Jennifer Sutton

Instacart’s Global Head of Diversity, Equity & Belonging Jennifer Sutton

Jennifer SuttonGlobal Head of Diversity, Equity & Belonging

Today’s guest is Jennifer Sutton, the Global Head of Diversity, Equity & Belonging at Instacart, a grocery delivery and pick-up service in the United States. Jennifer originally worked in finance but made the transition to HR and diversity over 14 years ago. Jennifer’s approach is to couple diversity hire strategies with genuine mental frameworks to reach an organization’s diversity goals. In today’s show we find out about Jennifer’s background in finance, her transition to HR, the benefits of diversity to an organization, common mistakes organizations make regarding inclusion strategies, the importance of identifying root causes, and much more.

Episode Transcript


[0:00:06.1] RS: Welcome to Talk Talent to Me. A podcast featuring the most elite talent leaders on the frontline’s modern recruitment.

[0:00:12.8] FEMALE: We actually want to understand the themes of someone’s life, we want to understand how they make decisions. Where are they willing to take risks and what it looks like when they fail.

[0:00:22.7] RS: No holds barred, completely off the cuff interviews with directors of recruitment, VPs of global talent, CHROs and everyone in between.

[0:00:31.1] FEMALE: Once I went through the classes and the trainings got the certifications through diversity and inclusion, I still felt like something was missing.

[0:00:39.7] 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.

[0:00:53.0] RS: I’m your host, Rob Stevenson and you’re about to hear the best in the biz, Talk Talent to Me.


[0:00:59.6] RS: Joining me today on Talk Talent to Me is the head of diversity, equity and belonging at Instacart, Jennifer Sutton. Jennifer, welcome to the podcast. How are you today?

[0:01:08.4] JS: I am doing quite well, thank you so much for having me.

[0:01:11.0] RS: I’m so pleased you’re here. Not only because I am a shameless fanboy of Instacart.

[0:01:16.3] JS: Yes.

[0:01:17.6] RS: I like to consider myself a power user just like it’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me. I’ve saved so much time, I just – my groceries arrive, it’s the best, I just – it’s one of my favorite services. It’s like, I had this funny chat recently, “What’s your favorite app on your phone?” and like, my zoomer friend was like, “It’s Venmo” and I was like, “Mine is Instacart because it just generally improves my quality of life.” So shout out to the awesome product that you work for. We’re not here talking about my grocery habits, although we can get into that if you want.

[0:01:46.3] JS: Absolutely.

[0:01:48.3] RS: No, we don’t have to. Maybe a different podcast for that but I’m so pleased you’re here because you’re doing really awesome work over there. Let’s detail a little bit. Maybe here at the top, would you mind sharing a little bit about your background and kind of how you wound up in your current role?

[0:02:00.7] JS: Absolutely. So, I actually started my career in financial services and I was on the asset management side of the business. I was not an HR, I was not in diversity, I was not in recruiting and I kind of stumbled my way over to the recruiting side of the house. Maybe five or six years into my career and long story short, I’ve basically touched all areas of diversity, equity and belonging and we intentionally mentioned that at Instacart and that basically led me to the role that I have here today.

So over the many years, I won’t bore you with the number of years, I’ve been very fortunate to work in numerous organizations where I learned a ton. I was able to grow and gain competencies that led me to what we’re doing today at Instacart and just across the industry and I’m excited about where we’re going and the conversation continues to evolve, the conversation continues to be intentional and thoughtful and not performative which I think is very key as well.

That’s kind of the evolution but I’m actually a finance nerd by training that stumbled into HR for all those who have always wondered around like, “Should I take a risk, do something out of my comfort zone?” I say yes because that’s what led me to my career today because you would ask me when I was in college that you’d be an HR, I would have told you, you’re crazy but needless to say, I took a leap of faith and was fortunate to work with and for amazing leaders and I’ve continued to be on that path as we evolve.

[0:03:44.4] RS: Could you explain that process of stumbling from a finance HR for me?

[0:03:49.6] JS: Sure. I worked at the time at Merrill Lynch Invested Managers. We were called MLIM back in the days, that’s how long ago it was, it was just for many people, they probably know what MLIM is but it was acquired by BlackRock and that was the corner of the acquisition.

Naturally, things merge and change and evolve and long story short, I really love, at the time, it was called Mother Merrill and I really love the culture of Merrill and I was – had been in that role for five or six years and so I was itching to do something different and I had a very strong relationship at the time with the head of campus recruiting at Merrill and we talked about my career aspirations and she basically says to me, “Jen, you’ve been awesome for us on campus. Have you ever thought about coming over to the recruiting side?” I said no.

She was like, “Well, you know, you’re in this sales management role and recruiting is basically a form of that, you know? Have you ever thought about it?” and she said, “Look, we just hired an amazing rockstar to join and lead a diversity recruiting team, they’re focused on increasing representation within global markets and investment banking at Merrill” and she said, she thought it was worth a conversation. I said, “Well, I trust you.” I’ll keep the conversation going and long story short, that leader who I respect to this day, you know, he was a business person like myself that stumbled into recruiting.

Similar passion and he just sold me. I appreciated his vision, I appreciate how he showed up as a leader and I was eager to see where we could go together. That’s basically how I stumbled on it and then over the years, I’ve just basically have said yes to a lot of things or I’ve taken a risk and raised my hand for a lot of opportunities and that’s what led me to now, Instacart.

[0:05:40.5] RS: It’s such a common story, people stumbling into this skillset, into this job and I just kind of deduct here. Bear with me for a moment but it just goes to show you that if you’re leading talent departments, leading talent teams, leading HR teams as you are, Jenifer, your next grade hire probably isn’t even in recruiting, isn’t eve in the department, right?

I do wonder and it comes to mobility and having those conversations with the folks who – as that individual did with you, sort of point it out, hey, you’re kind of doing this job and a bunch of other areas, you’re at least like – you have the skills that would take to succeed in this role. I just want to give that a quick shoutout to talent leaders. Like, remember how you got into it and that’s kind of a little bit of a shame that people aren’t as deliberate, I think that’s changing, right?

People are going to be more deliberate about winding up in this space but there’s an opportunity there I think, to tap you on the shoulder and like they can be your next great hire on your team.

[0:06:33.4] JS: Absolutely. And focus on competencies, right? Any transferable skillsets. So, it’s not necessarily about how the role is designed but what is needed to succeed in that role because what the leader at the time was able to do for me is say hey, you’re basically relationship person, you’re a people’s person.

You know, what’s needed is someone that’s strong in that area, strong project management skills that has a passion for our culture and those were competencies and it wasn’t like I was being shoved into a particular role and try to match perfectly with what the job description it was anchoring to – where was the competencies needed and so, the more that leaders and talent, period, can anchor to their skillsets, their strengths and be honest with themselves around what they’re really good at and then, connecting the dot to the appropriate roles. I think it’s a much more efficient and effective way to the next opportunity and I love those stories.

I actually hired someone on my team who basically was a similar version of me of, have been in diversity but the skillsets that we needed at the time, he was able to demonstrate easily and the interview process and I’m like, “Yup, that’s the person that we would love to have, be the next head of diversity somewhere at some point in their career if they’re interested.” So, I think you’re 100% right there.

[0:07:50.2] RS: Mixing on competencies, strikes me as a key part of diversity hiring pillar as well as well because then, if you’re mixing on competencies, you may not be indexing on some of the other historic means by which people qualify themselves for a role which have been exclusive, is that fair to characterize it that way?

[0:08:06.7] JS: Very fair, spot on. No, I think you’re 100% right. It’s not easy to anchor to competencies so I don’t want to say that loosely of oh, it’s some soul searching, you kind of have to go deep and understand, not only what are you good at or what are the things that make you cringe too. Really, knowing yourself and or maybe leveraging others that might know you better than you know yourself could help you connect the dots in that way.

[0:08:32.4] RS: Why do you suppose the cringe part is useful?

[0:08:36.4] JS: I think the cringe part is important because it’s hard being honest with ourselves and we often – a couple of things, maybe word of mouth, what others have done before us, what you may be dreamt about when you were growing up might look different than what your true reality is or what your true happiness is and so, really, having those moments of like, “You know what? I really don’t like sitting in front of a computer all day long” I need to interact with people.

That may not be aligned with what you thought and it might make you course correct and I think you can course correct at any point in your career but having those moments, either with yourself or with others who you trust that have your best interest in mind is really important but it’s hard, it makes people shake a little bit in their boots but it’s a worthwhile exercise if you’re really trying to get to what makes sense for you.

[0:09:35.0] RS: It’s scary, right? Like you say, the shaking in your boots, it’s scary and it’s probably why most people never do it and I’m glad you mentioned that you need to bring others into the equation, people who know you better or in my case, I’ve had luck, people I’ve even featured on the show, career coaches, people who do this for a living because you don’t know your own weaknesses or some people, I think take the bad parts of a job for granted.

Yeah, this is just how it has to be, right? and there’s a great – I don’t know if you like Kalvin and Hobbs but there’s this great comic strip where he’s like, “Happiness isn’t enough, I demand Euphoria” and this idea that you could remove the bad parts of your job, you don’t have to just suck it up and take it.

[0:10:12.7] JS: Yes, I agree. I think – I call it, have your squad. I mean, your squad, your tribe should be solid and they actually – if you have the right squad, you actually will have a lot of bad moments with them. Because you’re going to have difficult conversations and you might hear something about yourself, you might hear something about what you need to succeed and you might hear something said to you that others won’t say because we do know often that sometimes, people, and it’s no fault of those being impacted but that’s the reality, they don’t want to give it to you straight.

That’s against my DNA and not to be a straight shooter but that’s the world that we live in and so, your squad should be surrounding you. Not only people that you would consider a peer, people that you might be grooming, that can give you feedback around how you show up. It should be people that potentially, not only can mentor you but also sponsor you when I use those words very intentionally because they’re different when done right.

Oh, it’s phenomenal, the impact. And, I strongly believe that your squad should be form all walks of life, there’s so many things that I will bring to a conversation that my white colleagues won’t and that is actually okay. Because, my lived experience is what will bring something different in their lived experiences will give me a totally different insight.

Especially in the work that I’m so fortunate to lead, all viewpoints are valued and so, when I’m trying to influence across race and gender lines, and ethnicity lines. I need to know how this may land whether I like it or not. Whether or not it’s the way that I wish people absorb it, that’s how you influence and it’s a dance that will always continue to evolve.

One of again, I’m going to somewhat continue to brag about the leader that I mentioned to you before and one of the things that he shared with me are only in my career, the importance of building those bridges and having those relationships. I came from the businesses I mentioned to you before where it was just get the work done, just execution, execution.

I will say that, in these circles, it wasn’t as much about the how and the warm and fuzzy, it was like, “Did you deliver, yes or no?” that was how you defined success as I made that shift into HR, you need it so much more of the how. And so much more of the warm and fuzzy in order to influence and young in my career, I didn’t understand that. At least, didn’t lead with that viewpoint and so I bring a lot of the say, you need people from different walks of life to open up your eyes especially in the world of the people side of things.

Whether it’s recruiting or talent management, development, learning. In the day, we’re trying to lead talent and build a best talent and build the best cultures. In order to do that, we have to flex in order to influence. I think it’s important to be surrounded by those that can always keep you on your toes no matter how successful you are and regardless of what level you are but can give that to you both inside your organization as well as outside of your organization as well.

[0:13:26.5] RS: Yeah, well said. And, that notion of influence I think is so important, they say, the famous old quote, “The meaning of communication is the way it’s received” And so, you kind of lose control of that when it comes out of your mouth, right? You have to think with your audience in mind, constantly, said the podcaster.

But, the other thing, like, with the squad, I had it explain to me a similar way by an old CEO that I worked for who said that I ought to assemble a personal board of directors and you know, that was like a very entrepreneur’s way of putting it, right? Where it’s like, “Oh Rob, you should have like the people on your board who are like – have done it before and who are influential and who can – have the experience”

Same idea. I think it’s important, it maybe shouldn’t just be like your homebase, right? It shouldn’t just be like, your five best friends because you need to seek out people in your space, people who like, one, are very different form you, right? To get that other angle of perspective.

Also, it’s just so hard and partial with what you do every day, Jennifer, I’m so not surprised to hear that your squad, that you’ve been intentional about it, reflecting a lot of your review points because that feels like the mission that you’re doing in you revery day role at Instacart.

[0:14:31.4] JS: Absolutely. It was extremely – well, it’s intentional per se but that’s how I’m wired. I’m a student of absorbing just all that I can and I know that there’s no way that just my own lived experience will help me accomplish that. I have to really appreciate whether I agree or disagree. I have to at least know what else is out there, you know? I sometimes will say, because I’m trying to drive systemic change in general, right?

Literally, you know, the work that I’ve been fortunate enough to lead over many years is trying to change things, shake things up, make it a little bit different and it’s literally impossible if I’m just coming from one angle and so, being surrounded by others that can give you a perspective. I mean, there’s plenty of times, if I’m going into a room that looks one way, I will reach out to my white friends or my Asian friends and say, “Hey, what would you want to know?”

It’s not from a tokenism perspective, it’s a – you’re going to give me a viewpoint, a lived experience that I don’t have and so, how will this land for you? We have that safe space and we have that trust and they can do the same thing with me. “Hey, I’m going to this room, how can I show up differently for the black community Jen?” It doesn’t happen overnight nor should I recommend anyone walk up to anyone and do the same thing. It’s a level of trust and vulnerability that I’ve been able to leverage and I celebrate being able to have those conversations.

So it is a part of just how I’m wired but there is a part of being intentional too around all these things that are super important. So if I encounter anyone, I mean Rob, you and I, maybe we’ll besties after this, you might start getting text messages from me and you’re going to say, “Well, what did I start?” but you know, I like to gravitate towards good energy and I like to gravitate to people who can give it to me straight and can take it too because I want to do the same thing back.

[0:16:34.8] RS: Yeah, people are so afraid I think of saying the wrong thing that they may not solicit advice from someone who looks like the people they’re about to speak with, right? I think, honestly, someone’s that naiveté uses a little bit of a shield, it’s like, “I came in here with good intentions” right? But you know, do better, right?

Put a little more thought into it but it’s interesting when you say, this is the way you’re wired because like the representative nature of your squad for example, just continuing as the example. It’s intentional in that, you build systems around yourself so that when it have, it’s not a surprise. In the same way, it’s like look, if you don’t have a representative pipeline for a role, you’re never going to make an underrepresented hire, right?

You create this systems that yield the things you want over time for another example would be like, if you get representation right early on then your referral program will yield more representative talent, right? As supposed to just being a vehicle for homogeneity which I think it often can be.

I wanted to kind of get into some of this deliberate intentional system design that yields those results. What is kind of your approach towards your role here at Instacart, how are you thinking about putting these processes into place?

[0:17:40.6] JS: Yeah, very fair. You know, I was fortunate enough to come to Instacart to build a diversity, equity and belonging team and I took some learnings that I’ve uncovered over the years to think about this work and so, generally speaking, I believe that enhancing any system should come from a very structured and thoughtful way.

The iceberg model might be an oldie but goodie and I know it’s heavily used in academia but that structure has helped articulate where opportunities are and so, if there’s one thing you remember about the iceberg model is there’s different levels to it but the foundation of the iceberg model is around, what is the belief system or the beliefs or the mental model that really is the foundation of that system?

If that belief system is flawed and if that belief system might be giving advantages unintentionally, but still giving advantages to some and not others, you will never have a healthy process. It literally is the definition of how you will stand up. Again, unintentionally in equities. And so, when I look at any system and when I say the word system, I’m referring to processes like a hiring process, a promotion process, a performance management process.

If you look at these processes or these systems, they all exist because of some belief system. And that belief system, to keep that belief alive, you have to have a certain structure. You have to do something in order to make sure the beliefs actually happen and so I think about hiring for example, that’s a hiring system overall and let’s just say there’s a belief system and I am not attributing to Instacart or to any organization, we’re just generally speaking.

Let’s just say I believe that in order to be successful in tech, you have to have worked at a thing and if that’s the case, a part of the interview process, the structure, you would then say, “We’ll check a box” or “Jen can pass go if she’s worked at a thing. She’s at Google, great, automatically that means she will be successful at X company.” And you will see certain patterns become of that and then the outcome is, naturally, you’ll start to have a huge amount of people coming from one piece of tech but you could be missing a diversity of thought and innovation and creativity because there are individuals who have that competencies that work in other industries.

Just because they are not in Google or Meta or Apple, it doesn’t mean that they can’t be successful in blank tech company but the belief system is you got to work at a thing in order to be great in tech and if we all know what the data looks like, that belief system will naturally continue to give certain advantages to certain demographics and not others because they are great talent across all walks of life in other industries with the competencies.

But we’ve already boxed them out because we have this belief system that is the foundation and you could say the same thing about employee or referrals, you could say the same thing around certain schools. You know, we stand up these hiring systems or companies doing it with the best intent. They’ve said, “Well, I came from a thing and I am great, so of course, anyone that has that same journey they must be great as well.”

So that’s a belief system and so to answer your question, I try to take a relatively simple academic approach to understanding, “Well, what is the belief system that’s producing these outcomes and is that the right belief system?” Well, maybe it is. There could be a world that you know what, it’s absolutely right, you have to work at a thing in order to be successful at this company, that’s possible.

I don’t believe it but let’s just say it is possible but you might need to question those beliefs. Now, questioning those beliefs could open up a whole bunch of can of worms because there will be some fragility in that engagement. Others might say, “Well, are you now saying that I didn’t necessarily meet the criteria because I walked the life or I went and worked at this company?” so there will be some reaction to trying to address potentially the mental models that had the best intent.

No one ever woke up and said, “Hey, by having this belief system that means we are boxing out or it’s going to be harder to get in the door” that is some of the unintentional outcomes because of it and so it’s a journey for any organization because it will make you cringe, because it might question some of the things that have been the core to how you operate in a certain system.

[0:22:45.6] RS: I am glad you brought up belief systems because I have wondered this in all of the episodes I’ve produced where we’ve focused on diversity, which is a good chunk, which is how far back do we go because you can’t proceduralize empathy, right? How much process can you put into place and if someone in their heart and soul is making decisions in a flood way like you can’t make that unbiased, right?

So I guess where for you is the balance between, “Okay, we’re going to put these systems into place, these process into place that try and root out bias, that try and improve equity and representation but also we have to take a look at the individual people who are playing this game because at a certain point we can’t change their nature or we need to try to change our nature.”

[0:23:33.9] JS: I would recommend understanding what will give you the most bang for your buck, right? If you have a hiring system and let’s just say the data is telling you there is more available talent that what you are hiring to your organization, I would then want to understand, “Well, where is the biggest opportunity in order to get people to move forward?” I am using hiring because that is the most easiest way to quantify and explain the example.

But let’s just say you know there is more talent out there but what is coming in your door doesn’t reflect that even though you are going to this conference, you are having these talks, you are doing these trainings, you still know that the data is not matching. I would then say, well, I wouldn’t say blow up everything. I might say, “Well, look at your data. Do you see that you are at least attracting the available talent pool or you know, going over and beyond?”

Meaning, are the applicants that are at that stage of the process reflective of what you think the available talent pool is and you might say, “Yes, we felt really good that the people at that stage match” but you might say, “But Jen, they’re not going to onsite.” “Oh really? Well, why aren’t they going to onsite?” Then let’s understand what’s happening from application to onsite. Is there a recruiter’s strain or a hiring manager strain?

Is there some type of assessment that’s done? You might say yes. Oh, well then let’s talk about what are the assessments that are happening by looking at a resume for example. Are we saying, “Hey, well you know what? You are an engineer but you worked at Walmart instead of working at Google” then that’s – people maybe not moving through the process and then again, I will go to, “Well, if we see that’s the biggest opportunity to get more people through the process, let’s just double down on validating whether or not that’s the right assessment decision in order to move forward.”

By fixing that one area because the data is telling you that is the biggest opportunity, I would say go in on just that one thing. It could be later in the process. You might say, “Jen, I have no problem, they make it through, they come to onsite but they’re not accepting my offer. I don’t know what to do” and the data is telling you you’re having more of a challenge getting people to say yes to come and work for you than earlier in the process.

Then I might say to you, “Well, have you done an analysis on your compensation package offering? What is the marketplace saying about you? What is your brand? Not only what is your brand to the external world but what is your brand related to the communities you are looking to get in the door?” So if you are not known to have a progressive culture or a progressive work-life blend, then that might tell folks maybe this isn’t the opportunity for me and this probably isn’t the right offer.

So I basically would recommend not doing everything that you can because there probably would be multiple things that will look off in their various process but try to figure out what could you put in, I want to say minimum amount of work but just put in some amount of work to get a whole bunch of return and the only way that you will be able to unpack that is by looking at your data and then questioning what structures do you have in place.

What patterns are you seeing? You have the right mental model in place, what things you need to involve and what are some of the tradeoffs that you might have to go through in order to make that happen. Some people will always say, “You know what? If I do this shit, I will slow things down” like no, not really. If you do it right and everyone is invested and you hold people accountable for it, it is amazing what people will do quickly when they are being held to a certain expectation.

We are human beings and we are wired to know, “What am I supposed to be achieving and what will happen if I don’t do it?” and if we just say these are the things that we want to embrace with no accountability and transparency, nine times out of ten in my experience it doesn’t happen. So that’s how I would tackle sometimes the very cringe worthy, favorite word of the day, very cringe worthy reality of there are multiple things that could be wrong but how do I just focus on my energy within my organization to get by and to move the needle.

[0:28:04.0] RS: Yeah and people I think are resistant to change, right? In that example where someone was concerned that a process would slow down, you hear this sorts of objections to putting an emphasis on hiring more representative talent, you know? It is not really about the speed. Speed was never an issue to this person. It is just like, “Oh it’s process. It is something else for me to have to think about and I’ll have to change my view of the world a little bit” or I have to change the way I do work a little bit.

That is as you say the difference between a performative blog post or turning your logo to black or whatever it is versus actually putting in the meaningful processes to make change. So like you say, the incentive is so interesting. What is the comeback when someone is like, “Oh this is going to slow down process” like either no it’s not or sure but that’s the tradeoff, that is where we’re investing in this, right? We’re making this happen and it would be slow at first but then we’ll get better.

[0:28:55.5] JS: I think it could be a couple of different things. I do believe with the right infrastructure it actually doesn’t slow you down. If everyone is in the game, then it will not slow you down meaning is the recruiters trained? Will the hiring managers do their part? It is not just on the recruiting organization in order to find talent and sell them and get them looped in. What is the hiring manager going to do from their seat in order to move the conversation forward?

But if there isn’t that level of investment, absolutely it’s going to slow you down and that is the tradeoff. So it’s do you want to do it right and fill the house with the best foundation and making sure we have the right resources, the right tools, the right training level engagement. If so, I don’t believe it will slow you down. I truly don’t but if you just want to throw up, “Hey, we want to hire more X, Y and Z” without all of the work that needs to get into it and the investment and resources, then yes there could be a tradeoff.

I think outlining both approaches to leadership is key because you don’t want to walk in a room and say, “Oh I’ve heard in a podcast that this won’t change us” but you haven’t done the work in order to stand up a meaningful effort and if you haven’t evaluated the system and understand where some of the unintended pitfalls that are disproportionately impacting marginalized talent, again, this effort won’t go far.

So it could be a tradeoff without the investment, you are very fair and that is honestly probably reality of a lot of organizations but call me glass half full, I do think that it can be done where you don’t have to sacrifice time because a two-week window, give or take isn’t a long time in order to find top talent and we’re not saying don’t even start to talk to anyone in two weeks but at least given the machine that’s the partnership between the business and the recruiting function time to go out, build a story, build a brand.

If you have people that you’ve been engaging with, picking up the phone when you have the right role is much easier to do and be able to have people in the pipeline and starting from scratch every time you have a new role and so that’s why I say the engine has to continually churn and it’s not just when a job is open. It is really looking at recruiting and the acquisition of talent like its own separate business.

You got to have the passive candidates, people you just say hi to when you have no jobs. You have to do virtual happy hours or in person happy hours, knock on wood, when we’re back and coming together. You have to get to know people because it is a relationship business and if those things are done throughout the year, when you do have the role, it won’t take you two or three weeks to find people. You’ve already have them on the hook.

So that’s a true machine but sometimes we don’t put that level of emphasis on the passive side but I think passive recruiting is just as important if not more important than just posting a job and having those who are actively looking come to you.

[0:32:03.8] RS: Yeah, you know if you are a recruiter or you work in talent or even you’re just any person who cares about the company that they work for looking more like the people that who wants to serve, looking more representative then it would be relatively easy like, “Okay, let’s put in some processes to make our company include more marginalized talent, to have more diverse talent, to be more representative.”

But I don’t think anyone is stopping to ask why aren’t we already that way, right? Which just seems like you’re kind of encouraging people to do. It’s such an obvious question. It’s like, “Oh, well we want to hire more diverse talent so we’re going to” and then you rattle off all the strategies and there are numerous ones well documented on this podcast of ways you can engage with communities and make sure that you are getting in front of that kind of talent.

But is it worth pausing and asking yourself how we got here because only then are you going to, like you say, look at the belief systems that have resulted in this situation, right? Whether it is just is it just underinvestment? Is it just we haven’t paid enough attention? Are there things in our job descriptions that are making us seem less inclusive? Put myself in the shoes of someone who looks differently and then I do, would we even want to work here, right?

All these questions that I think are just as important if not more so than all of the various strategies you can enact. The proactive ones you’re going to have to add going forward, right? You have to know yourself a little bit, even know your organization and figure out why you got there because you could still bring in some people, you know? Some beautiful melanin and you can have a company that looks different than it did before.

But if you have all of the same people that led to you not being diverse then you kind of still have a similar problem, don’t you?

[0:33:41.7] JS: Yeah, I think you do. I think the problem that will arise that continues to arise is that we will do everything you just mentioned and not saying that any of those strategies are flawed. I don’t think they are but if we’re not getting to the root cause of how we started here, you have the potential to not really address what’s the true opportunity and so you know, the more that you can have a conversation of saying, “Hey, we actually believe that our friends are the best people to work here.”

Well, that’s your belief system. That’s not going to help if you go to blank conference and go out there because you might get them interested, they’ll come and talk to you, you might even sell them for the 30, 45 minutes where you interview them. You might even get them to say yes to come work for you. They get there, they’re going to feel like, “Oh, I didn’t know this was a good old boys club” or “I didn’t realize it was X, Y and Z.”

So investing and understanding your culture whether it’s the culture you want today or the culture you want in the future is I think way more important than recruiting because when you have a culture that speaks for itself and you’ve been honest about some of the unintended impacts that you’ve had because again, I believe that 99.9% of people are really good at their core and never woke up one day saying, “We’re going to intentionally going to build something that folks don’t want to work at.”

I just don’t believe that is how we’re wired. I do believe in best intent but best intent must be intentional and not just assume that because we have good intentions that by default things will come up that way. So I do think you have to have a very self-aware or organizationally aware conversation of like how do we get there because if you’re really not investing in the culture and what it means to be there, what it means to succeed and how are you defining success.

Is success defined by execution or is success defined by how you execute? Is success defined about relationships? Just really understanding what makes sense because that will impact whether or not somebody wants to work with you and in this market, it’s a candidate’s market. The candidates are winning and they have so many opportunities and I applaud all of them and so they literally can go into conversations of saying, “But why would I need to leave or why should I leave coming to your organization?”

Because they are getting probably at least five to ten pings a week, if not more for companies looking to probably pay if not what you are paying them or more and so it’s much more nuanced and complex right now in how to close candidates and I just selfishly love it because if that makes me smile like the war, polite war for talent but it is a candidate’s market and so absent of doing the things I just described you likely won’t be able to really ever move the needle.

Because one, you’ll continue to have an attrition issue, it will just be a churn and two, the word will get about your company. So there is no longer a secret where you have to work there to really know. Now, things happen and pretty much instantaneously you know about it whether you work there or not and so it is so important to really get to the need of what you just described.

[0:37:18.9] RS: I couldn’t agree more and Jen, we are well past optimal podcast length here. This time is just kind of flown but there is so much awesome advice in this episode. So at this point, I would just say thank you so much for being here and for sharing your experience and your wit and wisdom with me. I really love learning from you today.

[0:37:33.9] JS: Thank you and same here, I loved our conversation. I would love to continue the dialogue, so I appreciate the chat.

[0:37:39.0] RS: Anytime.


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