How To Deal With Racism At Work
When It Happens to You; When It Happens to a Coworker; and When You Hear About It as a Manager
A couple years ago, one of my coworkers asked me to swing by her office.
I was looking forward to catching up — she was one of my favorite coworkers, always upbeat and ready to brainstorm ideas, but I hadn't seen her in a while.
I popped into her office all smiles until I saw her slouched at her desk, eyes puffy from crying.
My heart fell. I knew this was more than a social visit, and I sensed I was going to have an all-too familiar conversation.
"I don't think I can do this anymore," she said with her head in her hands, "it's the way she talks down to me and everyone who looks like us...Noelle, I have worked too hard to work for a place that is this racist."
I knew exactly what she was going to say before she got started because I'd experienced it myself at that company (and other companies before that).
This conversation is always equal parts heartbreaking and enraging. I say this because people know better, because we have laws and rights, because it's 2019, and because it's insane that I have to keep having this conversation.
I know I'm not alone in my experience: I've talked to friends, family, and a local networking group of black professionals to hear how they've experienced racism and colorism at work.
Collectively, we'd experienced discrimination and bigotry in a broad range of forms: having our natural hair petted by coworkers, reorganizations where only people of color and LGBTQ+ folks are let go, interviewers sharing racist jokes on interviews, being called the N-word during conflicts, and on one occasion, seeing a coworker come in with blackface for Halloween.
When you experience racism, there are so many emotions that it is overpowering. It brings forth a mixture of understandable anger and disgust, but it can also cause shame, anxiety, depression and rage. Your workplace feels tainted or even unsafe.
So whether you are on the receiving end or witness this as a coworker or manager, it's important to handle this situation swiftly, authentically, and with dignity. Here are some suggestions on how to deal with racism at work.
When it happens to you
If you have been on the receiving end of racism, you have all of my love and support: I've been there and it's a disgusting feeling. When this happens, remove yourself from the situation as quickly as you can.
Do not accept the blame when the person says "Oh, that's not how I meant it, you're just being sensitive." Trust your gut. You know when you are experiencing racism so do not accept gaslighting.
Write down everything that you can remember, every word that was said, and speak to your manager, HR department or Diversity and Inclusion Representative about the incident.
It can feel lonely and tense in the office when racism is addressed, so confide with a trusted coworker. It could feel even more beneficial if that coworker is of the same ethnic background as you.
If you are unsatisfied with the outcome of the investigation, you can put in a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, consult with an employment lawyer, and/or start looking for a new place of work.
Do you feel that the incident was a microaggression coming from an unconscious bias or ignorance? If you're comfortable with it, you can put a stop to it by addressing it full on. For example, I had a coworker who would say things like "I'm colorblind" or "I don't see color."
Cringeworthy and filled with privilege yes, but diabolical? No. In this instance, I explained to my coworker that even though the thought is was well-intended, when she says "I don't see color" what people of color are hearing is "your race and culture, and your experience as such, does not matter to me." She was embarrassed but she thanked me for my candor. She'd made that statement for so long and was told by so many people that it was a nice thing to say that she didn't even realize how negatively it could come off.
Often these statements are not meant to offend but do, so they need to be addressed. Be cautious with your words as the word "racist" will shut down a conversation because people will get defensive, so sometimes saying "offensive" is a better alternative. People do better when they know better: they may be embarrassed but hopefully they won't make that error again.
That said, know that it is not your job to "educate the masses," so if you don't want to you certainly do not need to be the person to deal with this head-on. To get the matter addressed by proxy, you can certainly speak to a manager, HR department or D&I rep to make that explanation for you.
When it happens to a coworker
It is always appropriate to be an advocate when you witness racism. Do not assume because it didn't happen to you or because the victim is normally strong and stands up for themselves that they do not need you in their corner. They do. If the victim isn't already speaking, say out loud "that is not okay."
Do not speak for the victim but align with them. Stand by the victim, and check to see if they are okay.
If you hear something about a coworker that is racist, say something then and report it when it needs to be elevated. "You know that Lola is Puerto Rican, not Mexican, right? She's mentioned that several times before." No one is expecting you to save the day here, but being silent makes you complicit in racism. It is your actions in the moment that makes you a true advocate, not just when everyone is gone and you're speaking to the victim alone.
I once found out that a coworker had had a talk with an intern at lunch after hearing the intern getting a coworker and I, both Black women, mixed up repeatedly. She told him, "Hey man, you're just getting started and you aren't doing yourself any favors by getting the only two people of color in this company confused. They look nothing alike and work in completely different departments. Make a better effort to get it right." Her actions helped me view her as an ally and that encouraged me because I knew I could depend on her and her allyship to set the tone should a racial bias appear at work again.
When you hear about it as a manager
When you witness racism or have an incident of racism reported to you, it's up to you to make sure that the victim feels heard and that change happens. Along with speaking with HR or appropriate superiors (if any) to handle the perpetrator appropriately, see what can be done to prevent this from happening again.
Diversity and Inclusion workshops are a great place to start if you don't already have a D&I or Culture department. Make this workshop mandatory and prior to the workshop, take a look at the overview to make sure that bias, microaggressions, and inclusion are covered in the program.
Take a look at the company culture and where things can be improved. Are there diverse leaders in your organization? Are your holiday parties inclusive to people of all backgrounds? Question if your company is a safe place to have difficult conversations and if not, ask yourself what you can do to change that. Use your authority to take make your company the kind of place where people of all backgrounds can come in and be themselves.
Tackling racism at work is a job that no one wants, particularly if you are at the receiving end of that racism. There is no guarantee that your actions will result in company-wide change, but I truly believe that we cannot combat injustice if the injustice is never brought into the light. Pretending that it doesn't exist will only perpetuate more ugly behavior, intentional or not. And if you fear retaliation for speaking up, ask yourself whether a place that tolerates racism is really a place you want to work.
- How to Speak Up About Ethical Issues at Work - PowerToFly Blog ›
- Microaggressions Faced By Women at Work - PowerToFly Blog ›
- How To Handle Conversations on Race with Your Non-Black Coworkers - PowerToFly Blog ›
January is National Mentorship Month— the perfect time to focus on growing and building important relationships with mentors that will positively affect your professional career.
Research shows that mentorship greatly improves career outcomes by providing professional guidance, skill development, and support through major work and life transitions.
We asked some of our partner companies to tell us about the mentorship opportunities they offer. If you’re ready to unleash your full potential by joining an impactful mentoring program, keep reading to hear what they said. (Plus, they’re all hiring—check out their open jobs under each entry!)
“Clarus Commerce has been running a mentorship program for the last 9 years. Here is how it works:
- Senior leaders nominate mentors within their department.
- The program lasts for about 6 months.
- Those who are interested in being mentored provide 6 topics that they’d like to discuss in mentoring meetings, which help us pair people up. Mentoring topics should focus on topics such as: leadership, how to manage up, presentation skills, communication, work life balance, etc.
- We leverage our Insights and Discovery profiles that each employee has to help better understand each other’s communication styles and help facilitate great discussions.”
Learn more about Clarus Commerce here.
“PwC professionals are provided learning opportunities, supportive career growth and unique mentoring opportunities to help them to fulfill their potential. The firm has several programs that include intentional mentorship and focus on building representation, inclusion and development of their people. For example, the firm launched Enrich, an experience designed to support the development and leadership skills of high-potential female and racially and ethnically diverse senior managers and directors. There is also Thrive, an innovative two-year experience for Black and Latinx entry-level new joiners that helps lay the foundation for a successful career through culture workshops, networking, connectivity and leadership engagement.”
Learn more about PwC here.
“At CallRail we have a program called Connection Point where individual contributors are paired with members of the Senior Leadership Team. Each pair is together for a full quarter and are given topics for their meetings, topics range from; career stories, situational advice and feedback, etc. At the conclusion of the quarter the individual contributors that have been in the program have a round table lunch with the CEO. This has been a great way to foster deeper connections within the organization, demystify senior leadership and help individuals see a path forward.”
Learn more about CallRail here.
“Automattic’s Design Mentoring program is a mutually beneficial partnership providing development opportunities for all. Mentees pick up new skills or get guidance with a project. Mentors practice communication, leadership, and knowledge sharing. The organization benefits from more engaged, productive employees, who have increased job satisfaction because mentorship encourages meaningful work that aligns personal and professional goals. In our distributed work environment, mentoring provides a human connection and a trusted space to grow. Tapping into all of the design experience and skill that our organization has is a powerful way to grow individually … and collectively."
Learn more about Automattic here.
“Relativity Women of the Workplace (RelWoW) Mentorship Circles is a group mentoring program that brings together women at varying stages in their careers and from every department at Relativity. The program sessions are curated by our team and include materials, talking points and action items to help create open dialogue, build connections and develop skills for personal and professional development. The program runs around six months, and includes a kickoff, mid-point event exclusive to program members, and a closing celebration. Relativity also plans to pilot a new mentoring program with broader reach across the company in 2022.”
—Yvonne Frazier – Executive Assistant
Learn more about Relativity here.
“CDW Business Resource Groups are a key source for networking and mentoring opportunities. In 2019, our BeU BRG launched a formal mentoring program through their Project IMPACT initiative aimed at recruiting, retaining and promoting Black coworkers. It has been a successful program that has brought coworkers together across departments and roles, sharing new experiences and perspectives for both mentors and mentees.”
Learn more about CDW here.
“BRIDGE is Kinesso's reverse mentoring program bringing together senior leaders and future leaders globally. Our program pairs employees with Kinesso's Senior Leadership Team, but rather than leadership mentoring employees, our employees mentor our senior leaders!
Through mentorship programs like Bridge, Kinesso's brings together employees across generations, cultures, territories, and job levels. Giving our future leaders the opportunity to share fresh perspectives and innovative ideas allows our current leaders to look at inclusion, capabilities, collaboration, and connectivity from a completely different lens.
"(Bridge) is immensely important for many reasons, but most of all, it shows that no matter where you are in your career, you should never stop learning and growing."
—Arun Kumar, CEO at Kinesso and Global Chief Data & Marketing Technology Officer at IPG”
For more information on Kinesso, please visit Kinesso.com/careers.
Learn more about Kinesso here.
"At SoundCloud, one of our core behaviors is to embrace the challenge- but that doesn’t mean that you go at it alone. We encourage SoundClouders to ask for help and to give help to those who it need along the way. Over the past few years we have offered a mentorship program that connects rising SoundClouders with under-represented identities (gender/race/ethnicity) with more senior level employees around topics of professional branding and career growth, influencing and emotional intelligence, and strategic thinking. In 2022, we aim to launch 2 cohorts of mentorship/coaching targeting different ranks of women of color."
Learn more about SoundCloud here.
“BlackRock has nine employee networks and four professional networks – all of which offer mentorship programs or opportunities.
Our employee networks: Mosaic; Ability & Allies Network; Asian, Middle Eastern & Allies Professional Network; Black Professionals & Allies Network; Families & Allies Network; Out & Allies Network; SOMOS Latinx & Allies Network; and Women's Initiative & Allies Network.
Our professional networks: Analyst Alley, Associates Arena, Global Administrative Initiative Network, and VP Village.”
Learn more about BlackRock here.
“Having both formal and informal mentors is crucial to elevate any career. At Lockheed Martin, mentoring is the development of meaningful relationships to transfer valuable knowledge and understanding from one person to another. It is a personal enhancement strategy through which one person willingly facilitates the development of another by sharing known resources, expertise, values, skills, perspectives, attitudes, and proficiencies. Our mentoring program is tailored to the individual employee to give them the right tools, the right resources, at the right time.”
Learn more about Lockheed Martin here.
“Autodesk is a place where you can shape your future and help others do the same. The Autodesk Mentorship Program empowers employees to take ownership of their careers and build on a mindset of learning from each other by offering mentorship opportunities for professional and personal development, peer-to-peer learning, and focused networking. The program helps you identify your goals and recommends matches for a mentor or mentee to help you accomplish them. Through the Autodesk Mentorship Program, employees can make connections, grow their skills, explore opportunities and build their career paths.”
Learn more about Autodesk here.
“Cummins Women’s Empowerment Network (WEN) focuses on a mission to create the right environment by advocating for equal representation, empowering women, and fostering inclusion for every employee in all work assignments at all levels.
As part of the work to achieve such a mission, WEN focuses on mentoring and development initiatives designed to foster mentoring relationships, broaden employee networks, and provide opportunities for personal and professional growth. Initiatives include Speed Mentoring Sessions, Personal Development & Networking Events and WEN Mentoring Circles Program. This annual Mentoring Circles Program provides a monthly opportunity for exempt employees to participate in a forum for open discussion, explore new perspectives and learn from peers and leaders.
Within the Europe region we also have the Cummins Business Services mentoring program which is open to all employees at all levels.”
Learn more about Cummins here.
“Meet a pairing in Millennium’s Mentorship Program: Cari Smalley, Co-Head HR Business Partners, Americas, and Jasmin Zirino, Operations Specialist. They say, "The mentorship program is a fantastic experience for anyone who wishes to join. It allows you to meet someone you do not directly work with and grow your network. It is invaluable to have the ability to work through solutions to problems, use one another as sounding boards, and occasionally just blow off steam in a supportive space."”
Learn more about Millennium Management here.
“Mentorship is about stepping out of our comfort zone, taking charge and acting upon our ambitions, opening doors for others and learning more about the skills that make our own success.
Expedia Group has a volunteer-led program allowing every employee to have an equal chance to grow and succeed. The program has brought together a group of 1,700 Expedians from all over the world who believe in skills development and the power to elevate others while creating Inclusion at Expedia Group. Through a self-service marketplace platform and organized meetup sessions, EG’s Mentoring Program enables all employees to ask for help and embrace their own identity while belonging to a community that thrives through diversity.”
Learn more about Expedia Group here.
“At Equinix, our employee connection networks (EECNs) play an important role in bringing together communities for learning and growth opportunities, including mentoring. While mentees gain much from mentors, we often find that mentors also discover growth opportunities.
By asking these questions, we instill best practices for a successful mentorship:
What does each party want from this experience? How often to meet? Confidentiality: What’s shareable and what isn’t?
Feedback: What are the expectations around giving and receiving feedback?
And remember, a mentoring relationship is like any other relationship—it takes time to develop. Build trust by getting to know one another.”
Learn more about Equinix here.
"At Unstoppable, it is our commitment to having a crypto forward culture. Every new team member is matched with a Crypto Buddy who acts as their first point of contact outside of their direct team, guides them down the crypto rabbit hole, and welcomes them into Unstoppable’s culture. As a fully remote company, making cross-team collaboration a key part of onboarding strengthens our community. This is also an opportunity for the buddy to hone their mentoring and teaching skills. When the new hire has been with the company for six months, they will then become a mentor themselves, driving a continuous cycle of mentorship."
Learn more about Unstoppable Domains here.
“Mentoring@Uber connects employees who are passionate about helping and up-skilling others with those who are seeking guidance and development. It is a way of connecting and sharing challenges on a mutual and reliable relationship —and trying to get another perspective from an unbiased source. It’s also an opportunity to learn from the experiences of others, or collaborate together to come up with a solution to professional problems that arise. People with mentors perform better, advance in their careers faster, and even maintain more work-life balance. And mentors benefit, too.”
Learn more about Uber here.
“MongoDB has offered two pilot mentorship programs to support underrepresented groups. One program focused on promising first-line managers and ICs from underrepresented groups and the other focused on providing executive mentorship to women & nonbinary leaders at the director level and up. In both programs, participants were matched with a mentor with who they regularly met to discuss career planning and personal development. Feedback from both pilots was hugely positive with participants indicating that they received helpful support from their mentors. Members from our ERGs have also served as mentors to our summer class of interns.”
Learn more about MongoDB here.
“Our Black and Latinx ERG, Array, offers a mentorship program pairing individual contributors within Array to C-Suite and VP level mentors, including PagerDuty CEO Jennifer Tejada. Dedicated to leveling the playing field for Black and Latinx employees, the program is structured so everyone can learn from each other. Mentees are paired with mentors from within or outside their department for a nine-month term, which includes check-ins, themed discussions, and monthly one-on-ones. Bri Solorzano, an Array mentee, explained that this mentorship program allows her to build bonds with higher level executives, and share her personal experiences as a Latinx employee and individual contributor at PagerDuty.”
Learn more about PagerDuty here.
T. Rowe Price
“Due to the highly collaborative culture at T. Rowe Price, the firm understands the value of relationships and the opportunities strong mentorship can provide. It is committed to not only developing talent within its walls but developing the next generation of talent within communities.
The firm will launch a new global mentorship program in 2022, which will offer associates the opportunity to connect with colleagues, agnostic of location or business unit. T. Rowe Price also provides leadership development to youth in the community through strategic partnerships such as the Baltimore Ravens Leadership Institute, a program aimed at high school students.”
Learn more about T. Rowe Price here.
“At Pluralsight, we take growth seriously. Which is why we offer a six-month long mentorship program for all of our employees. Our mentorship program is facilitated bi-annually by Women@Pluralsight, one of our Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) and aims to empower participants to recognize their full potential. We intentionally pair mentors and mentees to create connections that encourage the development of skills crucial to success, and foster personal and professional growth. In our most recent cycle we paired nearly 200 participants and have plans to continue growing that number. Because at Pluralsight, your growth is our growth, and vice versa.”
Learn more about Pluralsight here.
“At Yelp, we value and actively foster an environment focused on learning and development. There are a variety of mentorship opportunities available, such as:
- New Hire Mentors — new employees are paired with a team mentor to help them onboard and get settled in.
- Engineering Mentorship Program — any IC engineer can sign up to become or get a mentor within Yelp Engineering.
- Manager Mentorship Program — new engineering managers or proto-managers can get support from experienced managers at Yelp.
- Awesome Women in Engineering — This employee resource group’s mentorship program helps AWE members find mentors or mentee within the group.”
Learn more about Yelp here.
“At Turo, we help each other. We collaborate. We challenge each other. And we create the tools to succeed independently and as a team.
When you join Turo engineering, you’re assigned a mentor, a reliable, single point-of-contact to help you set up your environment, navigate the codebase, and acclimate to Turo’s culture and workplace. Mentors have a great responsibility to ensure new Turists feel welcome, offer encouragement, and provide advice and guidance on complex matters of systems and architecture. Engineers who demonstrate our core values of efficiency, pioneering, and being down-to-earth and supportive have an opportunity to mentor new engineers. Mentoring engineers is a great way to build the skills necessary to further your career at Turo.”
“Mentoring has allowed me to deepen my technical understanding and team connections.”
– Lauren Kroner, Senior Software Engineer
Learn more about Turo here.
“In the US, Moody’s has an intergenerational mentoring program, our Pride BRG members coach youth in the Queer Coders program. Our Women’s, Veterans, and Multicultural BRGs have a variety of mentoring programs, including summer intern mentorship, our Asian Leadership Initiative and our ConectaMos Hispanic/Latinx 1:1 mentoring program. Our Women’s Group Mentoring Program just celebrated its 10th anniversary with over 800 mentor-mentee participants over 10 years. In EMEA, Moody’s offers Power to Act reverse mentoring, mentoring through the Women’s and Pride BRGs, and a parental leave mentoring scheme. In APAC, Moody’s has various cross-BRG and cross-department mentoring programs.”
Learn more about Moody’s here.
“At Condé Nast, we are focused on providing positive career development opportunities. We recently launched a Global Mentorship Program as an option for employees to connect and learn from one another. For six months, employees participate as a mentor and/or mentee to develop their careers, grow their skills and guide one another. The structured framework creates and sustains an inclusive experience that empowers everyone’s growth.
The MentorcliQ platform we use lets us create mentoring pairs based on their interests, experiences and personality compatibility. To date we have had 473 active mentorship pairs.”
Learn more about Condé Nast here.
“Thornburg Small Group Mentor Program was created to bring employees of various tenures and experience levels together in order to cultivate organic relationships and opportunities for influence in a low-pressure environment.
The program consists of six small groups comprised of one mentor and three to six mentees. These groups meet for one hour every month for six months. The series concludes with a virtual event where all participants from every group can meet and share takeaways from their experiences.
- Small group format (not one-on-one)
- Low cost, low maintenance, light structure
- Flexibility for mentors to lead through individual style"
Learn more about Thornburg here.
“Women@Okta’s upcoming mentorship program:
W@Okta’s vision for the year is to empower, develop and support women-identified employees in order to ultimately improve gender diversity at Okta. One of our key methods is to empower the next generation of female leadership by providing a platform for women to connect and learn from one another through group and 1:1 mentorship opportunities. Our Professional Development branch is launching a pilot mentorship program with an initial cohort of 32 mentors and mentees.
Goals: Career, personal and organizational
Share your needs, desires, goals, and challenges; career choice and mobility.
Explore people, resources, information, expertise you need – but don’t have – to speed up, enhance, and ensure your results.”
—Professional Development Lead Christina Ghallagher (Senior Sales Development Representative) & Partnerships Co-Lead Sarah Schiff (Senior Manager, Customer First Recruiting)
Learn more about Okta here.
Remote Work Tips: Fostering Belonging in a Distributed Environment
💎 We’re living in times when remote work is becoming more and more typical for employees. And many companies have organized hybrid workplaces, with some people coming to the office and some working from home. How can teams foster belonging in this kind of distributed environment?
📼 Play this video to get three top remote work tips on how to foster belonging in a distributed environment. You'll hear from Phylicia Jones (“PJ”), Senior Director of People Development at PagerDuty, who shares her experience when it comes to connecting and staying engaged on a distributed team (like the one at PagerDuty).
👉Want to work at PagerDuty? They’re hiring! Check out the company’s open jobs:
Senior Engineering Manager (Lisbon) https://bit.ly/PagerDutySrEngManagerPTF
Senior Software Engineer - Platform (remote!) https://bit.ly/PagerDutySrSoftwareEngPTF
VP Partnerships (remote!) https://bit.ly/PagerDutyVPPartnershipsPTF
📼 Tip #1: Share Your Story. In a remote work or hybrid environment, you may find it challenging to build a genuine connection with your team. So you should find ways and opportunities to share pieces of yourself with others so they can see and know your whole self at work. Each time you connect with others, it's an opportunity to share a story, whether it's in an interview, a one-on-one, or in a team meeting. Share a piece of your life! What makes you “you” outside of your role? What experiences energize you? Share how you are really feeling, versus always saying, “I’m fine,” so you can be more present at work. That’s how you humanize moments that matter and connect with others.
📼 Tip #2: Be Curious, Always. Now with remote work, most of our interactions are behind a screen. To help foster belonging within your team, take a genuine interest in understanding how people think and feel. Remember, a lot happens that we can't see or read. So ask more questions! You can reach better decisions, outcomes, and ideas when everyone can have a voice, share a point of view, and give input in a way to move forward. Invite people in by asking for their opinions. That way, you’ll open up a powerful dialogue that includes people and creates an engaging and healthy debate.
Tips for Remote Work Team Connections: Be Present
Phylicia advises to be present and always listen. The more aware we are of our actions and how we impact others, we can better connect and engage with everyone. But this requires us to be present in each interaction. We must listen to what is said, along with what is not said.
📨 Are you interested in joining PagerDuty? They have open positions! To learn more, click here: https://bit.ly/PagerDutyPTF
Get to Know PJ
Phylicia “PJ” Jones is a driven global talent and organizational development professional with 12+ years of experience advising and working for organizations in the areas of organizational and talent development and transformation. PJ has expertise in managing projects, collaborating and leading teams, executing programs and processes in employee and leadership development, training facilitation and delivery, learning content development, communications, and change management. In addition, she’s passionate about implementing solutions to improve talent performance and business operations to achieve organizational goals.
More About PagerDuty
Latest News: PagerDuty made Parity.org's Best Companies for Women to Advance List 2021!
PagerDuty was founded in 2009 by three innovative software developers who knew what it was like to carry the pager for “always-on” cloud services. What started as automating on-call rotations has evolved into a multi-product platform that helps companies of all sizes proactively manage their digital operations so their teams can spend less time reacting to incidents and more time building for the future.
As an instructor of other scuba diving instructors, Diane Tetrault knows how to convey life-saving lessons in a way that encourages and supports her students. And as it turns out, that skill is highly transferable to two other key roles in her life: manager and mother.
Diane is the Senior Director of Product Marketing at Elastic and is also a mom of two sons. In the water, at work, and with her family, she’s gotten plenty of practice creating the right environment for other people to learn and enjoy.
“Scuba diving is something lots of people have on their bucket list, where they say, ‘Oh, I wish I could do that, but I’m too afraid.’ But I know lots of people would love it if they tried.”
Diane’s not one to shy away from new experiences, even when it seems like they’d be hard to work into her packed life. As a working mom, for example, she still makes time to travel and dive, this time bringing her kids along with her and giving them a taste for the adventure that she and her husband so love. Her eldest son, now 8, had visited 11 countries by the time he was 14 months old!
We sat down with Diane to learn more about how she balances her passions, her career, and her family, including how her role at Elastic makes all of that possible.
An Intersection of Interests
“There's probably not a product marketer alive who woke up one day and said, ‘I'm gonna be a product marketer when I grow up,’” says Diane about how she got into her role. “It’s rare that I meet someone who doesn’t have a curvy, wavy road into product marketing—and I think that’s a good thing.”
Her own role looks like this: she got a programming job right after university and immediately realized the heads-down work with little to no human involvement wasn’t for her.
She moved into technical project management, where she got to interact with customers and still deal with engineering topics. Diane stayed in that role until she was promoted into product management, where her work shifted from outward-focused to more inwards, figuring out what her company wanted to build and what it should look like.
But her sense of adventure pushed her to live abroad, so she decided to move to England. Her company didn’t have a product management job open there, but wanted to keep her as part of the team, so they offered her a role backfilling a marketing director who was out on maternity leave. Diane stepped up into a completely new field, picking up demand generation across events, PR, and advertising. She ended up building a life in England and staying for seven years before returning to her home country of Canada.
“Once I had experience in product, experience in marketing, and experience in sales—because I had sales people reporting to me and I spent a lot of time in the field—I understood that there was something we needed to do in the middle,” says Diane.
Enter product marketing.
She leans on three key skills in her current role, and suggests that anyone else interested in product marketing work to develop the same ones:
- Technical inclination. “I started off life as a developer, so with that technical aptitude, I can hold my own talking to deeply technical people.”
- Customer focus. “You need customer-facing experience so you can understand what they’re trying to achieve. You need empathy for what the customer’s trying to do.”
- Domain expertise. Diane describes a lot of what she does as translating, and credits her years in the industry to giving her the right background of knowledge that makes that translation possible. “If you’re translating to something you don’t already understand, that’s hard,” she says.
When Diane had her first face-to-face exposure to Elastic, she had already heard of them years before. Her current company was trying to compete with Elasticsearch, so they sent Diane to attend Elasticon in San Francisco in 2018.
“I was just blown away by the culture—and particularly by the women of Elastic,” says Diane, who went to a breakfast hosted by the ERG and was shocked to see the company’s CEO there, fully engaged and listening. “He wasn’t presenting, but he wasn’t playing on his phone, either. He was nodding away, really engaged in everything. I was really amazed by the fact that it didn’t seem like lip service. It seemed like the company really did value diversity and inclusion.”
Experiencing the Elastic environment made Diane want to work for them. And that’s what still motivates her the most. “I came for the culture, and I stayed for the culture,” she says. “When I interview people, I’m always looking for cultural fit. We’re fiercely protective of our culture, because that’s what makes people stay.”
Here are Diane’s favorite ways that Elastic’s culture manifests itself:
- Respect, not deference. “I used to work in a company where we had to call the CEO 'monsieur,’” says Diane. “Here, you can just say ‘hi’ to people in the hallway.”
- Distributed, not remote. But those hallway run-ins are few and far between, because Elastic is designed to be a distributed company. “We’re distributed by design. Everything is optimized for that. And notice I didn’t say ‘remote,’ because that implies a center where people who are working outside are remote. At Elastic, we’re all over.”
- Flexibility first. “When you have small kids, flexibility is unbelievably important,” says Diane. “If I say I’m stepping out for two hours because it’s my kid’s Christmas pageant, no one’s like, ‘Oh, really?’ I’ve worked at companies where if you left 10 minutes early, everyone gossips.”
- Leading by example. Diane’s never once worried about putting her workouts, her after-school pickups, or her other personal appointments on her work calendar, because she’s seen Elastic’s C-suite do the same. “We’ll have 2,000-person calls and Shay [Elastic’s CEO] will have his kids in the background, asking him something,” says Diane, smiling. “Or you take a call with senior leaders and they're going outside for a walk as they talk. That sort of gives others permission to do the same thing, too.”
Building Towards the Future
Diane has always known that there’s more than one way to solve any problem. That’s as true for how she approaches product marketing, as it is for how she approaches parenting.
Just this year, for instance, she and her husband pulled their kids out of school for a week to hike in the Canadian Rockies. “We told them they had to learn something new every day, and they learned tons, like about climate change and its first-hand effects,” she says. “Seeing new things gives us perspective. There’s lots of different ways to look at things.”
Diane hopes that people who are looking to build careers in product marketing share that approach. “Be open to different things. Product marketing is a windy road, and you have to create the opportunity. I’m always looking for people who have a hunger for learning, because no one will have everything. The ability to learn and adapt and be open to new things helps you with everything else.”
Karen Klein wrote her first contract when she was 11.
It laid out how much allowance she would earn for completing certain chores each week. When she got her parents to sign it, she told them that she was going to be a lawyer when she grew up.
A decade and a half later, her mom brought out that piece of paper again—this time as a gift for Karen’s law school graduation.
Since then, Karen has written and reviewed a lot more contracts, as well as merger and acquisition deals, IPOs, and internal documents responding to regulatory bodies, including as the current Chief Legal Officer at global legal and compliance technology company Relativity.
While she set out on the path to be a lawyer of her own volition—“I was really good at arguing, and it got me into a lot of trouble at school, so maybe that’s where it came from!” she says, smiling—her career hasn’t been entirely self-directed. Karen attributes a lot of her success to having people believe in her and invest in her career, and we sat down with her to hear more about how she found those mentors and how she pays back their guidance by being a mentor herself.
In-House and On a Team
After finishing law school, Karen started her career at a law firm. That’s where she found her first mentor in one of the partners she worked for.
“I spent 90% of my time working for him, and he was a mentor before I even knew what a mentor was,” she says. “He not only assigned me great work, but he took the extra time to put things in context. After a meeting or a call, he’d sit and talk with me about what had happened, why the client asked the things that they did, why they were concerned, and ask for my perspective.”
Karen credits that mentor with helping her level up from being a person who executes well on tasks to being a person who understands strategically what needs to be done and why it matters. That knowledge set her up well for her next career step.
Even before joining the firm, Karen knew she’d one day like to move in-house. A self-proclaimed “deal junkie,” her favorite projects were ones that had her learn a lot about a client and their business in order to prepare a deal for them. “But then you wouldn’t hear from the client till the next deal, and I was like, ‘Well, I learned all about their business—I want to apply those things now,’” she says.
Being in-house would also let Karen fulfill what she describes as an inherited drive to build a business. “My parents owned and ran a construction company, and it stuck with me. I saw the stress that owning your own business created, but that mentality of building something and being part of something spoke to me,” she says. “The pride in helping to build something, that was enduring, and influenced me in ways I didn’t appreciate at the time.”
So when Larry—who was in-house counsel at a Chicago-based tech company, her then-firm’s largest client—called Karen and asked her if she’d like to join him there, she immediately said yes, though she did tell him that she knew little to nothing about technology.
“‘That’s okay,’” Karen remembers him saying. “‘You’re smart, you understand contracts and liability. We can teach you the tech part.’”
And teach her he did. That first move led to Karen spending 17 years in travel tech, including at places like Orbitz, Kayak, HotelTonight. Other general counsel she worked with became additional mentors, helping her come up the curve on regulatory issues and how to build a team.
A Full Circle Moment
When Relativity came calling, Karen had joined Ticketmaster only a year before, and was planning to stay there for the remainder of her career. It was pre-pandemic, and she was happy with the challenges and the teams she was building. She took a meeting with Relativity’s CEO just to get to know him as someone influential in the Chicago tech community that Karen so valued, and that was the beginning of her new job at Relativity.
“Once you meet Mike, you want to work with Mike,” says Karen, laughing. “It had this pull of nostalgia, that I could round out my career coming back to a Chicago software company, which is how I started out in-house. There were all these exciting things in store for the company, and it seemed right.”
Karen’s actual transition took a little longer—the pandemic had started, and she didn’t want to leave her team in its first few chaotic months—but she officially joined Relativity a year and a half ago, and now serves as its Chief Legal Officer and Corporate Secretary.
3 Lessons and 4 Tips for Mentorship
Reflecting on her career, Karen says she’s learned three main lessons from all the mentors that have guided her:
- How to embrace feedback. “I have some rough edges, and I had a CEO say to me once, ‘You know, Karen, you’re really effective, but you could be even more effective if…’” she says. “And that made me feel inspired to actually do better.”
- How to get outside of her comfort zone. Multiple mentors have told Karen she was ready to learn something new long before she knew that herself. “It was inspiring to me that he was willing to invite me along,” she says of one general counsel she worked for who gave her the opportunity to sit second chair while he navigated antitrust issues for the company.
- How to have faith in herself. “Everyone has to do something for the first time at some point,” says Karen of her fear of making the leap to senior positions like General Counsel and Chief Legal Officer. “Having people who put that faith and trust in me really helped me make leaps in my career I wouldn’t have otherwise been able to make.”
Though she’s now reached an apex in her career, Karen isn’t above seeking out new mentors—including her peers, like other executives at Relativity—and is certainly excited about being able to pay forward all that she’s learned. Her top tips for making the most of a mentorship relationship include:
- Build relationships everywhere. Finding mentors is all about having a connection with people, says Karen. “Trust lets you be comfortable reaching out and asking for that bit of advice, or to bounce ideas off of someone,” she says. “Whether you jump on the phone, or Slack someone, you want a connection that isn’t 100% about the transactional aspects of the work.”
- Agree on the goal. “Establish upfront what you both want from the relationship. What are you seeking from it? What will be in it for them?” she says. “Sometimes people are looking for a place to vent, but that’s not really mentorship.”
- Treat mentorship like a project. That means come prepared with agendas for every meeting, advises Karen. “I’m a list person, so I’ve written down lists of things I wanted some feedback on, or questions I had,” she says. “Of course, leave time for relationship building, to talk about how someone’s life is going. But have specific things that you’re hoping to get out of even a more casual conversation.”
- Circle back and share successes. “One of the biggest satisfactions mentors get is seeing career progressions,” says Karen. “When you make the next step or leap in your career, or something good happens, have a conversation with your mentor to say, ‘Hey, I really appreciate the time you spent with me; here’s what came of it.’ It gives your mentor their own career satisfaction and continual feedback we all want and need.”
As a kid, Maleni Palacios had a long list of questions that no one could answer for her.
“I started asking myself, ‘Why are some countries rich? Why are some of them “poor”? What is this notion of a country and a nation-state? Why do people have different lines of work? Who chooses that for them?’” remembers the associate consultant.
Now, several years later, Maleni works at Capco, where she makes a living out of questioning the world, particularly what the future of financial services will look like. She’s learned that some of the best answers to the hardest questions come when you work towards them together.
We sat down with Maleni to talk about her journey into financial consulting, how she found a sense of community through Women@Capco and Latinx@Capco, two of the firm’s affinity groups, and what she’s most looking forward to next.
Chasing Tangible Change
Maleni grew up in Atlanta, but regularly spent time in Mexico, her ancestral home. She credits the experience of traveling between two cultures as what inspired her to start questioning the world.
“My dad and uncles were constantly talking about the world and globalization, like the implications of NAFTA on trade and migration,” she said. “I was an only child for a long time, in this environment of adults, and found it very intriguing. That’s where my insatiable curiosity was cultivated.”
For this reason, when she moved to New York City to study at Barnard, Maleni was drawn to economics. “A lot of the theories we know about were made by people a long time ago,” she says. “Adam Smith was not here at the turn of the 21st century.”
She also liked how interdisciplinary and direct economics was, especially compared to behavioral and philosophical fields like anthropology and art, which interested her but didn’t seem to come with immediate tangible change for societies. “A lot of what I'm passionate about or a lot of what inspires me is changing people's lives on a daily basis,” she says. “Economic policy directly affects people’s day-to-day lives, and to me, that’s valuable.”
Maleni studied the 2008 financial crisis in college, and wanted to be able to work towards improving the financial system so that things like that didn’t happen again. “I wanted to understand how institutions were regulating themselves, how they use their freedom,” she says. “I liked that at Capco I’d have some specialization, but work with different banks at different scales in different engagements. That was really compelling to me, and why I came here.”
Learning in Community
In her first weeks at Capco, Maleni and her fellow colleagues gave a presentation on demographic shifts as a driver for change poised to impact the financial services industry—and now, just over a year later, she’s used the initial research to publish an official Capco whitepaper titled “Unbanked & Underserved: Latinx Demographic Changes & Creating Financial Inclusion.”
“You can run with your ideas at Capco, and they’ll help you accomplish them,” says Maleni, who adds that she’s enjoying pursuing some of her academic interests at work and positioning herself as a thought leader.
As she networked and collaborated with colleagues at the firm in order to publish the paper, she was reminded of the kinds of discussions she’d been able to have in college, and the community spaces where she felt comfortable having them.
Maleni knew she wanted to continue to find opportunities for those kinds of conversations at Capco, so she joined Women@Capco where she leads Table Talks, a Women@Capco initiative that convenes the women of Capco and allies to discuss intersectional gender-based issues in a corporate environment. She also helped found Latinx@Capco, where she serves as Community Outreach Lead, when interest around it swelled earlier this year.
In both groups, Maleni enjoys getting to know people who share her identities in a space where they can support each other.
“You can talk about best practices that got you where you are: ‘How did you do that, who did you talk to, how did that happen?’” says Maleni. “You get a lot of connectivity, and a support group that can help you through when times are difficult.”
“As someone who’s Latinx, a woman of color, a first gen college student—all of these labels I hold mean that certain environments and institutions were not made for people like me,” she says. “That’s why it’s so important to convene people that look like you when you're at these institutions so that you can visualize a future that includes you.”
Building Impact Together
Maleni says she loves that despite being relatively early in her career, she’s been able to leverage her writing and her community involvement to forge relationships with senior leaders and push herself. That’s been especially true thanks to remote work, she notes, which has let her connect with Capco coworkers all around the country.
When she thinks about what’s next, she knows she wants to keep chasing answers alongside her community:
“I think about where we can have the most impact. Sometimes it’s well-defined and small, like our 20, 30 Latinx@Capco members. Maybe you’re impacting a client at a big Tier-I global bank,” she says. “As people, we get sucked into this idea of ‘we have to be changing the world.’ But sometimes that takes time. Defining where and how you can have the most impact is critical.”