Can't Touch This


How do you turn a company with 13% female engineers to one with 27%?


Straight outta Oaktown, the boys invite head of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Airtable, Albrey Brown, on the show and chat diversity recruiting, what a typical day in the life of a DE&I director looks like and even find time for MC Hammer jokes.


U can't touch this, but you should sure as hell listen to this pod powered by NEXXT. Nexxt, connects you to a whole world of talent and the tactics you need to reach them..



Transcription sponsored by:

Disability Solutions helps companies find talent in the largest minority community in the world – people with disabilities.


Chad (1s):

Hide your kids lock the doors. You're listening to HRS most dangerous podcast. Chad Sowash and Joel Cheesman are here to punch the recruiting industry, right where it hurts complete with breaking news, brash opinion and loads of snark buckle up boys and girls.


Joel (25s):

Oh yeah. You know what time it is everybody. This is Joel Cheeseman of the Chad and Cheese podcast joined as always by my cohost Chad Sowash and today.


Chad (37s):

Yes! I'm excited.


Joel (38s):

You're blessed to have Albrey Brown, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Air Table. Albery how's it going, man?


Albrey (48s):

It's going well. It's a sunny day here in Oakland, California. Yeah.


Chad (53s):

Oaktown, three, five, seven, baby.


Joel (55s):

Does everyone know MC hammer in Oakland or is that a myth?


Albrey (58s):

No, everyone knows MC Hammer


Joel (60s):

Yes! I knew it.


Albrey (1m 1s):

And when you move to Oakland as a gentrifier, you have to meet with him for 45 min. They watch you do the hammer time dance. And if you can't do it, you're done. You can't buy a house.


Chad (1m 13s):

You're kicked out!


Joel (1m 14s):

Do you have to wear the pants when you meet with them? Or does that, is that optional? Nice.


Chad (1m 18s):

Yes! Of course you do!


Albrey (1m 19s):

You got to wear the pants. You got to wear the shades.


Chad (1m 22s):

The suspenders?


Albrey (1m 26s):

Can't touch this.


Chad (1m 27s):

Yeah, Albury. So a lot of our listeners obviously don't know who you are. So give them the Twitter, Twitter intro, and maybe a little bit about Air Table for those who don't know.


Albrey (1m 36s):

Yeah. So I want to first say that everyone knows me. So I'm sorry to tell you why, but my name is Albrey. I lead Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Air Table. I've been leading D&I at several companies for about seven years now. And Air Table is a cloud correct collaboration company, really in the what's called the no-code, low-code space. So what we specialize in is we have a product that makes it really easy for folks who've never programmed before to build their own applications and workflows. So what we say is that we are democratizing software creation by allowing anyone to build what they want.


Albrey (2m 16s):

And we truly believe that, which is why diversity, equity and inclusion is at the core of our mission. So that's what we do. Any other questions?


Chad (2m 24s):

Would you count Twilio as a competitor?


Albrey (2m 26s):

I'd say Twilio, not so much a competitor because they focus more on how you like do outreach to folks. So like SendGrid and text messages, messaging, et cetera, et cetera. But we do like integrate with platforms like Twilio. So for example, if you want to, if you two had a form request, when people wanted to like apply to be on the show, there, we have a database system that when people apply through an Air Table form, it hits the database and you can create an, that automatically uses Twilio to text them to say, Hey, we got your, got your application to be on the show.


Albrey (3m 7s):

We'll get back to you within 48 hours. So we're kind of like the layer between actions and like human actions and triggering other tools to do the things that you all want to do.


Chad (3m 21s):

So we had Madison Butler on the show and like all break came out of the woodwork on Twitter. It was like, it was like Lee and I noticed his Twitter handle. Right. And it says angry black man. I'm like, okay, that's a dude. I want to talk to!


Albrey (3m 37s):

Yup!


Joel (3m 37s):

His LinkedIn about is I'm rooting for everybody black. So you make, no, you don't camouflage it at all.


Albrey (3m 44s):

100%.


Chad (3m 45s):

I dig it. So what kind of flack do you get from that shit? I mean, seriously, because it's, it's interesting. We've talked to Torin Ellis before and he's like, nobody calls you angry white dudes and you are what the fuck. Right. So from your standpoint, I mean, you gotta catch flack from that shit?


Albrey (4m 1s):

Yeah. I mean, I think, you know, the reason why I made it, my handle is because one, it's a little bit ironic and I'm an ironic dude. I feel like, you know, there's the angry black man trope, you know, that, you know, black folks are angry at the way the society has treated them and just continuously kind of reproduce that anger and their actions, which let's all just say that's totally warranted. I mean, I can't go past, if you gave me a time machine, I wouldn't go back to pass like the 1980s, because life wouldn't be all that easy for me, before then. But you know, the reason that first and foremost to your question, I actually don't catch any flack.


Albrey (4m 44s):

I think that the, the reason why I put those things first and foremost on my LinkedIn and my Twitter is because it's kind of like the Eminem Effect, you know, Eminem and eight mile the, in the last rap battle, he's trying to figure out how to beat this guy who just way more gangster than him. And he just decides I'm going to lay it out all on the table, so that you know, my brand. And then what are you going to say? So it actually ends up being the opposite effect because I've, I've owned it and I've already kind of put that on the table. It's somewhat disarming and it's worked out in my favor.


Joel (5m 16s):

Was there any conversation with your employer about this or was it just sort of like we know we're getting and we're going to roll with it.


Albrey (5m 22s):

There was a conversation at the beginning when I was interviewing at Air Table about who I am and about what they are buying when they decide to provide my salary every two weeks. And I think part of the luxury that D&I people don't talk about is that I'm actually paid partially to be black in the workplace. Like my job as a diversity leader, is to be black so that I can then translate what it's like to bring your full self to work, to both executives and to individual contributors. Yeah. So I think if I was a salesperson, it might be a different conversation. If I was an engineer, it definitely would be a different conversation because the culture is a little bit different, but the privilege of being in diversity, equity and inclusion is that you're put on this platform to be in my case, black as fuck.


Joel (6m 15s):

But wait a minute, because CTOs have been a ceremonial position over the years, although over the last year, 18 months or so I'm feeling like that's finally, they finally found their groove, right? So I get what you're saying about, Hey, it's my job to be black in the workplace. And to be able to live who I am, it's almost like CTOs for a very long time really had no resources. There was no outcomes associated to them. They literally were just there as a figurehead.


Albrey (6m 49s):

Yeah. 100%. And liketo your point, there is kind of like a tokenization of the CTO, right? Like let's, let's hire someone in the C suite or like right under the C-suite to show that we have representation, but let's not give them the operate operative budget to actually change the way that we do things. And I think that's a really keen observation, Chad, that over the last 18 months, maybe, you know, I'd say 18 months is about right. I think what companies are recognizing is that, especially gen Z gives a fuck about this stuff. They care about diversity. I don't know if you two are on TikTok


Chad (7m 28s):

Yes!


Albrey (7m 28s):

But I learned more from the 25 and under crowd on TikTok. Talk about oppression and racism and sexism then about anyone else.


Joel (7m 38s):

Sorry, I'm taking notes. How do you spell that? T I C K is that? Is that?


Chad (7m 44s):

This dude, this dude is on Tik TOK more than, probably than you and me combined. I'll bet.


Albrey (7m 51s):

Oh, well, so Joel, you gotta get the Ben Roethlisberger Tik TOK handle.


Joel (7m 59s):

Is he on TikTok? I find that very hard to believe that.


Chad (8m 2s):

If he's not on TikTok, you should own it.


Joel (8m 4s):

Yeah, I should own that. I should on that. So, so you're, you're obviously not a figurehead you're doing work. What is a day in the life of Albrey look like?


Albrey (8m 13s):

Great question. I think diversity and inclusion work is first and foremost, very entrepreneurial in the sense that, you know, you're really selling a vision of what the company can be like in the future. Well, from a cultural perspective, you know, no company is getting any diversity, equity and inclusion right at the moment. And it's going to take, you know, 50 to a hundred years to get to a point where things are equal for everyone in whatever way, that's meaningful to, you know, an organization. So as an entrepreneur and a person who's building my function from the ground up, you know, my, the day in the life looks first and foremost, like talking of being the first one, the lighthouse for talking about things that are going on within the world and relating that back to the organization.


Albrey (8m 58s):

So for example, one thing that we just did last week at Air Table was acknowledged all of the anti-Asian racism that's happening across the nation. There's been an 1900% increase in hate crimes against Asian folks since coronavirus. And it was something that our Asian employees were having a lot of just personal strife with just a lot of, you know, I talked to one of our employees about the fact that like, she's really worried about her parents when they walk around San Francisco and what might happen to them. I talked to another teammate of mine who he's not Asian, but his wife is Asian and his is he's taking his kid to daycare. And he's just very worried for the first time about racism.


Albrey (9m 40s):

So I was the person who first listened to the employees who were being affected by this. Prompted our leadership team like that this is something that we need to support as a company, and then coordinated both a statement and a donation campaign and we're bringing in an expert who can educate other Air Tablets and allies about what needs to be done and how they can be allies outside of the organization. So that's just an example of like, I am kind of the tip of the spear when it comes to acknowledging the societal things that are happening outside of Air Table and attaching them to both our like employee culture.


Albrey (10m 20s):

So that's one day.


Joel (10m 21s):

So it's more than just job descriptions. Is that what you're saying?


Albrey (10m 24s):

Way more than just jobs descriptions. I think this is the trouble that companies are having right now who are just new to this game. They believe that it is not a truly quantifiable role and the sense that, you know, culture is not something that you can just put down to like the most simple atomic unit, right? Or the most simple, you know, objective and key results. It's truly a really fluid day-to-day that I have. The things that are consistent are, you know, reporting on our company representation and say, you know, what do we look like from a bunch of different dimensions: race, ethnicity, gender disability status, veteran-ship.


Albrey (11m 9s):

And then trying to understand whether we're actually providing equal opportunity to what folks outside of our organization. So that really looks like comparing what we look like as a company, to the total, total available market of talent. So if we have, you know, we recently realized that only 13% of our engineering team were women that was last year, but the total addressable market available market of talent is 30%. So we said, we should at least get to that total available market of talent. If the, if the market is telling us that 30% of engineers identify as women, 13% is not enough. So we just spent the last year getting up to 27%


Chad (11m 48s):

Dude, 13 to 27%. I mean, so.


Joel (11m 53s):

Solid.


Chad (11m 53s):

So that in itself, that itself outcomes, right? I mean, that's part of what we've been asking for for decades for God's sakes is stop this mamby pamby fucking fluff that we're hearing about.


Joel (12m 9s):

Mamby pamby. What are you? 65 manby pamby, good Lord?


Chad (12m 14s):

For our 65 and over crowd. I have to say, that's true.


Albrey (12m 19s):

Well, age discrimination is huge in Texas.


Joel (12m 23s):

We're on the we're on the back nine of that, my friend don't you.


Chad (12m 27s):

Shut up. Cheeseman. So overall dude, I mean, that is, that is huge! and I want to talk about outcomes are going to get to outcomes. There's no question, but from my standpoint, and I'm sure from yours as well, being in the position, DEI feels like it's bigger than HR, right? So, you know, does DEI actually belong, reside in HR? Or is that just one of the departments that you're a part of and who do you currently report to? Yeah,


Albrey (13m 1s):

I currently report to one of our HR leads right now. We are looking for a head of HR, or head of people. So if you know, anyone, please let me know at Air Table is a great place to work. And we could definitely, as we scale, you use someone who could make sure that we scale in a thoughtful way. So just putting that out there and to your question, I mean, we've had several conversations about this at Air Table, about who D&I should be reporting to. And honestly, it's the CEO to your point, Chad diversity touches every single part of the organization. And first it definitely starts with like taking care of your people. I think of it as like spheres of influence.


Albrey (13m 43s):

So your first sphere of influence are the people who are working for you. And those are the people who are the most important because they're actually pushing the product forward. So whatever they care about from the diversity perspective, you should work very, very hard to make sure that you're meeting those needs. The second piece is the talent that you're going to have in the future. So applicants, folks who you want to source, recruits. So making sure that your company and your talent brand really speaks to them, which means having a company that's representative of what the market says is available. And then the third is customers. So what are your customers want to see? And I can tell you that, especially in tech and really for any product, they want to see themselves represented in the marketing. They want to see themselves as sold ads that are, that have people that look like them because we live in a world now where identity is very much attached to your dollars.


Albrey (14m 32s):

And then the second piece is they want a product that is accessible to them. And accessibility, I think, is going to be the number two. I think probably the number two biggest topic, go over the next 10 to 20 years, it's going to be sustainability. It's going to be cultural diversity. And then the third piece is going to be how accessible are your products and your technology so that anyone and everyone can use them. And I think that's where diversity is really going to see a huge boost and moving from HR to the C-suite.


Nexxt PROMO (15m 11s):

We'll get back to the interview in a minute. But first we have a question for Andy Katz, COO of Nexxt. Andy, if a company wants to actually come to Nexxt and utilize your database and target texting candidates, I mean, how does that actually work? Right? So we have the software to provide it two different ways. If an employer has their own database of opted in text messages, whether it's through their ATS, we can text on their behalf, or we have over eight and a half million users that have opted into our text messaging at this point. So we can use our own database. We could dissect it by obviously by geography, by function, any which way some in sometimes we'll even parse the resumes of the opted in people to target certifications.


Nexxt PROMO (15m 55s):

So we really can dive really deep if they want to hone in on, you know, just give me the best hundred candidates that I want to text message with and have a conversation back and forth with versus going and saying, I need 30,000 retail people across the country. And that's more of a, you know, yes, no text messaging back and apply. For more information, go to hiring.nexxt.com. Remember that's next with the double X, not the triple X hiring.nexxt.com.


Chad (16m 32s):

So diversity meaning in this case, talk about accessibility is disability, which to be quite Frank, that group, which is a very large group, really gets pushed to the side in most cases. And we don't have that discussion. What are you guys doing? Or are you doing anything to be able to also embrace the disability side of the house?


Albrey (16m 56s):

And to be totally honest, we suck at it. We're not a very accessible product, but we know we suck at it. When we talk about disabilities from the software perspective, it's folks who are, first and foremost, just like impaired, vision impaired. So using bright colors is also is a really bad thing to do for folks who are color blind. Using different tool tips when folks are clicking around an application really makes it hard for folks who are visually impaired to navigate your tool and kind of use it. And secondly, or thirdly, from like a compliance point of view, there are tons of companies, especially schools or organizations, especially at schools that can't use any piece of software unless it's ADA compliant.


Albrey (17m 42s):

So policy is moving in the direction of now centering folks who are, who have disabilities because as the world becomes more reliant on software, like, you know that what we're using to record this, you have to make sure that anyone and everyone can use it. And you know, to your point, Chad, there are 1.5 billion folks who have some sort of disability and missing out on that market is not only bad for, you know, diversity. You know, if we're just going to talk about it is like the right thing to do. It's also bad for business, like it's bad for dollars. If you just built a business to serve the needs of folks who have disabilities, you could make a lot of cash.


Albrey (18m 23s):

So I think we'll, we'll see that conversation get centered sooner rather than later. And the reason why it's not is because it's so much easier to focus on what people look like and perceived identity. It's so much easier to focus on women, people of color, because you can see that and you can see that represent, you can see more representation as it happens. But I do think that that we'll see all of these things kind of put on the same plane sooner rather than later.


Chad (18m 54s):

I'm sorry, Aubrey, I'm going to have to back up the bus a little bit. Did you say 13 to 37%?


Albrey (19m 2s):

13 to, Oh, I said 13 to 27%, sorry.


Chad (19m 6s):

27%. Okay. So big. Obviously our listeners are like, how the fuck did they do that? Because you have the added curve ball of COVID, which we know has been an incredible source of pain for women, particularly mothers in the workforce. So if listeners are like, how the hell did they do that? How did you do that?


Albrey (19m 27s):

That was a great question. So I think it was a confluence of, I'll say four factors. The first we started measuring it. So something that we do that I think a lot of companies really shy away from is we visually ID every single person that applies to our company. If we are looking at your application, we are also looking at your LinkedIn and seeing what do you, what is your perceived identity? What do you identify as, what do you express your identity as? And we, our recruiters are trained to tag folks by demographic and a private field that hiring managers can't see.


Albrey (20m 9s):

And then every two weeks I pull that information and we look at it in aggregate and that makes it really wow. We know that we probably get things wrong. Sometimes let's say at a 10% clip, we also know that having the data is way more important than having no data at all. So we're pretty open about that. We're pretty honest about the fact that we do that. We hope that folks self identify so that we don't have to go through the pain staking of actually, you know, misrepresenting them. But what that allows us to do is have really clear conversations with our hiring managers and say, Hey, like you haven't, you have only interviewed one woman and the last three months.


Albrey (20m 48s):

So


Chad (20m 49s):

Do you really hold them to task like that?


Albrey (20m 52s):

Yes.


Chad (20m 52s):

Awesome.


Joel (20m 53s):

Wow! That is awesome.


Albrey (20m 55s):

I meet, I meet with our leaders. I meet with our engineering leaders every two weeks. We go over the pipeline stacks. We go over what representation looks like, just like we would, you know, in a sales culture, looking at the numbers and we say, Hey, this is where we're weak. This is where we're strong. I'm going to go work with the managers that are weak and you keep motivating the managers that are strong and we just kind of kind of tag team. But I think that the core piece is like, when you have the data, what did Jay Z say? He said, men lie, women lie, numbers don't and it makes those conversations a whole lot easier so that you can take folks to task. I'm sorry.


Joel (21m 34s):

I'm still taking notes. Is that J-a-y?


Chad (21m 37s):

And Jay-Z said that cause he was fucking around.


Albrey (21m 45s):

I still don't believe that. By the way, I feel like I think Lemonade was a stunt, but we can talk about that at a different point.


Joel (21m 53s):

Say bruh, Beyonce, how do you cheat on that? And anything else? Yeah. What else?


Albrey (21m 58s):

Data colllection. I think we just have a willing team. You know, we are a younger company and I think our managers, I have to give them a lot of credit that they understand that this is not only something that's the right thing to do, but necessary. If you look at the numbers of computer science graduates, like 43% of them are women that used to be 35%, five years ago, that used to be 20%, 10 years ago. So I think that they're seeing that the market is telling them what they need to do in order to continue to hire very quickly, whether it'd be the right thing to do or not. So our hiring managers really do put in the work to make it happen as does our recruiting team. I will tell you, our recruiting team is the locus team that I've ever worked with in my life.


Albrey (22m 41s):

I do. In fact, they make me work harder than I should be working, in the sense that they are coming with ideas, bringing up partnerships, getting telling us which job boards to get on. So I have a really super amazing team. Now, if I'll say for the folks in the audience, if you don't have that type of team, then the data really makes it easy for you. As recruiters have been tagging folks, not only has it been an exercise and you know, gathering the data, but they learn a lot, they learn a lot about their own biases because they have to go in and perceives people's idntity.


Joel (23m 14s):

So it sounds like you're manually going through this process, is that what I'm hearing?


Albrey (23m 18s):

Yep. Manually going through it.


Joel (23m 20s):

So we talk a lot about the show on the show about AI and artificial intelligence and sort of the automated tools that take out, you know, bias from recruiting. Is that something you guys have explored? Is it something that you've closed the door to? Or what, where, where do you stand on sort of AI tools to take away the bias and recruiting?


Albrey (23m 40s):

Yeah. I think that's a great question. I think that the is still emerging and it's hard for me to invest in an emerging technology on such an important topic. When you're talking about, you know, AI that really looks at surface level things like, for example, most tools that tell you whether someone is like, what someone's gender is or what someone's ethnicity is or looking at solely at first and last name. Now that sounds all hunky Dory until you realize that there are a ton of androgynous names, first names, and that also sounds all hunky Dory for the last names, until you realize that this generation has the most interracial couples ever.


Albrey (24m 24s):

So it becomes very, a kind of a tough game to trust a piece of AI, to be able to tell you what someone's identity is now, that's also the same as like a recruiter, right? Like I can't trust a recruiter to be able to look at someone's, you know, joint last name. That's maybe like, that looks, you know, Hispanic or Latino, but, you know, they are kind of white passing. So who knows, but I put rather put that in the hands of a recruiter, knowing that the benefit is not just going to be that we've taken that data point, but like, let's say, they're looking at, you know, on LinkedIn, you can look up people's interests, right? Let's say they look at the photo it's, there's this, you know, go back to the example of a white passing person with a Hispanic last name.


Albrey (25m 9s):

And they look at the person's interest and it says, they're part of the Latin X and Hispanic design group, right? That's an indicator and that also then tells us that we should be a part of that Latin X and design group. So it expands our aperture, where we're recruiting from. So there's this in an AI, wouldn't be able to do that in AI. Wouldn't be able to, you know, help us with this two-pronged approach of both taking down the data or taking the data and learning about new ways to recruit.


Chad (25m 38s):

So let's spin this to employees real quick. So how can employee resource groups help? It seems for the most part, most of these groups are way under utilized and not truly connected to the business itself. How do we get these groups who have volunteered, some of them being paid, how do we get them more engaged in the business?


Albrey (26m 4s):

Thank you for bringing that up, this has been the crusade that I've been on over the last year and recently wrote that Fast Company and post about it. And I think that you answered the question so perfectly, it's they're underutilized. I think that companies need to stop seeing ERG is, is something that they're giving to employees and more of an investment in the fact that it scales up efficiently, scales up your diversity and inclusion strategy. So if you can't afford an entire DE&I team pay diversity into a paid ERG leaders, because at the end of the day, they're going to help you, they're there are three things that they can provide. First, just a fast feedback loop for if you're doing something racist or sexist.


Albrey (26m 47s):

Like if I am coming up with a marketing campaign, wouldn't it be great, if I could go to my black employee research group and say, Hey, can you take a look at this to make sure I'm not tokenizing anyone? And that's way cheaper than going to a consulting firm. That's way cheaper than just kind of guessing and kind of getting dinged on the back end when Twitter rose too, because you put on something and put up something that was insensitive. I think Amazon just got roasted because their latest logo looked like a Hitler mustache, and they got roasted two days ago and changed their logo immediately. So like, I wonder if they had shot that out to their employee resource groups, if someone who identified as Jewish, might have said, Hey, I just want to let you know that this looks kind of Hitlerly.


Chad (27m 35s):

Ding, ding, ding, ding, ding. Not cool.


Joel (27m 38s):

In the green room, we talked a little bit of football, a little bit of Steelers, and that reminded me of the Rooney Rule, which I'm sure you're familiar with. And Chad and I talked about on our weekly show, a couple of weeks ago, Activision a fine California company out there where you are originally had a little, a little tif with the AFL CIO who had requested to them to implement the Rooney Rule in their hiring procedures and at which Activism gave them the middle finger, in so many words, I'm curious what your take is on the Rooney Rule. Is it a good practice? Is it unrealistic? Where do you stand on that?


Albrey (28m 17s):

It's nuance? I think there's a spectrum. I think that the Rooney Rule is necessary, unfortunately. I don't think it's good by any means in the sense that, you know, forcing it feels like tokenization when you force people to go and talk to their one black friend for a role, without them actually genuinely wanting to look for a person, for someone in that role or that person to take on the role, it leads to bad outcomes. That said there's tons of research that it works. So for example, in California, three, four years ago, they said that, you know, every public company needs to have a woman on the board.


Albrey (29m 0s):

Now a hundred percent of companies have a woman on the board and they just passed another law this year that says, now you have to have a person of color on the board and I can assure you that in two years, every one of those companies will have a person of color on the board. So I think it's necessary in terms of forcing folks to take that next step, because what I see as the biggest threat to diversity and inclusion is that people truly like to work with people that they like and that they're connected to. And unfortunately, the past history has forced us to only hang out with people that look like us and only provide opportunities to people that look like us. I mean, what segregation was 60 years ago, 70 years ago.


Albrey (29m 42s):

And if you don't believe that we are still a very much a segregated society, then I think that's a naive take and the Rooney Rule forces more integration in that way. I do hope that in a decade, the Rooney Rule, we won't need the Rooney Rule. Given how I've seen roles filled, based off of nepotism and the relevant, past relationships, I do think that it's 100% necessary to create the diversity we want to see. Now, the last thing that I'll say, because I know I've been on that we've been on this topic for awhile is, I think that, what people don't understand about the Rooney Rule, that there is a benefit to it that if you see it just as forcing yourself to look at the full pool of talent, I can bet you that we'll find in five to 10 years, that people will look back and say, I'm really glad I did that because the first person that I thought of for this role, that I would have gave it to is