Nabeela Virji is the Equity, Inclusion and Diversity lead at X, The Moonshot Factory, formerly Google X. We talk about how feeling safe to share at work is key to equity, inclusion and diversity, from feeling safe and supported to share the reality of our lives and our situations, to sharing jobs for greater diversity and opportunity. Diversity drives innovation, innovation drives revenue. Simple mathematics. Learn how you can square that with job sharing with Roleshare
Oftentimes we see the underrepresented person being the number two, three or four candidate. This [roleshare] opens an additional opportunity to hire that person who often does not get the chance to be represented.
- Nabeela Virji, EID lead at X, The Moonshot Factory
Nabeela (Equity, Inclusion and Diversity lead at X, The Moonshot Factory): I had the pleasure of working at X. Now for almost a bit over a year where formerly called X The Moonshot Factory and what we're doing is really solving the world's hardest problems and creating innovations that are almost unthinkable today. But you'll see coming through the pipeline and five, 10, 15 years. So things that you would laugh at if you heard about now, but are going to be part of our reality in the near almost near future. And really, what I have come on to the team to work on is specifically running our programs in relation to equity, inclusion and diversity. And now one amazing thing that X has done is placed our equity, inclusion and diversity efforts smack dab in the middle of the business. So we actually love to put fun names on projects. And the Equity Design Lab sits under our CEO and he really drives all of the strategy at X, working with a handful of our projects that we're cooking up inside x these future innovations and we're really infusing our equity, inclusion and diversity practices in all aspect of the business. Oftentimes, you'll see diversity and inclusion teams sitting with your HR or people operations teams, sometimes with talent.
That is definitely where the idea had come up at X is truly embed us there to really work on some of the foundational aspects at the very forefront. But slowly we realize that this is something that is so critical to think about throughout all of our business practices that we stuck it right in the strategic heart of our company. So I'm really here to advocate for our underrepresented communities. I manage and build our employee resource group ecosystem. And another large part of what I'm working on today is really building partnerships outside of X to really brand our company to underrepresented groups that may not have heard about us before. I barely heard about X the moonshot factory before I came on board. It has been really a journey of kind of taking the door that was really just kind of a crack open to swinging it wide open to increase that branding, to elevate the employee resource groups and ultimately get in a really extensive pipeline from some of these efforts, really with connecting with organizations and universities.
Sophie (Co-founder, Roleshare) : That's fantastic. Now, X was, from what I understand, part of a larger company previously. How did it come about?
Nabeela: Yes. So X, we are very lucky to be almost a sister company to a very well company known as Google. And a handful of years ago we were called Google X. It was actually an entity within kind of the Google world, and just the last few years kind of the world has seen really a restructure around Google and of course, the parent company now Alphabet, and we actually work to produce a handful of what we call bets. So these are all the companies under the Alphabet umbrella like Waymo, which is the self-driving car business loon. The Internet Balloon Wing, which is a drone delivery service. Now these are all ideas and companies that were built within X and eventually graduated out of X to become their own standalone companies. So we've certainly gone through a transformation in the last few years, creating our own kind of structures and kind of our own look and feel, if you will. But X has been around for about 10 years, really behind the scenes, working with entrepreneurs, academics, technologists to build some really groundbreaking.
Sophie: Innovations, that's great. Diversity and inclusion, obviously is a topic and something that must be very close to your heart. So what does it mean to you as a whole person?
Nabeela: I mean, for me specifically, I think that my experience with diversity and inclusion growing up as first generation in the U.S., my parents are Indian and immigrated actually from Tanzania. We have two generations of family born and raised in Tanzania and East Africa, and I have always felt really misunderstood in a way, you know, when you hop into an Uber and someone says, Where are you from? I've always really struggled with that question and just kind of have to code switch. And I think that at a certain point many years ago, when I had my very first stint in tech at a pre-IPO company working in sales, I really feel like I found my voice. I really came in and kind of rebuilt myself in a sense. I was very proud of who I am and just really was able to express myself and kind of, in a sense, bring my whole self to work. I think there were definitely times where I had to act a separate way, and I was very aware of it. And for me, diversity and inclusion is certainly leveraging those differences for the better. It's empowerment, it's fairness. It's really what creates successful company culture and evolving company culture, an inclusive company culture. So for me personally, being able to create processes within a company that help people really either discover ways in which they can contribute in a very powerful way because of their differences. That is something that I'm certainly still on a journey and a path on. And I mean, diversity and inclusion today, in my experience at X, it is almost a dream to be able to work on groundbreaking innovations at the very front end to ensure that these billion dollar companies are going to be thinking about diversity and inclusion at the very front end of creating their first teams, testing their products and creating something that I or my family or the people around me can also indulge in and be built for.
Sophie: That's really powerful if you think about it. The fact that diversity and inclusion is such a core part of X and that you are in essence, really helping set the foundation for so many other. Who knows what incredible technologies that will come in the future and that they're in essence being groomed to really value diversity and inclusion from the get go. A number of years ago, I was interviewing for a role at a startup. This company, I won't say who they are, but I was in the room at this point with three men who were all Ivy League school graduates. They're all tall, white men, really. And here I was, you know, very strong woman. Similar to you. I'm very proud of my heritage. I'm half Persian and half Swiss. I feel quite worldly toward the end of the interview process because this is a very important part of my selection because I think when you interview with companies, you're also interviewing them, making sure that you would be happy there. I asked them, How do you feel about diversity? How do you make sure that you include that as part of your company culture? And I remember the response really sort of set me off and basically solidified my thinking that this would not be the right employer for me, even if they were to invite me back for an interview. But their response was, we don't have the luxury to think about that right now. We're still too young, and they were about 30 40 employees at that point. And in my opinion, I think that should always be part of the agenda. Part of your initial business plan, even if you don't have any employees yet. Right. So I think it's wonderful that these companies that you're working with are being groomed from the get go these ideas that will turn into something big to really value diversity and inclusion.
Nabeela: I'm glad you shared that example. I mean, for me, thirty people already is too late. Right? Look, we're not perfect. I'm not saying every company we're churning out right now is a poster child, certainly extremely deep process, a learning and development journey and experience with the founders, with the team, with the technology as it grows. And I will say, for the companies that are early stage or, you know, that are a few hundred deep, they're going to have that moment where they really have to say, Oh crap, we didn't about this, and now we have to fix it so often in diversity and inclusion work. And why probably any diversity and inclusion. Practitioner you talked to today is just exhausted is because of this constant retrofitting coming into a company, having to discover so many gaps for the lack of foundation when it comes to diversity and inclusion. That's something you just cannot afford not to think about because just the sheer time and resources of kind of this almost reactionary work that needs to be done when you come into a company. And of course, with so many of the evolving worldly events that we're facing as underrepresented communities, a lot of the work is going to be reactive and taking the time to do the proactive work. While you can create roadmaps and OK and all the other corporate speak words for planning, sometimes that all goes out the window because of these moments of retrofitting or reactionary moments in time. I feel that we have a great opportunity at X to have many proactive moments to really be able to set the tone for technology moving forward. And I mean, that's of course, me putting a big bow on it and saying, it's just this great gift and it is absolutely challenging. Things move so quickly. Just with that company you talked about you were interviewing with, they're basically saying things are just moving too quickly. We don't have time for this. There is a risk for not making the time.
Sophie: Yeah, absolutely. I read recently in a study that was done by the Institute for Corporate Productivity. I'm sure you've seen this, that the pandemic COVID has resulted in twenty seven percent of companies putting diversity and inclusion efforts on hold. If you had to in essence, pitch for more investment in diversity and inclusion programs to a CFO, what would you say?
Nabeela: Look, I'm no stranger to asking for money from in my role. Luckily, a lot of people are not saying no right now. I think right now there is a lot of momentum, but in the moments where there is quiet or when the interest has died down, in a sense, for me, it is really important to put your dollars towards creating inclusion programs internally. I think our ERGs employee resource groups are such important pieces of the puzzle because they serve really as a multi-functional entity when it comes to diversity and inclusion work. And I think that these typically are volunteer roles for employees to really spend time in addition to their day job to help create and cultivate these communities. So I'll say, first and foremost, you have to create a budget for your employee resource groups. I would definitely ask for that. Second, I would find some sort of way to compensate employee resource group leaders, these volunteers, and that can be in any way. I mean, compensation through recognition, through actual compensation, through a certain percentage through bonus thing. Because really, I think right now, the culture around overworking folks that are essentially in times of trauma and pain, it's just unfair and that has to be recognized.
Nabeela: So many dollars and cents have to be put towards the front end of recruiting and sourcing because that pipeline is so important. And, of course, training trainings and learning experiences for your managers, for your company. Overall, everyone is on their own path. People are on their own adventures when it comes to diversity and inclusion. I think it's been very enlightening over the last few months, certainly with a pandemic layered on top of then a social and racial injustice pandemic to really see and hear where people are. So we have to, of course, meet people where they are. We can't unfortunately do any cookie cutter type trainings. They really have to be bespoke and there really have to be dollars put towards those experiences. So I see really talent and really that pipeline and that retention and churn as something that could potentially keep up folks that are focused on dollars and cents up at night and really being able to create programs to get the best talent in the door and really be able to grow and depend on this talent to retain is a big part of the process if you're looking really big picture.
Sophie: The only time in my life that I didn't feel like I truly belonged to a company is when I became a parent because literally almost overnight, the way I was thinking in the world of work changed. Not because I wasn't ambitious anymore and not because of any of that, but just simply because my life had changed so much. And the things and the way I lived was quite different from the way that my core team lived.
Nabeela: There are parts of our identities that we have the power to share or not share, depending on how comfortable and approachable our colleagues are right or even our manager. So there are some things that are part of folks identities that can't be hidden. The color of your skin if you say invisible disability, right? And I think that especially now we've created so many resources and are listening deeply to our parents community because of course, the time that we're in in a pandemic and the dramatic changes in what it means to be a parent right now, and we wouldn't know that unless we created a culture where people are open to sharing that, Hey, this is what I'm going through. You know, who else is going through this? How can we support each other? How can we make our teams aware of these experiences so that they have a better understanding of our lived current experience? And so pandemic or not, I think that when things happen in life, those things should be shared if you have created a culture where it's acceptable to share. And I think so much of the support day to day that you get from a manager or a peer. And also how you can connect with others and create community through these ways that you identify are really critical in just your experience. Because if you don't feel comfortable sharing that affects your work, that affects potentially how someone sees you and potentially can make assumptions. I think that right now, especially it's so important to create that space for people to share if they're open to and of course, create resources where parents are able to still thrive in their day to day jobs and also their number one job, you know, really as a parent, too.
Sophie: So I interviewed the Koichiro of Boston Globe media previously. She's wonderful. Claudia Henderson And she had experience previously working with two women who shared the role of a manager at Johnson and Johnson, and she said that sharing a role for her was, in essence, diversity and inclusion empathy embodied. Because when you share a role so closely as a role share, I also like to call it a micro teams for people who are not really understanding what how it might work. You're almost literally walking in the shoes of another person who's perhaps very different from you. And so I found that to be quite an interesting tangential benefit of sharing a role is that it is in essence, increasing people's empathy and their exposure to different ways of working different cultures in a very intimate working environment. So when you think of professionals who want to work part time joining up for full time roles in a role share, how does that feel to you from the place that you are coming in at X?
Nabeela: Yeah, I think that really the role share idea and the way that it can be implemented company, the company can benefit in so many ways. I think absolutely it is touching every point of diversity, equity and inclusion, the sheer connectedness that you need to create with another person and really be able to again, really deeply share that work and to learn about styles to create, of course, empathy for that person and why they are in a part time role. So it is really is key. And I think that even for if we look at beyond what the role share sharers are experiencing, we also want to think of it kind of even at a larger scale, what is the manager experiencing that is essentially, you know, managing two people that are doing the same work? How is that enlightening for this manager and their teammates, too? Of course, I've been a huge advocate for a long time. I would love to see this in practice in some of the companies that I worked in before. And of course, I mean, Alphabet and Google, it would be amazing. I think that. People say the more the merrier, I really think that this is a perfect case of that and oftentimes we see the underrepresented person being the number two here or number three or number four. This opens an additional opportunity to get in that person that oftentimes does not get the chance and often to be represented. I mean, look, it's two people doing the exact same job. Similar concepts or in similar teams. And yeah, I just think it would be beneficial for everyone in that experience to be able to just be a part of it.
Sophie : And that was Nabeela Virji, Equity, Inclusion and Diversity lead at X, the Moonshot Factory. Diversity drives innovation, innovation drives revenue. Simple mathematics now square that with sharing. I'm Sophie Smallwood, co-founder of Roll Share. Thanks for listening and join me for another episode soon.