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It's 2021. Diversity cannot stay reactive

Three initiatives I started since becoming Head of People at Passbase

Posted by Jenna Bachrouche

As Passbase’s Head of Talent, how I recruit and the culture I set up will have deep implications as our company continues to scale. Since I joined the company in 2020, I have screened over 250 applications and had over 60 interviews. Last year, we doubled the team size in the midst of a pandemic through sales-driven growth. This year is a critical stage for the company to establish its cultural DNA and I am sharing our initiatives to document the process of our iterations transparently. In this post, I will cover our leadership training, acknowledgement of cultural and religious holidays, and company committees.

Before I share what I am doing at Passbase, I want to give some background context because my career path to this role was not straightforward. I was working in venture capital as an internal recruiter building startups from the ground up. Before that, I was at Yelp as an Account Manager and later in Consumer Insights at Disney. The primary reason I joined Passbase was because it was going to be an opportunity to build a company and culture in the ways that I wanted.

I am a bisexual, Muslim, Lebanese-American woman, and knew that I was coming into a company led by straight, white men. Joining a tech company where there was no presence of a woman in a senior leadership or managerial role is a moment for someone like me to pause. It has proven not to be an issue, but these considerations are a reality.

Start by addressing unconscious bias in leadership

They say that the first thirty team members set the culture of the company, so the founders -- Mathias, Felix, and Dave -- are conscientious that we need to find the right people that will challenge us. Our founders know the distribution in our metrics are not where they should be, but we are going in the right direction.

I constantly push our founders on hiring for diversity, but hiring for diversity means that the leadership must get used to being uncomfortable, even in their interviews. This means addressing unconscious bias, which affects team members and potential candidates.

Currently all team leaders at Passbase are going through a workshop series through a platform, Hone, called ‘Create a Culture of Belonging.’ This isn’t meant to be just a training slapped on people’s calendars, but rather actually having open discussions. For example, one of the conversation topics for our breakout rooms was, how have you found yourself conforming in your workplace, in your personal life? This encourages people to listen to the other person’s experience, with the ultimate goal to invoke empathy. The only way we as a company will address unconscious bias and inclusivity is to talk about it, no matter how uncomfortable it is.

Passbase was founded in 2018 and when we rolled out this program, we had only raised a seed round (the rest of our growth has been fuelled by sales in 2020). However, our founders, Mathias, Felix, and Dave recognized the need to acknowledge unconscious bias as a crucial first step to building a diverse team.

If you are looking to join a company, ask their recruiter what investments they have made into training leaders about unconscious bias, not just one-off workshops on diversity. If you are in the People team in your company, challenge leadership to invest in educating themselves and their employees.

Acknowledging religious and cultural holidays

It’s 2021. With remote or global teams, companies should be doing more than just following the bare minimum public/bank holidays. Outside of the major Christian holidays (e.g. Christmas, Easter, etc.) employees who observe other holidays such as Eid, Lunar New Year, and Hanukkah, are encouraged to take time off to celebrate at Passbase. As a Muslim myself, up to this point, I would always have to use up paid leave days (when I didn’t have unlimited) to observe my holidays. That situation always made me feel uncomfortable and the option to take paid time off to observe cultural or religious holidays  is something that I tell new hires during onboarding so they don’t feel uncomfortable making the request in the future. People bringing their full selves to work also requires that they can be comfortable in communicating what is significant -- essential -- to their identity.

When rolling out these benefits, we also needed to consider regulatory requirements. Passbase has offices in New York and Berlin, which means that it needs to comply with labour regulations in the U.S. and Germany. Passbase officially offers paid leave days, mental health days, sick days, as well as unlimited personal time-off days that can be requested with a manager. If you are managing a remote team, look into the labour laws for the country your team members are in or paying taxes to. For example, in Germany, even though we have offered unlimited personal time off (PTO), the country requires that the company register these days.

Establishing feedback commitees

If you are in my position as a talent lead and building a rapidly scaling team, you will need to crowdsource feedback from your colleagues and set up communication channels. To start 2021, we have begun setting up committees and safe spaces for people in the company to discuss experiences and suggestions for strengthening our company culture. To start, we have Women at Passbase and a Culture Committee. These are committees to allow for all voices to be heard. My job as the Head of People is to provide the spaces for people to use their voices. It is also my job to hire people who will push Passbase and challenge our ideas. In future posts, I will share more about initiatives that have come out of these spaces.

Being completely honest with ourselves, at this moment in time, Passbase’s managers are all men. Our founders know this and have voiced that our newest openings are an opportunity for the company to work towards fixing this imbalance. Talent acquisition is a direct way to address the level of diversity in a company and we are making a conscientious effort to change the status quo.

I would especially love to get referrals from you for talented people from underrepresented communities -- women, trans and genderqueer, people of colour, black, indigenous, and neurodiverse people to name some examples! You can check out our latest job openings here.

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