At Women 2.0 Founder Labs in 2011, Everett pitched an idea to make calendars more useful for executive assistants. That app, called Tetherpad, was the original DNA of Truss. With cofounders Mark & Jen, they grew the company with the same intent -- how to make technology responsive to our time, attention and energy. Everett's expertise is in customer development, a technique that combines customer behavior with ethnography to inform product and business development.
Everett was head of Customer Acquisition and Community for Linden Lab. He is a Webby Award Honoree as the product lead for Bottlenotes Mobile, a social wine app. He has an MBA and M.Ed in design & technology from Stanford, and BSEE in Biomedical and Electrical Engineering from Duke. He was a full-tuition AB Duke Scholar and won the NCAA National Championship in soccer, the first in any sport for Duke. He can be found making up sous-vide recipes with his favorite sous chef, his daughter.Follow Follow
Welcome back to the RecruitingDaily Podcast! Today, we welcome Everett Harper to speak with William Tincup about improving ethnic and gender diversity in tech.
Everett is CEO and co-founder of Truss, a company built with the intention to make technology responsive to our needs. Before Truss, he worked with Linden Lab as head of customer acquisition and community. He holds an MBA and M.Ed in design & technology (Standford), as well as a BSEE in Biomedical and Electrical Engineering (Duke).
Truss built its foundation by helping to save Healthcare.gov, and since has worked with massive health data systems, major transportation and logistics systems and several companies with data science specializations. The company works “side by side with your team to design, build, and scale modern software that exceeds standards for speed and security.”
Truss are specialists in engineering methods like iterative (“agile”) development and DevOps practices while coaching companies to embed sustainable approaches that make reliable, predictable production a habit.
The big questions we answer today: How can we look at COVID layoffs through the lens of diversity? What new questions are candidates and recruiters asking during the pandemic? Which events have created the most initiative force for diversity in tech? How do you push your organization to get everyone on the same page with D&I; how did Everett achieve this at Truss, specifically?
There’s always more where this came from, but you have to listen to learn. Make sure to drop your thoughts in the comments.
Listening Time: 34 minutes
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This is RecruitingDaily’s Recruiting Live podcast, where we look at the strategies behind the world’s best talent acquisition teams. We talk recruiting, sourcing, and talent acquisition. Each week, we take one over complicated topic and break it down so that your three-year-old can understand it. Make sense? Are you ready to take your game to the next level? You’re at the right spot. You’re now entering the mind of a hustler. Here’s your host, William Tincup.
Ladies and gentlemen, this is William Tincup, and you’re listening to the RecruitingDaily podcast. Today, we have Everett on from Truss, and we’re going to be talking about improving ethnic and gender diversity in tech. This is going to be fantastic. Everett, the name Everett has a special place in my heart because it was my father’s middle name, and you don’t meet a lot of Everetts out there. So, this is going to be a fun podcast, and I can’t wait to get into it. Everett, would you do us a favor and introduce both yourself and Truss?
Hi, and thanks for having me on. Thanks to the listeners for joining. Our names, I’ve only met five in my life until the last 10 years, when all of a sudden, I’m noticing that kids and nephews are being named Everett. So, I think it’s sort of a generational thing might be returning.
I love it. Good.
It’s a cool name.
Thanks. The best part is it’s hard to shorten. No nickname actually works.
It didn’t work. It didn’t work. One social studies teacher was able to call me Evy, but that’s a longer story. Anyway, thanks for having me on. I am the CEO of a company called Truss, and we are a software development company, in particular, human centered software development company that helps our clients solve really complex problems by developing software for them that enables them to transform and get a really interesting and impactful outcome. We often have a focus on having social impact. So, for example, one of the things that put our name on the map, if you will, was being involved with healthcare.gov, helping to fix it back in 2013. I’m excited to tell a journey of our company, because we’ve done some very specific things in regards to DE&I, and being a black CEO, certainly it has a very important piece for me.
Right. Right. Which is fantastic, because you’ve got both the lens of a technologist running a technology company, African-American gentleman, and explicitly, you care about D&I. We were talking about it pre show, but thankfully we’re now at a point where, again, we’ll judge this on actions over time, but it seems like people actually care more now. I mean, I see you see people getting hired, you see budgets, you see software getting bought, programs getting rolled out. Some of that might be scarcity and talent. Some of that might be the gen Z, is asking these types of questions, which is fascinating in and of itself. Let’s start with what you’re seeing. You’ve got to both recruit talent and obviously retain talent. What do you see on the recruiting side, when you’re looking to diversify and bring in obviously people from diverse backgrounds?
Yeah. A little bit of background before I say what’s happening now, because I think it’s relevant to someone if you are trying to figure this out as a listener, you’re trying to understand this and trying to take action, starting out from understanding why you’re doing it, what you’re doing, and how it relates to your business for me is the most critical thing. What I saw last year in the pandemic is people were reacting to George Floyd, and many people learning for the first time a whole set of history they had no access to. They asked me a lot of questions.
The question that surprised them was, “Well, why are you doing it?”
The first is it’s the right thing to do. Completely agree.
But it has to be part of what you’re trying to do as a business. The reason I say that is if it’s not, the next time there’s a budget shortfall, there’s a change in leadership, there’s some shift, those side projects that are nice to do but aren’t core are the first ones to get hacked. So, if it’s really about trying to make a difference, then it has to be central in your business, and one has to figure out what that looks like.
I love that. I love that you started there though, the what, why, and then the alignment, and really start with alignment first, because I’m not sure people do that. Again, we can get caught up in the it’s the right thing to do. Well, there’s a whole lot of things that are the right things to do.
Yeah. You should recycle more. Okay. Yeah. It’s the right thing to do, technically. But I love that you brought it back to if… it’s not if, it’s when things get lean, are these nice to have projects?
Are they the things that get cut? I remember in December, maybe it was January that the numbers came out. There was a bunch of layoffs, and a lot of them were women.
Of course, these are some of the same companies that would have touted how great of a workplace they were for women. How did they not look through the lens when they had to do… well, first of all, if you have to do a layoff, you have to layoff.
Yeah. Right, right.
That’s life. But how do you not look through the lens of D&I to then make those appropriate layoffs?
Yeah. I think building systems starts to become really… well, not starts to become, is really important. So, once deciding, “Hey, we’re going to do this. Hey, we understand that it’s part of the business model or what we’re trying to do as a company,” how do you build systems to make sure that it becomes part of the normal operations of the company? Not just in recruiting and not just retention, but all the other things, including, unfortunately, layoffs.
To me, one of the aspects of that is are you measuring? One of the things that we certainly did really early on and didn’t do well enough, and we rebuilt it, was building systems to measure how well we’re doing. So, in your case, what you just were mentioning, looking through layoffs with D&I in mind, if there’s no measurement system to know who’s where, what levels, what tenure, and then all of a sudden, you have one group that is disproportionately affected by a layoff, that’s something that could have been prevented if there was a system of actually measuring, and by the way, also transparent.
Right. Everybody’s looking at the same dashboard. There’s visibility, insight, transparency. Again, I love, because you started there. It’s alignment. This isn’t just a program. I learned this, actually, when I was programming a recent training event, talked to a lot of D&I folks, and what they were telling me, which I found fascinating, is that D&I, it’s now everyone’s responsibility. It used to be pigeonholed over into this little area under HR, whatever, and now it’s everybody’s responsibility, which I think gives it a fighting chance of actually happening. Right?
It’s pigeonholed over by Becky who owns D&I. That’s great, but having the COO, CFO, everyone else also looking at the same dashboard, I think, again, it gets back to that alignment thing.
That if you can get alignment and get everybody on the same page, you can then hire, promote, all of those things based on looking at the same data.
That’s right. That’s right. I’d also say that… well, it’s everybody’s responsibility, or everybody’s job, if you will. I feel pretty strongly that ultimately the C-suite, ideally the CEO, is accountable for those results.
100%. Couldn’t have said that better. In fact, when I said it’s become everyone’s responsibility, I immediately thought, well, if it’s everybody’s responsibility, it’s no one’s.
It’s no one’s. That’s right. That’s right. That’s right. That’s right.
Right when it came out of my mouth, I’m like, “You know what? Someone’s ultimately going to be responsible.”
That person that runs D&I, the CHRO, the CEO, there’s a conduit, and the buck stops ultimately with the CEO before you get to the board. You and I talked pre-show about the SCC now requiring publicly traded firms to disclose D&I statistics, and now CEOs going into an earnings call.
Yeah. we have one more thing to deal with.
Yeah. That’s a great thing. I mean, personally, I see it as a massive opportunity for HR, for recruiting, for D&I folks, for people that have just cared about moving this ball forward. Again, I think it’s a massive opportunity, because the CEO can’t lie. They lie, stock, real money, it happens. I love that. First of all, this isn’t something you just started or started to care about. When you started your journey of trying to diversify and look at inclusion in a different way, obviously you looked at building systems, but just how did you get everybody else on the same page?
That’s a good question. I think I would say a couple things. The first thing is my co-founders are one white man, who’s a technical lead, and a white woman who’s a technical lead. The core of this team doesn’t look like the typical Silicon Valley tech startup, and the bad of that, back in 2011, in a lot of ways, people didn’t take us very seriously.
Despite having incredible creds, I will say that, particularly for my co-founders. That’s okay. We knew we were going to care about it. What we first did as part of a larger structure was develop six values, six core values, and then principles underneath. The importance of that is we wrote it down, and made it clear, and put it on our website. One of those is embrace diversity of people, voices, and ideas. What that did to get people to answer your question about how do we get people on board, one of the things I really believe and have seen work really well is putting your values out there for everybody to see attracts the right people and repels the wrong ones.
Wrong doesn’t mean bad person. It means not good for this particular job. By putting that value out there right at the beginning and then repeating it made it really clear. “Ah, they care, it’s important. Let me test whether they actually take it seriously. Oh, they do. Okay. Sign me up.” That was one of the things that started to bring people along.
When it comes to values and principles, some of those can be written in stone and they’re just there forever. Right?
Sometimes you’ve seen firms that go back to those types of things maybe every two years or three years, just to make sure things haven’t changed or the business hasn’t shifted, et cetera. The values that y’all did back then, values and principles that y’all created then, are they still as important as they were? Not just important, are they still the exact same thing that you have today?
Yes. They are the same as we had today, sorry, we had when we started. There were a couple of things about that that are important, that are relevant, hopefully, for the listeners. That is, we wrote all our values as verbs, meaning build alliance, pay attention, show up, step up, pursue mastery, act without fear, be adaptable. Verbs are acts of creation.
Which means that their guidance for being able to act into situations that you, one, might not understand or expect, or are surprised by.
So, the evolution happens not at the level of, are these things not relevant anymore. The evolution happens in how they get expressed.
That changes as people come in, as context changes, et cetera. So, they’ve been pretty resilient.
Right. Well, you purposely created them to be resilient.
Yeah. I didn’t realize that that was going to be the impact. I just knew it needed to be action.
All my family used to work for IBM, so I’m not ragging on them so much, and we called the project, the anti-IBM poster project. The reason is that those projects, those posters on the wall that had sunsets-
Oh, yeah. Successories
… and waves crashing and all that kind of stuff, with some single word that was totally out of context, those were objects of derision.
I didn’t want to do that.
So, it’s like, “Okay, how can we do a little better?” Well, our contribution is make them verbs, make them clear, and make them able to evolve.
I love that. Well, first of all, I love all of that, because the successories stuff, I went through the same issue with that. There was a company down in Waco that created, I think it was despair.com. They created the anti successories
Yes, I remember that. Oh my God, those are so good.
Those are so awesome. But what I love that you hit on employer branding in a bit where basically, you put your values, you put your principles forward in a very transparent way so that when candidates, they then go to your careers page or they find a job description on Indeed, et cetera, they see what you’re all about. Again, that’s both to attract and repel, which is great for employees. It’s transparent. Again, you’re held accountable by your employees. I love, again, values, a lot of companies say they have values, but like you said, with IBM or the IBM example, they’re just words.
Yeah. Can I share something that I think hits on that point? I will give credit to a couple people within Truss for doing this, particularly one of our employees named Jeremy. We have an all hands every Friday. It’s run by the employees, the practitioners, we call them. Early on, probably about when we were maybe 20 people, we’re about 125 now, we would basically go over what’s going on, et cetera, et cetera. He suggested, “Hey, why don’t we do something like this? Why don’t we do a shout out for someone who’s done something well that week in the context of how that was a way that expressed one of these values?”
It completely caught on. Best part, we didn’t come up with it. It was his idea.
So, people will, there’s a value section. For a lot of people, it’s the highlight of the week. We have 5, 10 minutes at the end and said, “Shout somebody else out.” They’ll say, “Bill, for taking on difficult problems or working shoulder to shoulder with clients, because he did a great job working with a podcast guest.” What it does is it reinforces the values, because it gets repeated every week.
Second, as a leader, you get to know what’s going on, because as you get bigger, you don’t know who’s doing what and where. Third, who doesn’t like to get recognized? Fourth, what a great thing to be able to recognize someone who may not know that they’re doing a great job. That’s now-
A kudos, which is great, but in alignment with the values.
Yeah. That is really genius.
It’s a system. It’s a system. It itself reinforces, as soon as somebody comes into the organization, their first all hands, they’re like, “Okay, I see what you all are doing. This is one version of how you live your values.”
Right at the point where it’s important, early employees, it’s really, really important for that onboarding. “Okay. I’ve just gotten to a new place. Is this the organization I thought it was?” At least in that moment, it gets reinforced from a DEI perspective, it gets reinforced that, “Oh, yes, it is.”
It’s fascinating that it’s also they’re learning from all those stories.
So, it becomes a part of the oral culture.
That’s exactly right.
And there becomes a part of the firm itself, is all of these different types of examples and stories. I love that. I need to ask you, because ethnic and gender diversity, I had this hypothesis, and again, I want you to shatter it, of course, but I have this hypothesis that we’re a little bit further ahead with women, gender, and only because we invested in STEM sooner with women than maybe ethnic or looking at diversity in a different way outside of gender. Again, we’re doing some of those things now. I mean, some of those programs, again, I think we are doing those things now at the elementary and all the way throughout their educational career. But I think we started earlier with women, and I don’t know that to be true.
It just feels right.
What do you see?
I think it’s an intriguing question. Here was where I might pull at it a little bit. I don’t know if it’s because we started earlier in STEM. I assume you’re talking specifically about tech, is that correct?
Right. Oh, yeah.
Oh, okay. Okay, okay. I’m not sure if we started earlier with STEM with women, because if that was true, then we’d be able to see women of all races at the same level.
So, pulling apart the race and gender crossing, that intersectional aspects, I start to kind of like, “I’m not so sure.” Now, I’ll say that what’s interesting about this, and this is I’m the first person in my family to go to college. Neither of my parents have degrees, but both had long careers at IBM as programmers. My mom was a programmer, started out as a secretary, wound up with a 20 year career coding assembly language back in the seventies and eighties. She’s probably one of the first to do it. She was a version of a hidden figure, at least in corporate.
But the policy, she would have started earlier, but their policy at the time was they didn’t want pregnant people.
So, she dropped out of the workforce for a long time.
Going back to your thing about who’s affected by layoffs, there’s a thing that gets integrated there, if you will.
When it comes to different races, affirmative action, supposedly, but it started back in the sixties and seventies, supposedly was trying to address this issue. That started quite a long time ago, and IBM was one of the first places to hire African-Americans in great numbers for technical jobs. That was in the early sixties under Thomas Watson Jr. But it didn’t persist.
There’s a whole lot of reasons for that, resistance to affirmative action, a different mindset in the Silicon Valley, and frankly, there are fewer black people here. So, I think it’s a really intriguing question to pull apart and say, “Well, why is that?” However, I will agree that I think women in tech, and generally, let’s be candid, white women in tech is not as underrepresented. Although, you could argue about the impact that they’re having in the retention numbers I think would show that they’re dropping out quite a bit as well.
But that’s worse for black women, and it’s just as bad for Latinex women, et cetera.
But I think it’s a very intriguing question when it comes to what do we do now.
By the way, the other thing, just to complicate one more aspect of it, we measure our numbers, and we’ve recently shifted to she/her, because you have to start to account for how people declare their own pronouns in a non-binary context. That adds another little flavor that’s important to recognize.
Right. Again, another group of folks that we haven’t thrown time, money, and resources at. I love the way, A, you destroyed my-
Oh, I’m not destroying it, I’m just trying to pull at it.
I love that, because I guess the optics of what I see, which is as a white guy in the suburbs, I see that. I see STEM programs for little girls in summer camps and stuff like that. Again, that’s just the optics. Right? So, again, now that we reshape it, it’s like, “Well, okay, now it’s purposeful.” Now that there is a bit more awareness, I love the fact that you brought in George Floyd from last year, and people were having conversations, more conversations with you about probably tougher topics to talk about.
A lot of my African-American friends quietly were really tired.
Yeah, without question.
But a good tired. They were willing and able to have the discussions, especially difficult discussions for some folks, and a lot of education, a lot of learning. However, I’m one of these people that it’s great to have conversations. It’s fantastic that we’re learning all of that stuff, especially the history. I think all stuff’s great. At the end of the day, though, it’s going to be like, what we learned in December. Are you laying off more disproportionately?
Or are you laying off people? That’s what ultimately I think we’re going to be judged on, is the actions.
I couldn’t agree more. The actions and the outcomes.
The outcomes. Yeah. Both of those. Again, getting back to where you started, it’s the, what, the why, and the alignment, and having systems in place that are transparent. It’s not three people looking at it. It’s the firms looking at this.
And the firms being asked to help, which I think, again, can help with ethnic and gender diversity in tech, because they know that you care. So, they’re more apt and more willing to then go out into different parts of their network and friends and things like that and say, “Yeah, I know a gal. By the way, she’s trans.” But you know what? That’s not going to freak anybody out now. That’s, “Yeah. Okay, cool. Can she code?”
Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Right, right, right, right. Yeah. It’s interesting, on the topic of where do you start? How do you build networks? Et cetera, one of the things that I thought about a long time ago, there’s a sociologist named Mark Granovetter, he wrote a book in 1973 called Finding a Job. It’s an amazing read. I wound up taking a class from him when I was at Stanford, and he basically brought the first data-driven approach to networks when it came to looking at jobs and job flexibility. Essentially, the notion was if you have a tight network of people, they all look like you, then it’s great for harmony, it’s terrible for really good solutions, because you only have one perspective. You share one perspective, whereas engaging and getting other people who don’t look like you involved will increase your outcomes. It’s also really great for the person looking for a job. You bring new information if that system can accept you.
That’s the trick for a lot of leaders. One of the specific and concrete things that I think people I see make a mistake is saying, “I’m going to reach out.” I’m going to say, “This is important to me. I’m going to reach out to all my friends who are different than me,” whatever the-
Yeah, slice it as you wish.
… subset, yeah. I’m going to say, “Tell me all the people that you know.” Without realizing that, that person has been asked about 70 times and for the same type of the people.
Then when you take a look at it, it’s like they’re being asked to do additional work.
The question is, what can you add? How can you add to that network? For some, it’s like, “Hey can I support a conference? Can I support your ability to look for other people?” Others, it’s “What are the things that people are looking for?” Just simply asking a question without actually asking for an exchange or a transaction.
Tends to build reputation, because one’s reputation, especially in smaller networks, really, really spreads fast.
Good or bad. Yes.
Good or bad. That’s right. It takes years. We invested for years in certain networks to try and gain a reputation of delivering on the promises that we espoused. It took awhile, but now it’s much, much more fluid and much more rich, because it’s been relationship building, not transactions.
Well, you said it at the very beginning in that you didn’t really decouple, even though we could speak about them differently, but D&I and social good. You’ve basically brought those back together, like, okay, you can have all the initiatives that you want, that’s cool, and you should, however, to really fundamentally make change, you’re going to have to get involved and do things. It’s time, talent, treasure, that’s all of those things.
But some of that is being purposeful, caring, and then doing it. Talk is talk. You’ve still got to do it. I mean, I’ve had some of the same conversations, and especially after George Floyd, where people are, “I want to really be supportive of HBCUs.” It’s like, well, fantastic. That’s great. Donate, do whatever you got to do. But you know what? They don’t just need you now.
Because right now, it’s popular.
Yeah. That’s right.
They need you five years from now when it isn’t as popular. So, again, we’ve lived through enough of this. We’ve seen some of the cyclical nature of this, which it becomes in vogue, and then it never really becomes out of vogue, if you will. It just gets de-prioritized.
Again, getting back to your systems in alignment, that if it’s aligned with what the company is doing, why they’re doing it, how they’re doing it for their customers, et cetera, it really never comes out of being in vogue.
Well, Everett, I could talk to you forever, but you’ve got a job to do and things to do after this. Thank you so much for coming on the podcast. There’s just many nuggets of wisdom that you dropped on us.
Thank you very much. Thank you for having… I think this is really, really fun. Just as a close, the company is Truss. Certainly, we’re hiring. Also, I’m publishing a lot of the things that we talked about and some of the things that we haven’t in a book called Move to the Edge, Declared it Center, it’s going to be out in January. Wiley’s publishing it. Maybe we can talk about it further-
Oh, yeah, no.
… after you read it and get some details.
Oh, we’ve got to do that. We’ll do a show on that.
That’d be fun.
That sounds fantastic. Yes and yes, and thank you. Also, thanks for the folks that listen to the RecruitingDaily podcast. Until next time.
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William is the President & Editor-at-Large of RecruitingDaily. At the intersection of HR and technology, he’s a writer, speaker, advisor, consultant, investor, storyteller & teacher. He's been writing about HR and Recruiting related issues for longer than he cares to disclose. William serves on the Board of Advisors / Board of Directors for 20+ HR technology startups. William is a graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a BA in Art History. He also earned an MA in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona and an MBA from Case Western Reserve University.
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