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25 | Andréa Long, Twilio: Driving Diversity and Inclusion Through Events

  • December 11, 2019
  • 34:11

Andréa Long (Global Diversity Events Manager at Twilio) discusses Twilio's After Hours Events program, how employee resource groups can be a powerful catalyst for change, diversity and inclusion best practices, advice for underrepresented attendees, Ben & Jerry's, and the merits of weighted blankets.

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Top Takeaways

1

LAUNCHING A GLOBAL DIVERSITY EVENTS PROGRAM: To reach Twilio’s global diversity goals of 50% representation of women and 30% unrepresented US populations, Andréa and her team host Twilio events across the globe to facilitate conversations around inclusion, mental health, physical health, and financial literacy. To build a successful global events program, Andréa emphasizes the importance of thinking local. “Focus on the topic, make sure it’s local, relevant, and topical, and remember to select the right panelists.”

2

POWERING CHANGE WITH ERGS: Andréa stresses the value of Employee Resource Groups (ERG) to help integrate employees from all backgrounds within a company. Given the success she has seen with ERGs, she also helped co-found a cross-company ERG called Our Collective to support black and latinx communities in tech. “Being a part of an ERG gives a great opportunity to have a voice. For example, when there isn’t someone who looked like me on the team or identified in the way that I do on the marketing team, an ERG can provide input and make changes to some marketing materials that make them more inclusive.”

3

SOLUTIONS FOR INTERSECTIONALITY AT EVENTS: Despite the sometimes hectic environment of events, there are easy to implement ways to promote diversity and inclusion at events. From the event organizers' side, Andréa recommends pushing for diversity in both event speakers and attendees. For attendees looking to feel more included at events, Andréa stresses the importance of delivering thoughtful feedback. “We have to be open to feedback because we're all learning, and growing, and evolving, and the event space specifically is changing.”

ABOUT Andréa Long

Andréa's main focus at Twilio is the Twilio After Hours program, a series of events geared towards the external community that are meant to create inclusive environments for underrepresented groups in tech. Prior to Twilio, Andréa managed branding, marketing, and events on the recruiting team at Lyft, she also co-led Lyft's black employee resource group, and launched the company's first series of events celebrating Black History Month. Andréa also co-founded Our Collective, a community resource group for professionals across Silicon Valley.

Episode Transcript

ANDRÉA:

I really do think it's important for all of us to take the extra few moments or the extra time to be able to tell people why we're doing something and not just tell them that we're doing it.

BRANDON:

Hello and welcome to IN-PERSON brought to you by Bizzabo. In each episode of IN-PERSON we explore the world's most daring events and the people who make them happen. In case you and I haven't already met, I'm Brandon Rafalson. An increasing number of events are adopting a focus, rightly so, on diversity, from having specific panels to placing speaker quotas for underrepresented groups. But it's less often that we see whole entire event programs dedicated to engaging the diverse and inclusive audience. As a global diversity events manager at Twilio, Andrea Long oversees just that.

If you haven't heard, Twilio is a cloud communications platform company. They IPO'd back in 2016, and now have over 3,000 employees in countries around the globe. Andrea's main focus at Twilio is the Twilio After Hours program, a series of events geared towards the external community that are meant to create inclusive environments for underrepresented groups in tech. Prior to Twilio, Andrea managed branding, marketing, and events on the recruiting team at Lyft, she also co-led Lyft's black employee resource group, and launched the company's first series of events celebrating Black History Month. Building off of that, Andrea co-founded, Our Collective, a community resource group for professionals across the Silicon Valley.

During our discussion, we take a look at Twilio's After Hours Events program, both in the United States and in other countries. We also discuss how employee resource groups can be a powerful catalyst for change, in addition to diversity and inclusion best practices, Ben & Jerry's, and the merits of weighted blankets. Trust me, you're going to want to check this out. Okay, let's get to it.

I understand that Ben & Jerry's inspires you in ways that go far beyond their delicious ice cream flavors. Why is that?

ANDRÉA:

I love ice cream. It is my favorite food, in fact. It's a really competitive space, and I think Ben & Jerry's does a great job about utilizing their product to really make a statement about issues that our country faces. One example of that is on 420, which is a holiday you may be familiar with in which people partake in different cannabis products, and on 420 this year they put out a statement about the legalization of weed, and they shared some stats that were really interesting. For example, 81% of cannabis execs are white men, whereas, a black person is 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for possession of marijuana than a white person. They really use their platform to be able to discuss this really important topic and social justice area, as well as being able to create advertisements for their ice cream. In this statement, they also included obviously advertisement for Half-Baked, one of their awesome ice cream flavors-

BRANDON:

Yeah, one of their amazing flavors.

ANDRÉA:

Yep.

BRANDON:

But they also did this in this way that they really talked about this story that doesn't really get talked about on 420.

ANDRÉA:

Exactly. Yeah. I think it's really creative. That's just one example, but they do it quite frequently, and I think that there's a lot of brands that are putting out statements and having radical thoughts, but they don't often incorporate it into their products. So I like that Ben & Jerry's does that.

BRANDON:

Yeah. Yeah. Well as somebody who was a scooper there back in the high school days-

ANDRÉA:

Nice. Nice. My first job was at Coldstone-

BRANDON:

Oh wow!

ANDRÉA:

So I feel you on that.

BRANDON:

Ben & Jerry's has that fun sort of persona to it, that fun brand, but I've definitely seen different ice creams that they release that might be tied to a cause as well.

ANDRÉA:

Mm-hmm. Definitely.

BRANDON:

To set the stage for today's conversation, could you tell us a little bit more about Twilio and how your responsibilities there align with the current initiatives within the company?

ANDRÉA:

Yes. I am at Twilio as the Global Diversity Events Manager. I sit on the culture and inclusion team. Our team is really dedicated to hitting our 2023 diversity goals, which includes having our Twilions, which we call employees, having our Twilions be represented at 50% women globally and 30% underrepresented populations in the U.S. My work, I manage our Twilio After Hours Event program where we go to different office locations in different cities across the world, and we host events for the community. We invite folks into our office spaces, or sometimes offsite, and we have conversations about inclusion, whether that's mental health, or physical wellbeing, or financial literacy. We want to talk about what inclusion could look like and how we can provide information to audiences and underrepresented groups in tech that don't necessarily always get this information.

BRANDON:

Great. So you are helping produce these events at around diversity that are closely aligned with the company's diversity goals, and that's not only here in the U.S., but across the globe.

ANDRÉA:

Yeah, we actually have offices in 14 countries, so we like to be as inclusive and globally minded as possible.

BRANDON:

And I know shortly before we're doing this interview now you were abroad over in Madrid and London.

ANDRÉA:

Yep. Hosting two After Hours there. In London, we talked about mental and physical wellbeing. We had a really well rounded group of panelists that talked about everything from how sleep affects your wellbeing, to nutrition, to making sure that you are bringing your full self to work every day. And in Madrid, we talked about what inclusion could look like and how more inclusive and diverse teams create more inclusive products. When you are localizing a product, for example, have you lived in that country, are you working with someone who has, are you making sure you're using the correct terminology, and you know those nuances to be able to speak to that audience. Really great events.

BRANDON:

Could you tell us a little bit more how that team is structured?

ANDRÉA:

My team consists of employer branding, employee experience, ERG management, as well as a diversity and inclusion business partner. I'm the only person that focuses on events, but it's a really interesting team because we have all of these different focus areas, but we all sort of ladder up into this bigger mission statement of wanting to hit our 2023 diversity goals. It's really interesting because as the only event professional, I don't necessarily have someone on my team who I'm bouncing ideas off of or asking questions to, so I really do rely a lot on my network for that, a lot of LinkedIn groups that I really love, and going to different in-person events to meet people to share experiences.

BRANDON:

Any particular LinkedIn groups you'd like to shout out?

ANDRÉA:

Well, I just started one actually. It only has a few members so far, but if you're out there. I actually spoke recently at Own It, the event that happened in San Francisco. And I met a few folks who were talking about localization of events, and we all were discussing our various experiences and challenges with knowing how to localize an event when you don't always have a team who is readily available to help you who lives in that market. And so definitely just started a group to be able to discuss and share best practices and ask questions about how to localize events.

BRANDON:

And I know we're going to talk a little bit more on some of the different ways that Twilio is localizing these different events. I understand that your role right now isn't necessarily on the marketing side. It actually kind of rolls up more into the people operations HR side.

ANDRÉA:

Correct. I sit on the culture and inclusion team, which is under the people organization, AKA HR.

BRANDON:

Very cool. Let's talk about your background. I know that before you even started at Twilio, you managed branding, marketing and events on the recruiting team at Lyft, you developed an executed marketing programs at Rakuten, and you managed events for Holt International Business School. Which I think is really cool to see that you have this background in education, and I wonder if there's any sort of overlap into the work that you're doing today. Maybe, maybe not? We'll find out. Could you briefly walk us through each of these stages of your career and how they led you to where you are today?

ANDRÉA:

Like you said, my background's a little bit diverse. I've worked in education, as well as an eCommerce marketing company, as well as a transportation company, and now I'm at Twilio, which is a cloud communications company. Really interesting to see how marketing and events work in each of these different areas.

I started off at Holt where I was managing all of the student and faculty facing events, so anything from orientation for the students, and graduation, and we threw a big gala at San Francisco City Hall at the end of the year, to faculty meetings, and dinners, and things like that. I really got a core foundation and really learned how to execute for a diverse group of folks because Holt is an international business school. At the San Francisco campus when I was there, we had students from over 90 different countries, and so really being able to take into consideration their different backgrounds, how they learn, where they came from, how it affects who they are today. That was really, really fun, and I think that was my first experience really being truly diversity and inclusion minded because I was around so many people from so many different backgrounds.

BRANDON:

With Holt, what are some other ways that this experience creating these cross cultural events for a very international audience, form the way that you produce diversity and inclusion events?

ANDRÉA:

Being at Holt, where we were putting on monthly educational events about the different cultures of the students that we had, that allowed me to look at inclusion from a place of education. And so with the events that I do now, it's less of telling folks how it is and how it should be, but more taking the approach that we should be educating and informing people, and not afraid to ask questions. Whether it's the attendees of our event or my team members and different Twilions in other offices, I really do think it's important for all of us to take the extra few moments or the extra time to be able to tell people why we're doing something, and not just tell them that we're doing it. As event professionals, I think that we can take the time to explain why, and that would allow everyone to feel more comfortable and more understanding, and also create more buy-in for the events that we're hosting.

When I went to Rakuten, it was agency style, so I worked with different clients, and really dove deeper into the marketing side of things, learning about affiliate marketing and how to reach a specific audience, the words that you use, the brand that's represented, the images that are selected, and really got a core foundation in marketing, which I then used when I went into event marketing at Lyft.

I was at Lyft for almost three years and really got to use all of my experiences and also learn from all of the amazing folks that are there. That was a really great opportunity. I worked on the marketing team and the recruiting team, so I got some different perspectives, and got to look at event marketing in different ways, and really looking at events from different audience perspectives. If we're doing an event trying to acquire customers, whether that's a rider or a driver, how are we talking to them, versus if we're doing an event that's acquiring employees and candidates, how are we talking to them a little bit differently? Really great experience there, which led me to Twilio.

BRANDON:

Looking back at everything, your sort of first step into diversity and inclusion in a professional capacity, would you attribute that to a Holt? Were there things before then that got you on that way?

ANDRÉA:

Yeah, I definitely would attribute a lot of my education in the diversity inclusion space to Holt. Simply because of the demographics of our faculty and our students at the time, we had to be inclusive, and maybe didn't have that name for it. We maybe weren't calling it diversity and inclusion, but we just had to be so considerate of different dietary needs, and different ways that people study and learn, and how everyone absorbs information basically, and so I think that that was my first experience with diversity and inclusion. But my first professional experience with it was when I was at Lyft. When I was working on the recruiting team, I also worked very closely with the head of DNI there, and so was able to dive really deep, worked on our diversity data in 2018, and also worked with all of our employee resource groups.

BRANDON:

I know you did a lot of stuff at Lyft, some it was closely aligned with what the company was doing, these specific events and all that, diving into this data, but I know you also spent some time helping the employee resource group over there. I never actually heard of an employee resource group before, maybe some of our listeners haven't either. Could you briefly describe what an employee resources group is and how you got involved with it?

ANDRÉA:

An employee resource group, or an ERG for short, if you hear me say that, is basically a group of employees who have a shared experience or a shared identity, plus allies. Even if you don't have that shared identity or that experience, allies are welcome to join the group as well, especially if they see issues that that community is facing, and they want to help out. Employee resource groups are both a place where this particular community can feel comfortable, can feel safe, can feel supported, but also they do a lot of work in order to help the business. Whether that is diversifying their marketing materials or hosting events that lead to recruiting new candidates. There is a business case as well as sort of an employee experience.

I led the group for three years, so I was sort of the equivalent of a president, if you will. I joined the ERG about four months after I started at Lyft. I wasn't quite sure where I fit in. I was looking for community. I went to a meeting, and they were chartering, so they were defining their mission, their goals, and what they would be doing for the year, and I volunteered for a leadership position, and continued to escalate within the leadership structure, and really became a leader across all of our ERGs. So helped define what leadership structure looked like, what success looked like, hosting the first Black History Month series of events. It was really great in 2017. So a lot of varied experiences there.

BRANDON:

Would you say that employee resource groups are very common these days, or are they still sort of growing? Do we see more of them in the Bay area or are they all across the country?

ANDRÉA:

Employee resource groups are all across the country as well as internationally, but I definitely think there is prevalence within tech companies, within medium to larger tech companies. If you're under a couple hundred employees, there's maybe not enough people there to support having a group. If there's only one or two people that identify in a certain way, maybe that's not enough to be able to do this work outside of their 9:00-5:00. And so I definitely think that it is more prevalent in some of the larger companies.

BRANDON:

Could you share with us how you incorporated this work that you were doing either with the ERG or when you're partnering with the marketing team, into some of the external-facing initiatives of the company?

ANDRÉA:

Being a part of the ERG gave us a really great opportunity to have a voice when maybe if there wasn't someone who looked like me on the team or identified in the way that I do on the marketing team, for example, we were able to provide input, and make changes to some of the marketing materials to make them more inclusive. We know in the climate of today, there's a lot of companies who have been making mistakes in some of their marketing materials, and so feeling very passionate about wanting to work at a company that isn't doing that, and being able to be part of the solution was really great.

Some things, for example, working with the marketing team on some of the commercials that went out. We were able to create a focus group, which contained members of each of our ERGs to be able to preview some of the commercials, or print ads, or out-of-home ads to say, "Hey, maybe I would switch this one thing. This may not be as inclusive," or "Maybe I would alter the color or the wording," or things like that, to make sure that we were being as culturally sensitive as possible.

BRANDON:

When we're talking about ERGs or otherwise within companies like this, what's maybe one piece of advice you'd give to somebody who is looking to be involved with the group or maybe start one, and their company hasn't yet created that sort of space?

ANDRÉA:

My advice to that person would be just do it. I think that everyone is very hesitant to start something new or to lead something if they don't have all of the pieces into place. But frankly I think everyone is still learning as they go, and so especially in the ERG space, there's not sort of one list of playbooks, or best practices. Everyone is still evolving and changing as we go along, so if you're interested in starting one or joining one, just jump in, and you don't have to have all the answers, but definitely, the effort is what matters.

BRANDON:

Outside of Lyft, I know that you also co-founded Our Collective, which was a cross-company ERG. It wasn't just with inside one organization. You were working with people who are associated with Airbnb, and Disney, and Google, and eBay. Could you share with us a little bit more about Our Collective, and how it was sort of uniting the black and LatinX voices in the Silicon Valley?

ANDRÉA:

Our Collective is an amazing organization that we are really dedicated to not having to reinvent the wheel. We want to support our black and Latinx ERGs within Silicon Valley by providing best practices, providing community, and an opportunity to share resources, and also to collaborate cross-functionally. We found that a lot of these ERGs we're doing things in silos, and during Black History Month for example, I would go to one to two events per night, every night, because every black ERG was doing something. And so really wanting to take a more strategic approach to say we all are getting budget and buy-in from our companies, how can we pool these resources together to have a more impactful event and to be able to give back to our communities more.

When we looked at the communities to focus on the black and Latinx communities within Silicon Valley, and tech companies specifically, really face a lot of the same challenges. Our percentages of employees in companies are fairly similar, the percentage of execs that are black and Latinx are fairly similar, and we found that we also have a lot of intersectionality, so a lot of folks identify in both groups. It was sort of a natural fit. And we partnered with the Kapor Center, which is based in Oakland, California, to really bring this to life and make Our Collective happen. I think it's really important for us to remember that even though we have these sort of siloed ERGs, we have a black ERG, a Latinx ERG, et cetera, we really do face some of the same challenges, and we could do so much better and so much more if we work together.

BRANDON:

Are there any events that are coming up that Our Collective will be putting on?

ANDRÉA:

Yeah, so in 2016 a group of companies got together and organized walking together in the MLK day march, which was really great. That is part of what sparked the founding of Our Collective, and we've been walking in it as a group since 2017. That's coming up in January. And this year we're really excited to not just walk in the march, but to provide volunteer opportunities for folks who want to get more involved.

BRANDON:

Let's hop back to Twilio. How would you describe the Twilio After Hours program? I think we kind of talked about it earlier, but to recap it, and how did it first start?

ANDRÉA:

Twilio After Hours started by a group of employee resource group leaders. They really wanted to host an event for the community so that Twilions and folks in the greater Silicon Valley community could come together and have time to network, and share resources, and really talk about what it's like to be black in tech. There was such great success from that event that they continued to do many more the following year. Then the year after that they decided that instead of having this be volunteer-based because it was having such great traction and seeing such great engagement that they should bring someone on full time. That's where I come in. I'm actually the first person to be in this role as a full-time head count, as before it was all folks that were giving up hours out of their day in addition to their 9:00-5:00.

For us, it's really important that Twilio After Hours is going into the community, and we are talking about topics that may be other companies might be afraid to. We want to make sure that we aren't leaving anything on the table, we're really having honest dialogue. And we're making people feel as comfortable as possible, especially because our target audience is groups that are underrepresented in technology.

BRANDON:

When you talk about these discussions that other companies might not be having, what are they? What is the content that one could expect when going to an After Hours event?

ANDRÉA:

In Silicon Valley we have a lot of conversations about diversity and inclusion, and they get sort of repetitive after a while. One thing that we think isn't tackled a whole lot is the diversity of socioeconomic status, and so recognizing that maybe some folks are working in tech, and it's their first job where they're making six figures, or they're the first person in their family who have equity in a company, and what does that mean? How are they investing? How are they maximizing the dollars that they're making now to be able to make even more later? And so being able to provide education around financial literacy was a really important subject for us to tackle. We did that in Oakland in July, and it was an amazing event. It was all Latinx and black financial educators, and folks who work in tech that were able to provide insights and resources into how best to manage your money.

When we went to Singapore the following month in August, we actually talked about mental health and wellness, specifically addressing stress and burnout in work. If you know anything about Asian business culture, very conservative culture, you don't necessarily admit if you're struggling. And so to have this topic and have this conversation was really important and really needed, and we got a lot of really great feedback. At the end of the day, I love my job because I know that I'm affecting positive change in folks, and really challenging maybe some of the social norms that are out there.

BRANDON:

And we talked about how in Madrid, one of the topics there was localizing a product and making sure you know about the community, and in London was that mental health as well?

ANDRÉA:

Yeah, mental and physical health. This one was really cool because we had a sleep expert who was able to sort of bring in how your mind operates if you don't get enough sleep, and talked about how weighted blankets affect your sleep, and-

BRANDON:

Wait, spoiler alert, is it in a good way?

ANDRÉA:

Oh absolutely. I have a weighted blanket. I don't know about you-

BRANDON:

No.

ANDRÉA:

But I am a huge believer. They're amazing.

BRANDON:

Is this like a duvet? What-

ANDRÉA:

Yeah, it's basically a duvet that has an insert that has these little beads in it, that you get different pounds based on how much you weigh. It's like 10% of your body weight or something, and it makes you feel comfortable. They say it makes you feel the same sort of endorphins and feelings as if you're getting a hug because it's that same sort of comforting feeling. I travel a lot, so every time I go to sleep in a hotel, all I can think about is my weighted blanket at home.

BRANDON:

Cool. So you were talking about sleep and other topics that can affect day-to-day at work, but also beyond. Looking at maybe either previous events or upcoming events, what are some other topics that you're considering?

ANDRÉA:

There is such a variety of things that we could talk about, and for us it's really important that we're talking about something that directly impacts the people who live in that community. We actually are going into 2020 planning right now, so not quite sure which locations we're going to be in, but it's really exciting because every city that we go to, we have a local group of Twilions that volunteer their time to be able to help us localize these events. So selecting topics that are specific to their communities, and using the right type of time, are they in military time or AM/PM, and adding that extra you that the British do in words, and things like that. Definitely still working on finalizing topics, but I think more importantly, we're really excited that we're able to give the audience a very localized, specific conversation.

BRANDON:

I think that's really cool how you're working with local counterparts in order to make sure that content is relevant and also that the time is right.

ANDRÉA:

Definitely. Yeah. I mean, we couldn't do it without our local teams, right, because even though we have a majority of our employees in the U.S., we are a global company, our product is global, our workforce is global, and so without the local folks that are on the ground in our other offices, it wouldn't be the same event.

BRANDON:

Outside of After Hours, what are some other Twilio events that you may be involved with?

ANDRÉA:

We're kicking off actually an Excellence in Leadership series that is going to be for people managers at Twilio. Talking about what does it look like to build an inclusive team, how are you recruiting, how are you making your team feel welcome and involved and like they belong at Twilio. We're just kicking that off next week actually. So brand new event series coming at ya. We're really excited because it's going to be sort of educational for folks. Managers are going to be able to ask questions and really learn from each other. Instead of always having a facilitator come in, we thought it might be nice to do an education series through storytelling.

BRANDON:

In the case of this event, is it something that's in the middle of the workday? Is it after hours?

ANDRÉA:

It's a really interesting thing because we have a global workforce, the middle of the day is relative. It's really hard, and the challenge that Twilio, and many global companies have as a whole is when to schedule meetings. For this particular event we are looking at different times that work for different offices, and then trying to see if we can offer it twice so that everyone can be there live, or if we offer it once and then have the video recording available for the other offices that are maybe asleep at that time. It's a tricky question to answer because the middle of the day is who knows when that is.

BRANDON:

It's very cool. I mean even if someone can't physically be there, they'll be able to tune in.

ANDRÉA:

Absolutely. Yeah. We record every meeting basically that we have at Twilio so that employees can join no matter what time zone they're in.

BRANDON:

Here's a piece of advice, number two, we talked about ERGs a little bit, but when we look at diversity events programs like, After Hours, or if we're looking at just general internal events, any advice you'd give to someone who is looking to start a program like this, or launch their first event like Twilio after hours?

ANDRÉA:

Yes. I think that my advice to someone who wants to launch an event or start a new event series would be do some research into what topic you want to talk about and select panelists that are very specific to that topic. The differentiator I think with a lot of our events is the people who are speaking. In our feedback surveys, the most comments we get are about the panelists, and they really make or break the event. If I was going to launch a new event, I would definitely focus on the topic, making sure it was local, and relevant, and topical, as well as selecting the right panelists.

BRANDON:

Let's talk about larger best practices around diversity and inclusion. When it comes to making events inclusive, what are some of the smaller things that you think might be overlooked?

ANDRÉA:

A lot of things are overlooked oftentimes, unfortunately, because as event professionals we get sort of into this pattern, okay, book a venue, book a caterer, send out the invitations, recap survey, done. We don't necessarily take the time all the time, or we don't maybe have the time or resources to dive into the nitty-gritty. But some things specifically that I think would be helpful would be being able to have just a standard list of inclusive offerings, if you will, to be able to incorporate into every event.

BRANDON:

I mean it sounds like there are so many things to think about at any given time, and I've often heard of different professionals using like a checklist of sorts, but it's a checklist that's like the venue, and it's a lot of the logistics, it's absolutely essential, but it seems like the greater events community could almost benefit from another checklist.

ANDRÉA:

Definitely. Yeah. I think if we had sort of an inclusion checklist that we added to our necessities checklist, that would be amazing if someone came out with that. Maybe, us. I don't know. But things like making sure that every community and every person, no matter how they identify, is welcome in the room. If you are not offering gender-neutral bathrooms, saying that in an email to attendees beforehand so they know what to expect, or having a code for one of these cool childcare apps to be able to offer childcare to your attendees to encourage them to come, and if that's a barrier, being able to provide a solution. There's little things that we all can do to make sure that everyone feels comfortable and welcome at our events.

BRANDON:

We talked about intersectionality a little bit earlier when we were talking about some of the ERGs in the Bay area, but when it comes to just events as a whole, how do you think the events community can be a little bit more mindful of intersectionality?

ANDRÉA:

Right now, the topic around diversity and events is often around gender diversity. There's a lot of companies and a lot of different conferences and events that are very proud, and vocalizing, and marketing the fact that they have 50% women speakers, which is amazing, and I don't want to take away from that. But we also have to think about women who are people with disabilities as well, or women who are of different minority groups, or women who are veterans. How are we making sure that we're looking at people not just in sort of this one-minded binary way, and also considering how we can diversify not just our speakers but our attendees. How are we outreaching to different audiences to make sure that if our speakers are a diverse set of people, also our attendees are. I think there's a lot of opportunities in this area, specifically in events.

BRANDON:

Flipping to the attendee side, what is a piece of advice you'd give to someone attending an event where they might be underrepresented?

ANDRÉA:

You never really know if you're underrepresented until you get there, most times, but I will say once you're there, don't be afraid to provide feedback. As we mentioned earlier, event organizers sort of get bogged down with the greater details, and don't have time for maybe some of the smaller ones. Maybe they didn't intentionally do something that made someone feel unwelcome, but they always want to receive the feedback. If you are underrepresented and you feel as though they could have done something to make you feel more included or to allow you to feel more included in the space, I would say don't hesitate to provide feedback. Fill out the feedback surveys, and even ask for what you need when you're there.

For example, I spoke at an event in Ireland, and I was one of the only, if not the only, person of color who was speaking on the main stage. When the AV person came to give me the microphone, the over the ear microphone, event professionals will know they come in different colors, there's the black one, but there's also nude mic covers. The nude mic cover that they gave me was more of a shade of tan, let's say, and I am more of a shade of chocolate, if you will. And so I asked for a different color mic, and they sort of scrambled, and looked panicked, and didn't necessarily have one to give me, so we used a different type of mic instead. But that was a moment where I didn't feel included, I felt like I didn't belong in this space, but I also asked for what I needed, and so I think that would be my other point of recommendation.

BRANDON:

And I think that's also very applicable to our listeners here who are organizing events.

ANDRÉA:

Absolutely. Yeah. We have to be open to feedback because as we've said throughout this, we're all learning, and growing, and evolving, and the event space specifically is changing, and so wanting to make sure that we're creating a space where our attendees are comfortable giving us feedback, and that we're not being defensive when we receive it.

BRANDON:

Who's somebody look up to in events, marketing, or business in general?

ANDRÉA:

I think that Salesforce is doing some great work right now. They obviously have a lot of resources, so that allows them to do maybe things that other companies are not able to. But they actually have an event that they hosted for the second time this year called Representation Matters. And it was specifically for folks who work in tech, and people in the community who identify as black, LatinX, and Native. Oftentimes our Native brothers and sisters or indigenous people get forgotten about in these conversations. I think it's really amazing that they brought the Native community into that conversation, and also allowed all of us to interact together, because like we said, there's so much overlap, so much intersectionality, and identities, and experiences, and so yeah, I would say Salesforce.

BRANDON:

The final advice question for today, if you could go back in time and give yourself a piece of advice earlier in your career, what would that piece of advice be and why?

ANDRÉA:

My piece of advice would be network better. I think that your network is really everything, especially in technology, especially in Silicon Valley. It's not necessarily what you do, it's who you know, and a lot of the competitive advantage comes to people who have greater networks. When I was at Holt for example, I had this amazing network of people who were from countries around the world and faculty members who taught at all of these amazing places, and I didn't necessarily make the best connections where I would feel comfortable reaching out to them now. Since then, every job I've gotten has been through my network. And so I do think it's really, really important to make sure that you're building relationships with people that are actually authentic, not just to use them for a job later, but you're making connections, and you're really learning about those people, and the challenges that they face to have some shared experiences.

BRANDON:

That is our time today. How can our listeners keep up with Twilio and all the amazing work that you're doing?

ANDRÉA:

You can follow Twilio on all major social media channels, and #TwilioAfterHours for our event series. If you want to reach out to me specifically, LinkedIn is the best way to do that.

BRANDON:

Fantastic. Thank you, Andrea.

ANDRÉA:

Thank you.

BRANDON:

All right. Another thank you to Andrea for joining us and thank you for listening. It can be easy to admit our shortcomings when say we don't provide enough food at an event, or when the topic of a session is not so relevant to an audience member, but the idea that an event can make someone feel excluded can be a hard pill to swallow. In fact, it sucks. Event planners have a deep appreciation for just how powerful it could be to bring people together, so the idea that someone would feel like they're missing out on that experience because of event planning decisions can be a difficult feeling to wrestle with.

Following on Andrea's advice, having clear infrastructure in place for attendees, speakers, and sponsors to share feedback is one crucial step in the right direction. Generally being open and receptive to feedback is another. But what really captures my imagination is a more process-based approach to making sure that everyone feels welcome. A checklist is admittedly in some ways, well, limiting, and can't be an end-all-be-all, it would need to evolve over time. But it seems like having everything written down on a piece of paper or in a Google doc can be a simple way to keep the diverse constituents of an event in mind. What do you think? Bad idea. Good idea. Have you already created one? If so, I would love to learn more. If you have any feedback or if you'd like to send out our way, you can reach us at In-Person@bizzabo.com, we always look forward to hearing what you have to say. You can also find full transcripts of the show along with key takeaways at In-Personpodcast.com. Until next time, I'm Brandon Rafalson, and this has been In-Person.