Diversity, Equity & Inclusion at Thumbtack (w/ Dionna Smith)

Zach sits down with Dionna Smith, Global Head of DEI at Thumbtack, on this week’s Real Talk Tuesday episode. Listen to them talk about Thumbtack’s own history with DEI, the events of last summer, and what Thumbtack is doing to be an equitable place to work.

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Zach (00:00): Yo, partnership alert, partnership alert, partnership alert. Living Corporate has a partnership with LinkedIn Learning, an American massive open online course provider that provides video courses taught by industry experts across a wide array of subjects. Now, the partnership is because Living Corporate has courses on LinkedIn Learning focused on diversity, equity inclusion for leaders, career professionals, and anyone really looking to upskill themselves and be better allies. So make sure you check out our courses on LinkedIn learning by clicking the link in the show notes. And let’s just say, you don’t want to do that, when you go to LinkedIn Learning on LinkedIn, search Living Corporate, we be right there. All right. Peace.

(00:57): What’s up y’all it’s Zach of Living Corporate. And look, I’m gonna tell you straight up, I’m really excited about the interview we had today. The interview that we were able to bring to y’all today, it was with the global head of diversity equity inclusion at Thumbtack and her name is Deanna Smith. And what I appreciated about the conversation was, it was frank. It was honest. And it felt sincere, and we talked about their strategy and the things that they’re doing and some of their programming. And it’s exciting, it’s exciting. And I love the fact that Deanna, she didn’t really shy away from some challenging questions I asked her, considering Thumbtack’s own history with their own DEI teams and leadership. And frankly, just the chaos that was last year in a variety of frames. So, really excited about that. Now look, before we get there, we’re gonna tap in with Tristan, okay. So I will be back. Next is Tristan and you’ll hear me talking to Deanna Smith, the global head of diversity equity inclusion at Thumbtack. See you in a minute.

(05:28): Deanne, welcome to the show. How are you doing?

Deanne Smith (05:29): I’m doing wonderful. How are you?

Zach (05:31): You know, I’m doing well. It is it’s been a lot going on as you know. Whole panorama outside.

Deanne (05:42): Yes.

Zach (05:42): And then this new variant, so I’m over here trying to keep extra distance. I’m doing 20 foot distancing now.

Deanne (05:51): Absolutely. We’re ducking and diving over here too. I’m in Atlanta and it’s rampant and the Governor’s fighting everything. Yeah, it’s crazy.

Zach (06:00): So let’s talk about your journey into DEI. You’re the head of DEI for Thumbtack. I’m curious, what led you to this space?

Deanne (06:09): Yeah, interestingly enough I grew up, I’m originally from LA. I grew up in New Orleans. The neighborhood that I grew up in New Orleans was, I would say predominantly black, but it was all black. Your grocery stores, my teachers, church, mailman. And so, I was really sheltered from a lot of things as a young child. And I went to high school, a private all-girl white Catholic high school, and had a rude awakening to being introduced to white supremacy. To the point where I’m gonna date myself a bit, but we had a mock governor’s race and David Duke won like [inaudible 00:06:49].

Zach (06:49): Yes, yes.

Deanne (06:50): Yes. So it was pretty blatant. And so, there weren’t many of us and it was then, that I realized that like, no, this is not okay. No. I started speaking up, I started helping other students that were concerned about things and ended up with our first black history club, our first black history program. Went to the Archdiocese of New Orleans about things that needed to change and just found my voice. And realized that I could actually make change. Like I could see something I didn’t like and change it. And that’s really where it started for me. I left there and went to Howard, so I’m like, okay, I’m good now. So I went on home, went to HBC, where I could be sheltered for a few other years and just [inaudible 00:07:38] and be surrounded by black excellence. I was in the school of communication and so I knew, I always knew I was gonna do something around advocacy. I’ve always been very conscious but I didn’t know, it would be corporate [inaudible 00:07:52]. Of course, I didn’t know that, I thought that maybe I’d be a civil rights attorney or something in the media giving voice. And so, my corporate path, I started right outta school in radio, and did that for a few years and somehow got into recruiting and went into corporate, like, oh my God. And felt like as a recruiter, I actually had an opportunity to change that. But I could only do so much, I was a younger, a little naive thinking I could go change the world. And so then, I started figuring out how to get things changed in corporate and been doing it ever since.

Zach (08:26): You know, I find Thumbtack story really interesting. We look at the last year and Thumbtack initial decision to lay off the DNI team, but then reverse it due to company protests. So, you’re coming to this space, it just seems unique to me. Talk to me about, if you can, what the conversation with Thumbtack looked like in accepting to be their new global head of DNI.

Deanne (08:48): Absolutely. So I can only speak to my own personal experience with Thumbtack, which is what I’ll focus on here. But, I joined 10 months ago and as you mentioned, it was in October, 2020, so it was post George Floyd, murder of George Floyd, Black Lives Matter, COVID. And I was very explicit, very early on about what I do and how I do it. Lip service doesn’t work. I’m not the right person if you just wanna check a box. I am about measurable change, about holding feet to the fire, mine included, and senior leadership. And Marco, who’s our CEO and senior leadership team were fully aware of what I was coming coming to do, and have been so supportive. In the sense that, my budget has more than tripled since I’ve been there. And I’ve only been here 10 months. I went from a team of just me, this was newly created. We never had head of DEI, by the way. So this was a newly created role and I have a team of four people and we’re making really incremental changes. And so the support and the commitment has been shown through action, not just words.

Zach (10:06): That’s really helpful. You know, it’s interesting to your point around like kind of putting folks feet to the fire and accountability. And there’s more and more conversations around data analytics being the means by which DEI becomes more tangible and strategic. Talk to me about Thumbtack’s perspective on data and its connection with organizational equity.

Deanne (10:26): Oh, absolutely. So obviously, being a tech company, we are extra, extra data driven. Which has always been a huge interest for me even coming out of, I came out of corporate from Delta Airlines, and working in other companies that were metrics driven, but not nearly as much as tech companies where everything is. So I’ve been really pleasantly surprised with our ability to gather data, the things that we report on. So my role as global head of DEI is a little different than some DEI roles. In that, I am focused on kind of three pillars. One is people, so that’d be all your traditional TA development, et cetera. Product, so also product inclusion, measuring bias on our platform. And also community, and for us that is social impact, as well as diversity suppliers.

(11:18): So, I’m measuring a number of things. On the product side, we’re a platform that connects small business ownership people that are looking for folks who do work. We have a tremendous amount of underrepresented minorities on our platform. And so, it’s been really interesting to look at our data, where we skew higher than the countrywide demographics. And how those folks are being able to grow their company may not have big marketing budgets or MBAs. And so, we’re looking at how we’re being able to make incremental change there. Of course, we have our recruitment dashboards, where we’re looking at our pipeline, our hiring. All of the changes that I recommend, the strategy that I recommend, I’m always leading with data and metrics. Now, I do also tell them as well, like it doesn’t tell the whole story. And so, we’ve gotta know that, but I also understand business, and I understandif it doesn’t get measured, oftentimes it doesn’t exist or doesn’t matter. And whether fair or not we’ve gotta learn to play the game if we want to be in it.

Zach (12:26): A hundred percent. You know, it’s interesting you talked a little bit about recruitment. Time acquisition and talent management are like two, probably the lowest hanging fruits for DEI. In that, organizations are constantly trying to recruit black and brown talent or they say they are. So maybe they have some type of HBCU partnership, or maybe some of em even have like some type of divine [inaudible 00:12:45] nine, talent channel. And then there’s people maybe be reaching out to the Afro techs, or the job wells of the world. There’s like talent pools for recruitment. I’m curious though, what is Thumbtack doing to recruit and retain, black and brown talent? Cause so often we think about, let’s get em in the door, but it’s like, we don’t have the things to keep them.

Deanne (13:06): Oh my gosh. Absolutely. Absolutely. So a couple things. So all the things you mentioned, we do all that too, but in addition. In addition to the Afro tax and this is actually the first time we’ve ever had partnerships with HBCUs and and Hispanic serving institutions. So I’m really excited about this year, it’s gonna make tremendous change in the folks that we’re recruiting, obviously. But also in addition to that, one of the things I’m really, really excited about at Thumbtack is that we have made the decision to be remote first company. Headquartered in San Francisco, our other big office was in Salt Lake City. So we were limited for our diversity of Salt Lake City in San Francisco. So as you can imagine, we had our challenges. Now that we are able to recruit across the Southeast, in New York, and Texas, Atlanta, we literally made a major business decision about how and where we were gonna work, with inclusion and diversity on the forefront.

(14:05): So, I was at those conversations. We were thinking, go back to the office, hybrid, remote. I even pushed back on hybrid because most of our diversity is gonna come from these other places. So then we have this culture of everyone in San Francisco meeting in person, and all your diverse folks being somewhere else on Zoom and not having that same time. And we ended up deciding remote first. So, I think that that’s another kind of unique thing that we’re doing. Now, as far as retention, I am huge on couple things. One is I’m do a number oof audits around our performance management system, looking at everything from ratings, to promotion rates. And looking at em across levels, looking at gender race, looking to make sure that we don’t see inequality there.

(14:49): In addition to that, I just recently partnered with McKenzie, who has a black leadership academy for executives, as well as one for middle managers. And so, we’ve partnered with them and we’re sending five of our black managers, and two of our black executives through McKenzie’s program.

Zach (15:06): Come on Thumbtack!

Deanne (15:08): All right. Yes. I’m like we gonna put our money and our time.

Zach (15:12): All right.

Deanne (15:12): Yes. And a part of that, McKenzie has a whole program built out, but I’ve also created internally where now they all have executive sponsors. They’re gonna have an executive diversity council that I co-chair with our CEO, and all of his report to there. They will be able to attend those quarterly meetings, present what they’re working on, be up for stretch projects. So we are like really putting measurable and making sure that we’re doing things. So the folks that we have there are ready when these opportunities come open.

Zach (15:46): Oh wow, that’s incredible. You know, it really leads me right to this next question, which is, these DEI roles are often like revolving doors? You think about, you know, I save like literally a couple of people in my network, and I’m thinking about like Danny over at Dropbox. Most folks are very [inaudible 00:16:06] and somewhere new, every 18 to 24 months. You’re at month 10. Talk to me a about what you envision for yourself in this role? And I feel like, you know that. How does that impact, how you think about your role today at Thumbtack?

Deanne (16:21): Yeah, and that’s an excellent question. So I went into Thumbtack, I know how this works, like you said. And there’s a couple reasons that that is. So, oftentimes it’s because we get excited, we come to the companies and we are kind of told we’re gonna have all this support, and then we get there and it’s not happening. Or, in this particular market, folks are snagging DEI people, wherever they can. That was part of the reason for me coming into Thumbtack, it was important for me to have the holistic view of DEI. That’s the reason why, these three pillars of employees’ products and suppliers was important to me, because I need the variety, for one.

(17:05): Also, I know in order for the things that I’m working on at Thumbtack to be effective, that I can’t just do that, just sitting in HR, I need needed to touch across engineering and product. And so for me, I’ve got so much work to do. We are on a great path, but we’ve got so much work to do. So as long as we’re making progress, and I’m having the type of support that I’m having, we all plan, I guess, to stick it out. But , you know, I just feel like most of the time when we leave, it’s because we don’t have the support that we need of the company that we’re in. And so then, we want to go, and try, and hope the next one will. And so for me, it’s the variety, it’s the holistic view that I think is really kind of keeping me, will keep me here.

Zach (17:52): So, you’re not, and we talk again, month 10. You’re not even a year at Thumbtack yet. So, what are you most excited about? And then, on the flip side, what are you most anxious about?

Deanne (18:03): Yeah. So what I’m most excited about, and what I’m most anxious is actually the same thing, which is interesting. But I’m most excited about the opportunities we have with this future of work becoming remote. With the opportunities we have to like increase our pool of qualified, diverse workers. So I’m super excited about that. The other thing that I’m excited about is, I’m excited about what remote work also means, is that even in companies, a for a company from the valley to folks in Jackson, Mississippi, folks in St. Louis. Places where cost of living is much less, less opportunity, and they have opportunities, but have the skill set, you know, et cetera. And so, I am so excited about connecting those folks with the amazing work, and amazing product that we’re building at Thumbtack. So that’s what I’m most excited about.

(18:58): I’m most anxious also about the future of work. Because I wanna make sure that if we’re bringing folks in, that we are equipped to support folks, belonging was tough when we were in the office. It has a whole other level when we’re remote. I wanna make sure that our managers and our people leaders are able to understand psychologically safe meetings. And we’re having meetings now, about what are micro-aggressions? And just understanding things that, to be honest, haven’t had to been discussed a whole lot because we weren’t very diverse. And so, that’s the thing that I really am focused about. I’m really fortunate that the employees and the leaders at Thumbtack really get it. Really, really care.

(19:42): So much so, our black employee ERG, 95% of the members are not black.

Zach (19:50): Wow.

Deanne (19:51): It’s folks that wanna be allies, it’s folks that wanna learn, it’s folks that wanna do better. We have a very unique employee base. And so, I’m excited to see where it goes, but I also know we’re gonna have to pivot. I also know we’re gonna make mistakes. And all I can do is make sure that I’m there Like I did in high school, standing in the gap, making sure folks voice are heard and, and changing things as we can.

Zach (20:13): Deanna this has been a super dope conversation. Shout out to you, and the work that you’re doing.

Deanne (20:18): Thank you.

Zach (20:19): And the incredible programs that y’all leading over there at Thumbtack. I’m excited to keep the lines communication open. We can touch base as the journey continues.

Deanne (20:27): I’d love that.

Zach (20:28): And look, we’ll talk to you soon. Okay.

Deanne (20:30): That sounds good. Thanks Zach.

Zach (21:22): And we’re back. Look, I wanna shout out Deanna. I wanna shout out Thumbtack. Thank y’all, reaching out to Living Corporate, really appreciate the conversation. Excited about what Thumbtack is doing. And look, I hope that people are hearing in this season that the run of the mill stuff that you’ve been doing for DEI, which you think passes as DEI, will not hold up anymore. The tides are changing. Expectations are shifting, we’re fundamentally rethinking. When I say we, talking about the corporate space. Fundamentally rethinking the relationship between employer and employee. And if you don’t think that DEI is tightly getting woven in all of that, you are mistaken. And so my hope is, as you think through, I’m talking to the DEI practitioners, the leaders, the executives. As you think about your programming, as you think about what is truly impactful, and what’s gonna drive retention, what’s gonna drive higher engagement.

(22:25): If those things aren’t connected to something tangible, measurable, and, if those things do not reward the most marginalized of those groups, then they’re not gonna be anything that’s gonna really be worth writing home about. And so it’s important to think about those programs. Think about what you’re doing. How integrated, how strategic is it? How much does it really meld with the way that your company does business? Is it positioned to not be an afterthought? And so, again, as I talk to Deanna on and off the record, I’m just really excited for her. I’m thankful for her time. I appreciate y’all, man. Look, this started off as just like, something to do. Living Corporate is a whole network now. I’m really excited about that.

(23:14): You know, next week we have some podcasts coming. We have the Break Room, which started off as a live show. I’m gonna continue forward as a podcast. We’re gonna continue forward with our live shows with the Group Chat. And I’m thankful for Vanda Page, she’s been doing great work. If you aren’t familiar with the Group Chat, click the link in the show notes.

(23:38): And I’m also excited about the fact that we have e-learning, that’s available through LinkedIn as a partnership that we have with them. And so, I want you to click the link in the show notes, if you wanna learn more about about diversity, equity and inclusion, if you’d like to get some leadership training, there’s some really great content in the link in the show notes. Okay.

(23:56): Listen, tell a friend, tell a family member, tell a coworker, tell a supervisor, tell a subordinate about Living Corporate. And encourage them to leave a five star on Apple podcast. Best thing you could do. We are a whole network, and so, I’m really excited because we have a channel page, where you can see all of our different podcasts. Shout out to the entire team. So next time y’all. This have been Zach. You’ve been listening to Living Corporate. Peace y’all.

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