Nailah Banks-Embden

Insider SVP of People & Culture Nailah Banks-Embden

Nailah Banks-EmbdenSVP of People & Culture

Today on Talk Talent To Me, we are joined by Nailah Banks-Embden, SVP of People and Culture at Insider. Nailah explains how she was able to introduce a culture of DEI hiring at Insider and how she was able to make culture a priority for the company. Nailah also delves into how Insider is going to focus on career development this year before giving us an overview of how they will help employees use their abundance of resources effectively.

She tells us how she knew that Insider was ready for a change and what that entails as well as who will be responsible for their future plans. Finally, Nailah tells us what her hopes are for the future of the company and gives a word of advice to people who aspire to forge their career in the same direction she has.

Episode Transcript


[00:00:05] RS: Welcome to Talk Talent to Me, a podcast featuring the most elite talent leaders on the front lines of modern recruitment.

[00:00:12] FEMALE: We actually want to understand the themes of someone’s life. We want to understand how they make decisions where they’re willing to take risks and what it looks like when they fail.

[00:00:22] RS: No holds barred, completely off the cuff interviews with directors of recruitment, VPs of global talent, CHROs and everyone in between.

[00:00:31] FEMALE: Once I went through the classes and the trainings and got the certifications through diversity inclusion, I still felt something was missing.

[00:00:39] MALE: Talent Acquisition. It’s a fantastic career. You are trusted by the organization. You get to work with the C-suite and the security at the front desk and everybody in between and everybody knows you.

[00:00:52] RS: I’m your host, Rob Stevenson, and you’re about to hear the best in the biz. Talk Talent To Me.


[00:00:58] RS: Joining me today on Talk Talent To Me is the SVP of People and Culture at Insider, perhaps better known to you as Business Insider, Nailah Banks-Embden. Nailah, welcome to the podcast. How are you today?

[00:01:10] NBE: Thanks, Rob. I’m doing great, looking at the weekend, so it can’t get better than that.

[00:01:15] RS: This is my last thing of the day. After this, I’m going to do whatever weekend things I can do, which probably will just be collapse in the couch and just stare off into the distance. How about you?

[00:01:23] NBE: Sounds a good weekend. Relax and enjoy the good weather that we’re having in Atlanta.

[00:01:30] RS: How is Atlanta these days?

[00:01:31] NBE: Well, we usually have a short spring and then a full-on summer for months. We got a little bit more spring, but summer is here, so it’s hot.

[00:01:41] RS: Yeah. Hotter than a tin roof usually is how I hear Atlanta described.

[00:01:44] NBE: That’s us.

[00:01:44] RS: I do love that town. I’ve only been there for work. When you go for work or conferences, you don’t often get to enjoy the town. It’s like you see a hotel and the inside of a conference hall, but in Atlanta, I made an effort to go a little further afield. I skipped the Coke Museum. I was like, that just feels like a walk through a century of marketing collateral.

[00:02:04] NBE: Tons of high fructose corn syrup.

[00:02:07] RS: Yeah, exactly. That was not part of the experience, but I ate really well. I saw some cool stuff in Atlanta. It’s a wonderful town and I hope to be there again soon. But in the meantime, maybe I’ll knock on your door then. In the meantime, though.

[00:02:19] NBE: Come on and visit. Come on down.

[00:02:20] RS: Love it. Before we get a chance to record live from Atlanta, I would love to just learn a little bit more about you, Nailah. Would you mind sharing a little bit about your background and how you wound up in your current role at Insider?

[00:02:30] NBE: Absolutely. I’ve been and have worked in HR for over 20 years. It’s been a long, winding journey, I’ll say. No straight path here. I started out in a small brokerage firm thinking that I wanted to be a stockbroker, but I quickly realized that that life was not for me. Luckily, while I was in grad school getting my master’s degree, I had an opportunity to do some coursework in HR and found it really interesting, just didn’t know how it fit into my plans.

When I had that revelation that I didn’t want to be a stockbroker, I approached the president of the company about switching years. I was studying for my Series seven license. I said, “Hey, this company is growing and you’ve got a need for HR administration, and we’ve got to be compliant, so can I help with that?” He was on board and it was really a grassroots experience in HR, where I got to build a lot of things from the ground up, it was hard, but things like the handbook and benefits program and building a small recruiting team, I didn’t realize then, but now I know that it was really foundational to my experience. From there, I moved on to larger companies where I was able to get field and corporate HR experience and really found a love for the media industry.

That’s really where I honed in on being a consultant and HR business partner and really wanting to partner with key stakeholders on moving their businesses in the direction of success. Recently a couple, maybe 18, 24 months ago, I decided I wanted to pursue a new role and really took the time to get clear first about what I wanted to experience. I knew that I wanted to lead a team. I wanted to be able to have influence in the decision-making process, all while working with a career coach. I don’t want to act like I did this alone. It was crucial to the process to have a sounding board and oftentimes a person who helped me push beyond my comfort zone.

Once I got clear on what I wanted to experience in my next role, I was actively looking, but the role just appeared. A friend of mine in my network said, “Hey, there is an SVP role at Insider that you might be great for.” After I talk myself out of it a little bit, I said, “What do I have to lose?” Wound up interviewing. Hit it off with the CPO and the rest is history. The last year has been really cool, getting a chance to see my ideas come to fruition. Things like a Leave Administration Program. We are about to embark on our first Internet or employee portal. So really getting to do a lot of cool things and lead an amazing team. That’s in a nutshell, it encapsulates 20 years in 2 minutes, but that’s the long, winding road.

[00:05:40] RS: Yeah. Thanks for sharing. I appreciate that context. You’ve had such an interesting career. There’s loads to go into there. First, though, you mentioned how your experience assembling a recruiting team was foundational. I appreciate that worked foundational, in what ways was it?

[00:05:56] NBE: I didn’t have any experience recruiting, just knew that this was a need for the company. So I want it to connect with experts in the field, people who really were good at what they did, so got a recruiting manager in place and then allowed them to really build a team to meet the needs of that growing organization.

[00:06:17] RS: Got it. Then presumably with the SVP of People title recruitment is probably assumed as part of that, is not the case.

[00:06:25] NBE: Yeah. We have a talent acquisition team that works with our tech and pride organization and a revenue organization, as well as the newsroom. So we’ve got a pretty robust team.

[00:06:38] RS: Got it. Then that process of interviewing, you mentioned you hit it off with the Chief People Officer. I’m curious just what was it like in that interview? Because SVP it’s an elevated title. I feel like if you have experience as the individual contributor like, I can crush this out of the park and know what they’re going to ask me. I know what the rigors of this role are. But the SVP role probably a lot more strategic, a lot more like, “Hey, we’re bigger, longer, term campaigns, would you want?” Was that the thrift of that interview or how would you explain how that whole evaluation took place?

[00:07:11] NBE: Yeah. I think you may think that. That was definitely a part of, we have multiple conversations, but the initial conversation was really just that about my experience and my journey and what I was looking for in my next role and really just finding that connection and what I was looking for and what Insider was looking for, for their lead of the People and Culture team. It was really a very conversational moment. It was refreshing that I didn’t have to pull out a bunch of papers and have all these tabs open to be able to, “Oh, what were the numbers for this year?” We really just had a conversation about who I was, and who Insider is, and what they’re looking for.

[00:07:53] RS: What was it you were looking for at the time?

[00:07:55] NBE: Well, I mentioned that I wanted to have a team and lead a team that spanned not just the generalist role, but the employee experience, the people ops, and certainly talent acquisition. Then being able to come in and help Insider grow. I mean, we’ve been on a growth pattern for the last couple of years. So with that, you have to scale and find more sophisticated ways of doing the work that we do. Being able to be a part of that from the ideation to actually seeing the idea of project system manifest has been hands down the best part of what I’ve been doing.

[00:08:37] RS: Just that thoughtfulness about what it is you want from the next job. I fear it eludes a lot of people. Because to just take on a role with more responsibility, with a bigger salary at a more recognizable company or a bigger company or a company with more upside, those are pieces of the puzzle, but those aren’t the often the answers like what do you want, right? Everyone wants more money, come on. Everyone wants a better title. When you were deliberate about drawing a circle around those things you wanted, was that a process of the career coach conversations you had, or how did you reflect it to figure out, “Yes, that’s what I want.”

[00:09:14] NBE: Yeah. I’ve had the opportunity to do some work around my values and what is important to me in my work experience. One of my number one values is authenticity and bringing my whole self to work and not having to compartmentalize who I am when I’m at work. So that for me makes for a fulfilling experience regardless of the money, regardless of exactly what I’m doing, which is important. But if I can’t show up as who I am and doing that work, I’m not going to be happy. I work with my coach to really talk that out and think about what did I want to really visualize and then seeing myself day-to-day? What is it look like? What does it feel like? Getting clear on that was crucial. Looking back on it now, I’m like, “Wow.” It really made a difference.

[00:10:03] RS: You’re also in a position where you can create that environment for a whole organization. You’re bringing your whole self to work than not having to compartmentalize, right? You have found an organization that will perhaps allow it or more importantly, will allow you to make the organization that way.

[00:10:20] NBE: That’s key, yup.

[00:10:21] RS: Has that been an early priority for you? How do you think about creating that culture or encouraging it if it already exists?

[00:10:27] NBE: Going to Insider. That was one of the things I was really impressed by, that their culture was really one that was inclusive and people are down to earth and really just wanting to do great work. I think as we grow, we’re just over a thousand folks now, but we’re looking to grow and scale. You can lose some of that. I want to identify the things that are really important to keep about our great culture. You’re right. Coming in and being able to bring my whole self to work, but also making it so that everyone else can do that, as we get bigger.

[00:11:06] RS: How are you able to ensure that the company was ready for that action? It’s a big company and it’s not a massive behemoth, but certainly institutional, if you’re around a thousand people, right? People will say the right thing in an interview and no one wants to sound like they’re not inclusive or that it’s not a priority for them. How did you go about figuring out that they were ready for this?

[00:11:27] NBE: Well, I looked and listened for the things that they were already doing, diversity and inclusion programs, things that they have on the horizon. Then once I got there, we do a number of surveys throughout the year. The survey is really tell you our employees do not mince words. We’re journalists, we’re writers and reporters. So getting that feedback I think, is really the litmus test to, are we on the right track? Are we doing the things that create a great employee experience at Insider?

[00:12:01] RS: That is a funny thing about it that you don’t have to solicit opinions.

[00:12:04] NBE: Ever.

[00:12:06] RS: They’re like, someone ask you for my opinion, here’s 10,000 words in the ATS, I’m this candidate. The survey was fruitful. How do you go about turning that into policy or into priorities?

[00:12:16] NBE: We typically distill the feedback into, what’s going well and then where can we improve, where do we see things in the feedback and then crafting some ways to invest in those themes. For instance, career development is always something that is one of those things you can always get better at. So in what ways are we going to invest in career development this year?

[00:12:43] RS: In what ways are you going to invest in career to them, this year, Nailah?

[00:12:46] NBE: I gave you the question.

[00:12:47] RS: You teed me up.

[00:12:50] NBE: One of the things that we are doing is hiring new Learning and Development Director, who’s going to come in and bring a wealth of knowledge. They’re coming from a really large organization where they had an opportunity to do tons of things around management essentials and DEI training and performance management. We’re going to bring the lead in to build a strategy for us and then map out probably a three to five year plan on how we put some programs in place so that folks aren’t always looking for development, that it’s there and sustainable.

[00:13:29] RS: That isn’t a really interesting piece of it, because it’s not enough to have the resources. Right? Because I’ve certainly been at companies where the resources existed and the employees either didn’t know or didn’t bother to take advantage of them. Perhaps that’s related to the employee Internet goal, but what is the strategy for making sure that people have their hand held a little bit and are just not left to their own devices to seek out these resources and go through it, that there’s an active process and shepherding them through it.

[00:13:58] NBE: We won’t bury the lead. We’re looking at implementing a new employee portal and internet. We found that as a result of the pandemic we’ve adopted a hybrid first work culture. We have employees working across the country and in our three global locations, and we use so many modes of communication from Slack to email to Zendesk and Jira. There’s really no central place as a source of truth, so to speak for our information and processes and just real-time announcements. We also recognize that as the company has grown, we’ve outgrown our HR systems from an Internet functionality perspective.
We want to create a central hub for communication from org charts to policies and procedures to Cudos, to training like you mentioned, and have a searchable feature on top of that. So think Google for manager training or PTO policy, and have an intranet for our departments to house key documents and info and information for their teams. So this way employees have quick access to everything they need. We can send blasts out and campaign for our latest initiatives. Ultimately, we want to just improve the employee experience and the level of engagement employees have and enable teams to be more productive and efficient. When I can get the things I need easily, then I can get back to my work and get back to ideation. I can get back to doing the fun stuff. That’s our purpose for implementing it and we really hope it’s going to be a game changer.

[00:15:40] RS: How did you know that the company had outgrown its previous systems?

[00:15:43] NBE: Things got painful. Everything we needed to find, to understand, to pull together was extremely painful. We began to get feedback from leaders even saying, “Hey, I’m trying to get this information and I can’t find it.” Something that should be simple and at our fingertips, so a little noise, and a little painful experience is really what signals that we need to do something different.

[00:16:11] RS: Yeah. That makes sense. Sorry, I’m a marketer, so sorry for putting it this way, but who’s going to create all this content? It’s a lot of copy, a lot of assets, a lot of uploading, creation of decks. Who does that fall on?

[00:16:23] NBE: It’s not one person. We’ve created a task force. That task force is currently vetting different vendors and platforms, and they represent all of our organizations across the company, from IT to the newsroom, training talent and HR. So each area will have their subject matter expert once we decide on a platform end and begin implementation. Then that person will be the point of contact or go-to person for administrative things like content and copy and all of the updates.

[00:17:00] RS: Got it. Indulge this project, too, it’s the best-case scenario and a year from now or whatever, they’re giving you a huge raise and a title business like, “Nailah, you crushed it. This is the best thing.” Like everyone’s really happy. What is the ideal outcome of this? If it works as intended, what do you hope happens?

[00:17:18] NBE: First of all, I’m going to go ahead and put that on my vision board right now. That’s a great one. What this looks like thinking with the end in mind is that when an employee logs onto their computer in the morning, they pull up their email and then they pull up this wonderful new system, this intranet and we’re going to have a fantastic name, too. We’re going to have a naming convention. Then they pull up Insider, whatever it’s called. It’s open all day and they go back and forth to it to figure out answers to questions to shout out to their teammate. “Hey, great job collaborating on that project and grabbing the latest article on how to be a great journalist.” They’re really using the system for the majority of their needs throughout the day.

[00:18:10] RS: Got it. It’s funny, the idea there will be an awesome name circled back for that.

[00:18:13] NBE: Yeah.

[00:18:14] RS: Maybe just call it Inside. You went from business Insider to Insider, drop the R, you can just keep that same energy –

[00:18:20] NBE: We might have to give you a credit for that one.

[00:18:23] RS: That one’s for you. The next one I have to build out at an hourly rate, unfortunately. That makes sense. The idea that it’s just like, I think the striving for this source of truth like any leader of a department, I think wants that. Especially at a certain point, just everything is in a different place. None of the tools talk to each other. Where do you go for a little bit of everything? Even if where you’re going to tells you where to look, right? You’re not saying, we’re going to pull the plug on Jira, and now it’s the Internet, right? It’s like, “Okay, the intranet will tell you what’s a Jira.”

[00:18:54] NBE: Yeah, because if we try to not use Slack, there will be an uprising. It isn’t that we are doing away with our most use platforms. It’s just that there’s one place that you can get to it.

[00:19:06] RS: This is a little off topic, but why do you think people love Slack so much? Is it really better than previous chat protocols? I don’t know what it is.

[00:19:12] NBE: What I find out. I will let you know. I’m mortified by Slack, because things disappear. So I don’t know what the secret is. I don’t.

[00:19:20] RS: Yeah. There’s this news thing which I need to use more, because I will look at a chat and a not action it right away. Then it’s like, “Oh, it’s gone.” Like, “Who is messaging me? What was it about?” That’s the only way to manage my messages. I remember early on, they were like, “We want to end email.” But when you install Slack, guess what happens? Until you go turn it off, they send you emails about the Slack you’re getting.

[00:19:40] NBE: Well, I don’t know if this is true for all organizations. Maybe we have permission set up, but we lose things after 30 days. If I’ve had a serious conversation that I need to document, I don’t want it in Slack. I think Slack is amazing for quick touch bases, and quick chats, but at some point you got to move it to email or a Google doc or something to be more efficient.

[00:20:08] RS: Yeah. That’s probably it. The auto delete, is that a security thing. I don’t know.

[00:20:12] NBE: I think it might be us, but after 30 days, if you haven’t pinned it or saved it, it’s gone.

[00:20:18] RS: It’s gone forever. It’s just a longer-term Snapchat.

[00:20:22] NBE: Yep. That’s it.

[00:20:23] RS: For more on this, tune in to our Spinoff podcast, Talk Slack To Me or Slack Talent To Me, I don’t know.

[00:20:30] NBE: Sponsored by Slack.

[00:20:31] RS: Sponsored by Not Slack, because we’ve been bidding a – sponsored by HipChat. I don’t know. Who are the other, GChat.

[00:20:37] NBE: Do they even have competitors?

[00:20:39] RS: I remember HipChat was a precursor and all of the engineers at my company wanted to move to Slack, so we did.

[00:20:46] NBE: There was another one, because we didn’t say Slack. Slack U, it was another one. It’s like, was it Link? It was something–

[00:20:52] RS: Microsoft Link was the Precursor but then Microsoft bought Slack, right?

[00:20:56] NBE: Yeah.

[00:20:56] RS: Here we are. Yeah, I mean, it’s fine. Also, I don’t know, you rattled off then you have to go to email and you have to go to Google Docs. That is just the world we live in. It’s just a million different pieces of software. I remember my objection had nothing to do with Slack. I was like, “I don’t want to install or learn another app.” That was at age 24. It wasn’t even like, I was being an old man yelling at a speeding train. I was like, “Why do I have to do this?”

[00:21:18] NBE: Well, you got to think. I didn’t want to date myself, but I’ve been in HR since we were putting real pieces of paper in files and submitting real pieces of paper to make salary changes. The apps, I have a cap on apps, I’m only able to do email, Slack and that’s about it, because they want you to get on Confluence and Zendesk in every week. Those are new one. I try, but I do have a limit.

[00:21:48] RS: Well, hey, when the employee intranet or Inside as we are now officially calling it, launches, then maybe that won’t be the case anymore. Well, Nailah, this has been fantastic chatting with you and having you walk me through, how you approach your role. Before I let you go, I would just love for you to give some advice to the folks out there in podcast land. If they are listening to you, they want a role similar to yours. They want to elevate into the people and culture leadership position. What advice would you give to folks?

[00:22:13] NBE: I think it’s important to have people that you trust as mentors, as coaches, to really gauge, “Am I on the right track?” Am I thinking about this in a way that’s either aligned or challenging? I think that’s sometimes the area we do things that are safe. My advice would be, don’t be afraid to take a risk. Take that leap and if it doesn’t work out, you gain experience, you learn from it, and you’re better the next time you embark on a new role. So take the leap.

[00:22:50] RS: I love that. Take the leap. Nailah, this has been fantastic. Thank you so much for being with me here today. I’ve loved chatting with you.

[00:22:55] NBE: Thanks, Rob.


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