A frank discussion about diversity, inclusion, and allyship
At Productboard, we are committed to creating an environment where diversity and inclusion are standard. This means making a continuous effort to broaden our perspectives, learn from one another, and develop a shared understanding of what D&I means to us as a company.
In this spirit, we organized a special panel discussion featuring inspirational business leaders from the Black community. Together, they discussed the challenges they have faced in the workplace, what diversity and inclusion look like in practice, and what we can all do to tackle prejudice and discrimination.
Hosted by Productboarders Daisy Chaffee and Chris Flournoy, the panel included Danielle Barnett, Associate Director of Transformational Tech Stack at AT&T; Darrell Pierre, CRO at Full Measure; Scott Washington, VP of Partnerships at MajorClarity; and Tatiana Arthur, Chief of Staff, People, Sustainability, Diversity, and Inclusion at SAP.
Here’s a lightly edited version of the conversation.
Welcome, everyone. If you take a look back at your professional journey so far, what has it been like? What challenges have you faced along the way?
Danielle Barnett: First, I always like to convey that I’m very blessed. I love what I do, and I’ve finally reached that point in my career where I can say that I have my dream job.
As far as challenges go, when I worked at a previous company, I was in sales from the age of 22 to about 25. I knew for a long time that I didn’t want to be in sales. But when I took the leap into being more technical, many people assumed that I wasn’t a good fit for any technical role. I guess I didn’t look the part.
Even though I was the most qualified person, had the most certifications, and understood new platforms better than anyone else, I had to prove myself more times and interview more times than anyone else. I try to focus on the positives, and one of the key things I learned is that if you keep trying to knock down a door and it doesn’t open for you, maybe you need to try a different door. Because you’re wasting your time.
The second thing I would say is that you have to have a network that both looks like and doesn’t look like you.
“You’re missing out if your network just looks like or doesn’t look like you at all. Because privilege is real, and there are conversations that people can have that you aren’t able to. You might not even be in the room.”
I’m a huge advocate of having different layers to your network – peers, mentors, champions. And they all need to be diverse, or you’re just not playing the game well.
Tatiana Authur: I will say that tokenism is real, and conscious bias exists. When referring colleagues for a position, project, or opportunity, people tend to recommend those who are similar to them. And it’s not all about race – it could be because the person attended the same university.
I work for a company that has over 100k employees, most of whom look very similar. I’ve been the first or only in many situations. I’ve been tokenized. I was the first Black person accepted into one company initiative, and I constantly had to deal with people asking what I was doing there or how I got into tech. It got me thinking, is this something that everyone is asked with such curiosity? Are other people being asked how they found themselves in tech?
We hear about imposter syndrome a lot, and I want to say to anyone who has experienced imposter syndrome that it’s a projection. It’s based on the idea that something looks a certain way, and if you don’t look like that archetype, you’re an ‘other.’ It’s like if you’ve experienced someone asking you in the US, where are you really from?
“Automatically ‘othering’ people is something we do unconsciously. So I’d recommend that people listening think about how ‘othering’ people or subconscious bias can make people feel – how it marginalizes and isolates them.”
Scott Washington: For me, there’s been a tremendous level of growth. I learned that you can be exceptional, but those other guys can be exceptional and get promoted and become VPs and presidents of sales divisions.
It’s sad that we have to have this conversation in the 21st Century, but it’s true. There are so many different hoops and hurdles you have to jump through to not seem aggressive, to not be a guy who’s pushy or disrespectful. The way to get there is with a tremendous amount of maturity – and a lot of biting your tongue.
That helped me a ton in my journey, especially in the EdTech space and startup world, where you can have great ideas but nobody gives you credit for them. When you grow a company to a certain point, they start looking for somebody else that looks the part to take them the rest of the way.
Darrell Pierre: I see a lot of threads running through the conversation that I relate to. But I have been fortunate. I have been given great opportunities throughout my career by people who didn’t just see the color of my skin but also my talent. But as I look back over my career, what was interesting to me is that other people given the same opportunities actually would have gotten more – more compensation, faster promotions. Because they would have advocated for themselves.
Coming from my background, I always felt lucky, and I think that can hurt you. If you feel lucky to be in a situation, you’re not going to press issues the way you should. When organizations have the opportunity to hire and promote talented people, they should be the ones that feel lucky.
Now that I’m a sales leader, and I’ve been a sales leader for many, many years, it’s still amazing to me how many 22-year-old children of privilege come to me and say, “It’s been three months, where’s my promotion?” Or, “Shouldn’t I get some points on this deal?” When I was at that stage in my career, I was just happy that the paycheck cleared.
“Everyone should be rewarded commensurate with the talent and energy they bring, and no one should feel lucky. If the company hired you, they did it for a reason. And you should get everything that everyone at a similar level gets. But no one’s going to give it to you – you’ve got to ask for it and sometimes fight for it.”
How you do that is important. For me, I come with the data. I come with the stats, the analytics, the graphics, the confetti. It’s not about being the loudest – you’ve got to do it the right way. For me, a lot of it is internal and recognizing that my worth is the same as anyone else doing the same job, delivering the same results.
Allyship has become quite a buzzword. For those unfamiliar with the concept, it’s about how we can support all of these different layers of diversity even if we are not a part of that group. What does allyship mean to you, and what advice do you have for those just getting started?
Tatiana Arthur: I’ve had some recent experiences in my personal life with the need for allyship, and of course, it’s something that I discuss a lot at work. First of all, I think it’s about recognizing that there is a dominant race, and those who are not part of that dominant race are often considered marginalized. So when we look for allies, it’s about recognizing that we can have more people from that dominant race speak about the things that we experience.
I have the lived experience of being Black. When I talk about certain things, people may not listen to me as much. It may fall on deaf ears because it’s another Black person talking about Black things, or another woman talking about woman things. That’s why when we have men being allies for women, or White people talking about Black issues, they’re able to get more people to pay attention.
Yesterday at SAP, we hosted a town hall meeting. We didn’t have a lot of time to plan it. I wish that we didn’t have to in the first place. But it was to have some of our Asian-American colleagues share their personal experiences with hate crimes. My voice is shaking because this gets me upset, and I’m passionate about it. When I saw all of these things happening in the press, I reached out to my Asian-American friends and said, “What can I do? How can we utilize our platform to support you?”
“The first rule of allyship is listening. I don’t care how much you’ve studied it or educated yourself. Education does not make up for our lived experience.”
People need to talk about this and reach out to their Asian-American colleagues. That is an example of allyship. What can I do in any way to help amplify this message and get other people that look like me to listen?
Danielle Barnett: I identify as Black. I have lived a Black experience, but I am Black and White – my father is White, and my mother is Black. I watched all kinds of colonialism and oppression happen in my home and outside of my home. So I’ve always been very passionate about race, even when I was little.
I remember the first time I had a racist experience. I was in kindergarten, and that’s when I realized that I was different from everybody else. As my first school experience, I was told on the bus on my way to kindergarten that my parents weren’t allowed to love each other. That was my education and indoctrination into the world outside my family.
To add to what Tatiana said, I think that yes, you should absolutely listen, but you should do the work too. Read up on something. Don’t expect Asian, Black, Latino, or transgender people to educate you. There are so many books out there.
At the end of the day, we all have privilege. I am a straight Black woman who grew up in a Christian household – that in itself has privilege. Speaking English in America has privilege. So privilege goes so many different ways.
“Allyship is a verb – you cannot just sit there and say, “Hey, Black friend, tell me how I can help you with being Black.” Read a couple of books first, then call me. That’s my prerogative. I’m always going to help, but if you don’t know anything about this subject, you have a much bigger issue.”
I don’t know Tatiana. I don’t know Scott. I don’t know Darrell. But we have all talked about experiences that are the same. We didn’t coordinate this, and I didn’t have a call beforehand. That means that what we’re going through is real. And that means other things are going on that are real too.
If you hear somebody saying something that’s wrong, say something. If somebody tells a joke that’s not OK, say, “You know what, I know a lot of people are laughing, but that’s really messed up.” I know that it doesn’t feel comfortable, and it may seem like you’re being combative. But you may have made that person think twice about what they just said.
If you notice that there’s not a single person that doesn’t look like you in a meeting, ask your HR staff or your hiring managers, “Hey, I just noticed there are no women in this room. What have we done to make sure that a woman’s included here? What have we done to make sure that there’s another voice that doesn’t sound the same?” Because I will tell you as a leader in my department, my team is extremely diverse at all different levels, and I have learned so much from people who don’t look like or sound like me.
When we all come from different backgrounds and come together, we are better as a people. So if you want to be an ally, it might be trendy, but work goes into it. If you’re not asking, if you’re not doing your research and listening, you are not an ally. You need to ask yourself, “Why do I feel so uncomfortable taking action?” Because I can guarantee you it’s not more uncomfortable being discriminated against.
What do inclusion and belonging look like in practice to you?
“Inclusion is when you have an environment where people are encouraged to be their authentic selves. A lot of times, we say we want inclusion, we say we want people to feel like they belong, but we continually put them in these positions where they really can’t be themselves.”
I’ve been the first Black person on so many different teams during my career, and it’s super hard because we aren’t all the same. So when you say something like, “We wanted this inclusive environment, so we’re going to hire Chris, and he’s going to be the mouthpiece for every single Black person,” it doesn’t work that way. As we’re building our teams, we have to remind ourselves of that.
“Having one woman on the team doesn’t mean you’ve made it and deserve a trophy. It doesn’t mean you’re going to have all the views of all the women of all time represented within your team.”
I worked for a company that always talked about how diverse they were. I remember taking a picture at our CEO’s house one night with the entire sales team. There were 27 people, including myself and an Asian American man. Everyone else was White, and there were seven women. That was them being inclusive of everyone, thinking they had a melting-pot sales team that was so diverse. When you have people in power who have that mindset, it’s not going to serve your company’s goals long term.
With your role as Chief Revenue Officer, Darrell, I’m sure you have a seat at a very big table and the opportunity to build these teams, so we’d love to hear from you. How do you incorporate diversity and keep it top of mind as you’re hiring?
Darrell Pierre: It’s a great question and something I’m living with on a daily basis. I joined Full Measure in August, and I think we’ve grown the sales team 4x since then. So we’ve been doing a lot of recruiting and a lot of hiring.
I think it’s about being aware of what that floor looks like. Because for any position, you’re going to get ten great candidates. Especially in sales, you don’t know what you’ve gotten until they are several months in. We have one woman on the SDR team right now, and as we are continuing to build that team out, we’ve just been candid and said that we need more estrogen on this floor, because we don’t want to be a fraternity house. We want different views.
Looking at the team you’re building, there should be certain times when you’re troubled, where you take it as a personal shame that you haven’t built a more diverse team. Then you cast a wider net.
“You have a lot of hiring managers that are completely blind to the makeup of their teams, as long as their teams are producing. And I think this attitude starts at the top.”
There’s absolutely no reason why you can’t build an incredibly diverse team. All the research shows that the more diverse organizations are, the better they perform. Building diverse teams is hard, but there’s a financial payoff.
What was it like being Black in 2020? Help everyone understand your experience.
Scott Washington: I asked this question to my dad. He’s a 77-year-old Vietnam veteran, and he put it to me like this: 2020 was no different from when there was slavery. It was no different from the Reconstruction era. It was no different from when there were lynchings. It was no different from the civil rights era. It was no different from the police brutality and mass incarceration of the 70s through the 90s.
It’s the same stuff. It’s just that people are paying a little bit more attention right now. So everybody on this call who’s like, “Oh, man, it’s so bad.” It’s always been like this when you’re Black. When my dad saw Walter Scott killed – a man in his age range, running from the police and being shot in the back – he was like, “I don’t know what to do anymore. I’m done. I’m over this.”
“There’s not a safe space in this country for Black men, for Black people. I have a four-year-old son and a five-year-old son. Last year didn’t tell me that I needed to have the conversation with them. I already knew I had to have the conversation with them.”
It’s tough. Every year is tough. This year is tough. Next year is going to be tough. Ten years from now, it’s going to be tough – if people don’t change.
Danielle Barnett: Many folks don’t understand when Black people say it’s always been like this. They’re like, “Well, y’all aren’t getting lynched anymore.” We actually are. It’s just a new form. It has just evolved.
So what is it like to be Black in 2020? It’s like what it’s like to be Black all the time, except the magnifying glass is on it. It’s exhausting. We’re tired, we’re scared. I am scared all the time. Every time my boyfriend leaves the house, I’m nervous.
When I have a children someday there are things I think about, like where is my house going to be? What are my neighbors going to be like? These are the types of things you always have to think in the back of your head when you’re Black, but you don’t have to think about them when you’re not Black.
“A lot of people ask, “What can I do as a White person?” I think the most important thing you can do as a White person is to talk to your friends that say unacceptable stuff. Because I can’t talk to them. They’re not going to listen to me. You have to talk to them, and that’s just the way it is.”
To close on Black Lives Matter. The fact we’re even arguing about this means that most people don’t think they matter.