can live their best lives. And so it's the core of what we do here. Not just because it's the right thing to do, but because it's the right thing to do, right? Like it's not like a by-product, it is the point. And I think that's what's been integral to Indeed success over time in this culture where ethics is part of our value system. And I know, Chris that ethics is really important topic for you. And I like to take a moment to ask you I know you have this concept around ethics and this Hippocratic Oath that we should be taking for tech. I find this concept fascinating. Can you just tell us a little bit about it?

- Yeah, so this really came out from, I had the opportunity to go back to my alma mater. I did my graduate study in Computer Science at Rice University and they were having an alumni event for the 35th anniversary of the CS Department there. And I got to give a talk. And my talk, really the theme of the talk was kind going back to something I said before was around essentially, the wisdom of not knowing of being willing to say, I don't know. And in looking at that and thinking about the imperative, given the position so you talk about the social dilemma. Technology has always been important but 10 years ago, 20 years ago, 30 years ago, it wasn't central to every single aspect of our lives in terms of how we communicate every day, how we work, how we stay in touch with our friends and loved ones, how we get news and information. And so I believe that the responsibility of people who work in technology is different today than the way that historically we've looked at it. And so I was looking at the Hippocratic Oath, and the history of it and there's I can't even go into it, read the Wikipedia page, it's really fascinating. But it turns out there's multiple different versions of this oath that traditionally at the end of medical school these graduating medical students have to take this oath. And this is what they abide by in their careers. And there were a few things that hopped out there's different versions, but the sort of most modern version has built into it some concepts that really make sense to us around privacy of information about the people that you're treating. And that's a core commitment that physicians make. There's a line that, I don't treat a fever chart or a cancerous growth, but a sick human being what you were describing of thinking of every single resume as a human with a family and a life and struggles and not just something that sits in a database. And then there's one part that really jumped out at me which was to say that with all of the certainty and the responsibility, I will not be ashamed to say, I know not. And this idea of a doctor who's supposed to know everything and that part of their core oath is to be willing to say when they don't know something. For anyone that works in tech we're typically not surrounded by a bunch of people who walk around saying, well, I don't really know. Everyone's got an opinion. Everyone's pretty certain about things. And again I think certainty in my own life certainty has led to a lot of trouble. And the more that I've been willing to look at something and say, I don't know the answer here, let's find out together and loosen my grip on an outcome that I'm convinced of. So I think that in tech, I think it's a and this is what I said in this talk that to all the folks in academia that we have responsibility to educate technologists around ethics, around history, around philosophy, computer scientists should read literature. They should listen to music and they should really understand the impact of the work that they're doing and the responsibility that comes along with this awesome tool kit, and skill that people either have or develop. And that without that you end up with situations like the social dilemma and in particular, given the importance of work that I feel like it's really a responsibility for us at Indeed to embrace this and to think about the human, and be willing to admit when we don't know. So let's keep moving on. And I appreciate you asking me questions, but I'm going to ask you questions for the rest of the time here. You have a podcast that you started a little while back called, Three Righteous Mamas which is an awesome name. Tell us a little bit about that and how it came about and what it is that you do. So a little bit about me, I'm an Accidental Activist of sorts. For those watching the video, you can see that I'm wearing a green headscarf or hijab because I'm Muslim and after 9-11, I was a victim of several hate crimes. Lots of things happen to me, probably the worst being that I was almost stabbed in a public walking with a friend at an upscale outdoor kind of shopping areas Pearl Street in Boulder. And so if you're in Austin kind of like South Congress. And I've had time to recover and work through that. And over the years, I actually started speaking about my experiences being a victim of hate crimes and trying to educate folks and eradicate hate. I don't want anyone to go through what I went through. Being attacked for who you are and what you believe in, there shouldn't be any place for that in our society. And so the 2016 election cycle was very turbulent for many people. And political rhetoric was really hateful, and then the election results came in and the Muslim Ban was signed in 2017. We're in Texas, this wall's being built and communities just started coming together. And at that time, maybe some people's world got smaller but my world got bigger because I started meeting other people who were also impacted and sort of these lines between demographics or communities started to blur because we all realized like, hey, we're in this thing together and we're stronger for it together. And that's when I met Christina and Martha. And many folks may not think of us as having things in common or being able to be friends, right? Christina is Mexican and Mexican and an American, her husband's a DREAMer. They have one son and Martha is gay and she has two adopted children. I'm Muslim, I'm an Indian child of Indian immigrants, and my kids are half part black, right? And are we all friends? Like, yes we are. And ultimately we just care about building the world for our kids and not just our kids, but all of our kids where they all have access to opportunity and an equity and that we're building this world that is centered around empathy and love and compassion and strength. Because if all the decisions we made in the world had mothers and children centered, our world would look different. And so those are the types of conversations we have, and I'll give you one example. We recently interviewed your Jerlean Daniel, and she grew up in the foster system and it's just funny how life rolls out, and I think her story is interesting to hear because growing up Linda Brown was her Piano Teacher, Chris. Linda Brown from Brown versus the Board of Education, right? The Seminole Landmark case that desegregated our schools. And she went through the schooling system, and then when she had kids, her kids started her son started getting impacted in so many different ways. And it was very troubling for her to literally witness the school to prison pipeline with her six year old being called violent, or like how can a six-year-old be violent or how can a teacher be scared of a six-year-old? And then her going back to her piano teacher and saying like, "Wait, I thought we fixed these problems." And Linda Brown telling her like, "No, the work continues." And she's an executive working at Bentley Motors and quitting her job and going to Law School and starting a Civil Rights Firm. People out there are doing the work, Chris and I don't want to just talk about it, I want to see it. I want to be inspired by it. And we were on this recent call with Dr. Eddie Glaude, right? He's the James McDonnell Distinguished University Professor at Princeton and the author of "Begin Again." And he said something that I hold on to where you just have to work to build the world that you want. And you can't waste time arguing with folks about what they should or shouldn't be doing, just focus your energy where you want to be. And when you're done, the world will look like what you want it to look like, and since my version of the world includes opportunity for education for everyone, like that love and compassion and seat at the table for everyone, they're going to have that too when it's done. And I'm okay with that. And so I want to keep that singular focus and that's what the podcast is about.

- I'll just throw in a quick shout out for "Begin Again" which was on my stack of books this year and absolutely remarkable Eddie Glaude is. That was an amazing conversation that we got to have. So our time is coming to a close here. And one of the things that we like to end with is sort of looking at everything we've been through over the last 317 days through a lens of what we've been able to see new from it. And obviously there's lots of these experiences that we are ready to put behind us and move on at some point. But how has the experience of this pandemic changed your perspective forever?

- I think that our humanity is what sets us apart. And this common thread through this whole conversation I think has been about approaching folks with empathy and compassion and respect. And yes, it can be hard, but it's so important to do. And I guess I'll leave you with a thought here that a friend shared. I think it's an indigenous value statement or maybe Native American here. But instead of looking at the world through this lens of like what are my rights and what's owed to me, we should look at the world with a lens of gratitude and appreciation, right? And how are we fulfilling our obligations and responsibility to the world because I have a place in it. And it really resonates for me a lot. And like what Dr. Glaude said, "I'm going to be putting my energy there, and I'm going to be pouring this energy into the world because that's the world that I want to live in, and the world I want to build for all of our kids." And so there's no good time to start. You have to start as you mean to continue. And like seeing what happened this week in DC and my life experience being a Muslim woman, having a black husband and biracial children like I know every morning that I have to make a choice to show up, like I'm not always safe. My kids don't have the promise of everything just being handed to them, even though we are blessed with a lot of privilege. And I owe it to them to tell them that mommy's doing everything she can to make sure that the world's a better place for them when they grow up that they'll have opportunity and not just for my own family but for my community and all the people around me. And so I do that work in my personal life, but it's really a privilege to be able to spend my time at work focused on the values I care about because I spend most of my time at work, right? And when we're helping people get jobs we're lifting their families in communities up. And when people have that opportunity and equity and stability, I think the thing I'm going to leave you with is that's our role in the turning world. Because I don't want the world to turn me. And so thank you so much for having me here this morning, Chris it's been fun chatting with you.

- Thanks so much for joining, and thanks for turning things around as you often do and asking your own questions, and I've always valued that about you. And we're so lucky to have you at Indeed. Thank you for everything you do, and thanks for joining us this morning.