Tackle Diversity and Inclusion challenges together, as a community with Vessy Tasheva
Guest Vessy Tasheva - helping D and I leaders though an online community
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Dave: Hey everybody! So this is the second episode in the series. Well, in the couple. This is Vessy Tasheva she created the diversity in the workplace report and also has created vessy.com which is a platform for assisting the people leading the charge of the diversity and inclusion, also known as DNI within their own companies, this platform helps share experiences and somewhat of an emotional support system for the people who are involved in these activities. Well, emotional support may not necessarily be hundred percent exactly what it is. It’s emotional, mental, tactical, it’s just a gathering where those involved with DNI can share experiences and help each other do what it is that you’re doing better. So I hope you enjoy. Oh, but if you haven’t listened to the previous episode with Tom Shawl that might be useful to listen to first. They’re not necessarily dependent upon each other but it was recorded first and he introduced me to Vessy. So I hope you enjoy.
Dave: Hello and welcome to the podcast. I’m your host David Albert. In this show I talk about technology, building a company as a CTO and co-founder, and have guests to discuss their roles in technology and entrepreneurship.
Today we’re joined by Vessy Tasheva. Tom Shaw, the episode is probably the episode just before this, where we discussed the diversity manifesto, told me I should reach out to you. So thanks for joining us. And can you tell us a bit about yourself and the diversity in the workplace report?
Vessy: Thanks for having me. Sure. So back in January, I published 2019 diversity in the workplace report, and it covered 10 companies from 10 countries, on how they approach diversity and inclusion and as you can imagine, it was very easy to come up with the companies from, you know, Western European countries or the US, etc.
And I was really, I’m really happy that I committed when I announced that I’m starting to reach out to companies and people to 10 companies from 10 countries because it was becoming really, really hard to find those in some of the other countries. But I think it made a really strong points that it’s not something, you know, Western, you know, like Western values or whatever. It’s, it’s universal and it exists everywhere and we can find good role models in every country.
Dave: So what interested you in creating that report?
Vessy: I get this a lot. Um, it was, it was out of frustration. You know, it was out of I was listening recently to a podcast where Joe an old friend of mine was the guest and he’s a serial entrepreneur. And he was explaining how entrepreneurs really get like, obsessed with something and they just cannot. I think he used the word, the word compulsive. And, you know, I think challenges related to diversity and inclusion have always bothered me.
And I have, you know, pushed or attempted to push the organizations that I have been working with or in to do work around this when you know when there have been problems around it. But like the last problems that were that I was experiencing, it really felt like a compulsion. I was, I just couldn’t, I just couldn’t give up. And I saw Okay, you know, maybe I will not have results in this organization, but it doesn’t mean I should give up.
So it was that frustration and compulsion I guess, to you know, tease the way Joe was talking about it. And I just wanted to do something constructive about it that can help others. Well first, help is like work as a, as a platform for companies that are doing the great work to show their growth work. And then for those who are new to the conversation, or there somewhere on their journey, and they’re not sure how to make them so the next step to be able to learn from someone.
Yeah, so it was. So the idea behind the report was to make it like to work as a platform for those who are doing the creative work to show the right work that they’re doing for those that are starting their journey to see how to do the next step. And for those who are not on their journey with the risk and inclusion just yet, to see how others are doing that very first step and see that it’s not like you don’t have to wait to be a billion-dollar company to start with it.
Investors actually expect from you to start from day one. So it was really getting the great stories in the report but also getting the perspectives of investors from like early-stage seed-stage and later on, as well as really showcasing. Like the companies were really different not just in terms of their geographical location or origin, but also in terms of their size like the smallest company was of 20 employees.
And at the time, that I interviewed them, they were established only a year ago, while the oldest company was Swedbank and they are 16,000 employees mostly in like in Sweden and the neighboring countries and Baltics. And they are established in the 19th century. So completely different. So having this spectrum of organizations of you know from different industries, from different geographies, sizes, maturity in DNI, maturity as an organization in general and making it easy for anyone who kind of ends up looking at the report for whatever reason, they ended up there to find someone they can relate to, or maybe find a company they have respected.
But you can see like there are companies that have 1000 employees and are literally doing their very first step now, and there are others who have just established the company and are starting to think about it and doing work around that. So there is like you, you can be late to this. Ideally, you start from day one, and that’s the easiest moment to start.
Dave: But if you didn’t start then today is better than tomorrow.
Vessy: I compare it to the tech legacy you would have in your product it’s there and probably things are working and you know, there are bits that are not ideal, but if you postpone it for too long and DNI is culture. So if you ignore your culture for too long, and maybe your it doesn’t mean that you are doing zero, you know, in regards to your culture, maybe you still have like small rituals or whatever in the organizations.
We’re not saying it’s completely forgotten. But if you’re not careful with things, and especially in terms of inclusion and belonging, things can go really wrong in a matter of seconds. And I have seen these happening organizations that are one type of culture and one moment and literally within months have a completely different culture and the way people will describe it. Like the language has changed dramatically.
Dave: So it’s like how technical debt charges interest so that’s cultural.
Vessy: Yeah, so I think you objectively know how things are up to one point, and then it becomes a blur because you have been postponing it for so long then you like, well, it’s been okay for, let’s say, two years of having the billing process set up this way, whatever. So maybe we can extend to another year, but then six months into it, something really bad happens and that’s it. You have actually missed the moment and it will take like maybe a year and a half to go back to somewhat of a good place and it will be quite compromised.
Dave: I see. From the report, what surprising information you find? If any?
Vessy: Let me think about it.
Dave: Oh, we can come back to that one then. What was not a surprise, if you want to start there?
Vessy: I think it was a surprise that even people who have like over two decades of experience in diversity and inclusion, not always feel they have the authority and they have the resources to do the work that they want to do.
It’s a role that requires access to the leadership team, being part of the leadership team, having authority over the organization influence over the organization. And these are a lot of requirements. You know, if you’re a DNI officer or a volunteer who has kind of like taken over this on top of their main job, mind function, these are a lot of requirements to help you get the job done. Does that make sense? I can make it more specific if it’s..
Dave: It does mostly but it wouldn’t hurt to clarify.
Vessy: So for example, Jason Thompson is the VP of inclusion and diversity at TechStars. And, you know, so TechStars have invested in thousands of startups around the world. You know, the huge, huge community of entrepreneurs globally. And you know, so Jason is someone at the VP level, he reports directly to the CEO who has been assigned by the CEO of TechStars, who is also the founder of TechStars.
So that gives him access to the, you know, decision maker at the very top, access to the board members, other C level executives, etc. That doesn’t necessarily guarantee that he would have a big enough budget for the work that he needs to do or that he would have a team and something that he was sharing. So he has been he used to DNI for the US Olympics Committee before this role, and he has been in the industry for he was actually laughing about it.
I was, I was asking him so you know, some people talk about belonging other people will talk about diversity and inclusion, others about inclusion and diversity. What’s your opinion on all of that? And it was like I got, you know, I’ve been doing this for 23 years now. At the start that was just called Minority Affairs, and then it was called or something else. And then it was called diversity and diversity, inclusion, then inclusion and diversity then belonging. And to be honest, I’m still doing the same job.
So I think in, you know, in the, in the field of DNI language is important, but it’s also unimportant in some in some way. So it’s more about what helps his job is, Does he have the resources? Does he have access to the decision-makers? Is he a decision-maker? does he have the authority? Does he have influence over the organization like literal access to the employees because you can be a very important person in a company but if you don’t have a platform to address those people, engage them and so on, you can go very far?
Something that’s not surprising is the for an organization to be successful with DNI. It starts with the DNI, that really the DNI of the founders. What’s in, like, what’s at the core of the culture of the organization? And thought works were a great example when I was talking to them. Because of the way they were established it was around three pillars. And one of them was and they’re equally important pillars is the other two are very business-related. And the third one was to fight for social-economic justice.
So if they have like an office in the UK, you know, they’re doing that in one way. If they have an office in India, and they actually have five or six offices there, they’re doing it in a different way. And in the context of India, they were actually doing it through pioneering, you know, advocating for LGBTQ right, which wasn’t popular at all. And they did like an official letter to the government, etc. And that was a bunch of years ago.
So they took the lead they were the first corporation to open conversation about this. So it wasn’t just left to the NGOs. So over time other organizations also petition to say, Hey, you know, homosexuality is not a crime, because that was still the way it was legally set up in India. And then, you know, it was a legacy, you know, from from the old days, and then so back in September, it was finally removed like it was their legalized. Is that the word? When something is.
Vessy: Thank you, decriminalized. Yeah, so it was decriminalized in September, and they played a really critical role. So this is one of the stories in the report on how thought works, approached it. So So if we go back to the criteria on what kind of determines if you will be successful with diversity and inclusion, it’s not surprising that the founders, the DNI of the culture, like the core of it is critical.
Then the second piece is, why is DNI important for our specific organization, not for some other organization, like we kind of all knows, it could be, because it’s the right thing to do. It could be because it’s, we want our employees to be happy to be more productive, so you know, to be more engaged, so it helps with employee retention, you know, that saves costs, etc. Or it could be to be, you know, to collaborate more to innovate more, again, business benefits from that and then it also helps us acquire new markets faster.
Because like we understand our customers better when the employees mirror the customer base. So all of this, you know, kind of accumulates, and it helps you with getting higher revenues, you know, the dream of our CFO. You know, only if executed well. So, you know, we kind of all know about all of those reasons, but it’s important. Why is it the case for your organization? Is it defined? Is it communicated clearly?
There are a lot of companies where it’s kind of like the CEO gives a call to HR and says, DNI is a high priority for us this year. We need to start working on it, you know, you have my blessing, go for it. And, you know, it can be like, Oh, that’s, that’s amazing. We’ve been waiting for this, etc. But is it clear why it’s important and that can, that can have an extremely negative effect because it could leave the organization and that happens very, very often?
It can leave the organization feeling like it’s a theme for this year. And then the year is over. And people are like Hey, why are we Why are we still doing DNI stuff? I thought we were turning it with inclusion. It was a priority last year. And it’s not how it works, right? But it’s not for, you know, the average employee to understand that. It’s important how we communicate it.
Dave: Just like how, every year, we went to make money.
Vessy: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, actually going back to you know, Jason, when I mentioned earlier, he was comparing it with sales targets is like, yeah, the fact that we have hit the target for this month doesn’t mean you just all go on vacation and we’re done for the rest of the company is like, yeah.
Dave: That’s what’s so interesting that almost just because it will not just because but Influenced by their company culture, the thought works that that actually influenced the reality of a country. You know, it helped to drive change like that they’re not 100% focused on that as a company, their company still made that positive change in a while.
Vessy: Yeah. And if you look into the story in the report about, because I was very curious why, like, why would you focus on, you know, activism around this specific area of awareness? What was a specific event that triggers you know, their action, attracted their attention and so on? And they said a few, a few of their employees in India requested to be transferred to the US.
When they asked, like, why is that the case? They said, Well, you know, we’re, you know, we’re gay people were we don’t feel safe here, etc, etc, etc. And over time, you know, they were also hiring other we’re working closely with LGBT organizations on the ground hiring people with, you know, the various backgrounds in general and profiles. And they were, you know, they were becoming an employer with more and more LGBTQ people, and it would have trans people as well.
And so they were, so imagine you’re in a country where being homosexual is criminal, and there and in the meantime, they’re there championing trans people with work. You know, that’s quite a journey so they didn’t censor themselves. Quite the opposite. They were trying to understand what are the unique needs that those employees need to feel safe like, what’s needed to win?
I don’t know, is this related to the transparent from the neighborhood where they live to the office or whatever it is, so they can accommodate for that? Because if your employee doesn’t feel safe, yeah, probably they wouldn’t be very productive.
Dave: Absolutely. That’s amazing. What, uh, what kind of challenges do you think that you identified companies have that are maybe outside of the realm of just not doing it? You know, so, so challenges for increasing the diversity and inclusion, other than just not wanting it? And then making the question clear.
Vessy: Yeah, so the question is, so the question is when they’re doing something but it’s not quite working. What are their challenges?
Dave: Very well put thank you.
Vessy: Yeah we can change seats for the next one. Well, something that happens quite often regardless of whether the good work is happening or not and companies can see results is that the people who are championing DNI feel very isolated. So this is something that where we put a lot of like it’s emotional labor because we deeply care most people in this field would really really care it affects them in some way we know directly or indirectly for some reason they care and it’s very similar to activism.
So in activism, we will talk about you know, burnout because you know, those people are trying so hard working so hard and you don’t always see the results. In the Unites similar, it’s usually on top of your job. Resources started limited. You don’t have a lot of time you don’t have a big budget, you don’t have a lot of people to help you. And you know, the majority of the organization doesn’t really understand what you’re doing, why you’re doing, etc, or even if they’re supportive, they probably don’t understand the depth. So that you are dealing with really complex problems that you’re not necessarily equipped with.
Because they just happen to be really complex problems and that can feel very isolating and it can lead to burnout. So one of the so like, when-when I identified this problem, I was thinking okay, what could I do so that people avoid some of the mistakes that everyone else is kind of doing anyway in this field.
So while our organizations and situations are extremely unique, because of you know, the culture of the specific company or the industry or our markets and so on, and so on. There are many bits we repeat as mistakes, each of us in our own journey. And I was thinking, Okay, how can we avoid those mistakes because of change initiatives in general in DNI or not they fail at a rate of 70%.
So having that in mind, and then the emotional side of things, I was thinking, how about what if like, I can provide some kind of emotional support to the DNI champions, and create some kind of, I don’t know, space or platform or whatever, where they can share their learnings or their mistakes, you know, so we can avoid those mistakes. And also we don’t get to burnout. We don’t get to their own IMO like diversity fatigue, but we actually can have them, you know, come in heal and doing what they’re doing.
And this is how I came up with the idea for a global online community for DNI champions. And Tom Shaw who you mentioned that the start is, is a member of the community. And they’re corporates, NGOs, experts. They’re also few individuals who are very passionate about DNI like him. And, you know, I mentioned its global. So you know, it covers a wide range of countries like the US, South Africa, a bunch of countries, in Europe and so on. And it’s cross-industry.
So people have an opportunity to share it’s like an online platform and her samples. Tom posted today amazing resources on empathy and empathy awareness of like, well, this is just such a, you know, such a gem to be able to look at all of this and he has composed for the rest of the community to have access to this.
And then for the emotional piece, once a month, we have a call and people can join and share you know, what they have been up to or see what the others are up to. And that could be maybe they learned something achieved something launched something or they just had a really rough week or month. So the healing process is it’s a shared process. So it’s like peer to peer support.
Sometimes I joke and I say that it’s AA for DNI champion. So you know, you would have like a terrible day or whatever. Maybe you have been working really hard on a project and then something goes wrong in the organization and you feel disgusted, maybe betrayed, appalled or just you know, just disappointed and you want to talk about it and you’re not sure who to go to because if you go to your colleagues that are not as involved as you are emotionally.
They’re like, Okay, I get it. This is disappointing, but I don’t think it’s such a big deal. Do you know what I mean? So you need, it’s like telling non-entrepreneurs, how hard it is to be an entrepreneur they would like, yeah, let’s say parenting is also hard. Why do you complain about this specific thing? And you’re like, no, but it’s not saying parenting is easier. It’s just this is different. It’s hard in a different way, you know what I mean?
So it’s similar, you know, you can have people you can share with people who will not, but when they not who like, yeah, they know exactly what I’m going through, and it feels better and I can, you know, enjoy my weekend, because I just, I just, you know, had a chance to vent out and share it with others and you know, on the bright side, maybe they had some successes and we can just keep going instead of people are burning out and then leaving. You know, deciding not to champion DNA anymore and not, you know, not like their values have changed, but not to invest their time in this.
Dave: Yeah, somebody else can do this now I’ve been.
Vessy: And you know, and that’s, that’s fine. That’s a personal choice. But what happens is that does open space for new people to come in and that’s great.
Dave: But all their learnings
Dave: And understanding are leaving.
Vessy: Exactly so we start from scratch. So that’s the points of the community and of course when people share their learnings and they share their journeys and the emotional journey as well. It’s much easier to create collaborations because all of this accelerates trust and learning.
Dave: How does that group work? Do you have events is that what you?
Vessy: So there are three parts of it. There is an online platform, then there’s the the the the monthly member calls. Our next one is this Friday. So everyone joins and you know, we just chat for an hour. It’s not too structured in terms of agenda is more like, Hey, what do you know, tell us what, what you’ve been up to.
And then we also have invite-only events, and there throughout the year. So for example, this year, I had an event in Dublin in January, and April, it was in Sofia in Bulgaria. The next one is in Berlin in September, and the following one will be in San Francisco in January.
Dave: Okay, that’s great, because I was gonna ask, Was this an Ireland thing or international thing?
Vessy: Yeah, no. So the community is global. TUm, the records that I do are international, it will be hard to cover every single country. Yeah. Luckily with the community. There aren’t as much constraints around that. And the events are, you know, a few events per year. And, of course, will be hard for every single member to join all of the events. But you know, at least we can cover a few geographies in this way.
Dave: And where is this located? for people to find it?
Vessy: vessy.com so I’m Vessy, the founder of vessy.com. That’s vissy.com. Yeah, you can check it out. There’s, there are a few things about the community there the upcoming events, you can find out about the reports and all of that.
Dave: Yeah, I’ll definitely put all of that in the show notes. You said you’ve been doing this for quite a number of years. How did you get involved initially?
Vessy: So you know, when someone asked me like, when did you start with this? I say for about a year. But then it’s like, that’ll be like, hey, when did you start with this full time? We’re like having this title or whatever, you know, saying like, I’m a diversity and inclusion champion now, you know, but it all started for me.
Let me see how many years that is ago, 2007. So actually, towards the end of 2006, I was going to one of my best friends on campus, I was like, I was like, I would always go to her very angry complaining about something. But it was always the same thing that I would be complaining about, I’m frustrated well, and that was the, you know, what was triggering all of this was my interactions with a close friend of mine who was also my roommate at the time.
And totally like, you know, and you know, and she said this and blah and you know, etc, etc, etc. And my friend just looked at me, and she said, “Are you in love with her?” I said yeah. And it was literally like, Oh shit. I’m so I was 20 at the time. And that was it was, you know, at that very moment that I realized, Oh, actually, I’m not exactly who I always thought I was.
And it was eye-opening and my life felt like it made much more sense so many experiences before that felt a certain way or tasks that I had and now it was like, Okay, now it all make sense, but it also it was also an overwhelming wave of tasks. Now I need to deal with so many things. So you know, also for context, this is happening in Bulgaria and you know, Bulgaria can be great for many reasons. It’s not exactly the most tolerant place for LGBTQ people, especially back then.
So me realizing on that, I think it was like early November something in 2006, that I’m gay. I was, I couldn’t think of another person on campus, about a thousand people who is also gay. So like, I couldn’t think of someone I could talk to or like, it just so isolating in a very organized matter. I made a list of all of the people who I wanted to tell in person, you know, my best, you know, my closest friends then, you know, some acquaintances that I still wanted to tell in person.
Then, you know, obviously my parents and my sister, and then I reached out to the university was like a student magazine, one of my students. And I said, Hey, I want to have a public coming out. Do you want to tell my story? So from like, early November, I started checking things off my to-do lists of coming out.
And then by, let’s say, sixth of February, in 2008. So, like, about three months as a whole thing. I came out publicly in University, and I was like, Okay, good. I’m done. Not if I would very liberating it was super overwhelming as well, because I was scared how people would react, but I was very fulfilled, and I didn’t act out of a place of fear. I was like, owning it. And I didn’t want to allow anyone to use it as like a little dirty secret or whatever. And I don’t want to doubt myself because like, what if this person knows or you know, any of those thoughts, I didn’t want this to be part of me.
And I think that was a very healthy choice. It was it was fantastic. So since then, I was so I was never like an activist in the way like, you know, part of an NGO working for an NGO or, like necessarily protesting, you know, whatever busy schedule. It was, I was active through my own life choices and the visibility of those choices. So, if there is a company, Christmas party, I would always bring my girlfriend or, you know, as soon as I joined a company, they would probably know I’m gay already, because there would be alumni from my university and, you know, I’ve seen the news.
You know, the word will be out anyway. But, you know, I would I would still out myself in the first week, whatever. So it was, I think what I was doing was normalizing and through my day to day conversations, like how was your weekend? Oh, you know, me and my girlfriend that this. So it was just becoming, yeah, normal. And I think that that felt liberating and felt right.
And it also meant that I would have to own the story for the whole community and in companies where other people might not be as vocal or comfortable for whatever reasons, it could be their own choice, or it could be the context of their own team or maybe a little bit of a clash with the coaching in company, etc. So yeah, so I think that’s when my journey with diversity and inclusion started.
And you know what’s funny? So my parents are both teachers without as an artist and a teacher, and they had a students in their high school who was I think one of her parents was Bulgarian and the other one was from Cuba and she had a really like beautiful name and I have never met this person though just like mentioned at home like oh you know this person blah blah.
And I was thinking wow, that’s like that’s such an exciting life you know, it’s very, very interesting and I just have a normal family you know, a regular family regular life and then who knew that actually, you know, a few years later over like, things are not as regular as I thought. Yeah.
Dave: What practical things can small companies, startups that just have a few people. What can they do to help and grain that was in their DNI to make sure that they don’t get in that situation where they have that cultural depth in a year or two?
Vessy: Yeah. Especially in a small company, when you can do things that are not scalable. I think one on ones are critical. And not just the one on one, you know, for us to talk about the operational bits and stuff like we’re, as we are trying to figure out product-market fits or how to grow the business or what marketing channels work for us. We are also trying to figure out like, who you are and who I am.
And many startups, people are also very young and getting to know ourselves can be can be the opportunity or it could be our failure. As a startup, I have seen companies that have really done a great job connecting with their employees on a deeply emotional level, understanding their challenges, like many of the one on ones that I have had with people who have been reporting to me, are not really about work, we will talk about anything but work, it could be, like, you know, how the breakup with their partner went or what relationship they had with their parents.
And, and you know, someone would be like, Yeah, but that’s, that’s a work environment. Why are you talking about this? This is a waste of time. Well, actually, it’s not because it’s usually like maybe if you went through a breakup, you’re experiencing self-doubts right now. And it’s really hard to regain your confidence to be excellent at your job, even if you’re excellent in your job in general, or the dynamics that you have with your parents are probably affecting the dynamics with some of the employees.
And if you’re not aware, you’re just repeating those dynamics. And it doesn’t matter on what type of role you’re in those dynamics. It feels repetitive, and that’s draining. And if you don’t talk about it, if you don’t understand that it’s happening, but it’s also not happening because these are not your parents or siblings or you know, whatever your previous experience has been.
You can’t unfold this and solve it and work with it. So you’re just stuck. And I think that’s something that really limits our potential as professionals. It’s hard to be a manager if you haven’t dealt with your own shit, and it doesn’t happen overnight. So when people were injured 20s, you know, startup, the challenges, a lot of the challenges can be around those things just getting to know themselves, and one on ones can be critical. And they’re both helpful for that very purpose for both sides, the, you know, the start the founder, or, you know, maybe it’s like the tech lead and the other side.
And for those who are more experienced, let’s say someone who’s in their 40s, but they have people who are in their 20s reporting to them, it’s an opportunity to understand each other’s perspectives. And it feeds very much into the DNIA story. You know, you could use it for reverse mentoring, you can use it to just get completely new ideas.
For example, my girlfriend is 10 years younger than me. And the way she uses social media or just her phone, in general, is completely different from the way I use it. So for most people, we look, we do look the same age, we roughly look somewhere in the middle of, you know, the age gap that we have. But our behavior is extremely different in regards to technology.
And so imagine if you are on a team where people have 20 years or more of an age gap, you can learn so much from each other because the more experienced person has the wisdom, they have a different pace, they have tried so many more things. They don’t necessarily have all of the answers, regardless of what they’re telling, you know, maybe they’re aware of it and they talk about the vulnerabilities or they don’t, you know, it’s their choices there right.
But on the other side, when you were young and energized and you try more new technology or whatever you just go out with more you would have different ideas and ideas that probably the other person wouldn’t have. But you could also learn from their pace because you just maybe want to do a lot of things and just and that’s also not scalable. So, you know, let’s meet somewhere in the middle, have a steady pace and try new things, and use the knowledge of, you know, maybe a couple of decades in the workforce, but also, yeah, just not just do things the way we do things here.
Dave: That’s one thing that we try really hard within our company to do is to make sure that we don’t do anything because that’s what we’ve done. I mean, you know, we’re still young, the company, I’m not in my 40s now, and I barely know myself. I try really hard to keep learning and growing, but I don’t know anything. I can tell you a million mistakes I’ve made over time and I try not to repeat the mistakes but I nobody knows anything. We’re all just kind of floating along trying our best. So I don’t know, I don’t know what age you get to be a grown-up. I sure don’t feel like one yet.
Vessy: You know, I think it took me about 10 years of work experience to figure out that no one knows what they’re doing. They’re just, you know, trying their best. And it doesn’t matter if they’re the CEO of a bank or you know, the youngest employee in a startup or whatever. Everyone is just trying to make it work.
Dave: It’s like, in school. I don’t know if your books were like this, but the teachers edition, always had the answers in the back of the book.
Vessy: No, we did not have that.
Dave: Well that’s what I guess I always assumed being grown-up was is that you had the answers. Nobody’s got any answers. Everybody’s just got questions and probably some Yeah, that’s not gonna work because every other time I’ve tried that, I fall into my face. So I guess, hoping that there were answers in the back of the book when you got older, but help and so far I haven’t found the answers, but I’m not going to stop looking.
Vessy: I think it’s a, it’s a very good comparison. I felt that, you know, like in school, if you study hard and you understand the logic of things, you can solve a math problem or you know, you can write an essay. So, with some discipline, and maybe some self reflection, whatever, some hard work, you can make it and then, you know, starting, you know, my first job and then second and so on.
I’ve been in quite a few companies I actually figured out that that’s not how it works. It isn’t just about the hard work or the support. It’s much, much more complicated. And yeah, no one tells you like, because it’s cool. If you do x and y, you get the score. But in life, if you do, you know, X and Y it actually changes. Maybe this time will work and other time won’t work. And it’s, it’s not everything is about AB testing and experiments like marketing experiments and so on.
It’s, it’s just much more complex. So I think I also felt similar to you, a bit cheated. That I knew how things work in life with hard work and discipline, you know, things happen, and I was like, nope, it’s something else and I don’t know what I’m doing. Let’s hope for the best.
Dave: Absolutely. How can you help increase the diversity and inclusion for roles that you don’t really get that many diverse applicants for? So, I’ve posted a number of technical jobs, and there are very few female applicants. Very few. Like even interviewing 100% of the female applicants, they’re still maybe, you know, 1% of the interviewees. So what can we do?
Vessy: So, it sounds like you know where to post your job ads and gets the other parts of the talent. How about just go somewhere else? Because if we post our jobs in the places where we don’t get, you know, candidates from underrepresented groups that you know, diverse skin whatever you want to call it, then that’s just the wrong place to get them. Like we cannot, like if you post one job and you get three, let’s say, female engineers, it’s not like if you post nine, or like three jobs and you get three times more, etc, etc. I probably did the math wrong. I’m actually good in math. I think you’ve got the logic ignore it.
But it’s no, just probably the female engineers hang out somewhere else. So that would be one thing. So do you go to those places? Do you know where they are? Where they do you talk to them? So that’s right. So you know, before we started the episode, he said that you have some women in your own you’re on your team. So where do they go like literally where do they hang out? And maybe not only networking or tech events or startup events, like, even if you want Yeah, maybe like going to bars where they hang out with would be a bit weird.
But I think you see, you see where I’m like, where I’m going like if it was your customers, you would go where they go, you ask them, How did you hear about me, but also what podcasts do you listen to? So maybe you can, you know, advertise on those podcasts. Similarly with them, like, treat them as a segment, the way you treat a segment among your customers, treat them as like, you know, different segments in you know, among your candidates and see where those candidates specifically come from.
Are there universities that would give you a better reach or you want a mentor, like startup weekends or, you know, whatever works for you for a specific role. But, yes, you won’t probably get enough diverse candidates as applicants. And that will happen for more than one reason. It isn’t just about how many people are in, you know, the talent pipeline, whatever. Men are more likely to apply. And they apply for jobs even when they don’t meet their requirements. Something that you could do is see how you can make your job descriptions more inclusive.
So I’m not just talking about the languages that you use. It could be how many requirements do you have? How about just a list really, the absolute must-have so instead of putting down 10 requirements, and then five, you know, for like extra, you know, bonus points, type of requirements, how about you just put five, the five that actually matter to you. To be honest, it’s probably not 15, they’re probably five critical ones to put those five.
Because when men look at those requirements, they’re like, I have two or three, I’ll be fine with the rest and they apply. When women look at it, you’re like, well, that’s 10 plus five, for bonus points. I need a few of them, you know, the main requirements, none of the bonus points, the obviously will give it to someone who has the bonus points. I don’t cover all of their requirements, so they’ll just skip.
But also, you know, using more masculine language, like, you know, talking about achievements, targets, etc, versus talking about more feminine language such as collaborate, help, and so on. There are many tools online that can help you neutralize the language a little bit so it feels more inviting.
So yeah, I’ll say look at yourself. Really like n the mirror, where do you go which are the events where you go, just you know sitting in the office waiting for applications will not change the results because you were doing the same thing. And in you know in in marketing or sales or engineering if we keep doing the same thing that the results won’t change. So I do think it will change.
And any focus on the job ad as well. Simplify, that doesn’t mean to decrease the requirements, but to make it more accessible, and I think that would be a good starting point. But talk to people and see what’s stopping them. imposter syndrome is huge. And another thing is, check your own biases. There are online tools that can help you with that and but also like educate yourself on unconscious biases in general see, like, guess your, you know, a young startup but how can you like, is there a process? How consistent are the experiences that the different applicants have?
Because usually in a startup, we might be like, Hey, I’ll have them I’ll have a coffee with this candidate. We ask them, you know, five questions that are very different from the five questions, we ask the next candidate, and then it’s hard to compare them. And then it’s completely up to like, coach or fits. Which is, it can be first based on the gut feeling instead of actually comparing values and culture fits can become an excuse for unconscious biases that we have.
So yeah, I think that will be also very helpful. So what’s your process? And what changes can you make? So that it’s not only let’s say, male engineers, who decide if this person goes from stage one to stage two and so on, you know, in this particular example,
Dave: That’s really good information. Is there anything else about your work recently that we haven’t covered? Because I kind of run out of questions for my list. I mean, I could talk to you for hours. I really could. But, you know, we’re nearing an hour now. So, if there’s anything key that I missed out on asking you.
Vessy: I would be curious. You know, and that’s more for the listeners. Um, yeah, like, as we’re entering the second half of the year. I’d be curious who among you are doing work related to DNI in some capacity. Like, I’ll be working on the next report very soon. The one for 2020. And, yeah, it will be like feel free to reach out and it’ll be great to talk to some of you. And hear how you approach things because these are like diversity and inclusion is such a complicated area with so many variables, so many layers.
And it’s very helpful when we can show how different how it’s tackled in different situations and not tackled in the way, like, done. Now we’re done. And that’s it. Let’s see, we’ll see what people were trying. So yeah, so if you feel free to reach out at [email protected] And just give me a shout out.
Dave: Great. Yeah, I’ll add all your details. And so vessel.com is the best place to get you or is there a social media platform that like, are you on Twitter?
Vessy: Yeah, I’m on Twitter, LinkedIn. Most you know, all of the places but yeah, Twitter, LinkedIn would be probably best, or just over email.
Dave: Okay. Cool. Well, thank you so much for joining us. This was really good. I learned quite a few things that I think we can actually do, especially when we go looking for additional engineers.
Vessy: Awesome. Thank you so much for having me.
Dave: It was a pleasure. And thank you all for listening.
Until next time remember any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.