How RedBubble is Strategic About Community Initiatives - Crescendo Chats | Episode 2
Welcome to Crescendo Chats: Scaling Diversity & Inclusion. In this series, Crescendo co-founder Stefan Kollenberg hosts conversations with HR and diversity & inclusion practitioners, sharing valuable insights from their work.
This week’s conversation is with Michael J. Kyle, Director of Talent at Redbubble.
Listen to the podcast or read below for the edited transcript.
Interview with Michael Kyle
Director of Talent at Redbubble
Stefan: So we’re going to dive right into this. First off, can you share a little bit about yourself and what you do?
Michael: I’m the Director of Talent at Redbubble. In additional to coaching our recruiting team and charting our longer-term vision and strategy with hiring, I’m deeply involved with our work with diversity, equity, and inclusion.
We don’t have a head of D&I currently, so I get to partner with our Head of Learning, over in Melbourne, Australia - it’s a really great partnership between talent acquisition and learning.
Stefan: Great. What about what Redbubble does as a company?
Michael: Our platform connects over 800,000 independent digital creators. Think illustrators, graphic designers, photographers, and fan artists. We connect this community of creators with millions of adoring fans who purchase their work.
Contributions Made At RedBubble
Stefan: I love it. Now can you tell us a bit more about the kind of contributions you’ve made to Redbubble’s Inclusive Leadership Group and the Community Collective?
Michael: The two initiatives that I’m involved with include Chairing our Inclusive Leadership task force, which we now call Belong at RB. This group has had several iterations over the past couple of years and now primarily exists as a sounding board for topics relating to education, feedback, events, and strategic programs.
There’s a core membership from the People team. However, it really is a collaborative assembly of folks from across our organization that come together to talk about things like looking at recent engagement survey data to see if there are any insights we might be able to action on (in addition to the work our leadership is already doing).
There’s a second initiative that we’ve started called our Community Collective - it’s part of our social responsibility program.
We looked at our engaged survey data a couple years ago and we scored particularly low in the area of how our employees felt that we were giving back into our community. And so we sprung to action and created a bottom-up initiative where folks can come together every other week to talk about different causes they’d like to get involved with.
We commit to quarterly service activity in each of our offices, and each of our employees has the opportunity to Captain one of these events. Over the past couple of years we’ve been able to perform thousands of service hours for causes like homelessness, domestic violence, HIV/AIDS, and the environment.
What You Learned At RedBubble
Stefan: That’s amazing. What would you say is your biggest learning so far in your role?
Michael: I think the biggest learning I’ve had, with respect to my work in diversity, equity, and inclusion, is that there’s a very large risk if we are not strategic and intentional.
I’ve seen and been part of other programs where it’s been an afterthought or nice to have - maybe to help market a talent brand - and I think that’s highly problematic. We realized early on at RB that if we did not leapfrog ahead, we would never become the culture-first, progressive company that we set out to be. And, quite honestly, we’d lose the talent we sought to other companies who were further along.
The other thing I learned with respect to D&I is that we all play a role. I don’t think it’s helpful if it’s concentrated just on the HR team. I’m really explicit with our leadership that it’s not just the job of HR - the best ideas come from people across the organization.
Stefan: I can’t image that’s easy! What do you love most about your role?
Michael: What I love most about my role is that there’s something new each week. Because we’re a scale up - no longer a startup - it’s presenting new challenges each day.
I also love the fact that we are a truly global organization - you don’t get too many global companies like ours. So while we are smaller and more agile, we have a broader perspective by operating in so many different contexts throughout the world.
Stefan: Are there any other challenges you’ve faced or mistakes you’ve made? Any recommendations for others to avoid those mistakes?
Michael: Yeah. It’s important to honour the humanity in this work - and that we are all going to make mistakes. I, like many well-intentioned allies, may have saw this work with a bit too much simplicity. So I also learned that we need to create a culture of inclusion before we’re able to really move the dial on hiring folks from underrepresented backgrounds.
So we really need to take apart some of our practices and policies to make sure that they were truly inclusive. And I think a lot of times, some of the practices or policies that we might think would be most inclusive and fair might actually turn out to have unintended impact or create disparate advantages for those in dominant groups.
Going in Depth about Community Support
Stefan: Thanks for sharing that. Digging into your community support initiatives, could you share a bit more in-depth on what you have going?
Michael: I’d love to talk about what we’re calling our Equity in Tech Partnerships. We believe creating a culture of belonging is critical for innovation - it’s also essential for us to live out our core values.
About a year ago, I took a risk and asked my boss to write a cheque for two not-for-profits that were driving impact to create great access for some of the most underrepresented and marginalized in our industry. I knew we were doing great things around recruiting and social responsibility through our Community Collective. But I knew we needed to be more explicit about our intent.
So after meeting with a lot of different organizations doing really great work, we were really thrilled to announce a couple of months ago our partnerships with both Tectonica, here in the San Francisco Bay Area, and Code like a Girl in Australia.
Stefan: How did you pick those - what was the process?
Michael: I think the first step was to start with the “why” - why was this important to us? The second thing that we did was define a local market vision for each city, knowing that each cultural context had different histories and nuances to address as it related to diversity, equity, and inclusion.
We needed to think about a longer-term impact - we didn’t just want to write a cheque so we could put a logo on our website. I’m well aware of the ‘greenwashing’ effect, when companies support community causes just to elevate their brand or take a few photos to post on social media; that is not what we wanted to do.
We also wanted to go deep instead of wide for two reasons.
One, we do not have someone dedicated full-time to managing strategic partnerships.
We wanted to ensure we could make the maximum impact given the small size of ou teams and the small size of our budget.
A couple things we used in our evaluation:
The values of this organization align with our own.
We wanted there to be opportunities for allyship
We wanted our partnerships to create opportunities for folks that wanted to learn how to become a better ally.
We wanted the feasibility of our commitment to be within reach in the first year - the last thing I wanted to do is over commit.
Stefan: What recommendations would you give to anyone trying to give back to their community?
Michael: First, don’t be afraid to ask - find an executive ally. In this case, it happened to be my boss.
Then be prepared to answer a lot of questions. I knew when I prepped my deck for our senior leadership team, it went through four different iterations.
The second is try not to overthink things in the beginning. Realize it’s better to start small and evolve the program over time, rather than start big and not be effective.
Lastly, figure out a way to measure the impact of your partnerships program. Even if it’s as simple as sending out an NPS style survey or conduct post-event retros to participants and advocates. It’s really great to get those insights and data.
Stefan: Thank you. What’s your vision for these initiatives in the future?
Michael: I’m hopeful we can continue to support our existing organizations because it’s about longer-term impact, not one and done sponsorship.
I’m also hopeful that we can expand the program, whether that’s taking it to a new market or adding another partner. We’re also considering putting a request for proposal out, so we might be able to consider a larger audience this time around.
Stefan: Fantastic. What is a community you go to for learning and support?
Michael: One community I am really happy to be a part of is Diversity Advocates Group, which is an online community of advocates and practitioners supported by the Support Center right here in Oakland.
I also want to thank a couple of folks who have been really instrumental in my learning and growth: Rajkumari Neogy, founder of Disruptive Diversity, as well as the folks over at RedySet Consulting, who have really helped evolve my understanding of allyship.
Stefan: Amazing. And now we’re going to hop into our lightning round of questions. What’s your favourite quote?
Michael: “In effort, there is joy.”
Stefan: I love it. What motivates you in life?
Michael: To be part of progress and to inspire others.
Stefan: What’s a book or movie that changed the way you look at the world?
Michael: White Fragility by Robin D’Angelo. I highly recommend it for those looking to become a better ally for communities of colour.
Stefan: What’s your favourite podcast?
Michael: Besides this one, 99% Invisible. I think it teaches us the backstory of things you might never have heard of. I’m a big fan of Roman Mars.
Stefan: What’s the coolest tech product you’ve ever come across?
Michael: I love Wikipedia. Being able to have access to so much information that is fact-checked and crowd-sourced has really opened up the pathway into different bodies of knowledge.
Stefan: Lastly, how can people connect with you or learn more about Redbubble?
I’m happy for folks to reach out to me on LinkedIn. The inbox gets a little crowded from time to time, but I make it happen and I’m happy to chat.
Stefan: Thank you!
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