BlackNorth Initiative

Crescendo Chats: Scaling Diversity & Inclusion

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. Our latest conversation is with Miriam Warren, Senior Vice President, Engagement, Diversity + Belonging at Yelp. Listen to the podcast or read below for the edited transcript. Stefan: For people who might not know you, can you share a bit more about yourself and the work you do?Miriam: Absolutely. I’ve been at Yelp for a little over 13 years now. I started actually more than 13 years ago as an elite member, our most active and prolific members on the site. They write reviews, upload a lot of photos, and give a lot of great intel on local businesses all over the world. I was one of those folks. In fact, I wrote more than a thousand reviews before I became an employee at Yelp in 2007. I had been living in San Francisco and loved Yelp and an opportunity came my way, and I became a community manager in our Washington D.C. market as my first job at Yelp.Eventually, I took over a team, expanding further, East coast, sort of from Toronto all the way down to Miami, Atlanta and kind of every city in between. I helped open our first New York office, then moved over to London and helped to open our first London office, and worked on international expansion for about seven years.In 2016, I had this incredible opportunity to start to really look at after many years of developing the community externally, really start to look at what our internal community meant to us and what we should be doing for them. And so since 2016, that really has been my role from employee engagement to our social impact and philanthropic efforts, internal communications and of course, diversity inclusion and belonging.Stefan: Have some of these past roles influenced you in ways that maybe you didn’t expect?Miriam: Definitely. In university I majored in ethnic studies. I have always been really interested in the voices and stories and histories of folks who are often left out of normal curriculum in grade school. I always had a wondering inside about if this would be something I could do for work. And my initial thought had always been that I’d have to become a university professor in order to be able to think about issues of race, class, sexual identity and gender identity,
particularly the intersection of all of those identities.I never would have guessed it in 2007 as a Community Manager in Washington D.C., but particularly helping Yelp in launching in 30 different countries internationally helped me to realize that the most important asset of any company is their community. We’re very lucky that the sense of community is really broad. We have this community of users who obviously write and upload content, and then we have this whole community of business owners who are using Yelp to get more people to come into their businesses. And then we have what I would argue as the most important community, which is all of the people who work at Yelp and who are helping to make this product and support this product. I think all of those roles really did kind of lead me to the one I have now, although I wouldn’t have known it at the time.It certainly wasn’t something I could have predicted in 2007 or even in 2012 when I was living in London and commuting to a very small office about a block away from my flat. The combination of caring about a community and cultivating a community along with communicating with the community has definitely been a big part of it along with some of my own personal interests around how to create inclusive and diverse environments wherever I go, because obviously those are places that I want to be in myself.I think all of us inherently know what it feels like to belong. We can probably also unfortunately recount moments in our lives when we didn’t belong. The visceralness of that feeling of when you do belong is something that’s not only really important to me. I’ve always been the person who kind of helps everyone order their food, make sure everyone has a drink, make sure everyone’s invited. To do this work now every day, it feels a bit like second nature and definitely something I really love to do. Stefan: Can you talk a bit more about the structure behind Yelp’s D&I? Miriam: In 2016, I sort of took on this role around engagement. As that role evolved in 2017 when I was on maternity leave, my boss, our Chief Operating Officer, gave me a call and said, Miriam, what do you think about adding diversity and inclusion to your remit?I said I love the idea. I think a couple of things that will be really important is that this role and this work continues to remain in the business and continues to report to you. The reason why that’s really important is because for this work to really be taken on and for accountability to really be shared among senior leaders in the company, you’d have to have a role in a department that is able to look across all of these different functions and to be able to hold people accountable. If it is in only one area of the organization, it’s much more difficult for that to happen. As a person who’s been working in the business for many years, it just seems sort of natural to me that we should have some type of work that everyone could be a part of and that everyone would also be held accountable for.That was kind of a hunch on my part back then, but has proven really true. In order for folks to really take this on, they also have to feel like it’s really important, and they need to be hearing it from their boss and their boss’s boss. They understand that this is important work because they are hearing about it not only from me, but also from our COO as well as our CEO.Stefan: Are there any big impacts or exciting moments that you’ve seen or had maybe partially due to this structure?Miriam: I think a key thing here is that I am not limited only to the work around diversity, inclusion and belonging, which is sort of focused on recruiting. If you don’t have a diverse organization and you want a diverse organization, you will have to bring folks who are not currently in your organization – so incredibly important. However, I think that so much of this work goes beyond simply getting people in the door.When you see things like the fact that your organization is losing folks of color at a much faster rate than others, you have to question why that is. If you are noticing that you have a racial leadership gap or a gender leadership gap inside of the organization, it’s important to understand how that came to be.I think being able to use a community channel and engagement channel to be able to drive this work forward has been incredibly important. Taking that sort of corporate social responsibility piece, the social impact side of it has also allowed us to really consider what our role is in spreading equity throughout the community at Yelp, but also beyond our walls, offices, and employees. I think being able to really think about these questions as they relate to diversity, inclusion, and belonging as very holistic and not existing only inside of Yelp, but also about who we want to be and how we live. Our values have been so important and we really truly are embedded in the culture. The coming together of all these different relationships are definitely a big part of the work that I do every day and the way that we get progress to happen inside the organization. I love that that’s what I get to spend all of my days doing, and I know that my team really enjoys it as well.Stefan: With all these relationships, I can imagine you have a lot of executive level communication. Do you still have many 1:1 conversations with independent contributors on a day to day basis?Miriam: Oh, absolutely. One of the best parts of my job is that I’m interested in communication. I’m interested in engagement because I’m interested in how people find a path to belonging inside the organization. I absolutely have to talk to people at every level and I have to do that pretty much every day. Certainly, there are weeks that are filled more with operational meetings and more executive-to-executive type of chats, but the vast majority of my days include at least a few meetings with folks at every level of the organization. I think being able to have those conversations really reminds me and keeps me grounded on what we’re trying to do. A big part of my role is listening to folks and even listening to some of the roadblocks that they’re encountering and moving those hurdles out of the way, either by making an introduction, by providing a suggestion for how they might be able to go about it, or by talking to someone else I know, and it’s a real privilege to be able to do that.A lot of times in this work, we talk about privilege. All of us have privileges. One of the things I love the most about having an enormous amount of privileges, which I do, is being able to use that privilege on behalf of others. One of the big ways I can do that as a senior executive inside the company is to be able to share my knowledge, my insights, my cultural capital with other people. Stefan: What is your identity and how does that shape the way you view the world?Miriam: Yeah, so I am an immigrant. I was born in Germany. I’m a mixed race person, Filipino and German. I am adopted, so I grew up as the only person of color in a white family. I am a mom. I am many things. I think what’s interesting about the work that I do now is that I have a lot of conversations with people who find talking about race really challenging and pretty scary.That’s something I’ve never felt personally, but totally understand. One of the reasons why I don’t feel that way is because race is something I’ve thought about probably everyday for my entire life, and that’s not necessarily always a bad thing. I think it’s just something that’s always been very obvious to me, mainly because I look differently than everybody else in my family. I had that difference pointed out to me sometimes in very innocuous ways, other times in really not nice ways. It’s something that’s always been on my mind.I was kind of a weird kid. I’m kind of a weird adult. When I was in seventh grade, I entered the talent show with a speech on the scourge of racism. I was the Co-Founder of my multicultural student union in high school and I majored in ethics at university. There have always been issues of race, class, gender, sexual orientation on my mind and to get to have conversations with people about it, even when they find them uncomfortable or tough, I feel like, wow. How lucky for me to be in this spot because I’ve literally been thinking about this for my entire life. And now all the books, all the articles, and all the conversations that I’ve had can all be part of the lived experience that I can share with other people and help them along in their own journeys as well.Stefan: I want to hear your thoughts more on the idea of white folks not relying on people of color to educate them. It sounds like you’re very open to talking about it. Would you say that’s something you’ve made an explicit choice to do because it’s your daily job or do you navigate that balance?Miriam: I remember first having this conversation around a sort of unpaid teaching or for people of color or women to be constantly having to have this educator hat on. I certainly understand and respect where folks are coming from when they say I don’t want to spend my days using my limited energy sources on teaching you or that’s not part of my job. I’m lucky that it is actually part of my job, and I also think that if it’s not me, then who is it going to be? I would much rather have it be me because I have chosen that and I am happy to talk about it compared to the folks who are just trying to get by, who are just trying to make enough calls to get through their day, make it through their meetings, make it through picking up their kids and entertaining their kids at home, and all of those sorts of things. I do have that expanded capacity.It’s really important for white folks and others who are looking to expand their knowledge to really do that on their own. I always say to people like if you were looking for a new surfboard, wouldn’t you just go on and start doing some research, checking out the reviews? Maybe you read a couple books, watch some YouTube videos. All those same resources are available on issues of race, class, gender, sexual orientation. You want to learn about racial injustice, you want to learn about the history of police brutality in the U.S., you’re interested in what happened during the Jim Crow era and the laws that have continued to influence voter suppression in this country. All of that is imminently available to all of us. For folks who may find themselves in a situation where they say, “I want somebody else to teach me or I just don’t know, maybe you could tell me”, we also do have to gently push back and say there are a lot of resources available. Read a little bit, do your own research and then absolutely, let’s let’s have a conversation. It’s certainly much more interesting to have that conversation when someone has done their own diligence and says, “Hey, I just read Jess Mercy, can we talk about mass incarceration in the U.S?” It’s a much more interesting conversation when you start at a place of similar interest and effort.Stefan: There’s been the deaths of Black people at the hands of the police. A lot of companies are donating and matching employee donations in these public statements. What has Yelp been doing it and what are some of the commitments you’ve made to systemic change?Miriam: I think what’s interesting about where we sit uniquely in the world as Yelp is the fact that so many people use our services – millions of people a day to make decisions about where to go. When we first started thinking about what our contribution to the movement for Black lives would be, it became very clear that we should use our platform in service of that. We realized that number one, we could drive more business to Black-owned businesses. We know that Black and Brown businesses have been disproportionately impacted just like Black and Brown people have by COVID-19, even prior to George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis.We can have a serious impact on the lives of Black business owners. We began thinking about what it would look like to have a black owned business attribute, and if we partnered with a black led organization, such as My Black Receipt, which is who we worked with, what might that look like?My black receipt, from June 19th to July 6th, set out a commitment to try to get folks to patronize Black-owned businesses and then share their receipts online. They were hoping for people to spend $5 million during that time in total, but they spent over seven and a half million dollars, with over 19,000 receipts uploaded from Black business owners and from Black-owned businesses.I think what’s key about this is that everyone, every business, every organization, every person really has to consider what their role in change could be. Because we’re Yelp, and because we help people find great local businesses every day, it just stands to reason and is so kind of obvious that we should use our platform for that.But in addition to that, we also started to dig deeper as a community, in terms of our employees and the people who work at Yelp. We’ve always had a foundation that matches employee donations, up to a thousand dollars per person to nonprofit organizations. We realized that we could go further, so we raised the matching cap in the month of June for our employees to $10,000. Then, we chose nine organizations, mostly Black-led, but all Black serving to double match the donation. When we thought about which types of organizations we wanted to support, we thought pretty long and hard. And, you know, recognizing that the black experience is not monolithic and wanting to be able to support organizations that really spoke, to a lot of the different issue areas that have led us to the place where we are today, we chose organizations like.The Black Futures Lab is helping to build a Black political power at the helm is Alicia Garza, one of the cofounders of Black Lives Matter. The Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) based out of Montgomery, Alabama, is working very much on issues of mass incarceration. Organizations like Common Future, a smaller organization based here in Oakland, is working on the racial wealth gap. Organizations are looking at specific issues around bail, around support for the Black LGBTQ community and so on, to really create this list of organizations that would not only speak to each of these issues, but also to help our employees understand that Black folks in this country have a lot of different issues that they’re dealing with.In order for us to really say, “Hey, we support Black lives”, we have to understand all of the different ways that we could actually support Black lives. This list of organizations is one way that we did that. Stefan: I know there’s sometimes you can give money, but the way that you give money is also very important. What are some ways that you made sure that you were a friendly and simple partner to work with when facilitating that?Miriam: Well, thanks for asking that question because I have a side hustle, which is that I’m the chair of the board of the Yelp foundation. I’ve been thinking really deeply about the inherent power inequity around funding organizations, so that’s something that’s been in my mind for a few years now, since I took over as chair of the board.In fact in January, I wrote an op ed about this because after really streamlining the process, so no application, all general operating funds for our grantees, no reporting or erroneous kinds of difficult things that folks had to go through in order to get our money. It also made me realize that as a funder again, I could use my privilege as a funder to get the word out. That doesn’t have to be so hard because one of the things I noticed with a lot of tech companies, we’ve all received venture capital financing in order to make our companies become where they are today. And then we turn around and when we start to do philanthropic funding, we have all of these different strings attached that we wouldn’t have had attached to our own funding. A VC would never say how much are you going to pay that person? Or don’t spend too much on toilet paper or snacks.When June rolled around and we started thinking about how we can support Black-led and Black-serving organizations, we employed the same methods that we had before, which is we did our own diligence to find these organizations. We simply wrote them a check. We didn’t make them go through any erroneous hoops and we also did our best and continued to do this to educate our employee base about what these organizations are doing and why their work is vital. I think that it is really important for folks in different sectors to work together, to solve problems. I don’t think that all of our problems will be solved by the corporate sector nor the nonprofit, nor the public sector. I really think that it’s important for us to work together on a lot of these issues because there are great solutions everywhere and there are smart people working everywhere. And that’s why I feel really lucky to work everyday both with folks, obviously in the corporate sector, because we are a corporation, but also to work with folks from the nonprofit sector, who constantly give me a lot of energy and joy to keep on doing this work because they’re thinking about it in such thoughtful ways. Stefan: I love that, and actually, there is an organization I’ve been mentoring with called DivInc. They just launched a social justice incubator, and so they’re bringing together startups, but also nonprofits, into one incubator program, connecting them to mentors, funding opportunities, all that type of stuff to try and blend that nonprofit and for-profit minds together, which I think is so fascinating.I love that comparison you make with venture capital funding. For us, we’re raising right now. We’ve raised funds. Before on safe agreements, which are essentially like five page documents, very simple, like almost no terms. It’s pretty much just like money and valuation cap.Otherwise they believe in you as a team. They’re like, okay, we talked to you, we’ve done our diligence. We believe in you, your team, your idea, the market, the attraction that you do have, and then go take the money and we trust you to make decisions. We should do that with nonprofits as well.Miriam: Yes, you totally should, and it doesn’t happen nearly enough. I actually think that the national and international reckoning with racial injustice and lack of racial equity has also caused us to relook at kind of everything. This is why you’re seeing it not only happen in corporate spaces, but also in food journalism.You know, the evolving story of Bon Appetit and so many other organizations, which you’re also seeing this in philanthropy where the calls obviously didn’t start this year, or even this decade around funding organizations led by people of color, but certainly voices around that topic have gotten even louder because if you say you care about people’s lives, you also have to care about their agency. You also have to care about their power, which includes political power and power of all other types. In order to do that, you have to show that power to them, so it wouldn’t be just like, “Oh, I’m going to still keep all of this power for myself, but I’m going to pretend like you have it.”It’s like “No, giving people money is giving people power.” Let’s be clear about that. You’re absolutely right that in the venture capital funded world. Everything is about how much you believe in the founders or in the founding team. When I go out there and look at the EDS and the CEOs of nonprofit organizations that the Elk Foundation is supporting, I absolutely am funding them and their teams. So many people talk about trust-based philanthropy and responsive philanthropy. A big part of that is saying these folks do know what they’re talking about. They know a lot more about what they’re talking about than we do as a funder, just because I have the money doesn’t mean I have the knowledge and or the experience, right?I think giving money to folks who do have that knowledge and that experience and getting out of the way it should be something that should be sector agnostic.Stefan: Now looking into the future a bit, what is your vision for diversity inclusion, belonging at Yelp? What do you have planned next?Miriam: Yeah. We always have a lot of work to do. I think one of the big pieces is making sure that training is happening for every single employee at the company, so that we can begin in a place where everyone has a baseline foundational understanding of how systemic racism in the U.S. works, of how the country’s history has h ad a very unjust and very unequal footing and it continues to have repercussions today. I think in order for people to start taking these next steps and really considering what their role is in making the future better, we have to first make sure that everyone’s on the same page.A big piece of this is making sure that training is given to every new hire, to every single employee in the company, so that we can start on that same page. And then from there, what we really can do is say, okay, now that we know what can we do? And I think those are really important questions to ask.As we are all adapting to this new environment of being remote, we look at how our employee resource groups will function in this remote environment in the past. We used to say, “We’re having this great event in the Toronto office”, or “We’re having this great event in the Chicago office.” Now, we’re saying actually it happens at 10:00AM PST, show up from wherever you are. I think what’s really cool about that is that while these events were really interesting in the past, the attendance has absolutely skyrocketed because people can come from all over the place and we get a lot more response from folks.So we’re doing everything from bringing in a lot of those executive directors and CEOs from the organizations that we’ve been supporting and having them tell us what’s going on. We can certainly obviously do our own research and read, but I think to actually hear it from a person who’s on the ground, running one of these organizations is super valuable and is definitely the hope and inspiration that everyone needs right now. Mental health is a big issue that all of us face. To care for our own mental health is perhaps more difficult than it’s ever been in this environment of being pretty isolated.As I look to the future, obviously training is going to be important and continuing to have a lot of engagement activities, really keeping our eyes on the fact that the company does in most parts of the organization have a racial leadership gap, one that we need to mitigate, with a lot of different factors.Stefan: Would you be able to share a few of those things that are working and are not working? Miriam: Yeah, so something that has worked exceptionally well for us really comes from this very small operational change that we made, a while back. A big part of our organization, more than half of our organization, is composed of folks who work in the sales side. In order to become a manager on the sales side, you have to go through something called the Management Development Program (MDP). When I started the local sales diversity task force, I started asking lots of questions about how things are done operationally. One of those questions was how does someone become a manager? And they said, “If they meet a certain level of production, they can apply and potentially be accepted into this program that would then allow them to be considered for roles that come up in management.”So I said, “Okay, great. Walk me through the process.” And they said, “You know, we usually will talk to folks about what the production level is and tell them to raise their hands if they’re qualified.” And I thought, hmm, could it be that qualified people for whatever reason that don’t raise their hands? And the folks looking back to me asked, “Why wouldn’t someone who’s qualified raise their hand?” I thought I could think of a lot of reasons why qualified people wouldn’t raise their hands. “So, what if we instead sent a note to every single person who’s qualified and said you’re qualified?” For example, “Dear Stefan, congratulations. You’re qualified. Would you like to apply for MDP and potentially start your career in management?”To me, that sounds amazing. That sounds like even if I don’t want to or have no interest in managing other people, I’m thinking that is a win for engagement. That feels really good as it relates to our culture and potentially, it also brings about a whole crop of people who would not have thought of themselves as managers or who have never been told that they have leadership ability, but who definitely do, because as we know that they have met the minimum qualifications.When we made that small operational change to let everybody who is qualified, know that they were qualified, we saw overnight change. We saw our largest, most diverse class of qualified applicants, which led to our largest and most diverse class of people who actually went through the program, which directly fed a bench of more diverse folks than we’d ever seen.It also had a major contribution to what we reported in our last diversity report in November of 2019, which led to a 24 percentage point increase in the rate of Black and Brown leadership. I think that’s so important because folks often talk about how we brought this many more people in and they don’t talk as much about how many people you had to cycle through before you bring in the next crop of people.Here, what you see are folks really rising in the organization into increasing levels of leadership. That is brought about because we noticed that we had a racial leadership gap. We made some very pointed inquiries as to why that’s happening, and then we made some changes to mitigate that as well as really holding the leaders of each office accountable for the diversity in their offices and for making sure that it is as inclusive a place as possible. And when I think about inclusion, I think fundamental inclusion is about making sure everyone has the same chance. It’s a success. If you really have an inclusive environment, you’ll see that. And if you have a less than inclusive environment, you’ll see that too, and obviously may need to make some changes. While other organizations may function in different ways. It is really important to ask all of them, these questions about how we got to where we are today, and if we’re happy with the results. Stefan: I love that. I use my work all the time like behavioral interviews, understanding the process people go through and how they make decisions. Miriam: Yeah, a community that has been incredibly helpful to me is the Racial Equity Action Institute, and I was part of its first cohort. This is something sponsored by Northern California Grantmakers here in the Bay area and this was a group that they got together, a multi-sector group coming from government, from the nonprofit foundation sectors, as well as the private sector.Whether I’m going to those meetings or writing to them directly, there’s about 20 of us and it’s just been incredible to be a part of it because their experiences are so varied. I think in my own experience, I tend to get pretty myopic in terms of just looking at what’s happening in tech because this is where we are situated and being able to talk to someone who’s working on issues of inclusion and belonging in a city government office, like, wow. I thought my job was hard, but my job isn’t anything compared to some. Being able to talk to someone who’s doing this inside of a foundation and really trying to think about what are the inherently unequal power structures in the world of philanthropy generally and what role do they play in it. This organization has just been so key and I am really grateful to Northern California Grantmakers for bringing us all together. If you’re interested in getting a cohort of your own, they’re actually accepting applications now for their second cohort.Stefan: Now we’re going to hop into the lightning round. You ready? Miriam: I’m ready. Stefan: What is your favorite quote?Miriam: My favorite quote is “A small act is worth a million thoughts.”Stefan: What motivates you in life? Miriam: My daughter, she’s almost three years old and every time I look at her, I think I cannot leave this world worse than I found it. I also have this sort of very unabated feeling, which is, if not me, then who? Also, when people ask me when the people that we’ve been waiting for will show up, I usually have to tell them what I think is the truth, which is that we are the ones we’ve been waiting for.Stefan: What is a book or movie that changed the way you look at the world? Miriam: Definitely just mercy by Brand Stevenson.Stefan: What is your favorite recipe? Miriam: The Brown butter chocolate chip cookie. This one is actually a bone Appetit recipe that if you’ve ever seen the video – it’s Rick Martinez who’s making it. I have to say that it’s like my main accomplishment in this sort of quarantined time. I’ve just made it over and over and over again. My freezer is never without a lot of pre-portioned brown butter chocolate chip cookies with pecan. Stefan: What is the coolest tech product you’ve ever come across? Miriam: I’m allergic to coffee and I love tea. So I have to say the tea maker by Breville, which is maybe not the high tech thing you were thinking of, but it is definitely technology. And what’s so cool about it is that it has a bunch of different settings, which include are you making green tea? Are you making oolong? Are you making black tea or herbal tea? And do you want it strong or do you want it mild? And it can even keep the tea hot and it’s just amazing because I love drinking tea and now that I’m next to this tea maker every single day, it really has a big impact on my life.Stefan: Thank you so much. This was so much fun. Miriam: Thank you for having me. It was great chatting. Stefan: Oh my pleasure. How can people connect with you from here? Miriam: Yeah. I am just Miriam Warren on all of the familiar channels. So just my first name and my last name stuck together. Stefan: Amazing. Well, thank you so much for joining today and have a great rest of your day. Miriam: Same to you. Bye. All right.

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