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VNN’s Director of Human Resources Hallie Condon talks to Romy Glazer about the release of the our 2021 Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Report including our process, goals, where we stand and where we’re going, along with tips for corporate teams looking to improve their company’s DEI index.

Romy Glazer: So really exciting day. We came out with our DEI report, diversity, equity, and inclusion. We should talk about that because it’s big day for VNN. What is that report?

Hallie Condon: Sure. So this is the second report we’ve done. We did our first DEI report and action plan last year after a lot of the major civil unrest. So initially I think we were like, let’s do this report and show that we’re actually doing something besides just making a statement about the fact that we care. So we kind of had to take a look internally at what our current demographics are, because that’s a pretty easy place to start. But our demographics not very diverse, at least from a racial, an ethnic perspective, and sort of okay, well, we want to be better, so let’s take the steps to do that.

So basically this plan was kind of an iteration on what we were going to, what we wanted to do, and putting together some sort of goals and numbers around it, but also like I said before, putting a little bit of pressure on ourselves by saying, putting in writing, saying we’re going to do it, because I think at VNN, if we say it’s part of our values, if we say we’re going to do something, we’re supposed to do it. So we did that last year, but then obviously you want to show what the results were from the work that you did last year, and the obviously it’s one of those things that’s a continuous thing, it’s never like you did this, good job you’re done, it’s continuous work. So our report basically just shows sort of the things we were able to accomplish last year, and then our goals for this coming year, and what we’re going to do.

RG: Sweet. So what are some of the questions that you asked employees about last year?

HC: Sure. So from a simple demographic level, I basically asked people kind of how do you identify. I went beyond this, but white, black, middle eastern, asian, you know. Okay so how do you identify racially or ethnically, gender wise how do you identify, and we don’t like, I don’t like to limit gender identity either just to male or female, because obviously there’s a lot of people that don’t identify that way. So we try to be, I guess that’s a way we try to be inclusive too, so that finding out if people identify as LGBTQ, so all of those kind of identifiers, having people fill those out. But then beyond that, asking questions like how important do you feel like the ENI is to leadership, questions around fairness, like do I feel I’ve seen discrimination racially, by gender, any of those kind of things. Asking questions about if people feel like their voice is heard within the organization, and then questions about belonging, so how do individuals who work here feel like they belong here, do they question if they don’t have anything in common with people, all of that kind of stuff. So we measure, you know, again both demographics.

But also questions that would tell you about how people feel like we are working in an inclusive environment.

RG: Cool, and so you’re basically setting a baseline of, kind of who people are and what they identify as, and then being able to kind of map that against some questions about how they feel the company, their attitudes to the company, and how they feel they’re treated and all those sort of things.

HC: Yep!

RG: Cool. And so last year we did this, you know early in the year. And we did okay, I mean some of the things were okay, but there were a few things that stuck out back then right?

HC: Yeah so obviously like I said earlier, demographics and lack thereof, like different demographics stuck out. So we obviously need to do something about that. And then there were some other categories. Fairness is always one of those that I think is really difficult, and it’s a lower scoring in general. I think, like I always kind of assume that one may be the lowest score, it’s not our lowest scoring, but it is, I believe it’s close. It’s like our second to lowest category. And then also leadership was one of the lower ones, and I think that is in part just because we haven’t done anything like this before, and so without I think, outward communication about doing stuff like this, how else would employees know that you care about it.

And then so another big revelation out of that information, was that female employees really didn’t rank VNN very favorable. The scores female employees in comparison to male employees were significantly lower in terms of how inclusive they felt like VNN was. So that was something that obviously I think was alarming to leadership and we wanted to change that. We want employees to enjoy working here.

RG: Right, right. I mean sports industry too, so you know VNN’s makeup is mostly male identifying people and a little bit less female identifying people correct?

HC: Yeah.

RG: Cool. And then, so were there any, you know last year as we kind of look at where we were, I mean was there anything that ranked really high, or higher than you thought?

HC: So what’s really interesting is so even though people ranked VNN kind of lower in some of these categories that I’m like, these things seem like people. Like fairness for example, but then they ranked VNN so high in belonging, and so I was like, that’s really interesting to me, that you felt like that. So some of that is, did we ask the right questions, did we ask enough questions in these categories, because your sense of belonging feels high, but then there’s these other things. So some of it is just trying to interpret the data that you’re working with too. But it’s funny, because obviously the data is all anonymous, but sometimes when I see it, I’m like I wish I knew who this person was because I would really like to ask them why did you rank this this way, because it’d be nice to get the feedback on it.

So that’s kind of one of the difficult parts there too, because I want to know so I can help solve the issue. But yeah, belonging ranked really high.

RG: Yeah it’s so interesting though, I mean that you know someone can feel like they belong, but also not believe that it’s fair. Which, I don’t know that’s so interesting. So we just did the other survey what, a few weeks ago for this year?

HC: Yeah we did it at the end of January.

RG: Oh right right. And so there’s some differences that kind of came out this year, which I thought was really interesting. I don’t know if you want to talk a little bit about that?

HC: Sure sure. So demographics wise we increased our underrepresented minorities. So we were at 3% last year, and we’re at 12% I believe this year, so that’s encouraging. We, I think it really kind of shows too that I think we were just being complacent in the sense we weren’t thinking about it actively, so I think when actually think about something, oh hey, I’m making improvements because I’m actually just putting it top of mind. So that was great. We increased female representations, so that’s good too. But then we also all of our, so we split up sort of the results, looking at them based on gender, and then we also look at underrepresented groups as well, we were able to do that this year, look at the responses that we got from employees that were in underrepresented groups in each one of our categories.

So I don’t obviously have any data to compare rankings with underrepresented groups, but female employees we say an increase all categories except for one. And so I felt like, and it was a significant increase, like double-digit increases, I think in all three of the categories that they scored VNN more favorable in, and so that one to me was really encouraging, like we’re starting to do some of the right things. Obviously I would love these scores like favorability ratings to be higher, but the fact that we’re making positive movement I think is great.

RG: Yeah that’s great. Why do you think that was?

HC: So I think one of the big things was A, like with doing these kind of surveys and these kind of reports, we’re showing that we actually care to ask people how they feel, what they may feel good about at VNN and what they don’t feel good about. I think the other really big thing I think was the employee resource group we started last year for women. I think that was really beneficial in the sense that it gave people a place that they could safely talk to one another. I think it also for in HR and having a lot of, not control over policies and procedures and stuff like that, but obviously I work on those, but it gave me a lot of feedback from people, like what do you actually want as an employee, or what do you feel like is beneficial for you, or what is missing for you. So I think that helped me too.

But then also there’s that portion of building a relationship with other people that you work with, because we’re remote this year, that’s been really difficult, because there’s just not that casual opportunity for conversation, so I think this group kind of helped people form more connections with each other too, so I think that was also kind of helpful.

RG: Cool, so I mean that’s great. It’s good to see some progress, and I know we’re going to issue this report out to the company here probably in the next few days. I guess the big question is like, where do we go from here?

HC: Yeah so one of the things, and this is one of those when I was talking to you earlier about content creation, and how it’s never perfect, or you keep coming across other ideas, and you’re like I want to add this , and there’s so much of that with DEI stuff, especially right now, and you’re like oh my god this would be such a great idea, like I really want to do that. So part of it is like okay, got to be realistic here about what we can actually do, but one of the things I noticed and wish I could have changed in this year’s survey is, I didn’t do a very good job of accounting for intersectional identities, so when you look at our data, you’re looking at men, women, underrepresented minorities. If you’re an asian male, like you’re fitting into two of the groups that we’re ranking. But you being lumped in with, so say your LGBTQ, you being lumped in with a straight white man when we’re just looking at how men view VNN, it’s not giving me, it’s basically like papering over your perspective potentially.

So one of the things that I really want to do this upcoming year is kind of start measuring more in the same surveys or whatever we do, your identity, and then also how you’re ranking things, and obviously we have to be a little careful with that because I still want people to feel like they have some anonymity or whatever in this, so I guess limitations on if we don’t have this number of people in this group, then I’m not going to publish this person’s results basically, because I want people to feel like they’re comfortable to give me honest feedback. So that’s, we’re really going to look at intersectionality and start kind of breaking that down a little bit more.

And then one of the other things that I think is important that we did not, I’m ashamed to say we did not do, one of the things that we had set out to do last year. But again, we’re committed to doing what we say we’re going to do, so one of the important things that I think is really unconscious bias is a huge thing. And so while I worked on that with some individuals one on one, like our head of inside ad sales, I worked with him on this, because we were really hiring for those roles is part of the reason we did that. So a lot of that was figuring how we structure interview to mitigate bias, but then also, and I’m sure he hated me so I’m biased when I did this, but we would talk about every candidate he talked to, and I would really push him on why is it that you don’t want to move this candidate to the next step.

So basically I started off by saying, telling me that a culture you’re not moving somebody forward because you didn’t feel like they were a culture fit, is not an acceptable answer. You need to tell me why based on these skills or competencies that we’ve set up why they’re not moving forward based on that, because if you just say culture fit, there’s a good chance that you just don’t click with them, so it could be a biased thing playing in. I don’t know, it could be a lot of things, but so that was one of the things we did. But we’re going to do an unconscious bias training for all managers or people who work here that basically have input into hiring and any terminations I guess like that, but that would also be like people that have ability to do performance reviews and things like that. So that’s something we’re going to do. And then we’ve really I think as a company over the last year, we’ve really fallen off with performance management. So that’s another thing that we’re going to be building this year, but I think taking into account biases and things like that, will be a big part of creating that plan. So those are just a couple of the things, but I’ve got other stuff planned too that I’m excited about.

RG: This is so great, I mean even you said intersectionality makes a lot of sense. Unconscious bias, I mean that’s, I mean you know we laugh, we’re talking about VNN, we’re a company, we’ve got maybe 170 employees right now, I mean it’s a big challenge, just startups in general, it’s like every day you read something about it, so you know it seems like it’s a need just across the board for everyone.

HC: Yeah. It’s interesting too because, I think one of our women’s resource groups, one of our meetings someone brought up, and I can’t remember who it was, like, well, as a start up you’re sort of just like trying to keep your head above water all the time, so I think a lot of times startups aren’t necessarily thinking about DEI, because they’re thinking about how do I keep my head above water, how do I keep my doors open, but I think what’s being missed there is that this kind of work benefits all employees.

So number one, it’s benefitting all of your employees, it’s not just benefiting those who are in underrepresented groups or, you know, identify differently than, I don’t want to say the norm, because that’s not right, but identify just differently than like, sure, I’m not like pale and male I guess.

RG: Exactly that’s fair enough.

HC: So that, but then also, inclusion metrics are pretty closely tied to engagement of employees, so belonging for example, is really closely tied to employee engagement. So if you’re looking to increase the engagement of your employees, which I would think that you are because in that turn again, helps your company, you know it seems like this would be something you would want to invest in, but so I, obviously the situation last year, I guess with all the civil unrest, it’s terrible, the fact that we’re having to, like that seems like that’s what has caused these conversations, but I really feel like it’s been a great opportunity for us, and I guess again to take a look at ourselves and what we’re doing right, and how we can be better.

RG: Exactly, exactly, and that’s the goal, continuous improvement. We’re going to do this again and again and make goals based on it, and go from there. So if there’s anybody that maybe watches this video that you know, wants to do more at their company or wants to learn from what we’re doing, what they could do? Could they reach out or anything like that?

HC: Well obviously, connect with me on LinkedIn, talk to me, I’ll help you, because I’m also, starting this last year, the I was first person to say I had no idea what the hell I was doing. So I was like what, oh my god, there’s so many companies do these reports, but there’s no guide anywhere that’s like, here’s exactly what you should do, abcdefg, follow these steps you’ll get it. So really I think a good place to start is just measure something, measure what your demographics are. You can find a lot of pretty good information online about what type of questions to ask. A source that I really love personally is Culture Amp, their website and their blog has a lot of great information, Paradigm is another one, they’re kind of like leaders in this sort of work.

So I really utilize those tools a lot, but then I think just trying, one of the things with a startup that’s difficult is you don’t have money to work with. So people, when they do these reports and they want to create an action plan, they have big dollars to work with. I don’t have that, so it’s really like trying too be creative too, and talking to the people that you work with, you know what I mean. Because there’s a good chance that the people you work with are going to have some sort of idea on like, they took this survey, you know what I mean, so it’s likely that they kind of have an opinion on what it is that they need, but that would be, I guess the other thing that I would suggest is talk to the people you work with.

What are people telling you that they don’t like, you know, what do they like maybe do more of that. I think a lot of it too was it’s trial and error, because I was so nervous to get the survey results this year. I tried hard, but it’s funny when you do the survey, I’m like I don’t think I did enough, so I’m like write my words it’s going to be worse this year, and I’m going to have to publish it because we said we were going to. It’s so scary, because I have no control over that.

RG: Right transparency is great, but it’s also very scary.

HC: It’s scary when you don’t know that. Like last year, it’s basically the same version of our report, it’s a little bit different I think, I took out some stuff that was internally irrelevant, and somebody externally it wouldn’t matter for, but I do have our report from last year, and I plan on putting this same report on our careers page, so knowing that that’s where, I don’t feel good about posting the fact that we basically have all white employees except for a few, that makes me feel like crap you know what I mean, like I’m part of the hiring process so. But I think it’s also just going beyond that and being like yep, I recognize the fact that I was sucking in that area, but now I’m going to do better and I’m committing to telling you that I’m going to do better, and like I said, putting it out there and making it public to other people puts a little more pressure on you to actually get things done.

RG: Yeah you said it earlier in the conversation we were having, it’s like yeah you respond, and you react what you measure, and so now that it’s being measured, you know we can do something, we can take action.

HC: Yeah, exactly. Because I feel like the other thing is too, like without the data, like that’s why again, like I say, just start by surveying people, get yourself some numbers or something to work with, because until you have that, it’s really hard to pinpoint what it is that you can do. And like I said, I’m still a total noob with this stuff, so I’m trying to figure out too there’s people that are experts at it. So again, there are resources out there, plenty of resources out there, for you to look at. There’s trainings you can do for free, or at a low cost, so for example our unconscious bias training is relatively inexpensive, and it’s good, I took it myself, and even though I read all this stuff all the time because it’s part of my job, there was good information I gained out of it too that I’m like, huh, I never thought about that. Just stuff around cultural sensitivity and things that you say often.

Like I had never thought about the fact that, have you ever thought about when, I know I’ve said this before, no can do? Okay so that’s like a phrase people say. Apparently the origination of that phrase is it’s supposed to be like, I don’t know, making fun of non-native english speakers.

RG: Oh interesting.

HC: I know yeah. I think about that, like that is something you hear all of the time, and it doesn’t mean that everybody is, it’s necessarily going to be bothersome to everybody, but it could be bothersome to somebody, and now you know why.

RG: Sure, right exactly.

HC: So it’s just like again, part of me is like, if nothing else comes out of this plan, at least I feel like our employees are more aware you know so, I realized that when we had our discussion last June, not everybody is at the same place in this journey of understand, and that’s just in part like based on your experiences and your identities and who you are, but I don’t think, it’s never a bad thing to inform, give people the information, you know what I mean? Whether or not you agree with it, or think that it’s stupid, which it’s not. But, whether or not you think it is, putting that information out there for somebody and having somebody read it, whether or not they agree with it is good for them. It’s good for everybody else too so.

RG: Totally. So I guess the big question is, when is the report going to be on, you said our careers page?

HC: Yeah. So, basically what I’ll do is I’ll circulate it too. So at this point, I’ve circulated it to our exec and leadership team, and then I’ll send it out the rest of our team at VNN, and then I would say probably a week after that I’ll publish it. I just want to give people I guess, and opportunity to be like, this doesn’t make sense, or ask me any questions that need clarification, because if there’s things that are not clear, I’d love to clarify that before we put it on our careers page. But yeah, I would say probably within a week of that happening.

RG: Perfect this is great.

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