All of Us: Our Work is Never Done
Just ahead of National Women’s Month, six of our Adobe leaders served as delegates to The MAKERS Conference, joining 600 other leaders in critical conversations about gender at work. This year’s conference theme was #AllOfUs, the message being that it takes every individual, both men and women, to drive positive change for women in society.
We talked to Kakul Srivastava, VP Creative Cloud Experience and Engagement, about her personal experience with gender at work, advice she has for other business leaders, and how we can all continue working together to make a difference.
How do you define/think about diversity and/or inclusion?
I want to create a culture where everyone feels they can bring as much of their genuine selves to work as possible. I’ve been in environments where I haven’t felt that way, and it’s terrible. I went to MIT for college, where, as a woman of color, I was definitely a minority. I felt like I had to play down my femininity to feel more a part of the culture and fit in. I couldn’t bring my whole self to that environment, and that distracted me from being my best self there. This can happen all the time in different ways – whether it’s color, class, country of origin. People end up second guessing themselves, wondering if people will judge what they have to say at face value, or if they will apply a filter to their point of view. Because of that worry, a lot of good ideas never come to the table. This is a huge loss to teams. It’s critical that we all think about how we can make sure everyone feels like they can be part of the team and be their genuine seves.
Why do you think diversity is critical to Adobe’s success?
Talent has never been more important and more difficult to get at a technology company, and we have to do everything in our power to attract and retain great talent. We’re not going to scale if we only look to hire people from one part of the world, or if we’re limited by race & gender. To support our scale, it’s business critical to build a diverse and inclusive culture where all of our talented people can feel at home.
Creativity is one of the most fundamental of human attributes, and we need to able to serve the broadest range of customers. I believe that everyone has the power to be creative and we have the privilege of providing people with tools to enable their creativity. That means we need to be accessible to people in different countries, with different levels of skills and interests, and that breadth of experience is going to continue to grow. To serve these users, we ourselves need to be diverse in our thinking, and be able to empathize with our customers no matter who they are.
What’s been your personal experience with gender at work?
Early in my career, I had recently been promoted to VP at Yahoo and was in a strategy meeting. I was not only the only person of color in the room, but I was the only woman. I was very quiet for the first 10 minutes because I wasn’t sure how I was supposed to show up. A lot of people weren’t even making eye contact with me. The hack I applied then, and still use today, is to really announce my presence (to myself and to the room) by physically standing up. The room was crowded and I took up more space in it. It forced me to not hide myself in my insecurities, and it signaled to everyone that I was there to participate fully and have a strong point of view. We all suffer from Imposter Syndrome, but don’t let that block you from taking action. If you are here, commit to being here.
Another example is when I was fundraising for a startup (that was eventually acquired by Yahoo), I was doing a roadshow with a cofounder who was a white male. While I was the CEO and primary founder, I was astonished at how many times the venture capitalists (VC’s) would only make eye contact with my co-founder. The technique I applied in this instance was prior to any meeting, I planned which questions I would answer with my cofounder. So, even if the VC’s were looking at my partner to answer, we forced them to direct force their gaze back to me and establish my leadership as part of the team. This is also a great example of why it’s critical to have the right allies at work.
As someone who is underrepresented in the technology space, we sometimes have to fight for attention, and it’s possible to do this strategically – even for an introvert like me!
What advice would you give to other business leaders who want to build a corporate culture that nurtures and thrives on diversity?
The biggest mistake that I see leaders make is that they put all their focus on hiring for diversity, and that’s simply not enough. You will do all this work to bring someone in, but if you can’t also help them succeed, it’s not a win for anybody. And when someone is underrepresented, no matter how much we try to address unconscious bias, there are going to be roadblocks. This is where building an inclusive culture, checking assumptions at the door, and helping to build relationships can really help. It’s important to take a holistic approach to diversity, which is not just about bringing in the right people but also committing to help them be successful.
The theme of MAKERS this year was “All of Us.” Why is it so important for everyone to play a part in creating positive change with regards to gender in the workplace?
This theme was so important because it has two aspects to it – it means inclusion but also being able to bring our whole selves to the work. I really love these two ideas because they’re both super powerful.
Our work is never done – I’m a person of color and I spend a lot of time thinking about diversity and inclusion issues, and I still get tripped up on my own unconscious biases every day. It takes extra work to hold yourself accountable and ask for feedback, and really make sure we’re challenging our biases.