Think your company has an inclusive work culture? Might be time to reevaluate. Maybe. The boys sit down for a chat with Kanarys cofounder and COO Star Carter in hopes of getting to the heart of the matter.
We cover law firm tokenism, venture capital racism, and aspirational diversity goals (THIS DOESN'T FLOW QUITE RIGHT). It's a great discussion around inclusion, fundraising, and entrepreneurship.
PODCAST TRANSCRIPTION sponsored by:
Has it, has the change in the White House made you more optimistic or changed any of your views on the future?
Yeah, it's definitely made me more optimistic.
There's an old white guy in the White House. I don't know if you knew that, but there's an old white guy in the White House.
Hide your kids! Lock the doors! You're listening to HR’s most dangerous podcast. Chad Sowash and Joel Cheeseman 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, it's time for the Chad and Cheese podcast.
Oh yeah. Chad is tan, rested, and ready to podcast. What's up everybody? This is Joel Cheeseman. This is the Chad and Cheese podcast as always, I am joined by my loyal cohost, Chad Sowash and today we are honored to welcome the coolest name in the history of names on this podcast.
Star Carter Co-founder and CEO of Kanarys, graduate of Harvard law and a resident of Dallas, Star, welcome to the show.
Star (1m 6s):
Thank you. Thanks for having me today.
Joel (1m 8s):
What else should our audience know about you? That I forgot to cover there.
Star (1m 12s):
Oh, well you got all the high points.
Joel (1m 15s):
Star (1m 18s):
Joel (1m 19s):
A mother of two?
Star (1m 21s):
Mother of two, five and seven, seven years old.
Joel (1m 24s):
Anything else we like to go deep on this show?
Star (1m 29s):
Okay. Let's get deep! Spent about 12 years in the law firm life, so did private equity work and negotiating and drafting agreements. And that's where I really got into diversity equity and inclusion while I was there.
Chad (1m 42s):
Can we get into that real quick? Cause that doesn't make any sense to me, private equity, diversity and inclusion, and you know, as well as I do it is hard for females let alone black females or even any person of color to get funded in the first place. So how do those, how was there a divergence there?
Star (2m 1s):
You're right. Private equity is a peer almost a hundred percent white boy industry. What happened though is when you're in the law firm, when you're one of very few as African-American female, just like so many of us do, you get a tasked to do diversity, equity, and inclusion, right? You're the black female. You're one of few, Hey, I want you to join the recruiting committee, the women's committee, the diversity committee, and you really are tapped to do that stuff as one of few. So that's how I got interested in it and really learned about it when I was in the law firms space.
Joel (2m 34s):
That doesn't sound like an honor?
Chad (2m 37s):
Star (2m 38s):
Yeah. It's hard. It's not an honor per se, especially because you still have your expectations of your full kind of billable, right? As a lawyer, you have to bill time and they don't give any kind of leniency in that, but you're at the same time expected to do all this committee work, all this CEI work that you don't get any kind of credit for.
Chad (2m 57s):
Well, that's kind of like a corporate America and their employee resource groups where they want to be able to create these different segments to provide community per se. But there's generally no additional pay that goes to those individuals, more of an added task and/or job or role on top of what they already have to get done.
Star (3m 21s):
Yeah, I totally agree. I mean, ERG is a whole other topic. I think ERG is, can be done smart, right? If you actually have executive sponsorship and it gives the leaders of the ERG face-time in front of leadership, they would nevertheless ever be in front of it makes a lot of sense, right. For your professional advancement? If you could set it up in the right way. But if it's just really just a group, a support group, I agree with you. I think it can be set up in a way that doesn't really have any kind of value add.
Chad (3m 48s):
Yeah. Let's dig, let's dig into your background one more time. So law you're kind of volun-told to be a part of these committees and whatnot. And then you're a co-founder of a tech organization. How did tech get thrown in here and how did you guys actually move toward technology in the space of DEI?
Star (4m 8s):
Yeah, no great question. So yeah, most of my background's in law and what we saw as co-founders we, a lot of the time while I was in the law firm, my experience various inequities, like so many of us do. I hit the pinnacle of those inequities when I came up for partnership in the law firm and I was told that I needed to wait a year because I had taken too many maternity days, and that number was two, T-W-O.
Chad (4m 36s):
Star (4m 37s):
Yeah, I was, I know I was actually told that. Which of course upset me. And I ended up leaving shortly thereafter. And as I talked with my co-founders about their various experience, we got together and we said, you know what, something's gotta be done here. How do we close this gap? Because what we saw was an equity is being experienced, executive leadership, having no idea of what was going on in the field, right by most of the employees working at a specific company. How do we close that gap in communication, so that executive leadership actually has a sense of the lived experiences? And they can make DEI decisions based on the best information available.
Star (5m 18s):
And that's where we got into the task. How do we share those lived experiences in a way where folks don't have to worry about negative career ramifications.
Joel (5m 27s):
So tell us about Kanarys your company. On the tech side, what's your specialty? What kind of, what's the demographic of a client who uses you? What do they use you for? If I knew nothing about Kanarys, what would you tell me about?
Star (5m 42s):
Yeah. Yeah. So Kanarys we're black founded company. We start with the data analytics. So we do that through various assessments. We do that through an employer assessment where we're really understanding where is a company partner on their journey by looking at their systems, their policies, the procedures, asking specific questions about their hiring processes. Are, do you disclose pay bans? Are you asking applicants respect to their salary history, questions like that to really understand where they are in their DEI journey? Do they have paid maternity leave, things like that. And then we're also doing assessments from the perception of an employee understanding those lived experience. So asking them questions about, are they familiar with DEI initiatives?
Star (6m 27s):
Have they ever experienced anti-discrimination? Do they feel like they belong? Do they feel like they can go to their immediate manager if something were to happen and questions like that? And so we take all that information, we analyze that and we go from the analytics all the way through an insights report that really lays out those key findings and turn that into a recommendation plan. So we start with the data analytics, we go all the way through to recommendations, and then we help with strategy implementation of those recommendations.
Joel (7m 0s):
It sounds like a bit of a high-touch and high-tech business. Would that be correct?
Star (7m 4s):
Yeah. It's a mix of that. You know, when we first started to do that, you learn so much when you're entrepreneur, it was really a focus on the tech, right? Let's do these assessments. But what we found really quickly is that our company partners like, okay, great, this is such great information. What's next? What do we do now? These folks have to kind of look at you, like help us. And so then we ended up morphing into a mix, a mix of that strategy implementation and helping from a consulting services standpoint, but having that data analytics be front and center, so that strategy is specifically informed.
Joel (7m 37s):
So let's talk about raising money. I'm curious in the process as a whole, did you get seed when you started the company, did you sort of become profitable and then look to raise? You've raised a total of $4.6 million, which is incredibly impressive for anyone, but I assume that there are certain challenges that you faced or hurdles as a woman of color. And if so, feel free to talk about that.
Star (8m 0s):
Yeah. So we started off with what they call the pre-seed round, right? Friends and family. And of course in the African-American community, a lot that a lot of times is an issue in itself because we don't have family and friends with a lot of wealth, right? just given the history of this country. What we were able to do is raise 1.6 million through various angel investors. Of course, we got to the point where we moved to the seed round. And that's when we started talking to VCs specifically. And that was the dirty in itself. I mean, we talked to so many investors, I remember talking to one investor specifically that kind of looked at us and said, what inequities, it's a meritocracy, there's I don't even know what you're talking about.
Star (8m 45s):
You don't need this kind of thing in the workplace. And I will say from that point, we said, okay, it's very important. We aligned with investors that understand the social impact nature, of what we're trying to do. And what you also come to find when you're a black female founder is questions you ask, they differ greatly. What we found through the research and having to prepare is that when you are a female specifically, black females, specifically as well, you're asking more questions that are prevention, right? Tell me about security, what are the risks? What are some things that can go wrong with your business? And when you are a male, you tend to get these promotion oriented questions.
Star (9m 26s):
Questions like how much do you think you've could earn and all of the questions around the maximum amount of success you can have?
Chad (9m 35s):
Star (9m 35s):
And so what happens is you ask the preventative a prevention question, it gets a prevention answer, when you ask a promotion oriented question, it begets a promotion answer. And so we had to really learn how, how do we spin this, prevention-oriented question into a promotion answer.
Chad (9m 54s):
Gotcha. xxxswhat's the biggest point of advice you would provide to any female out there who wants to start a company? Would it be just that, or would there be something even bigger that you would focus on right out of the way?
Star (10m 5s):
I would definitely say you got to have tenacity. You're going to hear a lot of no's, especially as a female, we just don't, especially when you're doing fundraising, we just do not raise the funds specifically out of the whole entire VC industry. I mentioned before with black females, it's even more paltry, you're looking at 0.06% down from 2.3% for females, for VC funding. So you better get you say you're a no, and you better get used to being tenacious because otherwise you just put your head between your legs and, you know, quit what you're trying to do and it's really easy to be discouraged.
Chad (10m 40s):
Right? Okay. Well, you talk about data and the platform in, you know, that's in recruiting. I mean, we really run heavy on analytics, but the biggest problem in the DEI segments or the underrepresented segment is that most underrepresented populations, don't self identify, which is a huge problem within itself. But overall, if you don't have the data, how do you identify the problem? And then how do you fix a problem that you can't identify?
Star (11m 10s):
Yeah, no, I completely agree. And it's funny because we talked to some companies who would say, Oh, we have data, right? And they might do something like an employee engagement survey where they asked maybe one to three specific questions. At Kanarys we really focus to your point on the intersectionality, but how do you actually gather that information on demographics? So part of what we do is utilizing the information that they have gathered through their HRS system. So a lot of companies, for instance, already gather information on gender or on ethnicity, and that's kind of the bulk of it, right? And so what we do is help our company partners with quality, like self ID campaign, where we are asking various, maybe we're asking about sexual orientation or religion or something.
Star (11m 59s):
A lot of what we do is consultative. So we'll say, what are you missing demographic wise from your workforce? Do you have a focus that you want to focus on? And so for instance, we just rolled out kind of this quality self ID campaign, where our specific company partner wanted to focus in no information on sexual orientation and religion. And so we were able to identify for them what their workforce looks like in those two very specific demographics that they did not have information for. And/or we'll fill a little bit more on the kind of missing ethnicity, but do your whole point, intersectionality is so important. And so when you have the static, so all the companies we work with had a lot of data, but they do not break it up by intersectionality. They have no idea how things differ between your black employees, your Asian employees, your LGBT employees, et cetera.
Chad (12m 46s):
Do you have any business cases behind that? If not, that sounds like a beautiful one to start on right now.
Star (12m 55s):
Yeah, yeah, no, we, I think it becomes really clear for our company partners specifically to see how do you measure equity and inclusion? These are like the very nebulous concepts of DEI. And so we worked really closely with a product advisory council, DEI professionals, and I've been doing this their entire career, a pollster who is in the business of asking questions to measure nebulous concepts. How do you measure those equity inclusion? And then when you're asking those questions, how does an overlay look when you're looking at specific intersectionality, demographics compared to your entire workforce. And it's been amazing to uncover for some of our company partners. Okay. It looks like overall from your employee workforce, you're doing great in X, Y, and Z, right?
Star (13m 38s):
But when we actually break this down to your, you know, your Hispanics or your, your black population or whatever population is fill in the blank, there is a statistically significant difference in how these demographics in your workforce perceive these various aspects of equity and inclusion differently than your entire workforce. And there is something about that, and this is what we bring to the front and center, as far as the data goes intersectionality, to make it very clear, here's where we're finding key findings. And so as we talk about DEI initiatives and policies and things to implement, we got to think very clearly how this may differ between these various demographics based on the data we've collected from.
Nexxt PROMO (14m 23s):
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 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 and sometimes we'll even parse the resumes of the opted in people to target certifications.
Nexxt PROMO (15m 7s):
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 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.
Joel (15m 44s):
I feel like so much of our industry is fickle. There are certain things that become hot, whether it be in the zeitgeists of just the world at large, or whether it's a tech shiny object that that companies gravitate toward. When I think about that, I think about a threat to businesses like yours. And is there a threat that diversity and inclusion loses its sort of focus and that that's a serious threat to your business? Like, do you think about the, I guess just the overall trends of diversity inclusion or do you, do you feel like it's something that is going to be a long-term practice by companies? And if it's going to be a long-term practice, what is going to be the selling point to make sure that, that remains something that is in the future for the longterm?
Star (16m 30s):
Yeah, no, it's a good question. I mean, DEI has been around for a while now, right? The concept, but it's been so stagnant, right. Even though it's been around, we've been talking about it for 20 plus years. I don't know about you guys, but I don't want to turn around and it'd be 2040 and we're still talking about how come he hasn't moved the needle since, you know, the early 1990s, when a lot of companies were first really focusing on DNI? I think what we see now, is, I think it's a change in times, right? We have what I've always coined the racial pandemic, the ruthless Margaret, George Floyd?
Star (17m 10s):
All the happenings from beyond. What we're seeing, I think is much more of your employee base, coming to leaders and demanding better, demanding more, they feel more empowered to ask those tough questions about DEI? What's going on? What are we doing, CEO, as a company toward DEI? And I think that's really kind of perpetuated this movement to putting your foot on the gas, for DEI. The focus on DEI specifically now, why, because our employees are demanding it. So for a lot of those companies that maybe, you know, kind of just thought it was the nice to have, it was maybe a business imperative, but it wasn't a priority.
Star (17m 52s):
It, what we've seen through Kanarys is a lot of these companies and not all, there's always exceptions, but a lot of these companies are now saying, you know what? This is absolutely a business priority for us. We got to put the DEI up front and center. And I think in order for that to be a longterm trend, we have to keep our foot on the gas and we have to keep demanding and empowering, especially our underrepresented employees to ask those tough questions and demand more from their leadership.
Chad (18m 18s):
I'm going to throw you a softball question. How, how do you feel about aspirational diversity goals?
Star (18m 24s):
Is this a softball question? So, okay. Half the racial diversity goals are, okay. Right? However, I think it's really important. Companies have historically focused on diversity, right? You have three black employees, two of them leave, Oh crap, let's replace the two. So we keep our numbers where they are. So as we talk with our company, partners, we always emphasize diversity is important, right? And probably the easiest things to measure, especially with specific demographics that you can outwardly see. But the, what I think a lot of companies forget about or have not focused on historically is the retention side of it.
Star (19m 5s):
So you spend all that money for your talent acquisition. You got folks there. And a lot of companies have problems with that, which is a whole other topic, but we can get into just not even claiming they can't find that versus individuals to hire, but let's pretend for a moment that companies can find them. Their attention goes out and off the wayside, right? Like we get them here and then there's no focus that's intentional on how do we keep these underrepresented employees here? How do we make sure they feel like they belong? Especially when they're one of very few. And that was my issue at the law firms. I worked at, there weren't very many of us. And so there were several times I didn't feel like I belong.
Star (19m 47s):
And part of that is your, you know, what we've seen as his biases have crept into systems, policies, and procedures. There's a reason why, when you talk to these companies, they say we have great diversity which is why the goals part I'm like, eh, it's okay, but you have to focus on retention part. But when you break down the diversity from the entry level, all the way to the top, I'm talking about the top, top, not just leadership, but the board, there is a steep drop-off! And it is a terrible thing when you see all the diversity at the entry level, and as you move up the corporate ladder, it just completely completely disappears.
Chad (20m 22s):
Okay. I'm going to give you my cynic view. Cause, I don't believe that the people in power, let's just say old white dudes want to give up the power at all. Rather, they create aspirational goals through billions of dollars with a B at training and then make excuses for not hiring, not having hiring outcomes and/or promoting underrepresented populations through the ranks, driving a wage equality. And the list goes on and on. So in short, we haven't made progress because the people in power don't want to give it up.
Star (20m 54s):
Can we change that? I agree. I mean, there's companies that very much so align what you're saying. And at least at Kanarys, when we are partnering with companies, we want to partner with companies that have executive buy-in and actually want to change the system with DEI, but you're absolutely right. There are so many companies in which I don't think there's a true desire for DEI. It's more like a check the box initiative. Let's make sure we have these things for our marketing materials. Let's make sure we can at least proclaim that we're doing something. But when it really, when you pull that back that curtain, that from that look into the organization specifically, you really see nothing. You see these steep drop drop-offs, you're seeing the issues that I mentioned earlier.
Star (21m 35s):
And I think the change that it's going to be a long haul, but I at least am positive about the fact that we are with respect to wanting to really have change. Yeah.
Joel (21m 51s):
And, you know, Star, when I look at questions like this or any question really in life, I say, follow the money. And when you first started talking about the investment community, and when I think about, you know, how can we really change the direction on some of this stuff? It seems like the root of this is where the money is going and where investment is being, you know, sort of put to.... Do you, were you seeing any changes in the, the VC world as you were trying to raise money? Do you see the VC world changing? Do you see more people of color and diversity starting venture capital firms and putting money into organizations like yours?
Star (22m 28s):
We are definitely seeing a change. There's been a lot more commitments as a part of the entire racial justice movement. And that's inclusive in the BC world. We're seeing a lot more VC firms commit more to getting more people of color within their VC ranks. Right? Cause a lot of times you see the VCs and there's no people of color that are part of that specific VC. We're seeing that we're seeing more be started by people of color. We're seeing more commitments, whether it's majority white or a black or a person of color started more commitments to investing in and founders of color. So it has been changing. And I think we'll continue to see more and more initiatives like this come about.
Star (23m 13s):
I'm just hoping that we see much more of it in the longterm. It's not just a short-term thing, especially why racial justice right now is the focus. What I would hate to see is that some of these things are, so short-term this time five years ago, everyone's off the racial justice discussions and onto the next subject matter. But I do think we're seeing trends.
Joel (23m 34s):
Yeah. Has it changed in the white house made you more optimistic or changed any of your views on the future?
Star (23m 40s):
Yeah, it's definitely made me more optimistic.
Chad (23m 44s):
There's an old white guy in the White House. I don't know if you knew that Joel, but there's an old white guy in the White House.
Star (23m 49s):
It's definitely made me more optimistic. We'll see if those changes carry through. I, you know, I think we've already seen a lot more progress from the previous man to the current man. You know, even with our VP being a woman of color, there's definitely more progress that we've seen.
Joel (24m 8s):
Yeah Chad. Not all white guys are the same.
Chad (24m 11s):
Star (24m 13s):
They're both older white guys with differing views and class <inaudible>
Chad (24m 18s):
Some of the recruiting industry's biggest issues start with bloated requirements carried by the job posting itself. Are you guys analyzing job requirements to help stop the bias from jump street at all?
Star (24m 30s):
Yeah, so we currently don't have that goal to our software, but it's actually on our roadmap because what we're seeing a lot of questions about from our prospects is can you help us with job descriptions? We're getting that, we're getting those questions and they increase a lot. And I think that as we look at our roadmap, we really want to make that be one of our core offerings to make sure that we have that built into our software so we can help companies with their job descriptions and making sure they're not using words that may automatically turn off a female, make sure they're not listing 50 qualifications cause we know women feel like they haven't checked every single one before they apply. So it's on our roadmap, it's not there now, but we definitely want to get there because we're getting more inquiries about that from our prospects.
Chad (25m 17s):
So what do you see is the fastest route to parody? One what one big step would provide the biggest impact for every company that's listening right now? What could they do?
Star (25m 29s):
I think what they could do for parody is, it's really about the professional development. I think where we run into trouble, especially with people of color or other underrepresented employees, if there's a lack of sponsorship and by sponsor mentorship is there usually they're just good mentors in place, but sponsorship the people that are the ones that put their neck on the line, have the power to pull you through and get you promoted through an organization. And I feel like that is a huge part of what's missing in these organizations, especially for underrepresented. I think part of that, it's just leadership tends to be yeah, white, older males and those white, older males tend to gravitate for people that remind them of themselves.
Star (26m 12s):
And so the underrepresented employees there, fall through the cracks. And so I think if they're going to be intentionality specifically geared towards sponsorship, we could start seeing some changes faster than not. But that's just not just one thing. I know there's a number of things companies really need to do to try to start fixing this, these major issues when it comes to parity.
Chad (26m 36s):
The go hard line on this last question, if we mandated and say the federal government mandated transparency around workforce composition and also pay equity and actually to be able to demonstrate who's getting paid, what doesn't have to be by person obviously, but by aggregate, how do you think that would actually impact the industry? Do you think it would be for the positive or do you think that would actually negatively impact what you're trying to do at Kanarys?
Star (27m 4s):
I think transparency equates to accountability. And I think the problem with D&I is that we don't have enough transparency. I think people, companies are nervous about their numbers about DEI, I really don't want to bring it out into the front of the center. So I think if we have mandates where companies had to be more transparent about their D&I initiatives or their numbers, I think we would all of a sudden see a sense of additional accountability. And I think that's what's needed for these companies to really say, Oh crap. Yeah, everyone's looking at this, we've got to do something and it's very apparent that we are falling behind our industry competitors. And so we've got to do something to get back in front of the group of folks and we're on top again.
Star (27m 48s):
So I would be a proponent of more transparency. I know from a company standpoint, it can be very scary, but I think that accountability and transparency is absolutely what needs to happen in order for companies to all jump on this bandwagon. Really funding the needle for DEI.
Chad (28m 6s):
Rip off the bandaid, do it.
Joel (28m 9s):
Last one for me over/under - nine wins for the Cowboys, this coming season?
Star (28m 14s):
Oh gosh. That's a good question. I always go into the season really optimistic only to be utterly really disappointed, but it ...
Joel (28m 27s):
Sounds like an under to me, Chad.
Chad (28m 30s):
Star (28m 31s):
Don't want to answer without a direct answer. We'll see. I'm hoping to be optimistic this year and be pleased by the end of the season. We'll see.
Joel (28m 40s):
Star Carter, everybody.
Chad (28m 42s):
Joel (28m 43s):
Co-founder CEO of Kanarys. Star for those who want to know more about you or Kanarys. Where should they go?
Star (28m 49s):