In October 2017, I felt exhausted, both physically and emotionally. The last three and a half years weighed on my heart and my mind. My calendar was filled with “good luck on your next chapter” appointments. Work felt like a succession of good-bye and/or good luck lunches strung together on a ragged piece of twine. It hurt and it stung every time a friend left the company, regardless of whether they relocated to Texas or left the company altogether. I lived in a perpetual state of mourning – losing so many friends in my immediate circle, one happy hour or one bon voyage cake at a time – hurt. And the weight gain that accompanies bon voyages cakes and lunches slowly began to show on my hips.
Because of my role, I spent hours upon hours listening to team members cry as they wrestled with the decision of whether or not to move to Texas. Some had family considerations to take into account. Would my spouse/partner be able to find a job? What are the schools like in North Texas? Others were just shocked with the idea of moving. How can I go from Kentucky or Ohio into an area with a higher cost of living? I just finished remodeling my kitchen and bought a snow blower for the winter. Will I be able to find a barber/hair dresser/church/supermarket to meet my personal needs? I took on a little bit of everyone’s pain when they vented to me. It ate away at my heart and soul, one teardrop at a time.
Although I felt exhausted, I knew it was my duty to help the company. My focus sharpened to support diversity and inclusion, especially from a talent retention and development standpoint, to create a new culture for the company. I also kept my decision about my relocation a huge secret. I didn’t want to influence anyone’s personal decision based on what I decided to do. So I didn’t tell anyone that I had elected to NOT move until the company required a public commitment. I told my boss and my friends at the very last minute. Keeping that secret was a struggle and it added to the heavy burden on my shoulders.
In late August, I heard about an open position at a long-standing Southern California company for their Head of Diversity role. Rather than working with a headhunter or placement agency, I decided to take on the recruiting process alone. I knew a few people who had strong connections inside the company and the company did good work in the community. My resume and application made its way to the hiring manager and a recruiter called me right away. By the end of September, I had a day set to speak with four executives from this company. The day went well, I felt confident that I would receive a job offer but I still had two more weeks with my current company.
As one of my last tasks for my former company, I spoke at an African American employee resource group event in San Diego County. It was the day before my last day of employment. Unbeknownst to me, at least two of the attendees worked for the long-standing Southern California company I mentioned earlier. At the end of my presentation, they both asked what my next career move might be and if I would consider working for their company. All of that felt fantastic.
When I spoke with the hiring manager, whom I really respected and looked forward to working for, I mentioned that I definitely felt interested in taking the position and I was exhausted. So exhausted in fact that I needed two months off. My brain felt tired and out of smart juice. I needed to spend some time with my family, my loved ones and my dojo to recharge. That meant that I would not entertain starting a new position until January 2018. To my surprise, he supported my decision and said that the company wants someone to start right away but they also want the right person in the position so they would wait for me. We discussed a start date in January 2018 and would check in with each other when the date grew closer.
I felt lighter and a bit happier with the prospect of having time off to close out 2017 and refresh my mind and soul. Knowing that I would be able to go to a new job with a company that had a strong commitment and strategy for diversity and inclusion allowed me to breathe easily. Then came the second conversation with the recruiter about little details like compensation and benefits.
When I received a verbal offer, my mood changed from a cheerful Snow White princess to a dark and Evil Queen. All those good feelings dissipated and I felt insulted by the compensation offer. In addition, I received information regarding other parts of the package that turned out to me incorrect but did not make me want to even take the time to negotiate. When I declined the offer the next day, I did not even want to waste my time with asking for more money. All I said was that the offer that was presented to me was less than my minimum salary requirement. Why would I want to go to a company that didn’t make me feel valued or appreciated? Actually, I felt like I didn’t even want to speak to the hiring manager about the situation. They did offer me more money and a sign-on bonus but it was too little, too late. The hiring manager felt horrible, especially since the recruiter reports to him. It may have been a case of miscommunication but when a company is trying to bring in talent, mistakes like this can cost a lot. We wasted time with the interview process, they willingly waited for almost two months to finalize my offer, and I wound up feeling undervalued while they wound up not filling the position. Lose-Lose.
By then the year 2017 was almost over. Most companies did not do much hiring in December. I didn’t fully engage with the job search firm that my former company had contracted with for all of us who elected not to move to Texas. My initial meetings with them told me that they had no idea what I did for a living, how could they find me a job?
As I began to explore possible open positions, I grew keenly aware of issues around diversity and inclusion that had begun to populate the headlines in social media, newspapers, and magazines. Having worked in entertainment heightened my awareness of #metoo and discrimination along lines of gender, age, sexual orientation, race, and other social identities. And living in the United States as a diversity professional pains me to read headlines from our current President and his administration, particularly when he mocks people with disabilities or makes a racist comment about another country or acts like a sexist misogynistic pig. My own family members experienced the Las Vegas shooting at the Route 91 concert. Mass shootings at schools across America continue to plague our nation and our teenagers are leading the charge to call for policy reform and change. There are so many issues that involve diversity and inclusion. Actually, I suppose any issue that impacts human beings involves diversity and inclusion.
In December, I sent applications to two different companies from two very different industries: entertainment/tech/video games and research/science. Both posted positions that were brand new to their organizations. One had no diversity and inclusion strategy developed while the other company had a strong foundation but needed experienced leaders who could both execute and design new plans. The second company called me before New Year’s Eve to schedule an initial phone screen for January 2, 2018. I felt good knowing that I would start the year off with a deliberate launch of my search for new employment. Or, the planning the death of FUNemployment.
January 2nd arrived after a rather quiet New Year’s Eve celebration. My puppy and I took a walk at dusk in Hermosa Beach, before all of the parties began. We returned home to watch movies and snuggle on the couch. A quiet night was all I required to say “Adios” to 2017. On the morning of January 2nd, I had an initial conversation with one of the Directors of Talent Acquisition from the research/science company. She convinced me that the company’s Mission drove all their business decisions: Enable customers to make the world healthier, cleaner and safer. I definitely wanted to speak with others from the organization. From January 3rd on, the process progressed rapidly. The next interview was scheduled for less than a week later, via video conference, with the hiring manager. I hardly had time to reach out to my network to get the scoop on the company’s efforts and the hiring manager’s reputation. Our conversation started out with his puppy barking in his office, the pup was vying for attention from his human. I knew that we would definitely have puppy ownership to bond over while we discussed diversity and inclusion philosophies and strategies. After that conversation, an in-person interview with his boss was scheduled. The night before my interview, I posted a snippet of a slide that I reviewed as part of my research on the company on social media. My hula sister reached out to me the next morning on my drive to my interview and said, “Call me asap.” Turns out she recently took a job with this same company and could not help but gush about how great her experience has been. That conversation made me even more excited to continue through the interview process. This interview was with my boss’s boss who had attended UCLA at the same time as me. He also knew of a fantastic restaurant in Pacific Grove so we talked a bit about food and wine. We spoke for over an hour and I left feeling confident that the conversation went well. Soon thereafter had two more video interviews with other leaders from the organization. The last conversation I had struck the tone of “we would be lucky to have you on the team.” What a refreshing feeling compared to the last company I considered.
Of course, the director of talent acquisition from the entertainment/tech/video game company scheduled a call with me for the same day as my video interviews. I felt obligated to speak with him, even though I felt like the other company would be a great fit and a wonderful place to make a difference. At the end of our call, he said that he had quite a few more phone screens and would probably be back to me in a couple of weeks. I mentioned that I had spoken with another company and would no doubt be receiving an offer within that timeframe. He understood and asked that I keep him abreast of my situation. During that call, a voicemail from the first company popped up. I felt too tired to check it so I plopped on my bed for a nap.
The next day, I had an email wanting to set up a phone call with the hiring manager from the entertainment company. So my day started off with good news. I threw on some warm clothes and sneakers so I could take Kihon for a long walk. She’s trained to poop once in the morning and once in the evening, if we break that schedule Kihon will poop on her pad but it is always in our bedroom for some reason. She freely pees on the other pads when necessary but poop is always deposited on the pads left in our bedroom. Is she trying to tell us something?
On our walk, I took a few snaps of her playing and dialed up the first recruiter I spoke with in January. I apologized for not returning her call the day before and explained that I felt exhausted from the cold I kept trying to shake. She understood and simply said, “We just wanted to make you an offer of employment with us. Everyone felt impressed by your accomplishments and enjoyed speaking with you. Here is what we want to offer you…” Not only did the compensation match my expectations but they also offered to make my position remote. I would not have to commute to the closest office: 90 miles south of me. Even with carpool stickers and my Hydrogen fuel cell vehicle, that commute would suck eggs. The formal offer letter arrived via email, as did a request to meet with the hiring manager from the other company. What a delightful problem to have. I agreed to speak with the hiring manager, to alleviate any risk of doubt in my mind about accepting an offer from the first company.
It felt like I interviewed the hiring manager from the entertainment/tech/video game company about “why diversity now”? She stated her case and her vision and noted the support of her senior leaders and peers. Her big question for me, “What diversity issues should we be addressing?” I brought up #metoo as a huge diversity issue for women, people of color and people who are LGBT. I noted the inequities in diversity across both above the line and below the line production teams. In addition, I stated that people with disabilities have capabilities when it comes to working in tech that are often overlooked because of the hiring manager’s unconscious biases. And, I briefly mentioned that I had popped onto Reddit to read what the players had to say to each other while they played the companies games as well as what they were saying about each other and the company. None of my comments brought up specifics about the employee life cycle around recruiting, retaining, and developing talent. There are just so many opportunities for improvement by leveraging diversity and building a more inclusive work environment for companies who cross the industries of entertainment, technology and video games. That job would be a huge one. We said our polite goodbyes and I hung up the phone, excited that this woman wanted to create a new culture at her company but knowing it would have to be without me.
My decision all came down to what I felt in my piko (gut) and my personal connection to the company’s mission. My last job felt like an ideal situation, a CEO as champion, supported by executives and leaders who genuinely “get it.” And the employees backed up our work through volunteerism, charitable donations, taking on assignments outside of their job description, and pushing on us to keep charging ahead. This new company is poised to accelerate their progress exponentially. Their CEO supports the work on a personal and professional level. His commitment shines through authentically. I feel confident that our department will make a difference and push the company’s mission forward: “We enable our customers to make the world healthier, cleaner, and safer.” My next chapter will be focused on that mission. Not a bad gig at all.