Behaviour Change Platform for D&I

How HubSpot Scaled Employee Resource Groups - Crescendo Chats | Episode 1

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 Melissa Obleada, the Diversity & Inclusion Program Manager at HubSpot.

Listen to the podcast or read below for the edited transcript.



 
Melissa Obleada Headshot Cropped (1).png
 

Interview with Melissa Obleada

Diversity & Inclusion Program Manager at HubSpot

 
 

Stefan: Today we’re going to talk a bit about your experiences, the D&I field at HubSpot and your role. Can you share a bit about yourself and what you do?

Melissa: I’m the Program Manager for Diversity & Inclusion. I report to our relatively-new Director of Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DIB), and sit on the DIB team.

I’ve been at HubSpot since August 2014 - I started as an intern here on the PR team. And then our Director of Culture at the time (she’s now our Chief People Officer) started the culture team. I was the first intern there and then the first full-time hire. Our team has always been focused on the candidate and employee experience, but as the company has grown I’ve shifted my role to focus on D&I.

Stefan: Awesome. What’s been the biggest learning for you so far?

Melissa: The biggest learning is that you’re playing the long game. It’s about changing so many things, not just hearts and minds or awareness, but also systems and practices. Things that might have been ingrained in our culture or were just standard operating procedure in the past. D&I is something that hits every single part of your company, internally and externally, so making changes that are impactful happen over time.

Mistakes You Have Made

What do we, as a business, care about? And how can we support the business? It might seem backwards for an employee resource group because they are there to serve employees. But it reverses back because employees are serving the business. It’s a symbiotic relationship.

Stefan: What challenges have you faced or mistakes have you made on that journey? How would you recommend someone else avoid making the same ones?

Melissa: No matter how committed you are, there’s always going to be someone or something pushing back on you, and you need to come prepared with your mission, objectives, and the reasons behind the work you’re doing. That’s something I would double down on earlier on, just to make sure that I would have a response when people pushed back.

Another challenge is that I managed our employee resource groups, which are global in reach. We learned over time that we can’t copy what we do in our largest global office - in Cambridge, USA - in other offices around for the world, for example our Dublin, Ireland office or our Sydney, Australia office. Every location, even remote locations, have different cultures. We need to have the same approach to addressing different topics within diversity and inclusion as well.

Stefan: That’s fantastic. Any recommendations on how to narrow down on those things?

Melissa: First and foremost, we looked at the business itself - what do we, as a business, care about? And how can we support the business? It might seem backwards for an employee resource group because they are there to serve employees. But it reverses back because employees are serving the business. It’s a symbiotic relationship.

So I firstly looked what our mission was and what our values were as a company. Then I saw how we can take those same values and translate it or tweak it to better fit underrepresented or under-supported communities internally.

Creating a Diverse and Inclusive Workplace

The types of conversations I was hearing were things like “I am the only Black woman on my team. When I come in hearing that another Black person has been shot, I think of my family. But for other folks, it’s not really on their radar. They don’t know what’s on my mind.”

Stefan: Thanks for sharing that. In your role, what part do you love the most?

Melissa: I love seeing how people come into work - feeling better about where they work and what they do - because of the changes and programming we’re putting on. I really like that my team is able to help people. Everybody understands workplace culture, and it’s really important to me that I feel like I’m positively contributing to HubSpot’s global workplace culture, and making it a better place for more people in more places at HubSpot.

Stefan: Can you share the founding stories of some of your employee resource groups?

Melissa: I turned full-time in April or May 2015, which was right before Pride Month in June. I asked our then-Director of Culture if we were going to do anything for our LGBTQ employees during Pride Month. We’d won awards as a great place to work so I thought if we cared about being a great place to work for everybody, we’d care about LGBTQ employees.

When I asked, she said we didn’t have enough time to get something meaningful turned around for Pride Month, but we’d start with a brunch for LGBTQ employees and allies, then watch the Parade together. That sort of kicked it off. A couple months later, we officially launched the LGBTQ Alliance with an external event where we brought in folks from the community to list to the founder of The Welcoming Committee, which is an LGBTQ organization that puts on social events for queer folks.

For the People of Colour group, it was similar that it was grassroots. It was summer 2016 and there were a lot of highly publicized deaths of Black men and women at the hands of police and law enforcement. So there were conversations happening among Black colleagues of mine, and I got looped into those conversations because I had started the LGBTQ Alliance and was on the culture team.

The types of conversations I was hearing were things like “I am the only Black woman on my team. When I come in hearing that another Black person has been shot, I think of my family. But for other folks, it’s not really on their radar. They don’t know what’s on my mind.”

And seeing how the LGBTQ Alliance was going, we thought it would be really important and also timeline for us to start an organization for our employees of colour. So that’s how POCaH started.


Want to create a more inclusive workplace?

Crescendo Can Help With That

 
 

How To Grow Employee Resource Groups

“Embraced the dialogue happening on our Slack channels. There were constant conversations happening in Slack about things like microaggressions and how to identify and address them. Or homophobia and transphobia, and how people can be better allies. I think havin that environment, even a digital environment, where people are able to jump in and participate no matter their locations was really important for us. “

Stefan: After getting started, how did you make them sustainable and help them grow?

Melissa: At the beginning, both POCaH and the Alliance were predominantly Cambridge focused. We’re still in the process of figuring out how to better engage and collaborate with our global offices. But what we did early on was have regularly scheduled programming - consistent meetings or consistent ways to communicate to make sure we weren’t a flash in the pan that would fizzle after a few months.

So we really engaged and embraced the dialogue happening on our Slack channels. There were constant conversations happening in Slack about things like microaggressions and how to identify and address them. Or homophobia and transphobia, and how people can be better allies. I think havin that environment, even a digital environment, where people are able to jump in and participate no matter their locations was really important for us.

I think it also helped that I was reporting directly to our Director of Culture then our Chief People Officer. It added a lot of credibility and would have been much harder for me and others to build lasting ERGs without executive sponsorship. Katie was on board from the beginning and she definitely helped me along the way to be more aligned with company mission and goal. She helped make it better for the business overall.

But after I had her buy-in I needed to reach out to other C-suite executives, and I had to create presentation decks. So it was helpful for me to look to what other organizations are doing, like Google or Microsoft. While we don’t want to be exactly like folks in Silicon Valley, it was helpful for us to see that other companies were addressing issues of diversity, inclusion, and belonging differently.

Stefan: Now that the groups are up and running, what’s your vision for the future?

Melissa: I want these ERGs to grow and be sustainable. I want them to be in existence three years, or six years, or nine years from now, whether that means we have more ERGs. But in the shorter term I would love to build out the leadership structure and make sure what we are going back to our core mission and focusing on the people these groups are meant for. And then making sure we are providing the best programming possible that’s helpful, efficient, and makes their lives better.

Lightning Round with Melissa

Stefan: Awesome. Hopping into a lightning round of questions, we just need quick answers. To get started: What’s your favourite quote?

Melissa: An E.E. Cummings quote: “There exists no miracle mightier than this: To feel”. I think that’s really important because empathy is a great thing about being a human.

Stefan: I love it! Another: What motivates you in life?

Melissa: Making myself and my parents proud.

Stefan: What book or movie changed the way you look at the world?

Melissa: This might be very uncool, but Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is my favourite film. It really showed me the importance of learning from lessons and learning from loss.

Stefan: Favourite podcast?

Melissa: I love Nancy. It’s an LGBTQ podcast co-hosted by LGBTQ Asians.

Stefan: What’s the coolest tech product you’ve ever come across, beyond HubSpot?

Melissa: Can I say my iPhone? iPhone and Apple Watch - I’m all about them.

Stefan: As we wrap up, where can people go to learn more about HubSpot and you?

Melissa: To connect with HubSpot, go to HubSpot Jobs. You can also go to HubSpot Diversity and Inclusion.

As for me, you can find me on Twitter @MelissaObleada.

Stefan: Thank you so much for joining us!

Melissa: My pleasure! Cheers.

That wraps up this episode of our podcast, if you want to listen to audio version click below.

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Shazeen Kamran