Andrea Hoffman Thinks a Moment Can Become a Movement (With a Nudge From the C-Suite)

Oct 15, 2020

6 min read

Andrea Hoffman, the founder and CEO of the advisory and consulting firm Culture Shift Labs, has been helping companies diversify their boards and organizations for 20 years. Readers who don’t already know Hoffman almost certainly know many practitioners who have her on speed dial. Her extensive client list includes major tech companies like Verizon, Sony, LinkedIn, and Shutterfly. Hoffman also sits on JPMorgan’s Advancing Black Pathways Advisory Council.

Hoffman may be best known for Culture Shifting Weekends, a dealmaking conference for Black and Latinx executives that began over a decade ago in New York and expanded to Silicon Valley four years later. The conferences now attract hundreds and a new Miami edition will be launching in 2021.

The Filament sat down with Hoffman to discuss the most recent Culture Shifting Weekend, which took place online throughout September, and the current state of the tech industry’s push for equality and inclusion.

The Filament: You've been doing this for 20 years, what has improved from your perspective, and what still needs to be worked on to move this thing forward?

Andrea Hoffman: We need different belief systems that lead to different behaviors. The George Floyd and Breonna Taylor moments have definitely illuminated a need to fix things. I think it was just bubbling up with #MeToo. It’s a relentless, layered series of things that happened throughout our nation. And now we’ve added COVID-19 to all that. People are becoming intolerant of broken and old dysfunctional systems that produced the same results.

You've got to first address your belief system. That perhaps I can improve as a leader. Perhaps our systems are broken over here. Perhaps everything that we do from the way we invest in venture and private equity, entrepreneurs, and our talent from partnerships, is only designed for the one percent of the world.

Is the recruitment/talent acquisition model in tech broken?

Yeah, it is broken.

In all fairness to the folks doing the hiring, these people are absolutely overwhelmed. It's overwhelming to be present and authentic and engaged and have just real meaningful conversations with each person. They're not leaving any room for interpretation of bios that might not be written exactly how they need to experience them. In some cases processes are automated, which we know doesn’t work.

Ty Ahmad-Taylor, who's over at Facebook now — he's a serial entrepreneur, former CEO of THX and an incredible executive, a Black executive. He tells a story about a time he did an immersive experience for some of his HR folks. He said, "I'm going to pay for and host at my home, an evening where the HR folks from Facebook get to meet this Black and Latinx talent. I'm going to pick the people and introduce them." The HR folks came, and they experienced it and said, "If I looked at this person's CV online, on LinkedIn, I would have not taken the time to meet with them. Now that I've met with them, I'm like, ‘Oh wow, we need this person in here.’"

I think overwhelmed HR people are not thinking outside of the box because they have to answer to their bosses and their bosses' bosses. Nobody wants to put their job on the line to get possibly fired for recommending that a whole system changes. I also think it's incumbent upon the talent to say, ‘How do I use public platforms like LinkedIn or other to put the best version of myself out there and tell my story the way that it can be really attractive?’

How important is it to get the C-suite, the CEO involved and engaged in these diversity and inclusion pushes and efforts?

The short answer is ‘very.’

Every CEO should only approach this one way and that's the right way. Which is, "I believe the talent's out there. I believe we don't have the right network. We're going to change that. We're just not going to settle for anything less than a diverse slate of candidates, period. If you don't have the network and you don't feel like you're plugged into them, come back to me with a plan to achieve that."

That has to be a culture from the top down.

Let's speak a little bit more about the aftermath of the summer we just had. Are companies leveraging that moment enough? Are you seeing a change in how these companies look at diversity and inclusion and the effort they're putting behind it?

People ask me, is this a moment or a movement? It is a moment that led to a movement that's going to lead to systemic change. There are companies and individuals that make public announcements. There are companies and individuals that are doing it in private.

What I'm finding, what my team is finding, what my board is finding is that 85% of leaders that are "leveraging the moment" are doing it because they're outraged, not because there's public pressure. I know some people that have historically had a hard time getting a $25,000 sponsorship for a diversity event. Now, companies are finding $300 million, $1 billion, $530 million to invest in racial equity. But the question remains: What does systemic change look like?

Are you seeing the same interest from venture capitalists?

Venture capitalists are calling, our phone is ringing off the hook.

How do you build a results-driven conference like Culture Shifting Weekend?

We're invite-only in service of an outcome. Who are all the LPs that care about Black and Latinx venture capitalists succeeding, creating wealth, and being successful? Let's find them anywhere and everywhere. Let's call everybody we know. Ask people to make recommendations. Do our research. We put together a list that grows every week, every year, of people that care about meeting Black and Latinx venture capitalists to invest in them or open doors for them. It's a formula, but it's very simple. It's high touch, not high tech.

From there, it's all in the messaging. You've been invited here to write a check and open the door. You are here to do that. Introduce yourself. Have an ask, be able to help.

One thing I noticed that you did this year was the Diverse Talent Development Pipeline Day, which was interesting. Can you explain what that is and what came out of that?

We were walking through an assignment with one of our partners, a very big tech company. They wanted to diversify their mid to senior ranks and we pointed out to them that you're always going to fail in the endeavor of scaling your desire to increase that number in tech. Everybody is like "so went from 2% to 2.5% or 3% or 4%," which is significant when you look at the numbers of how many individuals. But if you don't have an ecosystem, if you don't have networks, it's always going to be a transaction. If you're only looking at transactions and you're looking to fill roles quickly, you're going to go to your normal networks and they're not diverse.

So it's not necessarily about filling jobs today; it's getting the hiring managers, the talent acquisition folks, anybody that's in those roles, sourcing and hiring and making decisions to open their eyes to the amount of talent they can go meet even when there isn’t a job available today. If we know that a company ultimately hires a lot of engineers or digital marketing folks or sales folks, it’s about having hiring managers go find six or 12 or 15 people that could potentially be in their ecosystem for current and future jobs.

The tech industry is known for moving very quickly on nearly just about everything, except for diversity and inclusion. What is the root cause of the tech industry moving slowly in diversity and inclusion? Is there a single issue that's holding them back that you've identified over your time working in this space?

It's almost like artificial intelligence. If you don't start with the right inputs, you're going to create intelligent systems that are not very smart. They're going to just perpetuate the problems that we have. You have to have the right people around the AI table, to have the right inputs. Otherwise, you're going to create a technology like the sinks in washrooms, that if you have black skin it's not going to work. You're going to have more of that.

If you don't have the right people in the right position on the playing field, you're not going to win the baseball game. You have to have the right people in the right position on the playing field. I think Silicon Valley was set up to just naturally over-index on certain types of people that don't allow for more inclusion. It's a very big system. It's a very big ship to turn around.