The key to female-founded Hearsay Social's culture of diversity? A love of debate and a few foundational principles that makes such productive discussion possible.
By Janet Choi (Contributing Writer, Women 2.0)
"Debate, decide, deliver" is the spirited motto at Hearsay Social, the fast-growing social media management company that helps brands and organizations build better customer connections.
Founded in 2009 by Clara Shih and Steve Garrity, one of the ways the San Francisco-based startup is carrying out its motto is by growing a culture of diversity. Gathering people with a variety of viewpoints and experience is not only what makes that debate flourish, it’s also how Hearsay Social continues to stand out as a company that inspires its employees to keep learning from each other and delivering.
Fish for Talent in Fresh Waters
Engineer-turned-CEO Shih started out with an explicit goal of attracting heterogeneity. “The best way to have more productive debates and reach more creative solutions is bringing together people with diverse backgrounds and perspectives,” she explains. “We have done this by intentionally hiring smart and dedicated people, often with unusual backgrounds.”
Looking beyond experience and diverging from the tech and startup arena, Hearsay Social has welcomed self-taught programmers as well as people like Thomas Westhoff, an account executive who formerly worked in insurance, and Ally Russell, a human rights attorney who was Hearsay Social’s first full-time marketing hire. By not squeezing people into specific roles or trajectories, hiring becomes an exercise in creativity in which deliberation on what skills, experience, and qualities will transfer can ultimately lead to a better fit.
Another vital upside is that the business gains new insights and innovation. Take Emi Nomura, currently a data scientist at the company, as an example. She’s applying her neuroscience post-doc research on neural networks to social media analysis, uncovering "amazing similarities between the neural networks in brains and social networks."
So what does the company look for if it isn't the usual resume basics? "People who share our passion for serving customers, who challenge themselves and one another to deliver great results, and who feel the sense of urgency and desire to change the world," Shih explains.
Make Everyone Comfortable
Consciously fostering differences from the ground up has helped Hearsay distinguish itself as a diverse company. Shih says, “We are proud of the large percentage of women we have in leadership roles and across the company who set a great example for the rest of the industry.” That means actively promoting female-friendly engineering and startup cultures by hosting gatherings for female engineers and women throughout the organization and reaching out to the community with events for engineers and young women interested in STEM, such as the engineering team’s recent discussion panel for Hackbright Academy students.
Get Out of the Way
Integral to helping passionate, creative people do and feel their best is promoting transparency and dialogue on the one hand and getting out of their way to let them do their job on the other.
Hearsay Social’s practice of company-wide peer reviews twice a year is especially useful in a flexible, fast-moving business where individuals work in multiple teams and leadership roles may vary with the project. Shih also points out the key role of feedback in improvement: "It is very hard to get better without feedback. We encourage everyone up and down the organization to share feedback in real-time and receive feedback openly."
Decentralizing processes such as reviews and encouraging participation helps keep employees engaged and motivated. And according to Shih, it’s not just women or any particular segment of employees who are impeded by workplaces that prevent people from exercising autonomy or connecting with each other to make decisions. "To be honest, I think women and men can feel equally frustrated in command-and-control environments," she comments.
"Everyone wants to feel ownership and pride in what they do, and certainly the incredible people we hire at Hearsay Social are lifelong learners who are more than capable of figuring out solutions to big problems that they’ve never seen before."
Supporting Hearsay’s guiding principles of diversity plus “debate, decide, deliver” is a strong foundation which provides the things people need to work well, from the security of comprehensive benefits to free food, weekly yoga classes, and social events like monthly beer bashes.
Shih recounts the founders’ deliberate efforts to build an encouraging company culture, to consistently take the same care they put into their customer relationships inside the company itself. "Hearsay Social strives to be intentional and explicit regarding our company culture and values, from the very early days even when it was just Steve and me working out of my living room."
"With the fast pace that we move at, we ask a lot of our people, so we like to give back with the best possible benefits package and perks, and to really listen to our employees the way we strive to really listen to our customers."
Do you agree with Shih that diversity and productive debate are intertwined?
Janet Choi is the Chief Creative Officer at iDoneThis, the easiest way to share and celebrate what you get done. Janet writes about productivity, motivation, and the way people work. She has previously been an opera magazine editor, lawyer, and gelato scooper. Follow her on Twitter at @lethargarian.