Today’s episode is all about diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Our guest, Cynthia Owyoung, is a DEIB leader and author. She is currently the Vice President of Inclusion, Equity, and Belonging at Robinhood and the Founder and CEO of Breaking Glass Forums, which aims to accelerate diverse talent and inclusive organizations. She also recently published a book entitled, “All Are Welcome: How to Build a Real Workplace Culture of Inclusion that Delivers Results.”
Cynthia has always been interested in people’s thought processes and decision-making processes. So, she majored in marketing at Haas with the intent of going into advertising. She thought marketing seemed like the perfect way to get into people’s minds from the consumer perspective. But after several years, she got burned out and decided to go to grad school, intending to launch a nonprofit for adults with developmental disabilities in the Asian community.
When she got into school, she took a diversity management course and met somebody with a diversity manager job who talked about how she created access to opportunity for everyone. That’s what started her 20-year career so far in the DEIB space.
In this episode, Cynthia talked about how DEI has evolved through the years, why it is important, and her personal story that made her so passionate about it. She also shared how to create a more inclusive organization, especially for women of color, and how each of us can take bite-size chunks toward a more inclusive world. Finally, Cynthia talked about her book and what the biggest takeaways are.
On going into marketing and advertising
“I’ve always been interested in people and what motivates them to do the things that they do. I’ve always been really curious about how people make decisions. And so, for me, marketing seemed like the perfect way to get into people’s minds from the consumer perspective. How do you actually persuade them to change behavior and buy something that they maybe hadn’t considered?”
Driving inclusion and diversity in different cultural contexts and why it matters
“There is so much diversity even in places that you don’t think about necessarily having diversity. And the definition of that and how we actually drive inclusion is going to be different in different cultural contexts. How we think about diversity here in the US, with our history of slavery and discrimination and different groups, is a very different context from China or India, right? In India, there’s discrimination based on social-economic status as being a much more prevailent thing versus, as you mentioned, all those minority groups that are definitely treated differently in China. All of that is very nuanced and we have to make sure that we’re not approaching it from a one size fits all kind of perspective.
There is difference among all of us everywhere. And it’s less about in-groups and out-groups necessarily and more about inclusion and exclusion in my mind. Because even if you take it down to the level of a team within an organization anywhere, if somebody is feeling excluded from that team, like they don’t belong and they’re not being valued for who they are and what they bring, that person’s not going to be productive and not going to stay very long.
And so, if we’re all driving for effective organizations and effective teams and effective and productive output and things like that, then you have to care about this. To drive that no matter what your team looked like or what cultural context you’re in.”
Why she is passionate about building an inclusive culture everywhere
“I’ve grown up always feeling like I didn’t belong anywhere. I’m kind of this misfit, and it took me until high school to really find a group of friends who had similar kinds of multiculturalism elements to their backgrounds that I started to find people who I could connect with.
That, along with the fact that I have brothers who clearly have their struggles in life in ways that most of us take for granted, has always weighed on me. Why do we treat people so badly just because they look a little different or they love a little different? So, those are the things that have made me be like, if I have an opportunity to change that, then that’s what I’m going to try to do.”
How do we take bite-size chunks toward a more inclusive world?
“I think it is all about starting small. It doesn’t take much to read an article in this space, find out about something that maybe you aren’t that well versed in. Just pick one, start reading about it, start asking. I think asking questions is really good. Not to the point where you’re overburdening any one person to represent their entire community because that’s not what we want, but to extend your curiosity, right? Ask people about their experiences so that you can get more of a window and develop your empathy for other experiences that are very different from your own. It costs nothing to ask, and you can learn so much about people who are willing to open up.
And then the last thing that I think is super easy for anyone to do is to just engage and practice. Oftentimes, we’re afraid to open our mouths and inadvertently offend somebody, but it’s really about moving through that, and just engaging in the practice on a regular basis to ask people how they want to be identified, or if you’re using the correct term that they go by, or even as simple as just making an effort to pronounce somebody’s name correctly. It’s all those little things that I think anybody can do that will just really add up to creating connection and welcoming and belonging.”
- All Are Welcome: How to Build a Real Workplace Culture of Inclusion that Delivers Results
- Breaking Glass Forums
(Transcripts may contain a few typographical errors due to audio quality during the podcast recording.)
[00:00] Sean: Welcome to the OneHaas Alumni Podcast. I’m your host, Sean Li. And today, we’re joined by Cynthia Owyoung. She is currently the Vice President of Inclusion, Equity, and Belonging at Robinhood, which drives the company’s approach to enhancing its culture of diversity and inclusion. She’s also the founder of Breaking Glass Forums, where she develop strategies to accelerate an increase in more diverse leaders and inclusive organizations. And most recently, she is also an author. She’s written this book titled All Are Welcome: How to Build a Real Workplace Culture of Inclusion that Delivers Results. Welcome to the podcast, Cynthia.
[00:43] Cynthia: Thank you, Sean. I’m so happy to be here.
[00:46] Sean: Oh, there’s one more thing amongst that list of things. You are also a Berkeley Haas alumni. You are an undergraduate alumni, is that correct?
[00:57] Cynthia: That is correct. It was quite a while ago [laughs].
[01:02] Sean: Let’s start from around that time. I would love to hear about your background, where you grew up, how you grew up.
[01:08] Cynthia: I am actually one of those very few rare native San Franciscans. So, I grew up in San Francisco—born and raised. But my parents are immigrants, so I’m first-generation born here. And I think, growing up in the Bay Area, of course, I had to end up at Haas. UC Berkeley is the school to go to when I was growing up. That was where my parents were like, “That’s the pinnacle. That’s where you got to go. We don’t care about anything else,” funny enough. So, my dad was an engineer. My mom was a seamstress. And they wanted me to be your typical kind of doctor, Asian track, engineer, lawyer kind of. And I wasn’t good at any of those things or really interested in any of those things. So, I went to business [laughs]. I went into basically marketing and finance at Haas, with the intent to go into advertising, actually, when I graduated. So, I ended up doing that as my first career, as a matter of fact.
[02:20] Sean: And how did you pick that track?
[02:22] Cynthia: So, one of the things about my personal background is I’ve always been interested in people and what motivates them to do the things that they do. I’ve always been really curious about how people make decisions. And so, for me, marketing seemed like the perfect way to get into people’s minds from a consumer perspective. So, how do you actually persuade them to change behavior and buy something that they maybe hadn’t considered before? And I was also a psychology major. So, that kind of gels. I didn’t mention that earlier. And so, I did a dual degree at Haas and the College of Letters and Science.
So, you can see how that kind of gels together. I felt like I’ve just been interested in people and thought process and decision-making processes. And I thought, well, the best way to apply that is in sort of a marketing job. But I’ve always had a creative bent to me. I never pictured myself in one of those environments at Procter & Gamble, where everybody was going at the time. I envisioned lots of suits and very formal kind of work environments with cubicles that look like grey and drab and all of that, like what you see in office space.
So, I wanted to do something that had more of a creative bent, and which is why I decided, “Advertising, that seems really creative. Let’s go there,” because it combines all the best things about applying that understanding of human behavior in a creative way. I love that process of how do you make, really, an ad that sticks? That people talk about? That’s culturally relevant?
So, that’s how I ended up going down that path. But then, after about 10 years of it, I was like, “This actually isn’t personally gratifying for me.” And I was really burnt out. So, I went to grad school, actually intending to open a nonprofit. I wanted to launch a nonprofit, because I have a brother who is developmentally disabled. And growing up, disability in the Asian community, for me, I experienced it as very taboo. So, my brother has been very insulated and doesn’t have a community of friends. He just has family to take care of him. And being an adult, there’s lots of services for children. But once you grow up, there are not that many. So, I was thinking I was going to go launch a nonprofit, basically, to support people like my brother and my brother himself, for adults with developmental disabilities in the Asian community, in particular, because of the specific stigma there.
But then, I got into school. I took a diversity management course. I saw somebody come in from Toyota who had a diversity manager job and who talked about how she created access to opportunity for everyone. And I was like, “You can get paid to do that? How do I do that [laughs]?”
[05:36] Sean: That’s right.
[05:37] Cynthia: And that’s what started me down this path that I’ve now been on for 20 years.
[05:41] Sean: That’s amazing. I don’t know if it’s because of my exposure to DEI, but it feels like it’s such a new thing. You’ve been doing this since—you personally—since 2004. I’m just really curious, what was it like back then? What was the conversation like? And what was the, just general, I think, corporate sentiment towards DEI?
[06:02] Cynthia: It was very different than it is today. It was very—most companies had more of a compliance and regulatory lens to it, where it was about affirmative action. And all of those good faith efforts that people were doing to be able to drive more diverse representation within their organizations. And you saw a lot of companies that had equal employment opportunity roles and affirmative action roles inside their companies. And only the largest, really well-established kind of IBMs of the world that had roles that were evolving that towards more of a diversity and inclusion space where it wasn’t just about your representation, but it was also about how do you actually help that diversity in your organization reach its fullest potential? How do you actually leverage that in a way that helps to drive more creativity, more innovation, better decision-making, all of those things that help make businesses and organizations more effective? I think you start to see that, maybe, 10 to 12 years ago. And then that started to shift that conversation much more into—this is part of a business imperative for companies.
We know that there’s a moral imperative. That doesn’t seem to be enough to make anybody actually do anything different than what they were doing before. So, let’s think about this as how do we integrate this within our business strategy and our organization’s DNA, and not just how we think about talent, which, I think, is the prevailing kind of mindset in this space, but also, how do we think about it in terms of our customers, in terms of how we develop our products, in terms of how we support the communities that we serve and in which we operate, in that much broader, not just corporate citizenship and social responsibility imperative, but also part of how we actually position our business for future success because we know the demographics around us are shifting and our customers’ mindsets and what they’re demanding is shifting? And so, are we positioned to better meet that? And I think that’s where the DEIB conversation is now.
[08:22] Sean: Personally, I’m still on the journey of educating myself around DEI. And I’ve been thinking a lot about this myself. Why is that? I was born in China. We moved to the US when I was seven. And I moved to Michigan, which was not California. I moved to predominantly white neighborhoods and had a, in my opinion, pretty privileged and fantastic upbringing. Diversity, equity, inclusion was something that was just not top-of-mind for me. It was just something I never even thought about.
And part of the reason I tried to dig back was, well, was it because I came from a country that was very homogenous? Everybody looks the same—black hair, brown eyes. But then, I realized, there’s still so much diversity in China that a lot of people don’t realize, just like with India, that I’m learning. These are two big countries, massive countries. And even China alone, there’s 56 minority groups. And frankly, as we can see with of the treatment of the weaker population, there is actually a lot of discrimination. And it took me a while to realize that it’s something unique to the United States in terms of diversity, equity, inclusion, even though we are very diverse nation. It’s just that, I feel like we are, as we are with a lot of things, leaders in good things and bad. We are really leading this charge, I think, in this field, in my opinion, because I don’t think DEI is a huge thing in China, even though it should be.
And so, what I’m trying to get at is, why is this so important? When I have these conversations with some friends, sometimes, it’s not top-of-mind for a lot of people because they’re not impacted by it, because again, especially—let’s just take me for example. Come from a very privileged position. My parents paved an amazing path for me. And I had great environment to grow up in. So, I didn’t really face much discrimination. Especially, I’m curious too, from your position, growing up in San Francisco in California where there are large populations of Asians, how did you come to be so passionate about this field?
[10:37] Cynthia: There are so many things to unpack with that question, Sean, because I am, yes—Let me sort of break it down and tackle in three different parts, because I think, initially, you talked about how there is so much diversity, even in places that you don’t think about necessarily having diversity.
And the definition of that, in how we actually drive inclusion, is going to be different in different cultural contexts. So, absolutely, how we think about diversity here in the US, with our history of slavery and discrimination in different groups, it’s very different context from China or India, where India is there is discrimination based on social economic status as being a much more prevailing thing, versus, as you mentioned, all those minority groups that are definitely treated differently in China.
All of that is very nuanced. And we have to make sure that we’re not approaching it from a one-size-fits-all kind of perspective. And that’s why it matters to everybody, because there is difference amongst all everywhere. And it’s less about in-groups and out-groups, necessarily, and more about inclusion and exclusion, in my mind. Because, even if you take it down to the level of a team within an organization anywhere, if somebody is feeling excluded from that team, like they don’t belong, like they’re not being valued for who they are and what they bring, that person’s not going to be productive and not going to stay very long. And so, if we’re all driving for effective organizations and effective teams and productive output and things like that, then you have to care about this, to drive that no matter what your team looked like or what cultural context you’re in.
So, that’s sort of the first part of that. And then, I think, the second part about how, why I’ve come to care about that growing up in an area where—I think diversity is kind of seen as a norm here in San Francisco. And that comes from a couple of things. So, I mentioned my one brother who is developmentally disabled.
I also have another brother who’s gay. I grew up, when my parents immigrated here, we came here with nothing. And so, they had to work for everything that they had. And where we settled, where I grew up in San Francisco, we settled in a primarily black community. And so, not only was I wrestling with the whole cross-cultural eye, my parents have very traditional Chinese values governing the home. And I’m trying to navigate that sort of focus community and Chinese values with American values on individuality. And I’m amongst this community that looks very different from me, where I don’t really fit, in any sense of the word.
So, I’ve grown up always feeling like I didn’t belong anywhere, like I’m kind of this misfit. And it took me until high school to really find, I think, a group of friends who had similar kind of multiculturalism elements to their backgrounds, that I started to find people who I could connect with. But that, along with the fact that I have brothers who clearly have their struggles in life, in ways that most of us take for granted, that has always weighed on me in that why do we treat people so badly just because they look a little different or they love a little different? So, those are the things that have made me be like, if I have an opportunity to change that, then that’s what I’m going to try to do.
[14:29] Sean: Thank you so much for sharing that. It is the fact that I think a lot of us take a lot of these things for granted, even though I feel like, very similarly with you, when I first moved to the US, I definitely struggled to feel like I belong. I ultimately overcame it. And I think I overcame it because, A, I’m a guy. I’m male. And there are a lot of things that kind of worked in my favor, I would say. And so, my assumption is like, just deal with it, just for everybody else. And I think that is the mentality a lot of people adopt is, just because you had it easy to adapt and people accepted you, it doesn’t mean everybody else has that same opportunity or the same support or the same environments to find their way to become accepted. And so, the onus isn’t on them to fit in. It’s more so the onus is on us to be more thoughtful and mindful of other people.
And that’s very interesting, because I was reading this article—I think it was yesterday—on bullying, on how do we teach our kids? My wife and I have a two-year-old. We have another daughter on the way. I think this is the first time I’m talking about this on the podcast. The article, in essence, was saying anybody can become a bully. It is not their fault that they become bullies. What it is, it’s everyone’s responsibility. It’s not just the bully or the victims that’s involved. There’s so many people that support the bully or that don’t speak up for the victim, when they could have done something. And I think that’s really what you’re getting at and what we should all be more aware of, is everybody has a role, everybody has responsibility. And so, that’s a really good reminder for that.
[16:19] Cynthia: Thank you for sharing that, Sean, because I think there’s so much, like there’s so many parallels. I think bullying is its own form of discrimination, in a lot of ways, because it’s like somebody is basically picking on somebody who’s weaker. And to your point, what are we encouraging? What are we discouraging? And what are we standing up against, versus kind of staying on the sidelines for? And that all creates the conditions or the environment in which behaviors like bullying and discrimination can thrive, versus what I think we’d rather have is more kindness and compassion for people. And to your point, it is upon all of us to help to drive that, because every one of us has the opportunity to impact others, because none of us are islands and we interact with people all the time. And so, we can choose to be open-minded and listen and have empathy, or we can choose not to. And that is going to be what drives people’s experiences and their beliefs and the lessons that they learned from those interactions.
Like yours, I want my kids to grow up in a society, in a place, where they’re really valued and seen for who they are and what they bring, and not some other things.
[17:47] Sean: No, that’s absolutely true. And I think all these things that we’re talking about is, in many ways, when I look at empathy, compassion, and things like that, it is, in many ways, the evolution, I feel like, of humanity. I remember watching, I think a couple of weeks back, your TEDx Talk. And you’re talking about the hierarchy of needs. And then you had Wi-Fi at the top as a joke. And it reminded me of this concept that I talk lot about, which is that we have these four basic needs that are butting heads. You have this need for security and a need for variety constantly butting heads. And then you have the need for belonging and the need for significance also butting heads. And you’re always moving along on the spectrum.
And I think, especially with belonging and significance, that’s where we run into these issues of, while we definitely want to belong to a group, which is why you want to be hanging out with a bully because you want to belong somewhere. But then you need to feel different and important and significant. And so, the most, I think, crude way is to put other people down for you to feel important, versus contributing, giving, being helpful, being empathetic. You can also feel important helping other people, too. And so, it’s something I’d like to hear a little—I think, explore a little bit more with you. And I would like to do that by, maybe, talking about your book. Can you share with us what is your book, All Are Welcome, about, and some of the biggest takeaways from it?
[19:15] Cynthia: Definitely. And thank you for asking about that, Sean, because that book is like this culmination 20 years in this space and all the lessons learned distilled into a playbook for others. Whether you are individuals inside an organization or the senior leader who’s driving all the decision-making at an org, I think anybody can get something out of it, just in terms of understanding what is necessary to drive change. And again, to our earlier conversation, everyone has a role in that. And part of what the book outlines is, really, what that role is and how you can actually play that role, but do it in a way that’s smart, actually helps you achieve the outcomes that you’re driving for, and isn’t done in a way that’s just performative, like for images’ sake. Because I care about people getting to change. I care about people actually fulfilling their commitments around diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging that we say we’re all striving for.
But I also know that progress in that space is going to be pretty incremental, I think, over time. I wrote the book to hopefully help people try to accelerate that curve a little bit. So, it doesn’t take us another 100 years to get 2% more representation of female CEOs in the Fortune 500. So, that’s partly why I wrote the book, is to be able to share those lessons, but really, to scale the impact and drive more change, hopefully, in a bigger, broader way than what I can just do within the companies in which I work.
[21:03] Sean: I have a question for you. You’re an expert in this area. And from my conversations with friends around DEI, I think, where a lot of people struggle is that they have a scarcity mindset, that we feel like, well, there’s only so many when it comes to, let’s say, admissions to school. There’s only so many entrance spots. For corporations, well, there’s only so many jobs. Hence, it feels like anybody could say it’s fair or unfair. How do you overcome that kind of belief that, because resources are scarce, because X or Y is scarce, that this is why we should be exclusive and not inclusive.
[21:47] Cynthia: I think it is a prevailing fear. And I get it. I think what I try to tell folks, especially in the context of organizations, is that we’re looking at this as if there’s one pie and everybody’s trying to get their particular piece of it. And then that means it’s that zero sum game of, if I get more, you get less. And I like to reframe that because I’m not actually trying to slice up more pieces of pie. I’m really trying to make the pie bigger, so that more people can get pieces of that pie. I think if you fundamentally believe that having more diversity equals better outcomes, you become a better leader if you manage diverse teams, you have more productivity, more innovation, more creativity, all of those financial performance metrics, which there’s so many research studies out there that say that you get better outcomes. So, what’s the goal? Is the goal to optimize for myself? Or, is the goal to optimize for the pie? And so, if I’m trying to optimize outcomes, then I’m going to want more diversity—scarcity mindset or not.
[23:10] Sean: That’s very true. I think this is partially why the United States is so attractive, because we’ve been expanding the pie. We love expanding the pie.
[23:22] Cynthia: That’s true.
[23:23] Sean: And so, I think we need to really embrace it, that the pie is not finite.
[23:27] Cynthia: It is not finite, exactly. And even when you think that there’s that finite, like admissions, there’s this whole debate around that in so many different places. And I understand it. There’s this interesting thing about, are there really true meritocracies? I don’t know that there are, because we all have bias, and it’s really hard to keep that out of decision-making. And then, on top of that, there’s no one end all be all path for any one person, either. Let’s say you don’t make it into your top choice school, is the next choice for you, is it going to be that bad? I don’t know. We all have to go down different paths and try different things and reconcile what that means for us in different ways.
[24:20] Sean: Sorry, that just gave a lot for me to think about. I think you’re absolutely right. I think, maybe what it comes down to is that we need to make sure that everybody has more choices along their path, or more opportunities along their path, because you’re absolutely right. It’s not one decision point. It’s not whether or not you get into the school, it’s going to determine your life. It’s what about the next thing? What about the next thing after that? I think, in a scarcity mindset, we isolate everything to like, “All right, if I don’t get into this school because somebody else got into school, my life is ruined.” It’s like, no, absolutely not. There’s plenty of people in the Harvard that don’t end up doing anything. So, clearly, that’s not the whole story. And that’s where we also need to think about—I think that’s why it comes down to why diversity, equity, and inclusion is so important, is we just need to continuously give people opportunities along the way in all fabrics of life, which is why, again, what your work is, your book, and what you’re doing is so important. It’s not just one company. Every company needs to do this so that everybody has more opportunity everywhere. Any additional thoughts or things you want to share from your book?
[25:26] Cynthia: I feel like I’ve gone down all the existential paths, Sean [laughs]. But I think the last thing that I would say is there is a chapter in the book that’s actually about risk-taking. And what that translates, too, for me in so many conversations is, how do you get past the discomfort of this topic of even engaging in conversations about racism, as an example, or homophobia, or cissexism, all these things? And I think it’s really important that people actually get educated, in order to have the courage to take some of those risks, and share some of that power with people who, maybe, wouldn’t be able to participate otherwise, and be allies in this space. I just think that we can’t sort of shy away from the topic and still expect us to make any different progress in this space. We got to hold the mirror up and do our parts to make it all happen.
[26:42] Sean: My last question is—it’s been Women’s History Month—are there any insights or data that you want to share about how to create a more equal, inclusive workplace for women, specifically? Is that a good question [laughs]? Sometimes, especially around these topics, I’ve already learned over the years, you know what, Sean? Just ask the question, even though you might sound like an idiot.
[27:10] Cynthia: You don’t sound like an idiot at all. It’s just making me think, how do I distill everything that’s in the book down to a few minutes [laughs]? Because it’s no one thing, right?
[27:25] Sean: That’s right, yeah.
[27:26] Cynthia: I think that we’ve talked a little bit about allyship and the need for people who are in the majority, in this case, men, to really be upstanders and actively support women in the workplace. I think the other thing that I would also really encourage people to think about is just that, women, as a group, we aren’t a monolith, either, in that many of us have very intersectional identities, where we have different aspects to our identity that are layered in with being a woman. Like I mentioned earlier, I’m an Asian woman. And for women of color, in particular, research shows there’s that double bind that you have to face, of not just gender bias, but also racial bias, on top of that. And, of course, I know people who have yet more layers and dimensions of diversity on top of that. So, it’s important to, when we think about making progress for women, that it’s not just progress for one group of women, which is very often white women. But that we’re thinking broadly and we’re looking at our efforts through that intersectional lens, and making sure that people aren’t feeling left behind in some of these efforts. And so, whether you’re providing coaching opportunities for people, development programs inside your company, broad education about gender issues and even what it means to be non-binary as well. All of those things are part and parcel of what we have to address and drive more equality for women in the workplace.
[29:15] Sean: For someone who’s educating themselves about DEI, I’m just going to speculate, it could feel overwhelming. What’s some advice you can give for someone to, obviously, not be overwhelmed? Just from this kind of example you just gave, it can sound intimidating to approach. How do we take bite-size chunks towards a more inclusive world?
[29:39] Cynthia: That is a great question. I think it is all about starting small. I think that it doesn’t take much to read an article in this space, find out about something that, maybe, you aren’t that well versed in, whether that is women’s history and the suffrage movement or Native American issues and what it means to be indigenous? There’s a whole host of different issues. Just pick one. Pick one. Start reading about it. Super easy, right? And then, start asking. I think asking questions is really good. Not to the point where you’re overburdening any one person to represent their entire community, because that’s not what we want, but to extend your curiosity and to ask people about what are their experiences like, so that you can get more of a window and develop your empathy for other experiences that are very different from your ow. It costs nothing to ask. And you can learn so much about people who are willing to open up.
And then the last thing that I think is super easy for anyone to do is to just engage and practice. I think, oftentimes, we’re afraid to open our mouths and inadvertently offend somebody, like am I using the right pronoun? Or, I use the word “black” or “disabled,” and somebody is just like, “I’m offended. That’s not how I label myself.” So, we don’t attempt again. But it’s really about moving through that and just engaging in the practice on a regular basis to ask people how they want to be identified, or if you’re using the correct term, that they go by, or even as simple as just making an effort to pronounce somebody’s name correctly.
It’s all those little things that, I think, anybody can do that, that really add up to creating connection and welcoming and belonging for folks.
[31:50] Sean: It reminded me of a personal story, most recently. As a startup, we are starting with culture of mind. And one of our core company cultures is diversity, equity, and inclusion. And it happens that the two founders are two guys. And it’s really bothered us from the get-go. And it’s so easy, obviously, to find advisors and mentors that look just like us who are also male. And so, at a certain point, I remember, I think we had brought on two male advisors. We’re like, “No more.” Even though there’s so many more qualified advisors we want to bring in, we said, “No, we need to find some female advisors to bring on to our board.” And the same one with hiring.
And I think, following what you’re saying is, it’s just this willingness to make mistakes, but be well-intentioned and not make it about yourself. The whole idea is not that I look bad, but I made a mistake, I offended you, and I need to learn from that so I don’t offend you again or offend someone else. And I think that’s something that I’ve been learning, because one of the mistakes I made was telling the potential hires that we’re looking for diversity hires. That’s not what we’re supposed to be doing. And so, my co-founder correct me on that. And he’s like, “Don’t say that.” And that was a huge learning lesson. And I’m still fumbling my way through it and learning and embracing this learning, because it’s very important. It’s just been a very interesting experience, so I conclude on that.
[33:27] Cynthia: It’s so great that you shared that. I love that story, for so many reasons. A, that your co-founder educated you on what’s the better terminology to use. For anybody listening who might be confused, you don’t want to tell people that they are diversity hire, because you want to hire people who can do the job. You want to hire people who are qualified. And I don’t want to be hired because I’m Asian or black or a Latino. But we want to be hired because we don’t want to be tokenized in that way. And I think learning from that is just really important, but also the willingness to make the mistake and be open to the learning.
And the second point that I think is also really important to get from your story is that, very often, when we think about you’re looking for advisors, and you notice that they’re all male and you need to get a different perspective, like, that’s kind of the core of it. And I don’t think people necessarily understand to the extent that they should, meaning, if we hire or we’re looking for those advisors or people who are going to invest, very often, we think about this person versus that person. What is this person’s background and qualifications? And they have XYZ. Versus, this person, other person who might have some of this, but less of that. Might be from an underrepresented background. So, what do I do? How do I define the most qualified hire?
And what I encourage people to think about is what’s best for the team. Instead of the one-to-one comparison, think about what perspective do you need to add to your entire team to make the team better? What might be missing? And that’s exactly what you did with your adviser board. You’re like, sure, there are people who have tens of years of experience that we could bring on, but we would be missing this completely other perspective that’s going to be valuable to how we operate in the future. And I love that. And I think we all need to be doing more of that in order to actually drive the diversity that we want to see.
[35:36] Sean: And we all should get a copy of the book, All are Welcome [laughs]. I’m going to put a link in the description. We’ll also link it everywhere else and the website. Thank you so much, Cynthia, for coming on the podcast. I do have one last lightning round question, which is, what are you looking forward to this year?
[35:54] Cynthia: I’m looking forward to getting on a plane for the first time in over two years since the pandemic started to take a long vacation on a beach in Hawaii.
[36:09] Sean: That sounds amazing.
[36:10] Cynthia: It will be.
[36:12] Sean: Well, thank you so much for coming on the podcast. It was a real pleasure having you.
[36:17] Cynthia: Thank you so much for having me, Sean, and having the conversation with me. It was really enjoyable and genuinely a blast.
[36:24] Sean: Thank you.
[36:25] Outro: Thanks again for tuning in to this episode of the OneHaas Podcast. If you enjoyed our show today, please remember to hit that Subscribe or Follow button on your favorite podcast player. We’d also really appreciate you giving us a five-star rating and review. If you’re looking for more content, please check out our website at haas.fm. That’s spelled H-A-A-S.F-M. There, you can subscribe to our monthly newsletter and check out some of our other Berkeley Haas podcasts. And until next time. Go Bears.