Transcript: Is a Culture of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Important? (EP44)
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Brendan: Hello and welcome to The Culture of Things podcast. I'm your host, Brendan Rogers and this is episode 44. Today, I'm talking with Erica Johnson. Erica is the Head of Diversity, Equity, and Belonging at Chime. Chime is the fastest-growing FinTech in the US. It's a technology company focused relentlessly on helping you achieve financial peace of mind. Erica is a people person and has spent her career building effective people and human resource functions through a focus on the employee experience in diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Before her role at Chime, she led the Global People Function at Nitro Software. When she's not in the office or working remotely, you can find her gardening, hiking, or testing a new recipe. If you care about creating inclusive cultures, which ultimately lead to more collaborative and productive workforces, then you need to listen to this conversation. Erica, welcome to the Culture of Things Podcast.
Erica: Hello, Brendan. How are you?
Brendan: I'm very, very well. How are you today?
Erica: Good. Thanks for having me. I'm really excited about this conversation.
Brendan: Me too. Now you were recommended to me by a mutual friend of ours called Mark Bragg. He made a comment to me. He said, "Erica is one of the good HR people."
Erica: I love that and I try to be. I think most HR people are good HR people and some get a little lost along the way. I don’t want to be associated with those that are a little lost. I think good HR people just mean you're really focused on people, so I try to be.
Brendan: Absolutely, he was unbelievably complimentary of you and has a high level of respect.
Erica: He’s pretty amazing, so that means a lot. He's really amazing.
Brendan: He is. He's a good guy and I'm so happy to have a conversation with you today. Thanks for giving up your time.
Erica: Yeah. Thanks for having me.
Brendan: Erica, we've got a bit to cover through this diversity, equity, inclusion topic which you are so passionate about. First of all, you've moved from Nitro, taking a bit of a shift, and you’ve gone into this business—Chime. How about you tell us a little bit about Chime and what was it about you that you wanted to make this move?
Erica: I think you said a lot about what Chime is, but Chime is a FinTech company based in SF. We also have offices in Chicago and Vancouver. It's really focused on having products and services that help our members achieve financial peace of mind. It's so important.
A lot of what Chime’s mission is really to make sure we're doing that for people who might not necessarily have all of those options available to them in banking or might have been left behind in normal banking. We try to do that by not charging fees, educating our members, with really being member-obsessed is one of our values. I really appreciate being able to be a part of this great company. It’s really awesome.
We also have a really good culture. A culture of people who are really behind the mission actually believes a lot in being member-obsessed, but also doing that as we team up is another one of our values. Doing that collaboratively and we also have a value of chime in. Doing that in a way that we’re all seen and heard.
Brendan: Fantastic. Erica, you were heading up the HR function at Nitro, you've moved to Chime, and you're now heading up the diversity, equity, inclusion area. What was behind that move for you? Why was it such an important move in your career?
Erica: Because I’m really passionate about this work. Obviously, I spent eight years with Nitro and it's an amazing team. I really enjoyed my time there. I grew a lot here. I did a lot there. They were recently—as of December last year—listed on the ASX, and it was just a lot of hard work and great work for eight years.
When I decided to choose my next adventure, I think it really came down to what did I want to be doing that I'm really passionate about? I am really passionate about people, but this recently has become a focus of a lot of companies, which is a really good thing. During my time owning the entire org—that's payroll benefits, performance management, all those things—DEB or DEI really become something that you focus on for a quarter or two and then gets lost in the sauce a little bit when you're trying to do it all.
Especially when you don't have a particular owner, Nitro was a smaller company. It was about a little over 200 people. During that time, I really cared about this but then the next thing would come up. We're trying to list, we’re trying to do all these things. This allows me to really focus on it and also build it from the ground up. Chime, before me, does not currently have a DEB function. I'm the starter of that. I'm a builder. I like to build. Right now that's what I'm doing for Chime and I'm really loving it.
Brendan: I want you to explain, for me when I think about diversity, equity, inclusion, I would hate for somebody to ask me for those definitions because I'm not sure I could really articulate that well, but you're in that space so I'm hoping you can. Can you tell us what is diversity, what is equity, and what is inclusion?
Erica: Really, the diversity piece—I say this, I’m actually building these pillars for Chime, and what do these things mean for Chime? Diversity is having lots of different perspectives, experiences, and voices on every team, at every level, throughout the company. It's diverse points of view. That means we all don't look the same, don't have the same background.
The homogenous piece of having a room full of everybody that looks the same, that went to the same school, that have the same approach and see the world very similarly, that can create a bit of a pigeon hole and having a lot of blind spots. Focus on having more voices in the room with different perspectives is really what that's about—diversity.
Equity is making sure that things are equal and fair. There's integrity in the process. How are you promoting people? How are you paying people? We really look at lots of things being said especially in Silicon Valley about women not being paid as much as men, certain ethnicities not being paid like certain others. How do you create a sense of equity within a company? That's just the moral and right thing to do. If you're doing the work, you should be paid accordingly. You should have the same opportunities to be promoted, to grow, to move up, to have your voice heard in a room. That's the equity piece.
Inclusive or belonging is being able to show up and feel like you belong there, that this is someplace that you are accepted for who you are. What your views are, how you see the world, how you grew up. I think the thing about the belonging piece is people really don't have a true understanding of what it is when you don't feel like you belong.
If you are in a space where you don't feel like your voice is heard or you can't be your authentic self, you're not able to do great work. You actually aren’t. You're constantly watching, did you say the right thing? Did you do the right thing? How is your opinion taken?
Breaking a lot of that down so that we’re really focusing on people feeling seen and heard, no matter who they are is so important. That's the belonging piece of that or the inclusivity piece of it. You feel included in the company even if you don't look like the CEO.
Brendan: You mentioned CEO at the end and I was going to ask this question even if you didn't mention CEO because I know there are various CEOs listening to this podcast or have listened to The Culture of Things podcast. If I'm a CEO and I don’t know a lot about the space, how do you sell it to me? I’ll come to you, I'm a CEO, and say, Erica, what's the business case for this?
Erica: What's not the business case for this?
Brendan: I need more than that Erica. My shareholders need more, my board needs more.
Erica: It's a no-brainer. When I talked about blind spots, unless you're a team of one, you need a level of diversity, equity, and belonging in order for it to operate at the highest level. You cannot have this and I think you'll be missing out on what's potentially available for your business. You are then only in a room where either you’re listening to yourself, and you don't have any other viewpoints or being challenged and able to see other viewpoints. You aren’t treating everyone fairly, that’s the equity piece. They're not happy, that's just not good for business.
If people don’t feel like they can actually be who they are, you're also missing out. You're missing out on them sharing their point of view or being able to show up and do really good work for you. The business case really is businesses that are known to be more diverse have better numbers. That’s just it. They have better numbers. They have happier employees, happier customers, employees who take better care of customers. Their products really appeal to a broader range of people.
When you have a really diverse product team, you're catching a spot that you might not see from just your perspective in building that product. Even in how you're selling your product, your marketing of that product, all those things. It's important from a business case for us to do this.
It’s the right thing. If you want to consider yourself as a great culture company, great culture companies do good by people. They have a viewpoint of the world that we want to do well for employees and create culture because culture exists, good or bad. That’s the other thing, culture is not always good. Culture exists, good or bad. You want to have a good culture. Then you're going to want to make sure that your employees are feeling taken care of and feeling good about being here.
Brendan: Okay, you've sold it to me.
Brendan: Now you’ve sold it to me, my next question to you as CEO is why aren’t so many other companies doing it?
Erica: I think it's hard. I think there is work in this. What’s the easy thing for us to do is when you're starting a business, you go out, you need someone, you hire a friend or you partner with a friend—you partner with people who think very similarly to you. You can keep going down that path, or you can take a minute and actually think, we all think the same right now because we’re friends. You're my first founding team, founding teams are so tight-knit until they’re not, that’s a different podcast. Founding teams are so tight-knit because they all have a similar idea.
But you have no one coming in to challenge that and things like that. That's the hard work. It's like, actually, we need to break this cycle. We need to have a diversity level. We can keep filling this room with more and more people that look like us or think like us, or we can start to bring in some different points of view and different backgrounds. There’s work in that. There's work in finding that. There’s work in accepting that. People think you don't have to do it. They think it's a simple let's hire another person of colour. That's our diversity.
No, this is actually harder than you think because actually, if you don't have any people of colour at your company, it’s going to be much harder to get another person of colour because they don't want to be the only person. You don't have a very inclusive environment. You aren't saying we take anyone and everyone that aligns more with our mission and our values. You're saying we take anyone and everyone that looks like us that aligns more with our mission and our values, or thinks like us as far as how we see the world.
Again, it's hard work. I think it's hard work. I also think sometimes the soft stuff—the things where we’re talking about people's emotions, empathy, compassion—are lost when you're comparing it to sales numbers, product roadmaps, release dates, marketing leads. When you just want to compare those two things, these things are very obviously intangible. CEOs would rather focus there, but I think they're missing out on a really great opportunity to reach the full potential of the company.
Brendan: I know you really early in your journey at Chime and I think this is a great opportunity to extract some of this thinking out from you because you're doing a lot of thinking, a lot of planning at the moment.
I'm just going to put that to one side for a minute because you talked about measures again. Your journey at Chime has just started and who knows how long you'll be there? Whatever you do, I'm sure you do a fantastic job, but what does this successful diversity, equity, inclusion look like for you that you've done a really good job in your role and have helped the organisation tick some boxes in the space?
Erica: I hope what it will look like is us having a more diverse workforce. Chime is doing a good job at that right now, but we could be doing better obviously over here, and that's what we’re going to be working on. Everyone at Chime is feeling it that way, feeling like we have a more diverse workforce and inclusiveness, I think again they're doing a really good job at that.
When we talk about metrics, numbers, and things like that when it comes to marketing leads, sales leads, this work has its own numbers. The data says a lot. We did have a chat about the fact that I'm going to be meeting with a few of my fellow Chimers next week to really start telling a story with our data as to what we think is happening versus what is actually happening. Do we think we have a diverse workforce? Kind of. We look around and maybe, but if we look at the numbers that might not be the story.
The truth is those numbers are important for us to change so that we are just telling ourselves a story. The story is actually real. If we say we have a diverse workforce, then numbers actually say that. Hopefully, the numbers will say we have somewhat of a diverse workforce. They sort of start to say that right now, but I think the original numbers I looked at say that we can do better.
At the end of this, those numbers should look different. I think just from equity and inclusion, we've already started digging into a lot of those numbers, and Chime is doing a great job with the equity piece as far as making sure everyone from process and pay are treated the same. It's looking really good.
And then from a belonging standpoint, I think people feel very inclusive. We're doing employee resource groups, creating spaces for those that might be in more marginalised communities. I'm working very closely with them. Creating a great culture in which those are highlighted and available to create some sense of belonging. You're not the only one that looks like they come from this background, from parents, to the LGBTQIA community, to African-Americans or blacks at Chime—creating a lot of space for that.
I think when I leave Chime, which is hopefully not for a while, that those things will all be even more expanded and very upfront for everyone to see. We're doing a good job of it right now, and I'm just going to work on doing an even better job.
Brendan: You mentioned a word, Chimers. Not specifically related to that topic, but you hear about these companies reportedly having good cultures and stuff and they have a name for the people. You’ve referred to Chimers, how important do you think that he is?
Erica: I think it ties us all together in a way. At Nitro, we were called Nitronauts. At Chime, it was awesome. I actually love it, [...] of Nitronauts.
Brendan: Is that linking to your astrology background?
Erica: It might be a little bit. It had to do with Milo, which is our little mascot. He had a little jet pack fuel filled with nitro and he went out in space. We were called Nitronauts, which is a really great thing. Chimers, I think it's a great way to tie everybody together. I think values are really what should tie everyone together. But when you tie the name to the values, it all just makes it a lot easier and a little fun.
We’re Chimers, these are our values, and these are all things that we really believe in at this company. If you're at this company, these are things that really drive you as well. I felt the same about Nitro and Nitronauts.
Brendan: Well, I'm sure you make a fantastic Chimer.
Erica: I hope so. It’s been six weeks, eight weeks, something like that.
Brendan: Let's go back to the start of the journey where you're at. The DEI role, you're the head of DEI. I guess it's this first 90 days, that first 100 days. You’re doing this planning at the moment. If I'm a company and I'm thinking about this space, you're heading up that in Chime, what do you think is important in that first 90, 100 days for you to tick off?
Erica: I think, one, really talking to everyone. I've been spending my first 90 days—we're a company of about close to 600 right now and with lots of growth ahead. Chime has grown significantly in the last year. Actually, a lot of that can be start of pandemic, so kudos to Chime for being able to successfully onboard so many people during this time. I think, for me, it's really the conversations.
Sometimes I'm in back-to-back calls all day, but just having conversations. It’s really getting an understanding of how everyone thinks about this topic. Coming in new, that means I don't have any preconceived notions about things. Everyone just tells me what is their hope for this. Some people think things are great as they are, which is fine. Some people would really want to hold Chime to a few metrics and things like that.
Let's get everyone talking to me. I talked to Chris Britt, our CEO. I’ve obviously spoken with Beth Steinberg who is our CPO, our Head of People, and lots of other people in the company. I'm doing my own interview process. Out of my list—I think I started with 55 people—I'm down to my last 10 to get down to, and just having really great conversations and understanding that.
I think the other part is digging into the data, which I’ll have looked at a high level and I want some of the data experts to help me dig a little deeper, and come up with what can be done at the start of this? Where are our priorities?
The other thing about DEI work is it's never stopping. It will always be here. It's something that you will have to keep doing because the minute we aren't doing it, things take a natural turn for what is easiest which is, again, why I said I like the idea of focusing on it because when you're focused on it, you can make the change. If you aren't, the minute you take your eye off the ball—I've learned as head of people—things start to revert back a little bit. You find yourself with definitely changes because the team is changing. People are constantly coming in, you're hiring. There’s a constant change in the company, so you need to be focused on it.
To get back to that point, it’s just really where are the priorities? Where can we start? When can we start moving the needle? Instead of trying what we call boil the ocean because you can’t try to boil the ocean if you're trying to do all these things at one time, especially as a team of one. I hope to grow this team and will be growing this team this year, but still, it will not be some massive team that is 1 versus 600.
How do I get everyone involved and how do we tackle what we still like to make the most impact right now? That's what I'm starting. What do those goals look like for this year? Also, I think the other thing is setting expectations around what can actually be done within this amount of time? People think you get focused on DEI, great, we hired someone. That person has a ton of work ahead of them. This work—the way you planned for it—actually means changing slight behaviours, changing processes, changing procedures, which means you don't always see the impact of that immediately.
It's not going to be something you see a lot. Oh, we brought someone on and three months in, we have a completely diverse workforce. Everyone is feeling good about being here and feels included. That's not necessarily what you're going to see. I hope to see changing that at the end of the year, but also setting expectations about what this process is going to look like.
Brendan: You also mentioned just before that Chime’s about 600 people, have grown a lot, and they’re looking to grow in the future. Is this DEI space? Is this just for big companies?
Erica: No. I love that question. Chime is actually getting a head start on it. I would say how rapidly Chime is growing is actually—I think when I was starting we were closer to 500. We're really growing rapidly at this point. I've said I've talked to about 55 people, and it's lovely to hear people say like how long have you been here? It’s like two months, three months, five months, and five weeks, that type of thing. It’s growing rapidly.
I think all companies of all sizes need to be focused on this work. Whether or not they can have the resources available to them, obviously I'm aware of. As I said, Nitro is a smaller company. This fell under me as a Head of People. I didn’t have someone to just own this. But focusing on this work, the sooner the better. The sooner you get started on it, the easier it will be because trying to create a more diverse, inclusive culture, all those things when you're 1000 employees versus when you're 100 employees, it’s a much different road.
I would say if you are more than a team of 1 and you are now hiring a 2nd person, you're hiring your 15th person, or you're hiring your 57th person, you can start focusing on this, absolutely.
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What would you say to people out there that the diversity, equity, inclusion space and there are some really proactive companies and people that really believe in this space and like anything, there are detractors? What would you say to those people that might think this is just another fad coming through in the people space in HR?
Erica: I’d say it's not going anywhere. I think people want it to be sometimes because it's hard. In starting this work, I had a really great pleasure of rebuilding my network around this. I would say before, I had a great network of other HR leaders who I could call up and speak with, and I really loved that. Now that I'm in this space, I'm more focused on this space because this is just an extension of that people function. My more focus on space is rebuilding my network for what have leaders been doing? Who is the leader in the space now?
I found leaders that have been doing this for 15 years or 10 years, for 4 years. It’s been around. People haven’t really been focused on it. I think it really takes shifts in the world and what's been happening recently that sometimes gets people refocused on it, but it's not going anywhere. Employees are constantly going to want, and I think businesses are going to start to see the benefit of having more diverse and inclusive workforces.
The sooner you focus on it, the better. The sooner you’re getting them into your head that this is not going away, that this is not a fad of the moment—one of my favourite quotes is like this is not a moment, this is a movement. This is what is happening now and will continue to happen. What you're going to find is that employees are going to be looking more and more for companies that are prioritising this. Get started now. If you're going to wait until next year or two years from now, it's still happening. You're just going to be behind.
Brendan: Let's look at the challenges that may come about in this space, which I'm sure there will be many. What do you see through this crystal ball of challenges in this space for you and your role and Chime actually striving to excellence in the DEI space?
Erica: There's so much to do. I think it's a huge challenge. There's so much work to do in this because a lot of companies have not been focused on it from the time that they were bringing on their 2nd employee or their 15th employee. They're either just doing this now that you’re 5000 or 1000 or Chime at 500.
There are some things already in place that might be hindering your ability to be as diverse or inclusive as you want to be, especially when you're growing really fast. When you're growing so fast you just want to bring on new people, the business needs new people, all of those things. This work is actually going to slow that down a little bit for you?
You’re going to have to be intentional. I think the challenges are great in this space because there's so much to tackle. What I try to remember in this work is just one foot in front of the other, little things, little changes will start to help. Getting a consultant, the same way you would get at that size—an account consultant or something of that nature—a complicated process when you don't have the internal resources. Put some budget aside to get a consultant to come in and help you get some prioritised things that can actually start to move you forward.
Again, this is going to be work. It's going to take time but it's worth it. It's the same thing when you want to figure out how to pay people. You know when you're starting, you want to start growing a team, and you get that first recruiting consultant. All of these things are very important for the growth of your company. If you're growing your company now, get a consultant in. Have them help you prioritise, figure out what you can be going right now to start to diversify, and make sure you're paying everybody equally—start early. Start early because the work is a lot.
Brendan: Absolutely. At the moment, there’s only one of you to do a lot of that work.
Erica: Well, that's the other piece, right? The challenges that I think when I say set expectation is that everyone thinks—Chime, obviously, no one thinks that. I've had so many great conversations about how people are passionate about this. But sometimes people think that one person is going to come in and make it all better. That is the other challenge. You have executive teams, CEOs that think I just hired this person and they're going to fix it all.
Actually, that person is going to guide you on what you need to do as a leader in leading this company because it starts with the leadership team. That's one of Mark Bragg’s favourite comments. The fish stinks from the head. If there's an issue around diversity and inclusion, it’s usually because it started at the top. You as the CEO, you as a COO, the executive team are going to have to take some responsibility in it, but get someone who's willing to partner with you and work with on what this process would look like for your company.
Brendan: Erica, I'm a big fan of the rule of three. This diversity, equity, inclusion, which we keep harping on about, this rule of three. If you put it each one of those as a pillar of that rule of three, is the one that you believe is a bigger mover of the dial than the others that you'd start with to really hone in a bit on that can start to bring things forward in the other spaces?
Erica: It's hard because you need them all. I think I would start with belonging. The thing is if you bring on more diverse opinions, backgrounds, viewpoints, or people who look different than you, have a different experience in life, it’s going to quickly not be somewhere they want to be if they don't feel like they belong there. If their viewpoint is appreciated, if their uniqueness, their background, if how they see the world isn't appreciated, heard, or seen. If you are pretty much only willing to speak to the people that look like you or speak like you, you're not going to hold on to those people. You can bring on all you want, they're not going to stay.
Again, the equity piece is tied to that as well. If you do respect and appreciate all types of views, viewpoints, and things like that, then you'll treat them fairly and create processes that are fair to everyone across the board. If you really want to focus on one thing, I think it's creating a culture of belonging. Those other two pieces become what comes along with that. People will stay because they feel like they belong to people. You will pay them. You will treat them fairly in the processes around promotion and how decisions are made because you respect who they are and who they are authentically.
Brendan: Thank you for that. Rather than make this episode a two- or three-hour episode and we talk about each one, let's focus on belonging for the moment just to give people a bit of an understanding. How do I become a Chimer that feels like I belong? What's in your ideas cabinet at the moment to start to move the dial on belonging and inclusion?
Erica: Again, it's because I'm such a people person and I care about the employee experience so much, just me in my nature how I see the world. How do you really focus on that is making sure that everything you do does not alienate anyone. If you're choosing benefits for the company, there are lots of different types of families in this world. The idea that your benefits would be around a heterosexual relationship or anything like that—we’re going to pay for our maternity leave to just women. All of these things that come into play are very much alienating other types of people outside of yourself.
If you as identify as a hetero person, great. The benefits are awesome. They say you have this much maternity leave and this much paternity leave. That's how it's usually broken. What about if you are two men who just had a child? Do you have coverage for that? Do you have ways for that person to take off? Is the way that they're starting their family being considered in your process and things like that? If you respect and care about how your employees uniquely see the world, then you would think about that. You need to think about that and the processes that you're building.
When you talk about benefits, what I really like to think about is think of the stress case instead of the best case. Think of what could possibly be the hardest way for somebody to have to be dealing with these benefits and fix them. Then it will work for everyone. If you're thinking about someone who does not have a partner, who decided they want to have a child, how are you supporting them, and how are you arranging your benefits and processes around them?
Guess what, the best case will be more than taken cared of because you thought about the stress case. You’ve thought about the case that's maybe a single dad who identifies as gay, who decided to start a family, you've given him the amount of time off. You’ve thought about how he might get support for his family. And then imagine the couple two who need time off, who need to see about their family, they're going to be just fine. They're going to be putting time off, it's all going to work out for them.
Stress case instead of best case, building stuff around that is really the best way to look at. Creating a culture of belonging because that means this company has thought about me. In what they built, they thought about the fact that I might be different than say what the CEO’s experience in life and they care, and I'm accepted here. I want to be here and I want to do hard work. I want to partner with them and I feel a part of this team.
Brendan: Yes, some great examples and the thing that's really ringing in my ears again is challenging and difficult conversations because some of these things will be very, very difficult to have conversations with people. There are lots of views and opinions around these things. How do you carry the flag for that? What do you do about this and lead this change?
Erica: I think it’s empathy, it is seeing the world from somebody else's viewpoint. It’s a tough conversation. There's a level of humanity to it and there’s a level of empathy to it. I don't think you necessarily have to approve of someone's decision in life or approve of what you think about their life to basically see them as human and that they're deserving of the same treatment as everyone else. This is the equity piece.
Just because of my skin colour, I should not be treated any differently. If you are a company that cares about this, mind you, there might be companies that don't care about this and then they've lost out. Honestly, they've lost out. But if you do, then you have to stick with yourself on that. You're going to have to see this thought of what your judgment of someone else's life is or how you see the world, and really bring in a level of humanity and empathy. If you cannot then you are going to struggle to have an inclusive space.
You are going to really have a difficult time at this. I feel sorry for the head of DEI or the consultant that you hire because they are going to struggle with you. I think CEOs, founders, leaders are going to have to take a hard look at how you are putting your thoughts and ideas onto someone else rather than accepting people for who they are.
Brendan: Do you have any awareness, understanding of the decision process that Chime CEO and the leadership team had in bringing someone like you in and having this specific focus of DEI?
Erica: I don't know a lot about the decision-making process. I think that this is important at Chime. Chime is actually really looking to create a level of equity in the world for our members. That is the mission of this company which is doing that in the financial and banking space, which is how do we help individuals who might not be able or be as accepted in typical banking situations? How do we help them build better credit, manage their spending, things like that?
They're already trying to create something inclusive, so I don't think this was that much of a challenge. I think that knowing Chris, Ryan, and Beth, and the rest of the leadership team. I think this was important for them. Again, Chime is in this upward trajectory of growth and they decided this is the time to definitely bring that in because we're growing so rapidly. Let's make sure that as we grow we're focused on this, which is important.
Brendan: To me, what you've just explained sounds like the DEI role is just an extension of their core value sets and this was just a natural progression.
Erica: Yes. Again, it might be other companies that might say, that's their mission and our mission is very different than that. But I am a person who thoroughly believes that if you want a great culture, you have to care about your people. The same kind of care and compassion that I think Chime puts towards its members, it also puts towards its employees. Having a great relationship, feeling supported, all of those things, I don't think that should be just because Chimes cares about that and that way for its members.
I think that all companies should care about the people who are investing their time in eight-plus hours a day into your business. You should care about how they feel about being there, about how they're supported. If you do, then you would put some time into making sure that the underlying to this—and that's what I think DEI underlies this whole employee experience. This is all thought about in that process.
Brendan: Erica, I would love to dig into that with you, but all of a sudden, we’d be doing a five- or six-hour podcast. I'm pretty sure people aren’t going to go to my podcast over at Joe Rogan podcast unfortunately for five hours.
Erica: It’s actually getting dark here and I’m like, oh I didn’t even turn on my lamps. I hope you can still see me with this light, my room, my office is getting quite dark. Yes, we’ll be here all night.
Brendan: Absolutely. Look, I want to ask you this question as well, what got you excited and so passionate about this space?
Erica: I identify from a lot of different, we would say are marginally underrepresented communities. I'm a Black woman and I identify as gay and lesbian. I've had my own experiences around what it is to be the only in the room—the only woman, the only Black person. Lots of people ask me when they’re going to meet my husband, type of stuff like that. I think I know what that feels like. I know what it feels like to feel alienated because no one's really thought about the fact that I might have a different point of view.
My experience in the world is very different than say a CEO who grew up very differently, who is treated differently in the world, has a lot more (I would say) privilege in the world—that's just a fact because of how the world is made up. The idea that I could start to help create more diverse and inclusive spaces is something that excites me. It's something I really believed in Nitro.
To Nitro’s credit, it has a really great way of making people feel very much a part of that company and feeling that they can show up authentically. I'd like to think I had a hand to that. I also think that comes from a level of leadership. Being able to do that at Nitro and then saying, oh I can actually help to focus that at Chime and maybe in other companies in the future, it just really excited me. Because I do know what it is like to be the only or not be considered, not thought about, not have the same benefits available to me.
Brendan: Thank you for sharing that, Erica. Just to put this in perspective—and again that link in the passion your own personal experience attaching to this—is there a situation that you feel safe and comfortable enough in sharing that has given you this empathetic view like you don't ever want people to feel like this, you never want people to experience what you may be experienced through your own journey in life?
Erica: I mean, is there a particular experience? I would say earlier on in my career. There are things that I notice about leadership—being in leadership, or becoming a leader. I won't say which companies I worked for, where this happened, or whatever, but I do know what it's like to feel very differently, being treated very differently. Being in a room full of a lot of people who look very different than me and being singled out. Every time I open my mouth or I have an idea it's not seen the same way, not considered, it's not heard.
After a while, I think the first couple of times you think, is that me? Is it just me? And then you realise, oh, it is just me. I'm the only one being treated this way. I’m the only one who hasn’t been considered, not being heard, or not being respected. And why is that? Why am I not getting the same respect as the person sitting next to me? I've had a few experiences of that. I say that to a lot of people when I started. I've had tons of times where I'm not the person not listened to, not heard. And that is not a good feeling. It is a feeling that I don't want other people to feel. That's just the bottom line.
That happened as I've gone through my career. That also comes from being part of an HR function, everyone sometimes thinks they're an HR expert because they read an article by somebody. They can tell you how to performance manage. I think being an HR person, but also being a woman, also being black, all these things come into play for sure.
Brendan: Thank you. I want to touch on recruitment a little bit because again, you’ve mentioned a number of times how Chime has recruited a lot more Chimers recently and many more to go. If I have a company and I've got a handful of employees, can I say on leading the diversity scene just because I hire a woman of colour or a man of colour?
Erica: I’m sorry, this is so funny to me. Only because, look great, that's a good start. That's what you get. You get a good start, you were really focused on that, but just hiring one person of color does not make you leading the diversity charge, and especially not leading the diversity charge if we get back to that belonging piece. And the environment that you create for that person is not one of inclusion. Also, you can't be leading it if you pay that person less than you pay most other people in the business. All of those things come into play, but a good start.
Brendan: I’ve got one star. Room for four more.
Brendan: Fantastic. Erica, what do you think is the challenge or the challenges for leaders in this diversity, equity, inclusion space? What stops them from doing anything about it?
Erica: I think it really comes down to a level of, you said exactly right, what stops them? They don't do anything. It's the paralysis in it, but it is the fear of doing the wrong thing. This is, for a lot of people, something new. Again, I don't think this is that new, but for a lot of leaders, it is new.
It's been in the news, it's been on LinkedIn, all these things. But it's not knowing what to do, not knowing the right thing—not going to say the wrong thing, not only to use the wrong terminology, all of that I think leads to a level of paralysis. So they just do nothing. It's kind of like just stand still and let things happen. I won't say anything against it, I won't say anything for it, I just would say nothing, and then everyone will be just fine. And I think that challenge is not the best way to lead.
The company, employees, and customers want you to lead. They want to know that you have an opinion on how people are treated, and how your employees and customers experience your product. So I think, start. Again, this goes back to the, sit with yourself. Where's your fear coming into? You're not familiar with this space, it’s not marketing numbers, it's not sales goals. Embrace the fact that you don't know, and that's okay. But that this is something that you think can really benefit your business, because it will. And then find someone who really knows about it.
The same thing you do when you want to list, or you want to learn how to do a pitch deck. All the other things that come into play. You want to change up your sales, go to market strategy. You hire people who know and they help you through the process. Do something. Do something, don't do nothing.
Brendan: Erica, I’d like you to share a bit of advice for people out there—small, medium, large businesses—that listen to this today or even not listening to this, they've got just an interest in DEI space, but they're not quite sure of how they do this, where they go, what they need to do. What advice would you give any leader out there that is considering this space and taking the first steps?
Erica: I think the first step is to sit with yourself for a minute. Why are you doing this? Why is this important for your business? Listen to this podcast and sit with yourself. Why isn't it even done before? Do you really honestly see the value in this, or do you just want other CEOs or other people to say, hey you're doing it too? Really this is going to be work so sit with yourself a minute. I'm a person who likes to sit with myself, think about it.
Have some level of self-awareness. We talked about this pre-show. Great leaders have self-awareness, like what you're good at, what you're not good at, what your motivation is behind things. Get to a good point about how this benefits your business and how this does good in the world. Get to that point and then decide whether or not you are at a point where you can bring on a resource to do this, or you should hire a consultant. There are all kinds of consulting packages too. People who will come in and work with you for two weeks on it, a year on it. I actually am working with the external. I think it's a benefit too.
Even me as someone hired by the company to do this work. We've brought on a third-party auditor-type DEI service consultant to basically look at everything because sometimes looking from the outside is really helpful. Then you’re just scoring yourself. I'm also working with them to go through all of Chime’s processes, to talk to employees as well, not anybody from Chime. But you can have a very open and confidential conversation with someone else externally about what your thoughts about diversity, inclusion, and equity of Chime are.
There are all kinds of ways to approach that, but get a place to start. Where do you want to be? What's your motivation around this? Where are you on your business journey? And then maybe connecting with someone who can help you with that. Because what you're really going to do is in the workaround. Looking at your processes, looking at your data, and things like that. I think, honestly, a lot of people might be in over their heads with some of this stuff. It's harder to do and know what to do than I think you might think. You could start there.
But first, why are you doing this? Is this a trend for you? If it's a trend, you're going to bring someone in and you're going to expect them to change it for you really quickly so you can be on a trend. And that's not what this is going to be about. It's not gonna happen that way.
Brendan: I love that advice. Always head-starting with whys. I think [...] is famous for that. But if that why is really true and reflect on that, then it's going to come through in all the decisions you make. What would you say to somebody who's maybe doing it for that trend reason? Are they better just don't do it?
Erica: I think if you're doing it for the trend reason, expect to be doing it again in two years when it actually hits closer to home. If you're doing it for the trend reason, then you're not going to have the right motivation behind it, which means you're going to get started on it, and then very quickly you're going to fall off, and not be doing it. Because your motivation was to get on with the trend, and the trend is still going.
The trend is still happening because it’s not a dream. People are still doing this work. It's not in the news cycles anymore. People aren’t posting as much on LinkedIn about it and things like that. You're going to fall off because of that. In two years, you're going to look back and figure out, oh, I actually needed that. Why am I having employee complaints about this being a toxic work environment and all these types of things? How am I running into all this?
Remember that thing from two years ago? That was a trend. That was to help you build a culture in which people wouldn't feel that way. So now you're gonna have to get back to it and start again.
Brendan: Erica, thank you for sharing that again. I know that we could really dig down into so many of these areas, and as we've said numerous times, we could talk for hours and hours. Given that, I think what would be best is how about you tell listeners how they can get hold of you? Because then they can contact you and you can talk to them for hours, and hours, and hours.
Erica: I sent the link. You can look me up on LinkedIn, Erica Johnson, Chime. I sent the link there. You can also find me on Twitter. I'm more of a retweeter a lot than I am a tweeter. You might find a tweet for me here and there. But I tweet a lot about the culture because I actually think the people that are following say a lot of things best. But that's @erica_a_johnson on Twitter.
You'll find that I follow some really great DEI folks, some of the best culture folks that I know, including Mark Bragg, lots of other leaders in tech, and a lot of other people around social justice and things like that. I would say I love a good Twitter, retweet, retweet, retweet, but you might get a little nugget here in there for me about how DEI’s working in tech right now.
Brendan: Well, you mentioned Mark Bragg again. I’ve only known Mark for about 18 months or so and he's a fantastic dude. If he says anybody is a fantastic person, which he says about you, then you will have absolutely fantastic nuggets of gold to share. He speaks so complimentary of you and obviously the work you've done together at Nitro. I know you're doing a fantastic job at Chime and being one of the best Chimers going around, I’m sure. Well done on your appointment, and congratulations on living your passion and actually making a difference.
Erica: I really, really appreciate it, Brendan, and I really appreciate you giving me the opportunity. I haven't been doing a ton in the pandemic around networking, panels, or anything like that. I was really excited about this conversation, and it’s been really great. And again, yes, we can be talking forever. I’m probably going to be fully in the dark pretty soon. It’s good that we're wrapping up because otherwise, I got to stand up and turn the light on in my office. But I really appreciate the opportunity to talk about something I'm so passionate about.
I hope that it's been beneficial to your listeners, and if there's anything else—little nuggets, questions, or whatever—they can find me. I'm happy to help. I try to do much as I can in space. I'm even happy to suggest some great consultants and things like that.
Brendan: Erica, it’s been an absolute pleasure. Thank you for being a guest on The Culture Things podcast, and I look forward to our relationship continuing. Thank you.
Brendan: You can hear through Erica's voice her passion, dedication, and commitment to her new DEI role at Chime. Diversity, equity, and inclusion is such an important topic around the globe. All countries and businesses are at different stages of development in this area. It is something that isn't going away and needs to be embraced.
The experience Erica shared about being asked when they would meet her husband was a simple yet powerful example. We have to be very mindful of the stereotypes we may have in our heads and how even a question like that could potentially impact a person feeling excluded rather than included. Like all changes, curiosity is the foundation for understanding. When we understand, we can all move forward together.
These are my three key takeaways from my conversation with Erica. My first key takeaway, leaders do what they believe in. Erica was leading the HR function for nine years at Nitro, and I have it on very good authority that she did a fantastic job. She decided to move on from there to take on a new challenge in a role that she's extremely passionate about. Leading the way across the diversity, equity, and inclusion space for Chime. As Gandhi said, "Be the change you want to see in the world." Erica is a leader who is being the change in doing what she believes in.
My second key takeaway. diversity, equity, and inclusion are for all companies—big and small. Diversity is being mindful that each individual is unique and their individual differences are recognised. This can be across many different areas. For example race, gender, sexual orientation, physical abilities, or political beliefs. Equity is making sure things are equal and fair. And there's integrity in the process. For example, how people are being paid.
Inclusion, also known as belonging, is people being able to show up, be who they are, and be accepted. Basically being accepted as your authentic self. Based on the DEI definitions and examples, it is a no-brainer. DEI is for all companies—big and small.
My third key takeaway. A great culture starts with caring about your people. Given that DEI is about caring for your people, it has to form a part of the intention to build a great culture. People invest their time and energy in a company, and companies must repay this by caring about their people. Have this as a basis and you have a solid foundation for building a great culture.
So in summary, the three key takeaways were, leaders do what they believe in. Diversity, equity, and inclusion are for all companies—big and small. A great culture starts with caring about your people.
I want to give another shout-out to one of our listeners, Matt, who has taken the time to leave a rating and review on Apple Podcasts. Matt said, "A great professionally produced podcast series with quality guests. Highly recommended for any teams looking to maximise their potential." Thank you, Matt. I really appreciate your feedback.
Now to our competition. To win this week's $30 Jangler gift card of your choice, answer this question. What name do they give to employees at Chime? Send your answer to email@example.com Thank you for listening. Stay safe, until next time.
Outtro (music): Thank you for listening to The Culture of Things podcast with Brendan Rogers. Please visit brendanrogers.com.au to access the show notes. If you love The Culture of Things podcast, please subscribe, rate and give a review on Apple podcasts and remember a healthy culture is your competitive advantage.