By Jared Karol
In today’s Diversity & Inclusion Spotlight, we hear from Mawulom Nenonene, D&I Consultant and Talent Acquisition Advisor at Thumbtack, a company that matches customers who need projects completed with qualified, local professionals ready to get things done. Mawulom has a background in technical recruiting with an emphasis on hiring diverse candidates — at Thumbtack, LinkedIn, and Google. An adventurer at heart, he thrives when adding value to the world.
Change Catalyst: What motivates you to work towards an inclusive tech ecosystem?
Mawulom: I studied biomedical engineering and had several internships during my collegiate years — opportunities I’m still deeply grateful for. I remember one experience vividly. It was a summer internship at a large pharmaceutical company where I was the only black engineer onsite. Thankfully, the GM took me under his wing and mentored me. I recall touring other sites and attending several engineering events where I was the only black engineer. During that time I was a member of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) and the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE) where I attended yearly national conferences with thousands of other black and brown engineers. I knew then that there was a problem. Because of those experiences, a part of my focus as a professional has always been to support D&I initiatives.
Change Catalyst: What are you currently working on to improve diversity and inclusion in tech?
Mawulom: Recruiting: I build inclusive hiring strategies and implement them where they make sense. I also advise on best recruitment and hiring practices. Culture: I work internally with organizations to build structure for their employee resource groups (ERGs). Smaller organizations have a unique challenge in that although they nurture employee grassroots efforts, they may not have the personnel to launch large clubs. It’s never fun to be the only one in a meeting. Thus I connect them with other affinity groups at local tech companies and facilitate events focused on building community and awareness.
Change Catalyst: What will be the biggest story around diversity and inclusion in 2017?
Mawulom: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” the Charles Dickens quote from A Tale of Two Cities, comes to mind. The current political climate combined with the ease and widespread use of technology — specifically social media — is shining a spotlight on the diversity and inclusion issues tech companies face. Although these stories may at times be disturbing, they’re prompting many in leadership to act, and providing a venue for those in need. Founders and executives are now taking a stand on issues that years ago would have been overlooked, and in doing so they are improving the branding of their organizations. It would be interesting to quantify this data and see the results of such efforts over time, to revisit the companies that have invested in culture and who are intentional in building inclusive environments. I’d be especially interested in the recruiting and attrition numbers of these companies in comparison to those that took no action.
Change Catalyst: What one key solution would make a huge difference in creating a more inclusive tech ecosystem?
Mawulom: I’m not sure that one key solution can do the job. I think a series of thoughtful actions rooted in inclusive thinking would yield huge results that positively impact the tech ecosystem. Leaders with an inclusive mindset and teams that keep inclusivity top of mind are more likely to build successful products and create better cultures. I was listening to the Tech Inclusion Podcast with Sarah Clatterbuck, Director of Engineering at LinkedIn. Hearing her talk about her work in accessibility brought to mind the markets that we often overlook because they are not represented and don’t have a seat at the table where decisions are being made.
Change Catalyst: What is the best example of leadership in inclusion you’ve seen recently?
Mawulom: Thankfully a few examples come to mind, but two really stick out. First, Jonathan Swanson, Co-founder and President of Thumbtack, has been a champion for diversity, and he has been adamant about building inclusive teams since my first day at Thumbtack. When we first chatted in 2015, I was inspired by his authenticity and thoughtful responses. Almost two years later I’ve been able to watch as those words turned into actions, which have led to recruiting efforts that have had a positive impact on the culture.
In 2014 I chatted with Laura Gomez at Stanford about a tool she wanted to build with a diverse team to make it easier for recruiters to find talent. As an ex-Google and Twitter employee she had many career options but was focused on making a greater impact. Fast forward to today, she is the Founder and CEO of Atipica, a people analytics tool that makes it easier to identify diverse talent within candidate pipelines. I’m sure many factors led to the success of her product but I would like to think it’s because she stuck with her vision and built the tool with a diverse team.
Change Catalyst: Describe the impact you’re having in your role.
Mawulom: This isn’t directly related to my role but it’s been top of mind lately. . .In January of 2017 I reached out to an ERG lead at a smaller tech company to share best practices. We spent most of the conversation discussing her frustrations and lack of success due to participation, and finally she stated that she were considering ending the project for the time being, as it was not her full time role. After sharing my experiences, she asked “why do you do it?” In early March I received an email about a successful D&I round table that was held at that company, which included a quote that was credited to me.
The quote read: “…many came before me and it is their efforts that have afforded me this opportunity. So I do it because it’s my way of paying it forward. Small companies become big companies, and everything matters, people matter.” To me there’s no better feeling than knowing that you’ve positively impacted someone’s life, that you helped them remember they were more than enough to overcome the challenges ahead.