Will a tight labor market make the future of hiring less biased? The CEO of Indeed weighs in

May 20, 2022, 7:53 PM UTC

I caught up with the CEO of the world’s biggest job search site to talk about how to change the world. Wells Fargo is accused of interviewing “diverse” candidates for roles that were already spoken for. The California federal court system experiences a new first, and a small but mighty creative team takes on the model minority myth. All that, plus Jonathan Vanian shares some real talk about Big Law.

Happy Friday.

I recently caught up with Chris Hyams, the CEO of Indeed, at the annual Culturati Summit in Austin, Texas. And now you’ve got a chance to catch up with him, too—more on that in a second.

Indeed is the leviathan job site with over 250 million unique visitors every month and more than 12,000 employees around the world. While he’d been at the company for some 11 years, Hyams became CEO shortly before the pandemic changed the world of work for good.

Hyams is an enormously impressive guy with a fascinating career path. He started out as a rock drummer wannabe—“I had an amazing experience having the sort of privilege to try to pursue something that was a dream,” he recently told my colleague, Sheryl Estrada. He also worked at an adolescent psychiatric hospital and as a special needs teacher before pursuing a computer science master’s degree which earned him a series of increasingly powerful jobs in tech. These foundational experiences have indelibly informed his leadership, he told me.  

As a conversation partner, he is discerning, open, and kind; as a leader, he sees the moment we’re in as a near-sacred opportunity to do better for job seekers and the world.

We talked about the rapid innovation Indeed needed to better help employers and talent find each other in a suddenly virtual world. It turned out to be a big opportunity to change the way employers understood talent, too.

 “[W]e spent a lot of time thinking about bias and barriers in hiring in all of the areas,” he told me. “[Do I really] need someone who went to Stanford or MIT or Harvard Business School, right? Am I willing to consider someone who’s formerly incarcerated?”  In a tight labor market, employers are willing to throw away old ideas, he says, if they’re presented correctly. “The bias and barriers and systemic issues that permeate every aspect of society—they show up very, very deeply in employment. The biggest barrier to adoption of innovation is, is an open mind. And sometimes desperation is a really good key to unlock that.”

Hyams is also doing trailblazing work that I know is top of mind for many DEI practitioners—embedding anti-racism and inclusion into every aspect of the business. 

It’s a work in progress, and he describes an internal organization that’s being stripped to the beams and grappling with big questions.

“At sort of the deepest levels of how do you actually transform a business? It’s a lot deeper than putting people through training and having a couple external speakers come in.”

I met Hyams at a more intimate in-person convening that was taped to be included in the larger, virtual Culturati Summit happening on June 6 and 7. You can see our entire conversation then, and if you have follow-up questions (I know I do!) I will reach out to him for more.

Dallas Mavericks CEO Cynt Marshall gives a rousing keynote, and breakouts include fascinating sessions on hybrid work, social capital, building a culture of belonging, mental health, and bias in tech. It’ll feel very much like a raceAhead crowd.

Admission is only $50 for raceAhead readers. Just follow this link to register, and enter promo code RaceAhead (case sensitive). Hope you find it valuable.

Wishing you a discerning and open weekend.

Ellen McGirt

In Brief

Like other professions, the past two turbulent years of the COVID-19 pandemic and society’s reckoning over systemic racism have had an impact on the legal industry and so-called “big law.”

The legal news magazine American Lawyer recently released its 2021 Diversity Scorecard, which showed that the nation’s largest law firms are hiring slightly more lawyers of color than in previous years. The publication attributed the tiny increase to “a maturing system of diversity and inclusion at law firms” and the “galvanizing effects of George Floyd’s murder and the ensuing wave of national protests.”

From the scorecard:

“The total number of minority attorneys rose to 18.5%, up from 17.8% last year and 16.9% in 2019. The number of minority partners also climbed, reaching 10.9%, up from 10.3% in 2020, and the percentage of minority nonpartners hit 24.6%, up from 23.7% in 2020.

While there are signs of progress, the legal profession is still behind the curve, particularly when it comes to leadership.

“Look, it's getting better, I'm not gonna lie,” says DLA Piper co-U.S. managing partner Jackie Park. Still, she notes, law firm leadership remains a sea of white men. 

As a woman of Korean heritage, Park stands out as a law firm managing partner.

In 1966, Park’s family moved from Seoul, Korea to Muscle Sholes, Alabama.

“What’s going on in 1966?” Park asks. “Civil rights, desegregation of schools, there's an incredible mistrust between the races—so imagine this little Asian family just been plopped into the middle of it.”

It was incredibly difficult for her family. It “was one of those situations where you know, we just did not fit.”

“I remember not wanting to go to the grocery store with my mom because people would point they would say things to us,” Park says. “It was just a very painful period.”

After leaving the South to attend Brown University, Park eventually earned her law degree from Northwestern University, which she described as “again, three tough years.” When she landed a job at a “huge firm in Chicago in the mid-80s,” she was told that she was the law firm’s first Asian American associate.

“I just remember thinking, ‘How could this be?’” Park says. “But it was just the law firm world.”

Park was eventually drawn to California, home to rich and diverse Asian communities.

“I remember when I landed in LAX—I was visiting a friend of mine to start my interviews—and I saw all these Asian faces in the airport,” Park says. “Literally, I was like, ‘I've come home.’”

Park attributes her successful climb up the legal ladder to constantly seizing every opportunity given to her.

“You have to show the firm leadership where your interests lie,” Park says. “And here's the other thing—you have to just raise your hand.”

If Asian employees don’t speak up so people can hear their voices, they can get lost and overlooked.

“Especially for Asian women, is that kind of pacificity—that we are worker bees, but we don't have creative thoughts, we're not aggressive,” Park says, referring to commonly held stereotypes. “So you just have to swim against the tide.”

She points to the next generation of legal professionals as being a big driver for change at law firms. The numbers of women and students of color have been increasing over the years, which could mean that more people like Park could have a chance to become law firm leaders themselves.

“Because again, you know, when I was at Northwestern law school, I think it was me and three other Asians or four Asians in my class,” Park says.


Jonathan Vanian 

On point

Wells Fargo accused of faking diversified slates in hiring  There are plenty of whispers about companies interviewing non-white male candidates after a job has already been filled—hey, the NFL did it—but now employees at Wells Fargo are coming forward alleging receipts. Seven current or former employees are making public charges, one of whom says he was fired for telling his managers that the “fake interviews” were “inappropriate, morally wrong, ethically wrong.” The company is still dealing with the fallout of a 2020 scandal involving the creation of fraudulent accounts. Also that year, the company $7.8 million in back wages to settle a claim by the Department of Labor that it had discriminated against more than 30,000 Black job applicants.
New York Times

Senate confirms first-ever Indigenous federal judge in California Judge Sunshine Suzanne Sykes will serve on the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. Sykes, a citizen of the Navajo Nation, will become the fifth Indigenous women to serve on the federal bench. She’s been busy, too. The Stanford Law grad is a former staff attorney for California Indian Legal Services and formerly worked as a contract attorney for the Juvenile Defense Panel at the Southwest Justice Center. Nizhónígo ałhééhosiilzįįd, Judge Sykes.
Native News Online

Understanding “The Myth”  Take a few moments to enjoy this short film created by a three-person team at the agency Wieden+Kennedy. It is a poignant look at the underlying evil of the model minority myth that is inflicted upon certain Asian immigrants. The three produced the award-winning short film Call It Covid back in 2020, and took the same creative approach to tackle “the Myth.” The link includes an interview with them, and you will be a better collaborator by reading about their process. Mimi Munoz and Titania Tran are both children of Vietnamese refugees known as “Boat People”, Dan Koo, was born and raised in Los Angeles but has family ties across Korea and South America. Both films speak to the Asian experience. “We have the rare ability to insert ourselves into people’s lives, and share with them a message they need to hear—whether they’re ready for it or not,” says Tran.


This edition of raceAhead was edited by Wandy Felicita Ortiz.

On Background

Some descendants of victims of the 1923 Rosewood massacre received a form of reparations. Did it help?  The answer appears to be complicated. Rosewood, a thriving Black community in Northern Florida, was set upon and burned to the ground by an all-white mob in 1923. A 1994 law passed by the state’s legislature allowed descendants to go to colleges in Florida tuition-free, the first such form of official reparations in the U.S. The scheme has been a blessing and a burden for some students. “We’re not doing this just for us,” says one recipient, during a low point in her six-year pharmacy doctorate program. “You always have to be the best and prove a point, simply because of who you are and what your family has gone through.” The Florida program is a test case for other reparations arrangements. “If I mess this up, I mess it up for me and my cousins and people I don’t even know,” she says.
Washington Post

Inclusion: Will you or won’t you?  Erica Merritt, founder of Equius Consulting Group explains why the diversity and inclusion movement feels stalled in the U.S. For one, corporate systems often value assimilation, not inclusion. “Many of them are not willing to shift their culture, policies or practices in order to make room for those people who look different, i.e. are of different racial backgrounds.” Lasting change requires organizations to “wrestle with the history, culture, ideology and power dynamics that hold [their] social hierarch[ies] in place,” says Merritt. You can make all the cases you want, she says. “Either organizations have the will to do this work or they don’t.”
Bold Culture Hub

Parting words

“Please try to remember that what they believe, as well as what they do and cause you to endure, does not testify to your inferiority but their inhumanity.”

— James Baldwin, A Letter to My Nephew.

This is the web version of raceAheadFortune’s newsletter on race, culture, and inclusive leadership. To get it delivered daily to your inbox, sign up here.

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