How to Attract, Hire, and Grow Diverse Product Teams by Disney Head of Product

Product Inclusion

Kasha Stewart joined us for #ProductCon in 2021, and talked about the importance of hiring diverse candidates. From writing inclusive copy in her job postings, to forming relationships with HBCUs for hiring interns, Kasha shares her advice on how Product Leaders can start grassroots operations to attract, hire, and grow diverse Product teams.

About Kasha Stewart

Kasha Stewart

Kasha Stewart is the Head of Product at Movies Anywhere, a Disney-operated streaming platform. Kasha is a change catalyst that leads a team of product and content managers. She drives the product strategy, vision, and feature development while executing an ever-changing roadmap. Before her current role, Kasha was the Senior Director of Product Management for Beachbody On Demand. She provided strategic guidance for the newly established fitness SVOD and launched native mobile apps and OTT platforms. Kasha has over eight years of experience in Product management across entertainment tech legacy brands including FOX and Disney ABC Television Group. 

How to Attract, Hire, and Grow Diverse Product Teams

I was so honored that #ProductCon asked me to present today, and my head was swirling with so many ideas. I think I got out a Google Doc and started writing my heart out about how to launch complicated features with multiple remote teams, with some of my topics being how to lead and keep team dynamics during a pandemic, how to pivot from output focused to outcomes focused and when’s the right time to redesign. (And that’s actually an inside joke because there’s never a good time to redesign anyway.) 

I thought I couldn’t help notice though, in this space there’s one subject and especially after the events of 2020, that we don’t really touch upon on the industry and that I haven’t seen particularly for Product in a keynote.

And I started to think of some of the headlines that have touched me about diversity and inclusion, about black employees and about some of the social injustice movements that happened last year that took a lot of the headlines and also resonated with not only employees, but companies across our country and globally. And I couldn’t help but think about the numbers and the data…but why is this problem so hard? Why is it so hard to diversify for product teams? When I think of Product, I think about how we solve for so many of the unknowns. We figure out the why, we’ve disrupted archaic practices and structures and workflows and we make people’s lives better, but this is something that’s a profound institutional tech industry challenge that is still plaguing us. 

What's going to be impactful

And I wanted to just share some of this. Despite the tweets and through the best practices and good intentions, we’re still struggling. Corporate America’s diversity and inclusion efforts are still failing black people, as some of the reports say. And for those of you that may not know, it’s been found that companies with above average diversity on leadership teams have greater payoff from innovation and higher margins. And I started to think about that. If I’m always hiring from the same data pool, I’m kind of always expecting the same outcome, although very talented, I’m constantly challenging myself on what could be better, what am I missing? But if I’m hiring the same personality type, the same type of PMs that even resonate with me, I’m also still part of the problem.

What Does The Data Tell Us?

With any problem I’d like to think about what does the data tell us?

And you can see, less than 20% of all minority communities are represented in product management. And this is just a data sampling of about 2200 Product Management professionals. And then only 15% of senior leadership is held by someone who identifies in one of these categories.

Again, the numbers are not great. If I was thinking about a mobile launch and I saw these numbers, it would be all hands on deck. Let’s get our user research, let me get with my creatives. Let’s figure out what’s happening. But in tech, we kind of just shrug our shoulders and say, well, this is the best that we can do. I don’t know anybody. This is kind of hard. This makes me feel uncomfortable. I don’t know. I keep pulling from the same schools.

And I found like many leaders that I was in the same position towards the end of 2020. You know, what can I do? Even with my company’s large commitment, it may not be using at the pace of what I feel like is innovation or transformative change.

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Step 1: Audit

Step 1: Audit

Step one in any process where you’re going to tackle a tough problem, whether it is diversity and inclusion or how to build native mobile apps, is the audit. I started with an audit where I wanted to analyze the recruitment process. You know, how do we actually really recruit and hire? If I did a simple analysis of my team, most might have been hired from someone that knew them or they came from a posting or they were referred through a family member. There’s a number of resources, but we’re always kind of building from the same talent pool. 

What are the internal numbers, if you can find out. For some of you, you may not have internal support. You may not have HR and you want to be conscious of what your legal team represents as well. I never want to step on anyone’s toes. Do you have access or hire a DE&I expert or consultant to kind of walk you through this space? If we start to align DE&I as part of our compensation at the end of the year, I think we can get much further ahead in a roadmap of change, than what we’re currently seeing in the space. Lastly, do you have an open head count?

Step 2: Survey

Step 2: Survey

I just did an informal survey with our teams at Movies Anywhere, and I would encourage you to ask them first before implementing anything, whether it’s a simple hiring or changing or posting or recruitment process, how does your team feel? I would never start to re-architect a user experience if the one that I had was working, and I would want to know what my user base feels about the current experience, and then what would help guide those changes? 

So I asked the team, how did they feel about diversity? What did they feel like we were doing as a team? How can we attract more people from underrepresented backgrounds or BIPOC, (which is black indigenous people of color communities for those that may not know that acronym). What organizations do they belong to and would they like to see more present participation from these organizations?  What would they like to see more of on the horizon, whether it was panels such as brave conversations, or Slack channels? Was it a community calendar? What really resonated with them?

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DE&I is a team effort. We wanted to give the opportunity for individuals to lead themselves, so that they feel empowered. And that we are acknowledging that we can do better with the numbers that we have, not only from a hiring standpoint, but the representation and the culture that we are building.

Some of the highest ranked things that came back from the team were mentorship, having a speaker series. And one thing that I found surprising that I didn’t necessarily know would resonate so highly was implicit bias training. Sometimes people want to do something, but they don’t know where to begin. They don’t know how to start the conversation. They feel uncomfortable, and then they kind of just pivot or exit out of it all together. And that was something that really kind of drove me to think, wow, this is bigger than just how I feel as a black woman. This is also impacting my counterparts as well.

Step 3: Set Goals

Step 3: Set goals

Step three in any good product cycle or product development, you want to set goals. Now that you have some data to go after to kind of build the baseline of the hypothesis of the direction of you want to take, whether it’s for a roadmap, whether it’s for a product vision, whether it’s simply for me that I wanna change the hiring and recruitment process, I needed to have some levels of objectives, a timeframe, how I would measure that success. 

And what are the challenges and dependencies? We should know this like the back of our hands. We do this every single day, either in feature or platform development. And it really challenged me to say ‘why can’t I do the same and apply these same principles to a problem that’s been plaguing us traditionally for far too long?’ Objectives do not need to cover every little thing that the team does, but they should cover what the team needs to accomplish. And for me, I wanted to have higher representation just within my small little nucleus of my product team. 

That could be my baseline objective, and what are my key results to actually do that? Here’s a way for you to have goals. Again, these are attainable. Some of these are what we call low hanging fruit. Some of these are going to carry us. And again, this is not everything from my explicit, you know, roadmap, but this was the beginning for me to put one foot in front of the other, take that information, see how it’s growing, see how I can iterate on this. See if I’m getting feedback from the team.

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Our top line goal; make DNI training accessible for the team. From that simple survey, finding out that people really wanted to have implicit bias training and making it available for managers and even for our executive team and having a diversity, equity and inclusion consultant come in and help us navigate through that process. 

If you have the budget, if you have room, if you have the autonomy to do that, here are some ways that you can get started. Another thing was to increase black and African American representation from a certain percentage to a larger percentage over the next 12 months. Really simple, really direct KPIs and baseline goals that everyone could understand and digest. Intentionally focus our recruiting efforts on black and African American talent to build out a pipeline.

This is not a once-and-done thing. You wanna start to grow a pipeline. And I do talk later in the presentation of organizations that you can reach out to that are specifically focused on finding product talent, community support, and mentoring, making an annual commitment to investing and underrepresented tech companies.

This allows people that may not be in a hiring position, that may not have direct reports, really participate in partnering this idea that we are a community. We’re an organization, we’re fostering a better diverse community. Mentoring inside of the organization where we could offer a hackathon, we can partner with Black Girls Who Code or Girls Who Code. And then that may allow someone who doesn’t have a direct report to also participate in changing the landscape of our team. 

Step 4: Posting

Step four, the fun part, recruiting. One of the easy things that we can do, but is kind of a missed opportunity, is to develop more inclusive copy in our job descriptions to attract diverse candidates. How do you write a job description? What does inclusive copy look like? Where should I post? These are some of the questions that, as someone who never did this before, who never thought about this, I thought where does this come from? One thing that you should consider, do you have internal BERGs (Black Employee Resource Groups) that you can start and have you thought about posting to those groups internally first. And what organizations are best to recruit diverse talent? 

So I was in a position where I had head count for a product intern for fall semester. We kind of pool from the same schools – I won’t mention any names, but they are great schools, and we do get phenomenal talent. But we, again, are constantly building that same pipeline. And then when we do have head count, we’re like, ‘oh, where do we look for more diverse talent?’ But we haven’t made an effort as much to engage with HBCUs, which are historically black colleges and universities. We have never had those types of contacts or community with them. So again, if we don’t have that pipeline, how can you expect to have a talent pool? 

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I think that I have a large network and I never know who’s watching or who’s listening on LinkedIn. And I just took to my LinkedIn one afternoon, explained that I was looking for a product intern and also wanted to really capture the culture of innovating features. Some of the features that we launched at Movies Anywhere last year during the pandemic were screen pass, where you’re able to send a movie to a friend or family member, and watch together. With some of these great kinds of features, we’re a small and nimble team, but we really raised the bar. We moved quick and fast, and I wanted to have someone that wanted to be excited about that and work in entertainment tech. 

How to Post Open Jobs

I focused on that ‘loves to solve problems’ persona. And I just told a little bit about myself in case someone who was reading this and did not know me, my product leader, DNI advocate, and proud HSU alumni. And I encouraged, you know, HBCU students to apply. I used a couple of hashtags, and from this little post copy that probably took me five or 10 minutes to draft had a phenomenal return of students that I would not have had under our normal recruitment process. And it worked out really well with the summer, with the fall intern, which is now turning into the spring intern that we have for my team. 

I had an overwhelming number of students respond. I actually took someone that had a computer science background and they were selected and went through the process and ended up being hired.

How can we measure success? You need to have measurements, so you know that something is successful. If you have the support of HR, keeping checks and balances, full transparency, what’s the number of posting jobs that you advertise in these diverse networks, number of black candidates or BIPOC candidates that applied, number of candidates that were interviewed, number of candidates that were offered roles, a number that was accepted again. Really simple, straightforward. This is a starting point.

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Final Thoughts: Moving Past Panels and Tweets

Sometimes I hear, well, I have good intentions. Why is that not enough? I’m a good person. 

That’s all great, but we have to move past that to have real transformative change. And one thing I have heard from my colleagues and even in reading recent articles of the New York times, there’s this idea of requiring BIPOC employees to volunteer or lead diversity initiatives. I took this upon myself because I was challenged and I wanted to make change, but not everybody wants to do this, and they’re not obligated to. So just keep that in mind if you do hire someone from this group. It’s not then to have a dog and pony show, or for them to be the lead for every DE&I initiative. 

It’s not a zero end game mentality. You have to have a starting point, and then also address some of the resistance or emotional feedback that you may hear from the teams of ‘why are we doing this’? ‘Are we lowering the bar for diverse candidates?’ is a big myth. There’s a broad talent pool of people that I often see are overqualified.

Personally take action. Move past panels and tweets. We launch so many things globally as a community, this is one small step forward. Think about what’s going to be impactful, create a DE&I roadmap. I’m a big believer in a roadmap. So that’s probably my sweet spot, figuring it out, having milestones and checkpoints for what you’re trying to accomplish. 

Creata a roadmap

Redesign your recruitment strategy. This was just a grassroots effort that I started and it resulted in many candidates, and even led to an engineering intern. And now I have plenty of people to choose from for the upcoming semester.

Design best practices for your org. Some of the things may work. Some of the things may not apply, check with your HR and legal. If you’re concerned, those are always good places to start. But if you are someone that wants to push forward innovation and change, definitely, start with grassroots tactics like I’ve listed here. And consistency is key. Like anything in our world, iterate. 

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