✊🏽 ✊🏾 ✊🏿 Why We Matter: Fireside Chat with Cornell Verdeja-Woodson
For this installment of Afroflare's Why We Matter Speaker Series, Fallon Blossom, Content Manager, Cloudflare TV, will host a fireside chat with Cornell Verdeja-Woodson, Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, Headspace.
Hello, Cloudflare TV, and happy Black History Month! My name is Fallon Blossom and I'm the content manager of this year's live streaming broadcast, Cloudflare TV.
I'm also a former lead and current member of Afroflare, Cloudflare's employee resource group for folks of African descent and our allies.
If you tuned into Cloudflare TV last fall, you saw some fireside chats and knowledge shares from Afroflare members and sales, and even some Cloudflare customers.
But this month, here in the US, Afroflare has organized the Why We Matter Speaker Series designed to showcase notable Black professionals in tech, their impact, and why that all matters.
So without further ado, I'd like to introduce my guest and friend, Cornell Verdeja-Woodson.
Cornell, how you doing? I'm doing well, child. You know, it's another Tuesday.
You're looking good. I love that background. Appreciate that you're on brand.
Thank you for sending it my way. No, I'm doing well. Thanks for having me.
Of course. So, I mean, I know you and love you, but these people don't, so tell them more about you and what you do.
Yeah. So my name is Cornell Verdeja -Woodson.
I am the director of diversity, equity, and inclusion at Edspace, the mental health app.
And yeah, I work with different organizations, both as a, doing my private boutique consulting firm that I have called Brave Training, but working with organizations to help them understand what is diversity, equity, and inclusion, and how to best embed it in every part of their business in order to have a really authentic impact on the most marginalized and underrepresented populations that exist within our workforce.
So you're busy, is what you're saying. And I'm also a doctoral student at University of Southern California, so I'm getting my doctorate degree as well.
So, you know, in my free time. Both and. Right. In my free time.
You're just doing all the things. So you're happily married. You're a dog dad. Living in Southern, excuse me, Northern California with my husband and our two Cavapoos, our two dogs, London and Rome, who are probably bored, I don't know what, because they're sitting out there like, why is your door closed?
I want to come in.
Oh, well, if they need to make an appearance, you let them in. Okay. We love pets here on Cloudflare TV.
I'm sure. We are dog friendly. Okay. So how did all this start?
Like, where did your career in diversity, equity, inclusion begin? What inspired you?
You know, it's funny because I never, people always ask me, like, you know, did you want to be in diversity, equity, inclusion?
I was like, no, I didn't know that this was a career.
Right. You know, I was in, when I was in college at Ithaca College, right, I was going to be OBGYN.
Like, that was my, I was pre -med, majored in communications.
Like, that was my thing. And organic chemistry happened, or didn't, and realized that that wasn't in my future.
And so I was like, oh, I got to mix that.
But I ended up going to Teach for America after I graduated from college and really began to understand the world and the global world, which we live in, in a very different way than I ever understood it.
Through the lens of newfound privilege of having a bachelor's degree, making a certain amount of money and being on a different side of the table than I had been used to and just understanding socioeconomic status and all this stuff very differently.
And it was really my kids who helped inspire my hunger for making sure that I was showing up in a culturally responsive way and not coming into this experience, you know, thinking that I had what they needed versus really partnering with them to make sure that we could partner and getting them what they truly needed.
And that kind of started this trickle-down impact of just learning more about diversity issues and then teaching people, you know.
I started getting hired to do workshops. And I was like, okay, I'm actually pretty good at this.
And this really developed a wealth of knowledge that helps people really move the needle in this space.
Now, where did you do Teach for America?
I did it in Atlanta, Georgia. Atlanta, Georgia. Atlanta, Georgia.
How was that experience? It was great. I really, you know, I moved there by myself, didn't know nobody.
Everybody was like, how are you going to, you don't know nobody?
I'm like, no, but I'm going to meet people. And I sure did. You know, you meet people in your cohort.
My colleagues who I still talk to. So it was a really good experience.
And I still miss my kids. And they still text me and, you know, randomly message me and stuff like that.
But those forever will be my children.
Aww. Always be my baby. Absolutely. Sorry. Had to have a musical moment.
Anyhoo. So what obstacles have you faced doing this? I know that has to be tough.
What challenges? You know, I think the challenges are vast, right? You know, on one end you have people who just don't care about diversity and inclusion.
And they're really hard to get through.
And sometimes will be a purposeful, will be on purpose a barrier to any change that needs to happen.
Right? Because they just don't understand why we're even having this conversation.
And so that's a major barrier.
I think the other barrier is just really well-intentioned people who don't know any better but aren't necessarily getting into the work and the action.
To actually change what they know. To learn what they don't know. And then do something with that information.
So moving people from awareness to action is really difficult.
Right? I love when I sit in trainings and people go, well, you know, I'm a liberal.
Or I'm this. And I got, you know, I voted for Obama a third time. That's all cute.
And I appreciate that. But that does not mean that you do not perpetuate systems of oppression against particularly Black people and other marginalized groups.
Right? And so how to get people to get out of this like holier -than-thou position that they place themselves into and see the ways in which they perpetuate these issues and do something about it to educate others but also to lessen the impact of their own bias.
Hmm. So how do you approach those challenges?
Like do you have like a philosophy that kind of guides the strategies that you put forth and how you do this work?
Absolutely. It's really getting to know who my audience, like who those different groups are.
Right? There's a foundation of understanding of the different people who show up in workshops and conversations and trainings and really knowing what drives their behavior and how they respond, the emotional response to things.
And what is it that's behind that lack of action or action, which is usually fear.
Right? It's usually just a fear of the unknown, a fear of, you know, not getting it right.
There's a whole host of things that show up there.
But I think the bigger strategy is really helping connect people to what will help them move across the continuum into a space where they're excited and purposeful about doing something.
Particularly data, storytelling, right?
Making it come alive. It's not just about theory, right? And these academic thoughts.
This is real lives of real people who are here and fighting for their lives.
And I think that particular personal connection is what I have noticed helps move a lot of people further down the road on their journey to really doing something about the social injustices that we see every day.
So like creating these experiences or moments where they can kind of relate in to something that they maybe didn't think they could have otherwise.
Absolutely. But to also be uncomfortable.
Right? One of the things I was thinking was that I'm not here to not make you uncomfortable.
I'm not here to make you uncomfortable, but I'm also not going to prevent it from happening.
Right? Right. It's going to happen.
But I think back to my own, right? You know, I'm a Black gay man. But when I learned about my male privilege, it was very uncomfortable because not me.
I'm one of the good ones.
Right? I got 15, you know, female friends. I got, you know, three sisters.
I'm a feminist. I'm a feminist. Like, how can I be one of the, one of those?
Like, yeah, no. It's uncomfortable to come to a realization that unconsciously I have been a part of the problem.
So I totally understand that. I totally get it.
But I also know the purpose around that discomfort and how it can, if used and leaned into, can get you in the right direction to really do a little bit about it.
Now, do you have any kind of success stories that you could share about, like, bringing someone down the funnel?
Oh, yeah. Or was it, like, down the line?
What's the term? I'm like, I'm messing it up. I don't know. I call it a journey.
That's what I call it. Journey. Walking the journey. Yeah. Let's do that. One that stands out to me the most, because it happened so quickly, because usually it doesn't happen as quickly, right?
It's multiple times that you engage with someone and they kind of get it.
This one happened pretty fast. About probably 10 years ago at this point, I was asked to come to do a session for the dining staff at a particular institution.
And in this community, it's a predominantly, it's all white, and, you know, low socioeconomic status to mid socioeconomic status.
But I knew that going into that conversation, there were going to be particular topics that were really salient for the people in this community.
Socioeconomic status, religion, gender.
Those were the three things that we focused on in the very first half of this three-hour session.
Now, mind you, this is 120 people. But I knew I wasn't leaving there without talking about race, right?
We had to talk about race, sexual orientation, things of that sort.
So the first half now, I'm talking about those things.
They're loving it. The women are like, yes, yes, yes, yes.
The men, even they're like, yup, yup, that makes sense. I'm hitting on something that makes sense to them, that they can personally connect with.
Then we start the second half of the session with this video by Dr.
Joy DeGraw, or featuring Dr. Joy DeGraw, where she's talking about, you know, white supremacy and things of that sort and what it looks like to interrupt bias when you see it in action.
And she uses the term white supremacy.
And this table full of white women are like this. They're like, uh, uh.
And I'm like, uh-oh, here we go. So the video's over, and I say, you know, you look visibly upset.
May I ask if everything's okay? She goes, yeah.
I was like, what does she mean white privilege? I don't have white privilege. And I'm like, okay.
So for the first half, we talk about male privilege. And you understood that, right?
Yeah. I'm a victim of, because, uh. I'm like, go ahead, tell me more.
Finish the sentence. Right? Of course, I understand male privilege because I am on the recipient of what that means.
I'm impacted by that. And of course, I don't get white privilege because I'm on the benefiting side of that particular privilege.
And it just clicked for her in that moment just by asking a simple question like that, right?
And not only did she impact, like, have that impact for herself, but she impacted the rest of the women at the table and other people in the room when they went, oh.
And it was a totally different dynamic. Hmm. And how did that session end?
Did they walk away feeling changed, transformed? Did you feel confident that, you know, you cracked something?
Absolutely. Right? To be able to get people who are steeped in their own experience of being poor and working really hard to be able to afford their mortgage, to be able to understand the term white privilege, absolutely, that was a major win.
Do I think that they were ready to go to the next Black Lives Matter rally?
No. Right? But they were moving along their journey of understanding this in a different way outside of their own lens.
So I felt very proud of that moment to get people to understand what it means when we talk about this concept of privilege.
And that doesn't mean that you're this horrible human being, but the world looks at you differently because of who you are.
And I was able to get them to that place by connecting them with something that they already understood and got and create parallels to what it looks like for other groups.
So like you're kind of meeting them where they're at. You're trying to kind of assess where they're at and then meeting them where they are and then kind of trying to guide them further down that path.
And then pushing them into that discomfort because it is a part of the process.
It really, really is. Okay. So shifting a little bit of focus to kind of doing DEI in tech versus kind of doing it in general.
So like before you came to tech, because I know you've worked at Looker, you've worked at Google, you worked in higher ed.
So did I. I transitioned.
We similarly do transition to tech from higher ed. So what inspired that switch for you?
I mean, I know I did it, but what did you do? Exactly. You know, I love working with students and I believe in the power that higher education can have on a society.
But like when you look at these tech companies and you see the impact that they're having on how people behave and act and navigate their day-to-day, you know, you think about Airbnb and Facebook.
We weren't putting our business up on Instagram and up on the Internet for others to see our meals and where we're at and everything like that.
We weren't allowing people into our homes to sleep in our beds while we were on vacation.
Like there's so many things that we were not doing before that these tech companies have inspired.
You know, we also weren't buying $1,000 phones.
But Apple's got us, well at least me, buying phones, right, that cost that much money.
Tech companies have an influence on society.
And so for me, it was like, wow, if I could get into this industry and really help them unpack diversity, equity, inclusion, and embed it not only in their HR practices, but in their product, in their content, and how they engage with the geographic locations in which they sit in, what kind of impact could we have maybe in a faster way than I think higher ed is able to.
And so that was really the impetus for really making sure, you know, to have the maximum impact.
And to be quite honest, it was also about building generational wealth. Higher ed don't pay the same, tech does, and I have a legacy I'm trying to leave, and you know, that sort of as well.
And so there was also that selfish piece there as well.
No, no, no. I'm like, I don't know if that's selfish, but okay. I'm like, because, same.
Right, exactly. You know, the money doesn't hurt. So what's different, if you could compare and contrast the experience of doing it in higher ed versus doing it in tech?
Similarities? Differences? Yeah, I think one of the biggest differences that I noticed is my ability to get things done a lot faster than in higher ed.
You know, higher ed, you got to go through a faculty member, you know, the faculty council, then the staff council, and then, you know, you got to go to the committee on the committee in order to get things through.
And then you're in year five and you haven't even started to work yet, right?
So things just move a little bit slower in higher ed because there's just so many stakeholders that you have to engage first.
But in tech, I have stakeholders that I have to partner with, but it's not taking five years to get something off the ground.
In fact, there's this idea of, you know, kind of actually moving too fast, right?
You have to slow people down a bit and say, hey, hold on now.
Like, there's something that's too fast, but I'm able to get things and try a lot of things and fail and learn about what works better in the tech space.
So that's one of the things I like the most that is really, really different.
It's that concept of failing fast and breaking things.
Hopefully I'm not messing it up, but yes.
I was trying to think of the quote and I couldn't say it. I'm not going to say it, I'm going to butcher it.
Apologies if I got it wrong, people. That's how I remembered it.
The problem of the underrepresentation of Black and Latinx folks and other underrepresented groups in our organizations, let's really sit and let's problem solve.
Let's go through the iteration of figuring out how did we get here?
What's the history? What are we currently doing that is perpetuating this problem?
And let's try some solutions out. Let's fail. Let's learn from that.
Let's keep it pumping. Let's keep it moving. I love that. Let's get dirty.
Let's get our hands moving on something because literally people's lives are at stake here.
And tech impacts everything. Like the social contract, you can't disclude.
I don't even, that's not even a word. Tech is included and is a central part of the social contract that we have with each other.
There's a real opportunity, a unique opportunity to change the world for better.
So, all right, we're talking big impact. We're trying to change things. We're changing the world.
We're changing the tech. So what are your blockers? We love to talk about blockers in tech.
What are the fundamental blockers? What's blocking you?
To be honest, it's people's perception of the why. We're still teaching people why this matters.
And I think it's such, you know, I get tired of the business case for diversity conversation because at this point, we don't know why we are who we are behind.
Give me some highlights. Give me some highlights regarding, because I hear about this business case.
Can you give folks who might not be aware of that some greatest hits?
Yeah, so, you know, there's this big guy, I think, as it still currently gets done, is there's the business goals, and then there's DEI.
And there are leaders who still don't see, well, how does this impact and benefit the business, meaning how we make money, right?
And so we ended up having this conversation around, let's show you how diversity, lack thereof, and a focus on diversity can actually benefit you fiscally, right?
Because there are just people out there who, like, talking about the numbers and how they make money with focusing on this, and none of them, that's the door into the conversation, right?
And so having that conversation about when you, you know, are hiring, the average cost to recruit and onboard a single employee is, I think, it's like $10 ,000 to $12,000, right?
Wait, hold on. Pause there. We're just going. Pause for the cause.
You said, I heard $10,000 to $12,000 to just recruit one employee, one. To recruit and onboard one employee.
And it might even be a little bit higher now. That number varies depending on the organization.
But it is costly to recruit and onboard.
So if you're bringing in people of color, women, trans people, people, you know, from people with disabilities, and then they're being mistreated when they're here, they're not being developed, they're not moving up the ladder, and they're just having a poor experience, they're going to leave within one to two years, research shows, right?
So now you just lost some money. $10,000 out the door, and you're spending it again.
Again. Something costs. And retraining.
Over and over again. It's the money that leave and rotate out the door every one to two years because you can't get it together.
That has been a big talking point for many of the leaders who are very fiscally driven, right?
And then, you know, and I do believe it's important to find the door for people to get into the conversation.
But at some point, we've got to make the pivot to this is right because it's just right.
It's just right. It's just the right thing to do. We've got to transition into that and not make it only about how much money I can make off of it by being able to, you know, attract new clients because we've got people of color or we've got women and people who look like the clients we're trying to, you know, to get to buy our products.
It has to be more than just that. Because what happens when all that is gone is the desire to be inclusive and equitable die because that no longer is a thing anymore, right?
It has to sustain. So I'm curious, like what other things could leaders or companies or people who are trying to get into this, even individual contributors.
So like if they're stuck on this business case, how could you kind of move them further down the path to kind of reframing the way they think about that?
You know that there's there's multiple answers to that because it really depends on who you're talking to.
I work with some leaders where the storytelling right, listening and hearing from real life people talk to you about their experience in your company with their identities can be powerful for some and they're like, I didn't know.
And when they see that human being sitting across from them telling them what it's like to be a woman, what it's like to be queer, what it's like to be black or Latinx or Asian, it does something to the heartstrings for that individual.
But then there are just some who want to see the data, right?
Tell me the data. What is the research tell me on why this matters and how this impacts the business.
So it really depends on the person you're talking to.
So what I would tell people is find out what makes your leaders tick.
The thing that makes that really gets them go, okay, I'm listening, right?
And that is your starting point. I'm a firm believer that once they're in the work that a good facilitator, a good leader in DVI can get them to really reconsider the why they're invested in it.
Hmm. And then again, I'm a former ERG lead.
This whole thing is sponsored by Afroflare Cloudflare's ERG for black folks.
Where do ERG leaders, where do employee resource groups fit into that ecosystem, fit into your strategies?
How should people be thinking about that? ERGs are essential to the process, right?
But I think that it has to be led by the ERG in terms of how they want, what part they want to play in the process, right?
Because my firm belief is that ERGs are meant to create space for those identity groups to exist and to find safe space.
That to me is the central part of their existence, right?
And so when people ask me, well, why do we still need ERGs? Because we still got racism and we still got homophobia and sexism and transphobia.
So when that's gone, then maybe we won't need ERGs.
But for right now they need a space to just be able to be, right?
And so that's critical for me. So whenever I create ERGs at any company, that is where we start.
But then as that group has grown, I ask, okay, here are some initiatives that we want to really spin up and start thinking about policy and things of that sort.
I'd love to partner with you on how to make sure this meets the needs of the community in which this ERG serves.
As you sit, because I do not believe it is the job of the ERG to be the company's liaison to the black folk or liaison.
I just really don't because that is emotional labor that they should not have to do.
There are so many people. And if you're going to do that, you're going to pay them.
So let me say that caveat, right?
Because that is a group that you have in your organization that you have access to.
You're going to give, you know, ask them for that emotional labor. Make sure you are paying them for that extra work because that is not why they were hired.
So I think that that's really, really critical to me. So you kind of work in partnership with them in your role at Headspace.
You kind of support them, help them grow.
Absolutely. Those types of things. Their own goals, their own impact. What programs do you want to do?
What messaging do you want to send to the C -Suite about the experience of the identity that you exist in?
But that has to be led by you.
Like, that's your thing. You decide how you want to show up. There are some ERGs like, no, we don't do none of that.
We just want, we want to create space for our people.
And that is it. I'm like, I'm here for it. That is okay. I will take on, because I put myself in the role of teacher.
I will do that. Right? I may come to you from time to time and say, hey, is, you know, are we in alignment to make sure I'm representing you well?
But that's it. You get to decide what that looks like.
And I know that's very different from, I think, what most people, what a lot of people, I think, think about it.
Some people think, oh, an ERG should be a part of the business and helping to advise and things of that sort.
But again, are you paying them for that?
Because that was not the original job they were hired for.
Yeah. That's an interesting perspective. So it's like, you're part therapist, you're part support, you're part strategy, you're part friend.
Although, for legal purposes, I want to say I am not a therapist, so I am not a licensed therapist.
Yeah. This segment is not strategy advice. Don't be coming for Cornell talking about you heard him on cloud nine.
No, no, no. No, ma'am. But I spend a lot of time listening.
Right? Like, you know, when you're working, when you're doing this work, you're working with groups that have historically never had, you know, felt like they had a voice or had someone really felt them, made them feel heard.
And my job is to come in and really create that space. But if I have access to the C-suite, it's the one, if the group wants to have their own access to be the, you know, assisting in that.
But also, if they don't want to do it themselves for me to be the one that says, hey, here's what these ERGs really need.
Here are the issues.
And here, I think we need to move forward to mitigate these issues that they can just exist and do the work that they were hired to do.
Now, do you have any kind of success stories or just examples of, like, what that type of partnership could look like in action or has looked like in action for you?
Yeah. So, as I said, I'm not a therapist.
As you mentioned earlier, I worked at a company called Looker.
It was my first tech job. It was a data analytics company that got bought by Google and things of that sort.
And we spun up several ERGs. And one of our ERGs was Moms of Looker.
That was the ERG. And we had executive sponsors. Now, I do believe in the power of having executive sponsors for each ERG because it does give you that one-on-one time with a senior leader within the organization who then hopefully takes that knowledge and understanding of your experience up to the C-suite at the table where they make a lot of big decisions.
So, our CEO was the executive sponsor of the Moms of ERG.
And so, in their first meeting, after we had created this structure, they're telling him about what it's like to, you know, go on leave after you've had children and how strenuous it is to go through the process and all this paperwork.
And it's a lot. And he was like, I had no idea. And so, after the meeting, he goes to HR and says, we've got to fix this.
They should not take this long or be this strenuous to, you know, go on leave after you've had a child.
Like, this doesn't make any sense. I want a solution. That, to me, was – and it was like that.
That's impact. Because he could. Immediate impact. Because he could.
Yeah. Right? That direct connection to senior leaders can be very powerful when the senior leaders take that role very seriously and use that hour, use that privilege to actually do something about it.
Yeah. To really listen. Because, again, like I heard earlier, you listen, right?
Like, you actively listen and you use what you hear.
Exactly. Based on your expertise and all that good training you got at Cornell to figure out strategies to have impact and solve problems.
Absolutely. Cool. All right. Well, that's it. We're done. So, I want to actually talk a little bit more about you.
Again, I spent some time talking about ERG systems on purpose, obviously, because, you know, they're why I'm here, we're here.
But how have you – like, what's been your experience, right? You identify as Black and queer.
So, like, what has it been like for you personally? It's exhausting.
You know, that's a really good question because, you know, you really never get to turn it off, you know?
So, I live my life as a Black gay man. I navigate this space, this world, this society as a Black gay man.
So, it's personal.
You know, one of the things – going back to one of your original questions, too – one of the reasons why I got into this work was because of my own identities and my understanding of what it's like to be not only just, you know, to be discriminated against, to be marginalized, but to be gay-bashed, right?
To understand how someone looks at you and just sets up a story about who you are and your worth and your value in this world and then treats you accordingly.
But it also became a part of, you know, a larger mission to not only create a world for me to live in, but to create a world for other identities that I don't hold.
Women, trans people, particularly trans women of color, right?
To really create that space for them.
So, it's exhausting because this is not just work. As a matter of fact, it's not work for me.
It's not a career. This is life, right? But with that, I never get to turn it off.
I eat and sleep and breathe this work because it is deeply personal, which can be exhausting.
So, I've got to create a lot of time to be able to turn it off a little bit and just kind of rest, which is difficult.
Tell me more.
What does self-care look like for the person who's holding everybody, holding space for everyone?
Where do you make space? You know, and this is going to sound real bougie, but you know, like when we bought our house in San Leandro, one of the things I really need, I was like, I want to make sure that that yard is ready to go.
There wasn't grass back there. I need grass. I want to be able to get on the grass and just sit in silence.
I wanted a hot tub, which we got. And, you know, there are some mornings before my day gets started, I go sit in the hot tub and just sit in silence.
All right, hot tub time machine, come through. Hold on, look.
It's not like formal, traditional meditation, but that's my meditation. Music has always been a big part of my life.
And so, just having music on, you know, and things that sort of, just creating time to just chill and just sit and look at something funny, those are ways in which, and I also have a therapist as well, you know, so those are all the part of my self-care package that I utilize very often.
So, it's funny because one of my, I had started therapy because I had a particular issue I was dealing with, and that issue is over now.
And my therapist said, would you want to continue?
I said, yeah, because like maintenance, like you just got to just keep it going, just keep it going, right?
I think about it like a car, right?
Like, you tune up your car, you rotate your tires, you change your oil, you know, you, if not, you're going to go break.
I think the other thing is really finding myself around a community that gets me, right?
You know, in times of COVID, you got to do that virtually, but being able to have a conversation with my community is also really helpful as well.
Well, I think that that's a perfect segue to talk about Headspace, don't you?
You know, we're just so just organic over here.
So, right, we talked about self-care for you.
So Headspace is a part of a lot of folks' self-care.
It's part of my personal self-care. I actually use that plus. So a lot of companies, it's a thing now.
We are seeing these apps popping up left and right.
We got self-care for you. So headspace is a part of self-care for me, self-care for Black folks, self-care for, you know, dog people.
Like, talk to me about what Headspace is doing in this space.
Specifically in like the DEI space, and then I probably want you to answer that on the self-care perspective as well.
You know, I think in the DEI space, we're being very intentional. Prior to my arrival, prior to the creation of this role, I'm the first person in this role.
And so prior to my arrival, they were, when the company had the understanding that, whoa, we've got to get on this and really start making some change.
And, you know, it started the same way most organizations start, grassroots, the employees are like, hey, this is important.
And Headspace responded, right, and said, okay, we've got to get this going.
And it started off with some grassroots efforts and setting some DEI goals and really making sure that they were being intentional about doing the right things and understanding the problem and first solving for what I tend to call symptoms of the problems that are root causes, right?
And we're very intentional about finding someone who could lead and build all that from the ground up and giving voice to the communities within the company to be able to advocate and share those things.
But also we're doing it in the product as well.
Most companies, you always see it from a HR perspective, employees, you know, hiring, attrition, things of that sort.
But you don't see it happening simultaneously in the product.
So Headspace is looking intently around the diversity of the content, the diversity of the teachers within the app as well, and really making sure that people can see themselves and that they're able to access topics around meditation that speak to their youth lived experiences.
So intentionality is super, super key, but also intersectionality is key to the work that we're doing and that, you know, no group is monolithic, right?
That, you know, points up for women is not enough.
You got to look at Black women, Latinx women, Asian women, trans women, and really providing content that speaks to all of those unique experiences.
So that's the thing from the DEI perspective. From the, you know, wellness, you know, our vision is to, you know, to enhance the happiness and healthiness of the world.
And that's for everyone. That we're building a product for everyone.
So we're deeply rooted in science and research in order to, you know, give the case for why Headspace works and making sure that we're working to get that into everyone's hands and helping people understand the power that meditation has on helping you live a healthier and happier life.
Yeah, that's a very, like, bold mission.
It's not too dissimilar from Cloudflare. Like, we're trying to help build a better Internet for everyone.
Y'all are trying to make everybody happy.
That's beautiful. But yeah, I think that's one of the things that brought me to like, the vision is so clear.
We want people to be happier and healthier.
Right? And how mindfulness and meditation helps lead you to that point. You know, it helps get you there and creates that space for you to be able to be more aware of yourself.
And what I love about the way our founder oftentimes talks about meditation is that meditation, while you're in it, feels very, like, about you.
But when you're more aware and when you're more in tune to what's going on for you, it allows you and opens you up to be present for others as well.
Right? So this is a practice of not just self, it's a practice of how I connect to other people.
And that is deeply rooted in how we manage diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Yeah, because it's taking on a collective mindset.
It's not thinking about yourself as an individual, but as a part of a whole.
Absolutely. And then trying to be intentional about having positive ripple effects versus negative ones, because everything you do connects and bounces and refracts.
Yeah. Interesting. Very interesting.
And then, if I'm not mistaken, Headspace is doing some innovative stuff.
They're taking it off the app, off of one app to another app. I noticed on my Netflix that Headspace has a little show now.
We're so driven by that value that everything we do is connected to how does this get us closer to that vision, right?
If anyone has ever listened to Andy speak on any podcast, he'll tell you that one of the strategies for how they helped to expand the awareness around meditation was meeting people where they were.
So they started off by having Headspace on airplanes.
Particularly, it was Virgin Atlantic.
When you were flying, Headspace was there, because that's where people were.
Being a part and partnering with Netflix is also acknowledging that people watch TV.
In a pandemic, they're watching your shows. Why won't we be there as well? I thought that was really powerful to how a company is driven by their vision and everything is driven by that.
Well, yeah. That's alignment. That's great branding. Also, I just personally love the little cartoon people.
Oh, my goodness. I was watching it.
It's funny, because I needed a break in the middle of the day. I'm stressed out, and I just turned it on, and it was nice to just sit there and just listen to one of the episodes.
Andy was so damn soothing. It just helped me, like, yes.
All right. I can get back to work now. My head is clean. I can focus on what I'm doing.
I love it, and I love the other things that we're adding to the app as well.
Yeah, and I also just want to take this moment to personally plug Uma, who does mindfulness for Cloudflare.
We see you. We appreciate you. I've spent many of my lunches with you.
Cloudflare people, check out Uma. She does good work. I'm curious.
Again, you're new in this role.
You're the first director of diversity, equity, and inclusion for Headspace.
What are your goals? What impact are you trying to have right now in this role, in this space?
I'm trying to change the way organizations, particularly this organization, does the work.
As I mentioned before, 2020 really found us with many organizations rushing to do something, because not doing something was unacceptable.
It looked bad. And oftentimes that rush to do something isn't always steeped in an authentic concern and desire for the people who are most impacted.
It's well-intentioned, but it's not always steeped and centered around the people who are actually most harmed.
It's oftentimes performative allyship.
It's steeped in, well, we don't want to not be doing nothing, or be the only company not doing anything.
Headspace, what I love about when I was interviewing with them, this was a real intentional, authentic, this matters because it matters.
It's the right thing to do. And it's also good for the business, but it's the right thing to do.
We're really looking at the issues that we're seeing through our data, and we're asking the questions to understand the problem much more before we jump to solutions.
To make sure that when we spend the time to implement that solution, that there is a strong possibility we can be successful because we're targeting the right things.
Why is it that Black people are the small population within an organization?
What's happening there? What are the root causes that have led to that, so that we make sure that we're dealing with all of them as we can?
That's one of our goals, obviously, to make sure that we have a diverse global workforce, but also not just focusing on how we're getting people in.
How are we keeping them? How do they feel in terms of engagement and belonging, psychological safety?
Because again, most organizations focus on the incoming traffic, but they don't focus on what makes people leave.
We're being very intentional about the incoming and lowering the exit.
But we're also paying attention to the progression of these underrepresented groups as well.
How are we promoting them into manager roles and pay equity?
All those things are all topics that our C-suite has had.
Shout out to anybody who might be watching who did that grassroots work to make this a priority for the company.
We appreciate you.
They were out there pounding the pavement doing the real work. And then also looking at our members.
Who isn't using Headspace and why? What are the cultural barriers that prevent different cultures from discussing mental health and things like that?
We're learning and we're taking that learning and we're doing something with it.
I have 18 follow-up questions. Yes. Thing one that you said that triggered a wondering.
Allies. Tell me how you feel about allies, the role they play in your work, the role they should play in their work.
I think allies are essential.
Women can talk about sexism all day and they have and do. But when a man says it for some reason it sounds different.
People sit up and pay attention.
I strongly hate that that is the case. I think that as a man I have male privilege that I have to use to help lift the voices of women up so that they can be heard.
It's not speaking for women but it is partnering with women and taking their lead on the issues that impact them most.
I have to have a stake in it because one, I have the privilege and I'm part of the system that privileges my male identity.
I think that's really critical. Allies have to know their place. We have to know your place.
My role as a man is not to be in the women's ERG telling them how they should be doing it.
I can be there but taking their lead on how they see the work being done I need to be in the group with the men talking about sexism toxic masculinity unpacking those conversations with the men because they're going to hear me differently active listening.
What does it look like to sit in discomfort when you're hearing the stories of women in our organization our community talk about their experiences and just shut up.
Sit and in. Yes. Just to be quiet.
Feel it. Allies are important. Everybody has to be a part of this work. It can't just be the underrepresented groups.
It's about knowing your place in the work and knowing when you need to be the loudest voice and when you could just sit back and just go yeah, what she said.
Plus one, double click. Step up versus step back.
Exactly. Oftentimes the conversation is around the roles of allies and ERGs.
I think it's perfectly okay for ERGs to say while we love to have y'all here because we know y 'all support us but there are some meetings that we just want for us.
As an ally, I'm going to go yes, absolutely.
There's one of my favorite therapists her name is Dr.
Tai her company is called Black Girl Doctors a big part of her I love Dr.
Tai. She has helped Afroflare. Hey Dr. Tai, we love you. I'm always aware the foundation of her business is really making sure that women of color really have the space they need to thrive.
Understanding that when I reached out to her I said hey, I know that's your mission just curious if you work with men if you don't, I'm totally okay with that because we got places for me.
I got places to go. Not having access to everything doesn't mean I'm being left out.
It's a question of why do they need a particular place just for them?
That's the piece I need to be unpacking.
If the power were different there wouldn't need to be businesses that just hit but that's the larger issue that oftentimes people from privileged backgrounds do not unpack.
They sit in the feeling of why not me? This doesn't feel good to me.
Welcome to the club of how it feels to be excluded. Sit in that for the five minutes you've been dealing with it and think about what it's like to sit in that for 35, 40, 50 years.
300 years. You know what I mean? I have dealt with that with my male privilege.
I want to know but that ain't for you and that's okay. I've had to deal with that with my cisness.
I have fortunately and unfortunately become the unofficial official trans explainer for some of my friends and some of my family who still can't quite wrap their heads around it.
Lucky for you, you don't have to.
You just need to be respectful. That's it. You don't have to understand it but you ought to respect it.
And mine yearn. If you ain't got nothing good to say, zip it.
Nothing to do with what you do and who you are.
Life over here, right? I could talk about that one all day. Don't even get me started on that.
The things that are left unsaid. That was the first thing that triggered a wondering is the ally piece.
The other piece, when I think about the hiring cycle for example, I'm curious from your perspective where you see DEI coming in at the different points.
And the way that I personally think about them just for the sake of the question is just like that recruiting part.
That $10,000 $10,000 to $12,000 thing.
Where does it come in here? The second piece for me is that retention piece.
And then the third piece for me is that growth piece. And I feel like DEI looks different at each stage.
I'm curious from your perspective how it looks like.
What we're talking about from HR perspective is the employee life cycle.
The employee life cycle is everywhere from just helping them know who we are before they even apply.
Do they know who we are? Do we know about them? All the way to the time that they decide to leave.
Hopefully they leave on a good note.
If they found a good opportunity. Whatever that may be. I think diversity has to be embedded in the entire process.
From beginning to end. I think for me yeah it does look different but the principles are still there.
How are we ensuring that underrepresented groups are represented well within each part of that system?
And how are they having a positive experience?
From the time I reach out to say have you heard of us?
We have a role open. We don't have any roles open yet but I'd love to build a relationship with you.
I think you're talented and you're someone who I think would be really great at our company.
That experience. One of the things I love about what Headspace did was they ask you your gender pronouns when they reach out.
They ask you for the phonetic spelling of your name to make sure they get it right.
About what that experience looks like through the entire process.
Even from the onboarding. Do I have access to the people that I need to have access to?
Are you helping to connect me to the people, my stakeholders? And not to say, hey, here.
Here's the employee handbook. Read these wikis. I don't know who my job for an equitable and inclusive onboarding process is to say, hey, I'm going to make sure I introduce you to all these folks and let them know that they should be expecting an email from you for you to set up time and I'm going to be telling them that I expect them to respond and answer.
That connecting people is I think is really critical.
And then I think when we look at development, what are your unique needs?
And treating people as unique human means that they are. And making sure that our development process and our coaching process is equitable.
That it's not just enough to say, well, if you're ready for promotion, just say something or just do it or just ask.
Feel empowered to promote yourself? That only makes sense.
Privilege to be able to advocate for themselves without feeling being made to feel like they're being aggressive.
So it's understanding those unique experiences and how that shows up in every part of that process and creating the opportunities for underrepresented particularly Black people to be able to understand what it looks like to be promoted, to be advanced, and to learn and grow in their career.
So folks listening, he just gave you the game for free. Yeah. Basically.
I mean, you'll still have to figure out a way to execute it, but that is a beautiful plan.
So I'm curious, what's your vision for DEI in the future in general?
We talked about headspace, the goals in this new role, but as you said, this is going to be your life work.
You still have brave trainings? Brave trainings? Yeah. What's your vision? My vision is that DEI no longer has to push its way into the room where it happens.
Okay. I was about to say, come through. One of our biggest barriers is not being in the room where these decisions are made.
And you oftentimes have to be like, hey, we should be there.
My vision for the future is that people just get it.
That when a meeting is being planned to make a decision on anything, we go, we need to make sure that our diversity person is here.
However, I also want to argue that people should already be thinking of that themselves, of how diversity matters in this decision.
And that I'm just here as a consultant, just to guide and answer questions perhaps, things of that sort.
But to be in the room where it happens and to really elevate the role of DEI as not something that is tangential to the business, but is the business.
It is the center of the business.
Because how we treat, how we grow, how we build for different populations is our business.
And that is what DEI, I think, is really all about. And I'm curious, why do you think it's important?
Or what role do you think I mean, we're talking about things like stuff like apps like Headspace, things like Mindfulness.
What value does that add to our community, the Black community? Not just here in the U.S., but all over the world.
We have and continue to deal with trauma, deep trauma.
So where does all this mental health stuff, Headspace stuff, how do you see that fitting in or being a solution to address some of the issues in our community?
I think there are two pieces to this, right? There's the real healing that our community needs and that we haven't been able to have because when we get to the moment to try to heal, something new happens again that re -traumatizes, right?
It was five years ago. Actually, it wasn't five years ago, it was yesterday.
It was five hours ago. In some trainings, I would tell people, you know, when you do something that pisses someone off and they have this strong reaction to what you did or said, that ain't about you.
That's not about you individually.
That's about years of dealing with the same crap over and over and over again.
They haven't had the chance to heal. But I think for me, to talk about mental health, meditation is an opportunity for us, for anyone, but particularly us as Black people, to take control over our healing, right?
But then at the same time, these systems, right, in organizations and groups of people, white people, have to do the work of understanding that experience and create the space for the healing to also happen as well, to get out the way, right?
To mitigate the impact of white supremacy, to mitigate the impact of whiteness, right, on the lives of Black people, so that we can finally get to live in our lives in healing.
And you see, I meet a lot of Black people who are talking about that, and it's like, we're going to do our healing over here.
We're not spending our time teaching you.
That time is over. I always tell people Black people have been writing, dancing, singing, creating films, slow singing, flower bringing, praying.
To teach you about what it means to be Black in this country and in the world.
We're tired, and we're done with that.
If you haven't learned yet, you've got to go find another way to learn.
There's Google, Yahoo, Bing, and then Grandmother, the library.
The library. What we're going to do over here is we're going to love on each other, and we're going to heal, and we're going to make sure that we're not allowing you to impact our lives, right, to the extent that we can, because whiteness and white supremacy is powerful.
But we're going to take back and take control.
And so I think that's what, to me, that's the mission that I'm on. The library stays open.
It stays open, right? And that's the mission that I'm on, which is bringing this powerful tool to my communities, Black and queer, right, and particularly Black, queer, and trans people, on how we start that process for ourselves.
And then also, because I'm in this role, teaching white people, cis people, men, how to get out the way so that that healing can happen for us.
And you do the work you've got to do to mitigate the system and to shut down the system that keeps perpetuating these issues.
So. Be free. Liberation. Liberation.
And it starts in the mind. Again, that's just my balanced personal opinion.
If you can't free your mind, like what RuPaul says, if you can't love yourself, you can't love nobody else.
If you can't free your mind, how can you free yourself?
As slaves, right? They didn't just capture our bodies, they captured our minds, right?
And for the ones that dare to free their minds, we know what happens, right?
And we're continuing that legacy to go, no, no, no. We're freeing our whole selves, right?
No longer be, you know, be captive emotionally, mentally, or physically, right?
I think that's really important. And I love seeing... It's powerful.
That is a powerful, powerful statement, way of framing, way of being. Absolutely.
And it bothers me when people are like, you just gotta sit down with people who think differently than you and just hear them out.
No, I don't. No, I do not.
Because I've been doing that. So now that y'all are ready to come talk, now I'm supposed to sit here and listen?
No. We've been doing that. We've been going. We've been going.
You need to catch up. Come on. You're a little behind. Come on. So we're about...
We've got about five minutes left, and I have two more questions for you, so I'm gonna try to get them both in.
That's a long way to go. No, that's all right.
I mean, shoot, we've been chatting for an hour almost, and it feels like it's just been like five seconds.
It doesn't even feel like it. So I'm curious about... So can you speak to...
Let's take a moment and speak to our community directly. Why should they be taking care of their minds?
Why should they be focusing on freedom here and freedom here?
Why is it important? Why does it matter? I think it's important because it allows us to focus on the things that really matter to us, right?
Our generational wealth. Taking care of our loved ones, right? And not just surviving, but thriving.
That's really critical to me, right? That focusing on my own healing and freeing my mind and my body and my spirit is about me making a decision to thrive in this world and not just to take what white people have given us, right?
The little bit of leeway they've given us. Like, no, I'm taking all of it, right?
And I think that is a big, crucial step towards that path, right?
That when I stopped caring what white people thought about me, when I dared to be direct in my feelings and share what I was thinking, I began thriving in the world.
I was able to show up authentically. Now, I'm going to be very clear.
I know that that is different for everybody and not everyone feels that they have that ability to do that, but then what is the work that can help us get to those points, right?
What are the communities that we're building that begin to help us be able to enter into those spaces where we truly can be our authentic self unapologetically?
Beautiful. All right. So, with about three minutes left, why does it matter that you, a queer Black man, in tech, from Jersey, Camden, New Jersey, in particular.
Camden, stand up. Why is it important? Why does it matter that you are doing this work in the position that you're in, in the industry that you're in?
Why does that matter? I think it matters because we are in a profound moment where this industry can change the world.
I truly believe that. They can change the world and create spaces for these communities to have access to wealth and to benefit that we have historically never been able to access, therefore changing the trajectory of not just our lives in this decade, the lives of our children and our children's children, right?
This is bigger than just 2020, 2021, or this decade.
This is about what does the next seven generations look like, and by being able to change the world and provide access to these spaces really is a part of the key of helping to get us there.
It matters because this is life or death.
This is not just about I want to be able to buy nice things. This is about thriving in a world which is our right, right?
Our right to be able to do so.
Okay. Got time for one more. One more? Okay. Just came for me. No, no. Hey, look, at this point, we're off book.
Okay. We're doing it live. How can tech meet this moment when it comes to diversity, equity, and inclusion?
Two minutes. One of the big things I think is missing in tech's approach is authenticity and accountability, real accountability.
We like to use the word, but we don't actually hold people, particularly leaders, accountable when they either don't do what they should be doing or they do it incorrectly and don't care, right?
Unless we're actually serious.
If I don't meet my sales goals over and over and over again, what happens to me?
I get fired. You gone. The same thing. If we have set OKRs for you and your team and you have not met them over and over and over again, then you have not met the requirements of your job and your role as a leader, and you've got to go, right?
Until we make it that serious, I'm feeling attacked right now.
When I was a high school English teacher, I didn't have my rules, but if you don't feel accountability when someone broke a rule, my students go, you don't care.
I'm going to keep doing it. I'm about to keep being on my phone in class.
We're going to be TikToking, Millie rocking in the background.
All these women and Black people on your team and nobody's holding you accountable about why that's happening, you don't truly care because you don't want to make the hard decisions that need to be made in order to really move the needle, and that's how tech can rise to the moon.
40 seconds left. Trainings.
Talk to me about trainings, their efficacy, and whether or not they make an impact.
I believe all the research will tell you that training does not make an impact.
I believe that training alone does not make an impact. You cannot disregard the need for people to increase their awareness, but most companies will go, well, we're going to shut down for the day and do training.
That'll mean nothing unless you hold people accountable for the behaviors and skills you just gave them.
The training, policy, systemic, the ways in which these things are systemic within the organization, all have to be handled on top of the training.
If I'm giving you that skill and investing in that, then you've got to make sure that I'm held accountable for it as well.
Thank you, Cornell. I think we've got to leave it there.