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Folks want a goal they can get behind. And so getting clear on where you are, and then setting a quantitative target on where you want to be is a great way to elevate the weightiness of your diversity efforts, to set goals that are as strategic, and as objective as any other business goal. I would say that is step one.

In this episode

How do you get a whole organization behind the ‘why’?

Erin Thomas is the VP, Head of Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging at Upwork, the world’s work marketplace that connects businesses with independent professionals around the globe. 

On today’s episode, Erin shares exactly how Upwork doubled their Black employee representation in just two years. 

She shared what programs were put in place to ensure trust-building and employee development, and how she got the whole organization behind the why.

Erin discusses the impacts a hybrid workplace has on diversity and she shares what hiring tactics organizations can implement to ensure equal opportunities. 

Tune in to hear all about Erin’s leadership journey and the lessons learned along the way!


Like this episode? Be sure to leave a ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ review and share the podcast with your colleagues.


03:00

Getting folks behind decisions

08:52

What is Juneteenth?

10:55

Framework for doubling Black representation across all levels

16:08

Internal community building

21:54

Three dynamics of Black employee development plan

29:02

Articulating the “Why” behind DEI

31:36

Does hybrid work make DEI easier, or harder?

35:21

Tactical hiring advice


Resources


Transcript

Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 0:58

Erin, welcome to the show.

Erin Thomas (Upwork)  02:28

Thank you so much. It’s great to be here.

Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app)  02:29

Yeah, very excited to have you here. I know you’ve had a pretty extensive leadership career, you’ve worked at paradigm US Department of Energy. And today you’re head of diversity, inclusion and belonging at Upwork. So there’s a lot for us to dig in. But one of the areas that we wanted to start with is, if you look back to when you first started managing and leading teams, do you remember some of the early mistakes that you made that maybe you make a little bit less of today?

Erin Thomas (Upwork)  03:00

Sure, of course they do. Big and small. You know, I think hindsight bias is a very real thing. And something I’ve been thinking about recently is my manager, who was the equivalent of the CEO at the US Department of Energy, who, you know, in a long feedback, conversation, man, let me just like set the stage, you know, he’s a leader that I really liked and respected and trusted and still do to this day. But you know, he kind of shared with me some feedback, that ruffled me quite a bit. And he said something to the extent of like, you don’t always have to prove prove everything, you know, or give away the answers. And I felt like he was telling me to water myself down or dumb myself down. And I think, you know, this many years later, probably a decade later, I realized that I think what he was trying to do, from his very high up seat, was preparing me for the fact that, you know, motivating people, and getting them behind ideas and change requires them to have kind of a seat at the table. And it requires them to be a part of the solution. And I think it was really helpful advice that I couldn’t really appreciate at the time, because, you know, for more context, I’m a PhD social psychologist, it’s like one of the most pretentious fields there is, you know, and so I was rewarded for a very long time for sharing stats and proving everything I had read and having a million references for every, you know, data point in every conversation. And I think what he was really trying to do was teach me the art of leadership and getting folks behind decisions. And that was a skill set that I didn’t learn in school and in my first role out of school, you know, I think I hit some hurdles trying to just kind of tell people, everything that they should care about are everything they should do, and expect them to follow the numbers but we know that the it’s not what motivates people, it’s not what incentivizes people, and so it’s coaching and I think it’s a mindset shift that I carry with me for a couple of years that now I really value, and I definitely understand what he was trying to say, there.

Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app)  05:06

That’s awesome. And so this was a decade ago. And it’s remarkable that you still remember that and still think about it. So I guess let’s talk about what changed. So what are some, like maybe practical ways that you may approach communicating with your teams or motivating them differently? Knowing this?

Erin Thomas (Upwork)  05:26

Sure, you know, I’m in the diversity, inclusion and belonging space. And a lot of that is, is really core change management where and I think one thing that I’ve gotten really deaf dad is having lots of irons in the fire. And so I’m not so you know, how then on one specific effort, I’ve got so many different sort of work streams going at one time that it allows me to kind of ease up and relax and read the room, right. So you really think about a change curve, and the fact that folks are at kind of different points in that experience and different points in that journey. I don’t think it’s possible to appreciate that and really meet people where they are, without having, you know, lots of opportunities to drive impact. I think if you’re overly invested in one idea overly invested in one effort, you can hold on too tight and actually take a lot of the ease out of leadership. And so, you know, to your question around communications, a lot of what I try to do is meet folks where they are, come from a place of ease, give a ton of opportunities for folks to engage, really open myself up to dissenters or folks who might be on the fence and bring everyone along, no matter where they are sort of in their own evolution and where they are in sort of the change curve. And I think that’s really important, because, you know, workforces move kind of in waves, and not everyone’s gonna move at the same time, at the same pace or in the same direction. And so being nimble, and being able to kind of take the perspective of different audiences is really, really important. In order to again, start from where folks are, and get them just one step closer towards what you’re trying to get them to do or believe or, say, or an act. And so I think that’s one piece of kind of, you know, leadership in terms of strategy in terms of initiatives that were taking great care at, at Upwork. And other roles as well.

Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app)  07:15

I think that makes a lot of sense. So in terms of the not, you know, coming in and showing everyone what you know, so you now take more of a coaching approach and try and understand where people are. So if you know the answer to something, and maybe you see that people are going in the wrong direction, and you know, they’re going in the wrong direction, how do you play that?

Erin Thomas (Upwork)  07:41

Well, I think the definition of wrong is really important. So wrong, for me used to be not mine. And that’s what I’m talking about getting away from. But, you know, if someone or someone’s are moving towards an outcome or a decision, that’s going to harm people, I, of course, intervene. And I of course, redirect, and I share information about what they might be missing and share my point of view and my experience, but if folks are kind of going, you know, perhaps a nonlinear path or a slower path towards shared goals, I think that’s what I’m talking about is sometimes getting more okay with that, getting more okay with the fact that, you know, sometimes change is slower, but and folks are really owning, you know, change owning decisions, the change might be more sticky, more sustainable than if I had just given you know, a 50 point plan of what everyone should do. Right when I sat or right when I thought it was right. And so I like to coach and steer. I also like to get out of the way folks might get there on their own. And, you know, I think, importantly, you know, to be a trusted adviser to my clients, which is, you know, what I call my colleagues, I do steer them away from any like problematic landmines that might have effects might have results that are counter to what they’re trying to do.

Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app)  08:52

That makes a lot of sense into. I think, you know, what’s relevant to the audience here is we’re releasing this episode, right around Juneteenth. And maybe you can explain to the audience about 40% of our listeners are located in in the US, but you know, 60% or not. So, what is Juneteenth?

Erin Thomas (Upwork)  09:13

Yeah, it’s a great question. And it’s, it’s a holiday that’s become, I think, more familiar, more popular in the United States over the past couple of years. And it’s the day in which every single enslaved person in this country actually was informed that the Emancipation Proclamation, you know, authored by Abraham Lincoln had actually been signed. And if you think about that time, you know, mid 19th century, that action had been taken, but not everyone was educated or aware of it. And so you had years upon years in which folks were still living on plantations and you know, giving unpaid labor without knowing that the it was their right to leave those premises and leave those situations. And so, I really think about Juneteenth as you know, celebration, emancipation and Liberation Day, the day in which you know, all Americans were actually free because they knew it. And I think it’s really important that companies honor and reflect on, you know what that moment meant to particular for black folks in this country, of course, but also for, you know, broader inclusion and integration of the diversity of the American populace.

Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app)  10:25

That’s a really good explanation. And it’s really good to explain that to the audience. So let’s talk about some of the work that you’ve done around black representation within your company up work. So since your involvement, you’ve effectively doubled the representation in two years, that’s not an easy thing to do. And I’m not sure that all companies have been as successful, maybe you can walk us through what were some of the things that you did to achieve those kinds of results

Erin Thomas (Upwork)  10:55

share. And importantly, I’ll say we doubled black employee representation across all levels. And that includes leadership, right? You know, I think a lot of companies might set representation or diversity goals, and yet, you’ll see sort of pockets of representation, or you’ll see kind of disparate diversity across levels. And so I’m really proud of the spread of black representation over the past couple of years. And I think there’s three particular things that we’ve done really well, and really consistently, that have yielded these results, we really think about diversity as an outcome. And so some of the inputs that I’d love to share are, you know, number one, really garnering trust with our black employees. And, you know, I just don’t take that for granted. I think it’s really important for companies and the leaders, they’re in to think about the fact that all workers are coming to your workplace with, you know, a wealth of experience, and not all of those experiences were positive. And so if you think about the black experience, in any country, it’s typically one that is not always positive, especially when it comes to professional experience. And folks carry that with them into your workplace. And so you kind of inherit the ghosts of the past. And so coming in as our first you know, head of diversity, inclusion and belonging, I didn’t take it as a given that I had trust with black employees, just because I’m black. And just because I’m in this role, didn’t mean that I automatically had currency with folks. And so it was really important to me and important to them, that I build that trust. And one effort in particular that had quantitative results in doing so was right before the world shut down with COVID. In February of 2020, we had every single black employee in our company, together in Chicago, we call it the black excellence Summit, and it was a day just to be black at work. And, you know, that sounds very basic, but to be able to be afforded this opportunity to have really deep, rich, candid conversations with other folks who are more likely to, you know, understand and to connect with your experience, to celebrate, you know, the black experience in our workplaces, but also talk about the hard stuff talk about, you know, what was holding us back from filling our potential was an effort and investment and an overture that I think really demonstrated to employees that we cared about their outcomes. And if the work that we were doing wasn’t performative, wasn’t surface wasn’t diversity theater, but was earnest strategic work. And like everything we do in our dibs function, we measure the impact of that day, we found that every single one of those employees reported that that one day one day off site, increase their trust, and my function in the diversity inclusion and belonging function. And 90% of employees said increase their trust in HR more broadly. And that’s so important, if folks don’t trust their actual people function, they don’t trust the actual individuals who are there to help make them successful, you’re never going to get traction with your broader, you know, strategy or efforts. So garnering trust was number one, I think, number two was really paying attention to retention. I think a lot of companies over index on recruiting, which is number three for us, but it wasn’t number three, sort of an order of events or an order of priority. We really wanted to focus on making sure our house was in order before we invited more folks over right, we needed to make sure that our environment was supportive of engaging for inspiring for folks from all backgrounds, and in particular, you know, black folks, and so, you know, a lot of efforts there around deep dives and conversations with the managers and leaders of our black employees. We had a black belonging breakfast series with Dr. Courtney mcleaney, where we really unpacked you know, systems thinking and anti racism and how it is that these managers could show up in ways that countered the status quo and made space for their black employees to be successful. We also built glow up and I’m really, really Part of this program, it was an effort in fall of 2021, we brought together all of our leaders of color, including black leaders, of course. And our entire intention was to build a community building experience. So not leadership development, not, you know, personal development, or professional development writ large are really about connecting these leaders with each other. And I think, especially in a remote environment, it’s really important to do so folks can really see reinforced, they have a community of others who are like them, and who understand them. And so with this globe experience, we found that the leaders who went through that program, were 1.7 times more happy at our workplace than leaders who were eligible, but didn’t opt in. So really important metrics there. And the last thing is recruiting, you know, getting really intentional about passing a wide net, around diverse candidates slates around finding talent, where they live, expanding the states in which we can hire so that we’re actually going to where, you know, black folks live and work. And all of that combined has really helped us, you know, keep our commitments. And I’m really proud of that,

Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app)  16:08

it’s super interesting how you put recruiting as number three. Yeah. And, you know, you started obviously, with building trust, and then you really focus on retention as like the key metric. Because, again, if you have a leaky boat, I mean, you can fill it as much as you want. But so I think that’s awesome. You approached it in that way. And, you know, if it’s, I guess, like, even from the outside world, if people see that it’s a place that you are having more diverse employee base, and those employees are not leaving, then that is a place that they too, will want to work. And if you have happy employees will, of course, they’re going to talk about that company, with their friends and their network. And so that all makes a huge difference to

Erin Thomas (Upwork)  16:53

100%. I think a lot of companies and a lot of like leaders undervalue the prominence and the kind of reverb of these whisper networks. And, you know, in this specific case of black tech workers, it’s a really small community and folks talk. And so, you know, I think the question is, what sort of story do you want them telling about your workplace. And so, you know, you’ve really got to invest in that internal experience, and that, again, really ricochets outward. So you know, starting from the inside out, has always been our framing around our diversity efforts. It’s

Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app)  17:25

very refreshing. And you know, believe it or not, we’ve talked about diversity inclusion a lot on this show. But I haven’t heard about it from the the way that you approach it before, it was always about, you know, candidate sourcing, make sure that you have a diverse, you know, sourcing pool and be very proactive about making it more diverse if you have under representation in the funnel, which all makes sense. Nobody’s saying don’t do those. But it’s

Erin Thomas (Upwork)  17:52

right. It’s all really important. Yeah. And also, right, to your point, start at the sort of end start at what you want to be true. And I even think about it financially, where I mean, frankly, I’ve been in a lot of and consulted for a lot of organizations where they’ve so over indexed on hiring without this attention on the culture and the environment. They’re losing money. You know, hiring diverse talent is expensive, and folks are in high demand. And so, my goodness, I mean, why wouldn’t you want to kind of secure that investment and really set yourself and your workers up for success?

Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app)  18:27

I do want to double click on this idea of the it’s almost like the community development aspect that you had. So what would you say was the main objective of that community day that you put together?

Erin Thomas (Upwork)  18:39

Yeah, so we had the day, back in 2020. And then we had this 14 week long program, and 2020 Oh, wow. Yeah. So I’ll speak to the program itself, you know, our entire vision was to kind of transform this cohort, sort of this collection of leaders into a true community. And to really build ties, build relationships, build an emotional attachment to each other. And to sort of this, you know, glow up, touch point and experience not, was our primary focus that was our Northstar. We partnered with Harvard Business publishing for this effort. And it was a really rich experience iterating and tinkering with, you know, the session design week over week, we were meticulous, we spent hundreds of hours on this program, I want to be clear, it took a lot of time and care. But we did this because we ourselves, even as designers and developers of this experience, had to make sure we weren’t falling into kind of common, you know, lnd traps or reinforcing the very things we were trying to dismantle in terms of, you know, how we thought about how we assumed people’s experiences were would go and so that was always our guiding force was we’re not here to educate. These are leaders. Again, this is not a manager program. It is for directors and above. So these are folks who already have attained that capital. Oh, and so really trusting that they, as leaders, you know, know what they’re about. Know, in a sense, you know what their goals are and know what their purpose is, but that they might need a community internally to validate, you know, their experiences, to help sort of humanize their experiences, and frankly, importantly, to serve as a network of collaborators and peers that you might not otherwise see. Or have connections to, especially in a virtual environment. And so, you know, we’re really we’re hyper focused on community. And the skills building. Yeah, the skills building in the development came along with it. But we didn’t center that we centered the connections. Yeah.

Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app)  20:45

Hey there before we went to the next part of the interview, quick interjection to tell you about one of the internet’s best kept secrets, the manager TLDR newsletter. So every two weeks, we read the best content out there, the greatest articles, the advice, the case studies, whatever the latest and greatest is, we summarize it, and we send it to your inbox, we know you don’t have the time to read everything. But because we’re doing the work, we’ll summarize it and send it to your inbox once every two weeks. And the best news is completely free. So go on over to fellow dot app slash newsletter, and sign up today. And with that said, let’s go back to the interview. So let’s talk about, you know, employee development, I know that you had built a development program that had three specific dynamics, feedback, learning, development, coaching. And lastly, there is role expectation, clarity and consistency, I would love for you to describe that development program. And you know, what the elements were and how people can maybe learn from that and create something like that internally?

Erin Thomas (Upwork)  21:54

Sure, well, this actually was derived from internal research, you know, everything we do on the people side, and on the diversity side is data driven. So, you know, we’re really hyper focused on a couple of key outcome metrics that concerned us and one particular was around, you know, two years ago, black employee attrition. And so we needed to really understand why why were folks leaving? What are the themes? And what can we get in front of, again, to this point around retention? And how do we get in front of, you know, turnover, and keep folks happy and developing. And so you know, what you’re talking about was really a strategic approach and assessment, and then, you know, strategy around each of those buckets. And so, you know, when it comes to feedback, a lot of training, lots of case studies around the types of feedback that we saw, folks getting that wasn’t necessarily going to help them grow, wasn’t necessarily going to help them advance and really dismantling that with, you know, the folks giving the feedback peers and managers like to make sure that the feedback was high quality, high volume, fair, proactive, as balanced as it needed to be, and direct, right, everyone wants to know, if what they’re doing is having an impact or not, and, you know, anything that’s getting in the way of them having that clarity was important for us to, to lubricate in terms of, you know, learning development, you know, lots of work from our organizational effectiveness team, lots of work from our HRBPs, and lots of work from our company leaders as well to make sure that, you know, where folks were doing, they’re collaborating, they’re getting the skills, the education, the advancement that they needed, in order to keep current with our workplace needs. And then when it comes to, you know, role excitation and clarity, I really think about that as foundational, right? Folks don’t know, like, what success looks like, if they don’t know what the pathways are for them to formally advance and grow. It’s very demotivating. It’s very, you know, it’s a very wary situation that not everyone’s going to trust. And so, you know, a lot of diversity work, I think it’s about getting foundations in place. So that folks again, can trust believe and have it be true, that there is equal opportunity, and that they will have a chance to be successful if they put in the objective work that we’ve decided, you know, ahead of time, is what they need to put in in order to have impact. Erin, I

Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app)  24:12

want to understand, you know, especially around the royal clarity as you think about this development program, how is this different than say, what you rolled out for the rest of the company? Or, you know, was it because the sense that I’m trying to get as this is all really good stuff? Was it something special only for, like, minorities at Upwork? Or were elements of this present for all employees at the company?

Erin Thomas (Upwork)  24:40

It’s a really good question. You know, my role is to really focus on folks from marginalized community focus on folks who you know, if left to sort of chance may get left behind because we know that, you know, we operate in an unfair world and an unfair you know, and workplace environment if intention is not taken and so the question is interesting, because I really cater to, again, folks from marginalized populations. And yet the work that we do and like the programs that we build, have a lot of ingredients that we can and do scale at up work. And so it’s kind of neat and kind of fun for me to build and center, the most marginalized or the most likely to be left behind. Because when you do that, you actually do build solutions that are universal. And so I almost think about kind of our diversity arm as a testbed where, you know, if it doesn’t work, for instance, if it’s not successful, for folks who are the most marginalized, it’s probably not going to be successful for you know, the broader community. And so I think about the diversity work we do is kind of the strongest proof of concept because, you know, sometimes what happens is that you’ve got sort of common pain points, common weaknesses in your organization, and the outcomes of those weaknesses disproportionately hold back folks from certain backgrounds. And so when you build for them, you actually solve a lot of problems at once. So just to like, bring that home, you know, we share a lot of learnings, a lot of discoveries of our quote, unquote, dibs programs, with our sales team, with our org effectiveness team, which I mentioned earlier, because, you know, this is a cool incubator, and which were yielding really, really strong quantitative results. And, you know, our learnings around program design and development are ones that we want to share with our broader workforce, even though they’re not our, our broad constituents.

Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app)  26:36

That makes a lot of sense. And I liked how you use the term that it’s almost like a proof of concept, it’s almost like a laboratory, you know, starting there, and if the programs are not going to work for the marginalized communities, you know, then we’ve got a problem to begin with. So but if you start there, sure, it can be generalized to everyone, but it’s a very interesting place to start. And you’re almost making it, you know, potentially more difficult for yourself, because like, it will take more effort to, like build a program that is going to work for, you know, people who maybe hasn’t worked for in the past. And so it’s actually a really good approach. I wonder if like, that’s a thing that, you know, companies will end up doing, in general, just when they think about development programs,

Erin Thomas (Upwork)  27:23

you know, I hope so I think it’s really interesting how, and kind of where diversity offices and functions are positioned within organizations. And we’re seeing org models kind of evolve, especially over the past couple of years. But I think one thing that is true still is that, you know, a lot of this work to your point gets sort of cordoned off to the diversity team, when ideally, it really lives within, you know, the other core teams, the l&d team, the broader, you know, HRBP function, except that a lot of folks in those functions have not been trained with this equity lens with this systems lens. And so I kind of dream of the day where we have career pathways from dei or dibs functions into sort of these, quote, core HR and people functions, because I think folks who have been well trained and well experienced on that dei side have a lot of really critical skills that are hard to come by, sometimes in a broader people function. I also think about a model where, you know, my function really kind of builds these pilots, and then we send them off to scale within these larger functions that are better resourced, better, mechanized, and reach a larger audience. And that’s something we’ve played around with already at Upwork. But I think there’s just a lot of room for, you know, dei to get better integrated and foundational to a lot of organizations practices.

Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app)  28:41

Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. And, you know, in business, we often talk about, you know, motivating leading teams, it’s always about making sure that people can get behind the why. And I know that this is something that you emphasize as well. So what is the how do you articulate the why behind the work that you do to your teams, the company?

Erin Thomas (Upwork)  29:02

Sure. Well, I think about our vision, the vision for my function is dignity, fairness, purpose and community at the center of every working moment, and again, it kind of goes back to what we talked about earlier, when you leave things to chance, those sentiments, those experiences don’t always get characterized in those ways. And so we’re spending lots of time and attention. I think, just making the workplace really human, and really accessible for all. And you know, I think about the why. A lot of what I come back to just you know, in this day and age, the fact that when we do this, well, everybody wins. Everybody benefits. Because, you know, just as we talked about with that lnd example, when we do this well for some, and for those some who are at the margins, this scales out in ways that benefit everyone. I think we also kind of in this space, don’t talk enough about the true benefits of diverse teams and diverse culture. operation, there’s really, really great research and writings from one of my former mentors that Dearly Departed, Katherine Phillips, where she shares a lot of great insights around the fact that even anticipating, collaborating with folks who seem different from you, actually changes how we orient ourselves around problems. So if you think about it, it’s like, if you are you, if you’re, you know, planning to go into a meeting with someone that, you know, feels like or, you know, as a contrarian, you’re gonna prepare differently, you’re gonna kind of, you know, anticipate their pushback, you’re gonna dig into the counter points. Whereas when you go into, you know, a setting with your closest work, buddy, you kind of phone it in, because you know, they’re going to agree, you know, they’re going to be kind of, you know, a mind meld with you. And so, when we think about diversity, again, everyone wins. And I think really reinforcing that reinforcing the benefits to everyone involved, is an important why proposition, you know, as we come out of the last two years at this really troubling pandemic, and think about the fact that we’re all connected, that makes

Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app)  31:05

a lot of sense. And you talk about the pandemic, and coming back from it. And now, I mean, it’s unknown what the future of work will really look like, I feel like if you fast forward enough in time, maybe a couple of decades, who knows. But right now, it seems that everybody is thinking about hybrid work. Sure. And so this is actually a good question. Does hybrid make this like building a diverse workplace? An inclusive workplace? Does it make it easier? Or is it harder? Or how should we think about this?

Erin Thomas (Upwork)  31:36

I’ll give you a patented social psychologist response, which is, it depends. You know, like I, you know, it’s just so true. The context matters, right. And so, you know, certainly, as I’ve already shared, even at Upwork, we’ve seen that once we opened up new states from which to hire, once we, you know, enabled folks to work from more places, yeah, we were able to open up old talent pools that really have added to our diversity. So that’s really exciting. I also think about the fact and the research that shows that the folks who are most keen to kind of go back to in person are the folks who benefit from informal contact in an office setting. And those tend to be, you know, straight white men. And so, you know, a lot of counter research, if you will, from communities of color has shown that folks are loving being at home, because, you know, the cost of showing up to work is lower, you’re in one a safe, comfortable environment, hopefully, in your home or in a public space of your choosing. And you’re not having to manage impressions of yourself as much as he would do in person. And that’s a huge boon to folks who have never felt comfortable, or for whom, you know, being in an office comes with a high price, and takes a lot of discretionary effort that takes away from actual productivity. But I say it depends, because, you know, as we’ve already talked about, as well. It’s not a slam dunk. And I think a lot of care and intention has to go into how it is you build connection, build camaraderie, build community through a 2d screen, which is not natural. And you know, if that’s done well, do you think is very, very possible if companies are willing to invest the time attention to good virtual design? Yeah, I’m, you know, I’m a fan of this of this push to remote first and hybrid work. That’s why I work at Upwork, I firmly believe in what we’re doing. And I’ve seen the benefits in house and even on our marketplace, for folks who work from anywhere, you know, it’s liberating. I think it responds to this moment, kind of in our work revolution in which folks want more autonomy, more power, more control, and more, you know, again, liberation and freedom out of their outcomes. And, you know, the days of sort of being chained to a zip code or a Dask are just, I think, really behind us and really antiquated. So paying more attention to impact versus FaceTime, or these proxies that are not actually predictive of what folks produce is really exciting to me,

Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app)  34:11

I agree with you that you can’t just go remote and assume all your problems go away. So 100% agree with that. I will say though, that there is like, if you’re intentional about it, I do feel that it can get easier because, you know, previously if you had to be in an office and say you’re a smaller company with one headquarters and not like, you know, 30 of them, you know, geography doesn’t get in the way anymore, right? And so that used to be me, you mentioned zip code, like this is a fundamental factor. And I think I think the elements are there but obviously you have to do the work and what I like about everything that we’ve talked about, is I want to get some tactical advice on hiring and we’re gonna go there, but it is like the it is like the almost like the cheap question here because I get the sense that if you really want to get to succeed at this stuff, long term, you’ve got Got to do the hard work, you’ve got to build the trust, you’ve got to build the communities, the development programs, all the work that you’ve done, and then you can do some of these things. But for people who are also looking for, like, you know, some wins that you’ve had in hiring or some lessons that you’ve learned there, you know, what are some things that, you know, maybe we can think about in our own hiring programs?

Erin Thomas (Upwork)  35:21

Sure. I mean, I think one thing that’s really important is to get really clear on where you’re at, right. And if you don’t have a great hold on your data, I think that’s, you know, a big step for companies. And you know, for some smaller companies, it’s a bit of a challenge. But it is, in my view, really important to spend that time and energy, unpacking what exactly your hiring funnels have looked like, historically, or to begin tracking that, but began collecting candidate self ID data, so you get a sense and begin, you know, really auditing where you have opportunities to either at the very tippy top of the funnel source for more diversity. Or if you’re seeing leaks, kind of in your funnels, you know, after folks have qualified for the role, have those conversations and engaged in skill building for hiring decision makers. So a lot of the data I think, is really important, both for just clarity on where you are, and where you have opportunity. I think it’s also really important for that motivational piece, you know, folks want a goal they can get behind. And so you know, getting clear on where you are, and then setting a quantitative target on where you want to be is a great way also to elevate sort of the weightiness of your diversity efforts to set goals that are as strategic and as objective as any other business goal. So that I would say is step one. Yeah.

Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app)  36:41

Yeah. So you’re very data oriented, understand where you are? And down to the has it been, you know, like, has it been easy getting like an entire company, or an entire organization to change the hiring practice? Because obviously, there’s an education format? And are there almost like checklist items that people have to follow when it comes to hiring to make sure that they have a diverse hiring base? And I wonder how like, some of that stuff is either enforced or taught? Like, is everyone retrained?

Erin Thomas (Upwork)  37:16

Sure, yeah. And I would call our growth over the past couple of years a true evolution, I think we had solid foundations in place, but you know, a little more consciousness and a little more focus. And a little more precision has helped us get further. So I mean, one thing I’ll say is, you know, it starts with the recruiting team, I think there’s two things to say there. One is that we really don’t believe in, quote, diversity hiring. So you know, when I was over our talent acquisition function, one thing we talked about a lot was, you know, all hiring is diversity hiring, it’s not some side team’s special goal to you know, flood our pipelines with black and brown folks, everyone has a KPI around their, you know, top of funnel slates. So it’s everyone’s job. And, you know, that’s really important to get the sorcerer’s and recruiters behind. And what’s nice about that is, you know, folks in recruiting tend to be quite data driven, quite goals driven. And so again, giving a number and making that an expectation is really important. And then on the other kind of side of that, what’s also important is that, you know, everyone at the company sees themselves as a recruiter, you know, to your point around networks, and how people talk, there are a lot of low hanging fruit efforts that you can employ, to make sure that your employees are promoting your roles online, that they are thinking consistently and constantly about who’d be a great fit for your company. And maybe that’s not just for the roles that are open today. But in general for the skills and capabilities that you know, you’re growing into tomorrow. And so really mechanizing this sort of machine of like always be recruiting is important both for, you know, DEA, but I think also, especially for leaders, and for folks on the ground, who themselves can serve as effective magnets. And when they are thinking about diversity, you know, Pinterest show this really well, many years ago that just a reminder that, you know, networks are diverse, and that, you know, your primary networks are going to be more like you than your secondary or tertiary networks that you should think beyond the folks that first come to mind, again, is enough consciousness to help folks kind of cast a wider and more diverse net of referrals, and of folks that are drawing in to consider the company. So that’s really important. And you know, in addition to that kind of standardizing to your point, your processes and yeah, making them quite transparent and linear and clear, does help people reinforce behaviors. And so there’s a book that I love called The Checklist Manifesto, and it’s just really guided my diversity work. Because when you lay things out and really have folks engaged with tools that keep them honest and accountable for the order of events and the protocols that you’ve built with equity and diversity in mind, you see results and that’s really Exciting,

Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app)  40:00

that makes a lot of sense. And thanks for giving us some tips and tricks on the hiring front as well. You know, Erin, this has been an awesome conversation, we’ve talked about everything from, you know, building trust, employee development, the why behind what you’re trying to do. And of course, you know, a few tips and tricks on hiring as well. And even, you know, diving into the hybrid workplace and what impact that can have on building a more inclusive workplace. So one question that we like to ask as a final question from all the guests is for all the managers and leaders constantly looking to get better at their craft? Are there any tips, tricks, or final words of wisdom that you’d like to leave them with?

Erin Thomas (Upwork)  40:42

Sure, I’ll give maybe three tips, tactics and suggestions. One is get a therapist. And I think folks laugh when I say this, but I really mean it. You know, I think a lot of leaders consider or have coaches, and coaches are great, I have a coach as well, who really helps me tackle current day issues. But the issue with that, and only that is that you’ve if you have unresolved, you know, challenges from the past, what I have sometimes seen, especially in fast paced environments, and dynamic environments, is that you you get some projection, sometimes from managers and leaders, on to their employees. And I just say like, go get that resolved, go heal and come back stronger and more affirmed, because you, of course, will benefit. And I wish that for every manager and leader, but your employees will benefit too. And we really want folks working with and for us who are themselves who are bringing their unique assets and contributions. And if we’re sort of rubbing off on them in ways that are counter to their ability to contribute to our teams, we’re doing a disservice. So I firmly mean that especially after the past couple of years, I think everyone could benefit from a little bit of a therapy and guidance from a professional. Number two, I would say is to get really clear on who you want to be and then to act as if and so you know, this is work around purpose and work around really affirming how you want to show up in life, and what’s important to you and how you want to live and how work fits into that. And you know, a reference point there that I would recommend to folks is the author Amy Jen Su, she was a faculty member for our Co Op program, and she wrote a book called the leader you want to be and I thought it was really, really helpful for myself as sort of a participant in my own program. But we got great feedback as well from the other participants. So really mapping out, you know, where do your passions lie? Where are you most impactful? And what’s the extent or not to which your actions and behaviors actually align with what drives you and what benefits your organization and I think, you know, most of us know, notionally that there’s sometimes misalignments and mismatches. But really going through the tactical work of mapping that out for yourself. And getting really honest with yourself, I think, is a really good amount of introspection that every leader should embark upon. And then the last thing is what you’re already doing here, which is building community for leaders. Leadership is really lonely. And I think there’s a lot of power and safety in numbers. And it’s a lot of the work that I do at Upwork is just bringing folks together and letting them you know, connect and take it from there. I would recommend to any leader or manager to find those networks both internally and externally so that you can really grow your own personal practice, but also validate your experiences and have outlets for you know, sharing what’s top of mind for you. That’s really important. I think it’s really rewarding and can keep you on, you know, a track that helps you stay in management and leadership, because that’s really important too. So hopefully that’s helpful to your listeners.

Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app)  43:45

That’s great advice. Erin, thanks so much for doing this.

Erin Thomas (Upwork)  43:49

It is my pleasure.

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