Niantic’s DE&I Program Manager Trinidad Hermida and VP of People David Hanrahan join to discuss iterations of diversity strategy at Niantic, and what steps teams should take after ensuring accountability.
00:11 Rob Stevenson: Okay, hello out there, my wonderful talent acquisition pals! Rob Stevenson here at the helm of your fave recruiting podcast. We have a bit of a return to normalcy after the last couple weeks. We had our live show, hope you enjoyed that. And then last week was the employer brand panel discussion. Again, have a bunch more of those. If you all like that, I can publish more. And if not, I’ll never do it again. So let me know. But anyway, like I said, normalcy. I guess before I get going, though, I should do my little spiel on what it is we’re doing here. If you never heard the podcast before, all you need to know is that once a week, I bring in my favorite people in the recruitment space, directors of recruitment, heads of talent, VPs of HR, you name it, I get them in here, and they all do primarily one thing:
00:54 RS: Talk Talent to Me. And today, I have two really wonderful guests both from Niantic, which you will know from Pokemon Go fame. The first of whom on my left was formerly the Head of Global HR for Change.org, and the VP of People Operations for Zendesk. Now, he is a VP of People for Niantic, David Hanrahan. David, welcome.
01:12 David Hanrahan: Hey. What’s up? How’s it going?
01:14 RS: How’s it going?
01:14 DH: Good. Good, doing great!
01:16 RS: Good, glad you’re here. And on his left is Trinidad, who has been building and running diversity programs for several years now, including a nice long stint at Dell EMC in a number of diversity-focused roles. Now, she is the Diversity and Inclusion Program Manager at Niantic, Trinidad Hermida. Welcome to you, as well.
01:32 Trinidad Hermida: Woot woot! Thank you.
01:33 RS: So I’m really excited to have you both in here because the D&I program at Niantic has been built out in a really fascinating way. And David, you’ve been there for a little bit now, and you recently, in the last few months, brought on Trinidad to run this program. So I was hoping you could give us some background at the early iterations and conceptions of diversity at Niantic, and what led you to realize you needed someone like Trinidad in the company.
01:57 DH: That’s great, yeah, so let me take a stab at that. So I’ve been at Niantic for just over a year. And when I joined about a year ago, there was already some conversations going on around diversity. And the conversations were basically around we, as a company, actually have a very diverse player base. So Pokemon Go, soon to be be Harry Potter: Wizards Unite; when you see at the events, the festivals that we have, Pokemon Go Fest is a thing in Chicago. And when you go there, you see this very diverse player base. So when you think of gaming, you might not think of gaming as a very diverse player base. But so, that’s not the case with Pokemon Go. So different ages, ethnicities, genders, national origins, families playing together. It’s a very sort of mass market game, and it’s huge appeal across the globe. And so, the leadership team, before I even arrived, they said, “We should really be a leader in this space, given what we’re trying to do with the communities that we’re fostering.” And, “So let’s beat tech companies.”
02:53 DH: And so, they assigned some numbers of, “Here’s what tech company representation looks like. Let’s beat those by X percent.” And so, that was the thought was, “We’re just gonna beat them.” Particularly in representation. That was the initial thinking, it was just about representation. So it was early thinking, but it was noble, it was aspirational. So I got on board. And a quarter in or so, I realized… I looked at this goal, I looked at what our progress was. It didn’t look like we were making progress; it looked like we were struggling, frankly. And so, we started these conversations. We started these conversations around, “Well, why are we struggling? Why are we actually… It’s kinda flat. Our numbers on representation, there’s really not movement here. And we’re hiring a lot.” Last year, we tripled in size. So we tripled in size, the company went from 150; we’re soon to pass the 500 mark. So we’re in this hyper-growth mode, we’re just about to do Pokemon Go Fest again. So that was my first time experiencing it last year, in around July of last year, and I saw it firsthand. I saw what people were talking about, was this amazing diversity, this richness of diversity, of people actually playing our games, working together very collaboratively, a community. So I think about diversity, I think about community, I think about our efforts are very community-oriented. We have a huge civic impact focus, too.
04:00 DH: And so, through that conversation after Pokemon Go Fest, we all got back together as a leadership team. Said, “Why are we struggling? Why are we struggling?” And the eureka moment was we realized, “We’re not doing anything.” So what I mean by that is there’s no plan, there’s no set of tactics, there’s no unique angle, which we’re gonna tackle it. Inclusion wasn’t thought about in terms of actually, “If we do hire really diverse talent, how are we building a very inclusive environment for them?” The specific things were missing. We had some really great conversations with Paradigm, who really talked to us about evidence-based practices. “You need to have evidence-based practices. The research exists around what works, what doesn’t work; and you need to start employing those things.” So we started…
04:37 RS: What’s an example of an evidence-based practice?
04:40 DH: Reducing bias, reducing bias in your job descriptions, as an example. So job descriptions are known to be notoriously biased in terms of language that you use, which immediately causes an issue for someone who is a female or an under-represented candidate to read this language, “Hey, this doesn’t look like the place for me.”
05:00 RS: Right, “This doesn’t sound like me.”
05:01 DH: You turn it off, you turn people off with these very male-dominated, alpha descriptions of like, “You’re gonna kill it.” We just want someone who’s gonna kill it. And so, that’s an example.
05:09 RS: Yeah. Yeah, “We’re looking for a rockstar. We’re looking for… ” That kind of language.
05:16 DH: That’s right. And when you have more subjectivity in your hiring practices, as one example, when you leave it sort of culture fit, or similar culture fit, when you leave subjectivity to hiring practices, you tend to have more bias. So there’s a lot of this that exists out there across, not only the hiring spectrum, but also, on inclusion around what you can do to create inclusive atmospheres and environments. So we just realized we weren’t doing specific things. We had the goal, but we weren’t putting the evidence-based practices behind it to actually get us there. So we started this long conversation about what would be all those things that we would do. And we just culminated in what we called our leadership D&I commitment.
05:53 DH: Culminated in September, we had a long list of probably 20, 20-plus things, we said, “We’re gonna do all these things.” Everything from funding, actually putting money together to actually fund efforts to bring in things like Textio or to revise our hiring processes, or to have someone who could help us with this, who has some expertise. “Let’s not try and do this alone.” And our board members are very supportive of this as well. So one of those ideas was, “Let’s actually have someone who kinda comes in and helps us, helps us lead these efforts, program management, leadership on D&I.” That was Trinidad’s arrival.
06:24 RS: Got it.
06:25 DH: So September, we created this commitment, we announced it to the company, “We wanna represent society in our inbound hiring. We wanna create inclusive environment through these evidence-based practices, but we’re gonna need help. So let’s bring in Trinidad who’s gonna help us with this.” And Trinidad came in, in December.
06:39 RS: Enter, Trinidad.
06:41 TH: Yes, I am here, I have arrived.
06:44 RS: So you arrive at Niantic, and there’s this list of 20 different commitments, and you’re thinking, “Okay, good, there is investment here, they’re taking this seriously.” Where do you start?
06:56 TH: So I’m a big fan of knowing the people who I’m working with and understanding the nuances of individuals. So I started with, I call it the D&I world tour.
07:09 RS: Love it.
07:09 TH: D&I world listening tour, and Niantic has several leaders that are spread across the world. I believe that the D&I world listening tour means I’m able to go, sit down with the different leaders, and ask them number one what their passion is? What’s the elephant in the room? What is their fear around D&I? A lot of people believe that’s like a cuss word, especially for white male, my white male counterparts, and really take away that fear, and really reiterate the fact that I’m here to support and help, and I know that everybody is an individual, everybody has their own working styles, their own vision. I wanna tap into that, and then be able to build an accountability around that piece, and understand that everybody’s so different. That’s the beauty of it, and I believe that if everybody comes with a passion, then we can actually see some change in our culture, and bring a sense of belonging. I say that my journey is a very small journey. It’s a 12-inch journey. It’s from your brain to your heart.
08:15 RS: Love it.
08:15 TH: A lot of us understand that D&I is a business imperative. There is so much data in the world that we can pull from to build that, the reason that we should support this, and go forward with it. But if we don’t feel it in our hearts and we’re not connected to it, you’re not going to see a lot of action and accountability around it.
08:34 RS: Right. So what kind of things were you hearing from people as you conducted the world listening tour?
08:39 TH: I’m gonna be very general, but I’ve seen and heard, “I wanna do something. How do I do it? I don’t know what to do.”
08:48 RS: Okay.
08:48 TH: “I am interested in supporting. Can you help me figure out ways to support?” And there’s also a fear of offending people. There’s a fear of asking questions like, “If I ask the wrong questions will I be reprimanded for it?” And one thing I always start my conversations with is, “It’s very hard for you to offend me. So this is a safe open place. If you say anything that is offensive, I will acknowledge it, but we’ll be able to get through it. So we have each other. This is a partnership.”
09:17 RS: Yes.
09:19 TH: And in that it helps to bring those walls down, and then have a real conversation, because if there’s these things in the back of your head that you’re holding back, because you’re scared to say them, then we’re not really having a real conversation where we can actually build off of that. If you do have a bias, if you do have something that you’ve seen happen, and you wanna adjust the tables here, it’s a cone of silence. Let’s put it on the table. Let’s unpack it. And then, let’s see ways that we can grow from that or see ways that we can build a solution. Because I’m very solution-based. I think I’ve been in the game for a while, and a lot of times where we complain. Being a person of color, and having microaggressions, and having to code-switch at work. All these things suck. But let’s not just focus on that. What is the solution to that? How do we build a safe space? So even on the right over here, we were talking about something as simple as being able to speak up, and not be punished for it, having a devil’s advocate code that we all will when we’re making decisions, having a point person that where maybe it switches around the room where we’re welcoming a devil advocate to say something so that you can say something opposite of what everybody else is saying, we can have that conversation, then we can move on from it.
10:36 RS: Got it. I wonder, that fear you said that people have in covering D&I, do you think it comes from this defensiveness where people are like, “Oh, to admit that we haven’t done a good job is not that many dots to connect, to be like, ‘Oh, but I’m not racist.'” Right? Do you think that’s kind of why people are a little standoffish about it?
10:57 TH: It’s definitely a defensiveness around “Well, I’m not racist. I wanna help people. I’m open. I have resources, tap me.” But there’s also the understanding of we have to start from ground zero, and say your privilege is not like my privilege. And you had… And even white fragility, being able to say these are things that you haven’t had to experience that I have, at least having a ground zero experience, where we’re able to come to an understanding that we’re not starting from the same place. And if you can understand that and you can meet me there and say, “Now I understand why you might be pushing this, or so passionate about this.” Even the other day a friend of mine was saying, “It’s interesting. First black person to have their own restaurant.”
11:50 TH: First like… “Why are they… ” This is a white friend of mine. Just because we have a safe space I don’t mind those conversations, and then I can educate, and say, “Where was red lining?” There was actual policies in place to hinder people from starting businesses, hinder people from purchasing homes, and to be able to say that we have so many entrepreneurs now who are doing successful stuff, we wanna elevate that, we wanna showcase that, and celebrate it and honor it, and it’s not just like, okay, even with what went out with the schools, and how wealthy people were paying for their kids to go to these schools, it’s like that happened. And so I think that we’re understanding that there’s a world conversation happening right now, and we wanna break down the walls that keep us from actually having real, courageous conversations. And I say courageous, because in that moment then we can grow.
12:53 RS: Yes.
12:53 TH: So definitely, that’s why I say the world tour, but then also encouraging even leaders. Sometimes we’re scared to have a PIP conversation with someone, because they’re different than us, and then we let that go on for a time, and then the person doesn’t get to develop. PIPs are not supposed to just put you in a box and get you out the door. They’re supposed to say, “I care about you enough that I wanna develop you, and I’m gonna give you these tools to help you develop so you could be successful.”
13:23 RS: Yeah, yeah, I think definitely, there’s been this… Recently, PIPs are just like a box for a hiring manager to check to be like, “See, I did everything I could, I put him on a performance improvement plan.” But usually, it’s not actually in the interest of saving that person. Really interesting what you said, Trinidad, about the courage to have these conversations and encourage people to speak up because in the example of your friend who’s like, “Why are we celebrating that there is,” I don’t know, “The first all-black female flight crew,” or something. And it’s like, “Shouldn’t we just be like, ‘Yeah, that’s good. They have this job.’ I’m so woke that I don’t even notice it’s happening.” And then there’s an opportunity for education, though, to be like, “There’s a historical context. There’s this long history of this not even being possible that we’re celebrating being past.” And so, in that example, if your friend didn’t feel like they could say something like that, then they wouldn’t have been able to grow, like you said. And so, encouraging that sort of dialogue in your workplace, it sounds like it’s really important.
14:23 TH: And making it a safe place. I know that when you’re a person of color, sometimes, with the whole tokenism thing, and people… My hair is in braids right now, so it’s like, “Oh, my gosh! Your hair just changed, it got longer.” [chuckle] “No, this is synthetic hair that I tied to mine, and it’s just braids. And no, you can’t touch it, but it’s okay.” Just encouraging the understanding that I’m not going to be super or hyper-sensitive because I actually believe that these conversations are gonna educate, and it’s going to, one person at a time, build a trust. So at Niantic, we have values. Our values are respect, alignment to the mission, accountability and trust. And these values are core to all of us at Niantic, being able to build a culture of belonging. So if I don’t trust you, and we’re working on projects together, then there might be a cattiness or there might be a, “Uh, I don’t know. I don’t know if I trust that decision that you’re making.” But if we start with believing that everybody is coming with that sentiment that we can actually start to make change, change the game.
15:37 DH: Yeah, yeah. So I think what, I suppose, super power Trinidad has brought to Niantic on our D&I efforts is bringing people closer to the table, and everything from light-heartedness to empathy to approachability. I will say that sometimes, our D&I conversations in the past have been pained. It felt like there was a kind of leading it towards defensiveness. Also, we hit a road block in this conversation ’cause it’s getting tense. And someone’s maybe defensive or it just… Like you can feel the weight in the room. And so, Trinidad’s been doing an amazing job of reducing that; whether, it’s a well-placed joke or just light-heartedness, approachability, making… One of Trinidad’s… The phrase that she used is, “I believe that we can… When we tap into people’s genius, we can change the game.” That’s a core part of Trinidad’s D&I beliefs, and that’s about tapping into people, and we’re all very different, and reminding people that we oftentimes don’t do this. Organizations don’t tap into people’s genius, and everyone’s got some untapped genius, and everyone’s different. So Trinidad, the way that she’s approached that, I think, has made it more interesting for people to get closer to the table; as opposed to, it’s a scary thing.
16:49 RS: Right.
16:50 TH: And I’ve had tough questions, where it’s like, “So why, if we have a referral program, why am I not just hiring my friend who looks like me?” And I’ve said things like, “Well, you’re here. Do we need another you?” And I’m not trying to be light-hearted or funny, but the whole thing about having a diverse mindset and a diverse group, we’re creating real-world games, we’re creating… Our player base looks like the globe. And so, if we have a roomful of six people who came from the same background, from the same company, there’s the same mindset. So who’s gonna be the outlier, who’s gonna say, “You know, I realized that this one piece doesn’t necessarily sit well with me,” or, “Who’s gonna catch the Gucci before it goes out the door,” and there’s this blackface sweater that someone’s wearing. So we’re definitely looking at our games as real-world-facing, interactive-building, social environments. So those have to be safe for all people.
17:58 RS: Yeah. And Niantic is somewhat of an extreme version of that, but to some degree, every company has that. You are making products for… If you had it your way, the world. Right?
18:10 DH: Mm-hmm.
18:11 RS: And so, how can you make a product that reflects the world’s needs and culture and wants and tastes, and all that without a company that reflects it. And so, no matter who you are, it doesn’t just have to be a Pokemon Go or the new Harry Potter game. You want your organization to reflect the population it serves.
18:28 DH: And if we’re doing a good job of not only bringing them in, but then, creating an environment where they can speak up; whether it’s, “I’m a female, and I think this sort of game design choice that you’re taking right now is actually not gonna be a good idea for females.” And if they’re comfortable speaking up in that environment. Or, “I’m a Latin speaker,” or, “I come from Latin America. And I think that you’re about to make a big mistake here on how you’re structuring this Community Day,” or whatever, the more that… Not only you have them there, but they’re at the table, and they feel comfortable speaking up, and their opinion will matter, the more of that genius that you’ll tap into, and the players will benefit from that.
19:01 RS: Yes, absolutely. So what are the… Or maybe it’s gauche to put it this way, but what are the expressed goals of having a D&I program? Because it seems like there is this, in general, there’s a culture shift that you want to happen, or just like you wanna steer the conversation in this direction. But in terms of hiring, pipeline representation, what are you hoping to accomplish, Trinidad?
19:27 TH: So, I want Niantic to be the best place to work in the world. That’s my personal goal, but I also believe in… David said this earlier, that if we can build a culture of belonging, of inclusion where everybody feels like they can bring their best genius and what I mean by that is safe enough to give our best ideas that we can change the game. All pun intended. I do believe that in the past, we’ve focused on diversity more in numbers, in filling, meeting a quota and not really creating a safe place so that when we do hire all these great talented people that they actually have the autonomy and the ability to do their jobs well and so then they run out the back door. Yeah, so it’s like, “Hiring come, come, come,” and then everybody’s running out the back door. That’s not what we’re trying to do here.
20:21 RS: I’m really like you said that because it does seem, in retrospect, almost crass to put a number on a diversity goal and be like, “We are committed to getting 35% Latin x hires.” I’m like, “Okay, what happens when you get there? Are you done? What do you like… ”
20:37 TH: No.
20:37 RS: The idea is that you get them into the company, and then they love working there, they refer people who look like them and then diversity propagates diversity, right? But it can’t, if like you say, they’re running out the back door. And so a lot of companies will be like, “We are committed to having 50% diversity pipeline of a particular nation,” whatever the number is, and it seems now that that kind of misses the point.
21:00 TH: So to speak to that, in the beginning, and so not to say that I’m pushing back on you, but in the beginning, there has to be a goal, and there has to be an accountability to that goal because if you don’t then you’re just perpetuating the cycle of, “Oh, it’s okay, we’re gonna just gather them from here and there.” It’s very like, up in the sky, up high in the sky thing. And so to have a goal saying that we’re gonna use the Rooney rule or we’re gonna make sure that when we’re hiring that there’s at least a female and an under-represented minority that we’ve brought on site. I understand what you’re saying and I understand that there is this diversity fatigue around numbers and meeting numbers. Even I’ve said it, I’m like, “Uh, wanna just… All the numbers,” but at the same time, there’s accountability and I believe that we’re not going to see active change in our environments if there’s not accountability to leadership. I want all leaders to have a diversity OKR.
22:03 RS: Right.
22:04 TH: That particularly trickles into their department, in their individual department. So that’s important to me because I believe that ties to the whole company’s OKR, so how is it that the company has this big audacious goal to really build a sentiment of engagement and build an environment of inclusion, but nobody has a tie to OKR to actually being accountable to that.
22:31 RS: Right, right.
22:31 DH: One of the reasons why we call it a leadership commitment. So back in September, I didn’t want this to be an HR goal or that you’re signing me up for something like the head of people, that would not do it justice. It has to be a leadership commitment. You have to own this as leaders and so each leader signed their name on this commitment, including me, but it was a leadership commitment. And so the more that you can create accountability for that, whether it’s a revenue goal, a product goal, a brand goal or a diversity goal, if you own it, it’s gonna be much more successful than if you’re delegating it to some team to own, ’cause reality of diversity, we own it, from the CEO down, like you gotta own the building and the fostering of diversity inclusion in your team. And so that was a big part for us. And so back to Trinidad’s point, the more you kind of create accountability like that matters and…
23:20 RS: Well, I could keep picking y’all’s brains about this all day, but we have meetings to go to and Ubers to catch and whatnot. So thank you so much both of you for being here, this has been really fascinating. I think this is gonna be really helpful to people who are ideating their own D&I programs, and also thinking about what is the next gear shift you can make after setting that initial accountability goal, after having like, “We want these numbers, this is the actual line in the sand we’re gonna draw. What is the next step? What is the 201 version of that?” This has been really fascinating. Trinidad, thank you so much for being here. David, you as well.
23:52 DH: Thank you.
23:53 TH: Thank you for having us.
23:53 DH: It’s great.
23:54 TH: And if you wanna bring us back later on in our journey, we’ll be open to that.
23:58 RS: I’d be happy to.
24:00 DH: Sounds good.
24:00 RS: Well, all of you have been wonderful, amazing talent acquisition and, darlings, I’ve been Rob Stevenson, Trinidad Hermida has been Trinidad Hermida, David Hanrahan has been David Hanrahan. Have a spectacular week.
24:12 DH: Thank you.
24:12 TH: Thank you.
24:12 RS: Happy hunting.
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