Episode 334: Talent Acquisition and DEI With Kristi Robinson From BARK

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Episode 334: Talent Acquisition and DEI With Kristi Robinson From BARK

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Welcome to the Workology Podcast, a podcast for the disruptive workplace leader. Join host Jessica Miller-Merrell, founder of Workology.com as she sits down and gets to the bottom of trends, tools, and case studies for the business leader, HR, and recruiting professional who is tired of the status quo. Now here’s Jessica with this episode of Workology.

Episode 334: Talent Acquisition and DEI With Kristi Robinson (@KristiRecruit) From BARK

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:00:25.98] Welcome to the Workology Podcast sponsored by Upskill HR and Ace The HR Exam. Today, we’re talking to Kristi Robinson. She’s the Vice President of Talent and Diversity at BARK. Kristi has more than 15 years of experience in human resources and talent acquisition and is responsible for designing and implementing BARK’s talent selection strategy. She focuses on optimizing organizational culture, aligning BARK’s diversity, equity, and inclusion goals with business outcomes, and increasing external employer brand awareness. Prior to joining BARK, Kristi was the Global Head of Talent Acquisition at Dropbox, the Head of Talent Acquisition at Esurance and led a national talent acquisition team as the Senior Director of Recruitment at Liberty Mutual Insurance. Kristi, welcome to the Workology Podcast.

Kristi Robinson: [00:01:15.00] Thank you so much, and thanks for having me.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:01:17.82] Absolutely. I am so excited to talk with you. You have worked in HR leadership in a variety of industries for the past 15 years. Can you talk to us about how your early experience led you to working in diversity, equity and inclusion?

Kristi Robinson: [00:01:32.64] Sure. I’d start by saying that, whether at work or in my personal life. Diversity is just part of who I am, and it’s really important to me. So this has really been a natural fit throughout my career and it’s progressed throughout my career. I’d say starting off in talent acquisition, whether it was when I was a recruiter working my way up into recruiting management or leading TA teams, diversity is always been woven into the strategy. My teams have always had a strong focus on diversity, recruitment and sourcing, finding organizations that are a match and a fit for our company to partner with in the diversity space. So it’s just been an important part of my career.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:02:18.33] I love that and I think as we see more organizations adding to roles, we’re going to see individuals coming into these positions that are created, who have that kind of background and passion, and it’s part of their DNA.

Kristi Robinson: [00:02:36.06] Right

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:02:36.51] One of the things I also love about BARK is your guys’ EVP. It is: be the person your dog thinks you are. I wanted to ask you, how does this tie into the company mission and values?

Kristi Robinson: [00:02:51.24] Well, I couldn’t be more fortunate to work at a company that has a super clear mission that almost anyone that reads it or hears about it can understand what it is. And it’s just as simple as this: make dogs happy. That’s the company’s mission. So our signature product, BarkBox, allows dog parents to personalize their monthly subscription boxes based off of their dog’s needs. So we’re, we’re focused from a customer perspective at the very top of the process on making sure that we’re making dogs happy, we’re making dog parents happy and we’re doing whatever it takes to make that dream come true. So when we think about our employee peace, be the person your dog thinks you are, we have like four pillars of our EVP and one that, one that kind of comes to mind that ties into our mission is we don’t sweat the small stuff and we go way overboard when it comes to providing great services and products. When it comes to getting work done together as a team and from a customer perspective, we strive to treat our customers like our dogs, treat us. So whether we’re helping dogs in need or designing the toys that we make or building software, if we can’t make our products the best in the world, then we’re doing it wrong. And it’s the kind of crazy focus that you can only really learn from your dog. So we tie everything back to the dogs making dogs happy, and then we kind of put that in our own focus as employees as well.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:04:27.15] I love this, and this is such a great example of what I feel like every EVP should be and how it is so easily tied to the mission, vision and values of the organization. You it’s it doesn’t feel foreign or forced or complex. It is simple, and I love that. It makes it easy for employees to truly understand what it is they do and for customers shareholders to be a part of the experience at BARK.

Kristi Robinson: [00:05:05.16] Very cool.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:05:06.63] Can you talk about diversity initiatives at BARK before you join the company and what that looks like now?

Kristi Robinson: [00:05:14.61] Yeah, I was really fortunate when I joined BARK because the team had already put together some amazing initiatives, and the company itself was really founded on the principles of diversity and inclusion. I mean, for example, on our website, we literally say if you want to solve big problems and new ways with the smartest, kindest, weirdest people you’ve ever met, we want to meet you. So for us, in all honesty, the weirder the better, the quirkier, the better. And especially at the beginning in hiring a BARK, I mean, that was part of the interview process. You know, are you different? Do you want to solve big problems? Are you unique? So we love to be around people that are from different backgrounds and think differently. And our employees often say this, you know, whether it’s in surveys or just general feedback that they love being able to see inclusivity surrounding them. One of the things that was in place before I joined was the employees themselves formed seven ERGs on their own without any leadership involvement. So these were completely employee-led initiatives. And from there, a group of leaders got together and said, You know what? We need to provide support to these employees and they formed a diversity and inclusion group or council to really show that support and be a voice for those groups.

Kristi Robinson: [00:06:40.89] And in addition to the ERGs and having a diversity and inclusion council, our people analytics team started publishing diversity data on our company’s intranet site for all employees to see and have access to. And it’s pretty detailed information. I mean, it goes anywhere from race, gender, age. We recently added disability status and veteran status, and that information is broken out by level location department and even down to the team. We also have some hiring data there as well that shows where we are currently year to date with all of those categories and past data, so we can kind of do a comparison. We can see where there are gaps. We can see where there are opportunities and where we’re really doing well. And the key is our employees can see this. So if they have any questions about how are we progressing or are we a diverse organization, it’s very transparent. So I love that, you know, that concept was in place even before I joined BARK.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:07:46.26] I love that. Truly living the values of being the type of person your dog thinks you are and in every way and, and much of this was already in place before you joined. I mean, that’s a fantastic, I think, position that any DEI leader would want to be in.

Kristi Robinson: [00:08:05.49] I feel very lucky.

Break: [00:08:07.14] Let’s take a reset. This is Jessica Miller-Merrell and you were listening to the Workology Podcast, sponsored by Upskill HR and Ace The HR Exam. Today, I’m talking with Kristi Robinson, VP of Talent and Diversity at BARK.

Break: [00:08:21.09] Personal and professional development is essential for successful HR leaders. Join Upskill HR to access live training, community, and over a hundred on-demand courses for the dynamic leader. HR recert credits available. Visit UpskillHR.com for more.

Diversity Sourcing With a Background in Talent Acquisition


Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:08:37.11] One of the things I was really impressed with your background was your focus on, in the TA side of things, talent acquisition. Can you talk a little bit about your current focus on diversity sourcing and how this background in talent acquisition has benefited you and BARK strategically while you’re in this role?

Kristi Robinson: [00:08:58.59] Yeah, it’s a unique role. You don’t see a lot of DEI leaders that are also leading to. So I really was attracted to the role from the beginning with bark and thought that it would be a great opportunity, especially with the size of the company to be able to come in and try to make an immediate impact. And from a sourcing perspective, I mentioned earlier that we have a report that we publish on our intranet that really highlights our diversity data of who’s here and then who have we hired. And having that type of information and analytics handy for recruiting team is kind of like gold. It’s something that recruiting teams don’t necessarily have access to at other companies. And here again, we’ve gone a step further and it’s available really to all employees. But what we’re allowed to do by having data that’s published on race, gender, age, even veteran status disability status is we’re able to look at that data and we can see broken down all the way down to the team level where we need to increase representation. So that allows us to formulate a very specific diversity sourcing strategy all the way down to a role. So if we have specific roles that are open, we can really formulate our strategy there by saying based off of where we are with diversity, here’s where we really should focus. The key is, is that no matter what, we always do very traditional things from a recruiting perspective to make sure that we have a fair and balanced process, and that we’re looking at all candidate profiles and backgrounds.

Kristi Robinson: [00:10:44.67] But if we have an opportunity to say maybe we need to increase from a gender perspective in a specific space, we can then pull some levers and go specifically to some of our gender-based sources that maybe we wouldn’t necessarily have to dig deep into for every single search, but we can really be able to customize our searches in that way. So it’s really a thoughtful way of handling diversity sourcing and really pulling levers, versus saying every single time we’re going to do these 15 things. Because what happens in recruiting is every single time you almost never do those 15 things. So this is really challenging our team because the data is there. We kind of don’t have a lot of excuses. We can literally say, you know, we have formulated this strategy based off of data. It makes us sound a little bit sharp as well when we’re dealing with our customers and also as a company, we’re not just saying. W.e just need more racial diversity, we just know we do like we actually have some data to back up that not only was raised, but we’re looking at all categories of diversity and where we should focus.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:11:56.79] I really love this, and I think it is such a great model for other organizations to follow because so many organizations want to start being more inclusive and being more diverse with their hiring, but they aren’t taking a look at what has already been happening and then understanding as they bring new people in where the gaps are and then what. Like you said, the levers are to that we need to use to be able to, to fill those roles. And holding it’s not just holding your hiring managers accountable, but also your your, your entire TA team.

Kristi Robinson: [00:12:39.06] Yeah. And one of the things that’s been really important for us at BARK has been about trying to be as authentic as we possibly can, which is a struggle for all companies, especially after 2020. And what I mean by that at our organization is that diversity comes in many shapes and sizes, and there’s a lot of pressure out there for DEI leaders, CEOs, leaders of TA to really be focused on one piece of diversity, namely mostly race. And we have really made a conscious effort to talk about diversity in the form of accessibility and disability, mental health, veteran status, gender, LGBTQIA, yes, race and ethnicity and a lot of other categories not just focused on one thing. So when we’re talking about sourcing, we recently entered into a partnership with an organization called Inclusively, which is an awesome organization focused on both mental health and individuals that identify with disabilities. And we just made our first hire last week, and we’re just so happy that we partnered with this org. But that’s an example of kind of thinking a little bit differently about diversity and making sure that you if you’re really going to use the word inclusive at your company, that you really are being inclusive and you’re not just reacting to challenges that you know are in the forefront, you’re addressing those as well, but you’re making sure you’re keeping everybody in mind while doing so.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:14:25.24] We’ve had the, the team on the podcast from Inclusively, so I love hearing that you’re leveraging them for your different hiring initiatives focused on persons with disabilities, that’s awesome. I want to talk a little bit about the CEO and, we are seeing so many people in these new DEI positions, which I love and I love all the conversations that are happening. But increasingly, I’m finding that the conversation or the partnership between the CEO and internal leadership, as well as you and your, your team as the DEI leader is really important. Can you, can you talk a little bit about how that CEO plays into the space and what your internal partnerships would look like?

Kristi Robinson: [00:15:15.85] You know, if I were talking to someone who’s doing a DEI roll, they just started at a company or DEI is new at their company in general, I, my guidance and feedback would be, it starts with getting leadership on board. If leadership isn’t on board and you don’t understand how your CEO and or whoever the senior most leader is in the organization feel about DEI, that they understand what DEI is and what DEI should look like, and be, what the commitments are from the company, then you’re going to pretty much be climbing up a hill alone. So it really starts there with getting that CEO on board and having a conversation. And I was lucky enough when I joined our CEO, Manish Joneja, and, you know, I sat down and had a virtual meeting with him to talk about his view on DEI. And there is a great tip out there. Gartner has a questionnaire that DEI leaders can use when meeting with the CEO, and there’s just a list of questions to kind of, again, pulse check their view. I mean, do they even know what DEI is? It’ss kind of starting there. So I was fortunate enough to sit down with Manish and have a really great conversation with him about the state of DEI at BARK, his personal thoughts on DEI and what were some of the gaps and/or what are some of the things that we should be celebrating that we think we did right. And from there, you kind of start thinking about your strategy and having that support from him has meant the world to me, has kind of made it a bit easier when I’m filtering DEI-related messages throughout the organization.

Kristi Robinson: [00:17:07.36] Whether it was after meeting with him, the meeting with his team and then getting his support and backing on that call, then meeting with the VP’s and some other leaders, meeting with the entire company on the all hands. He always does a great job of echoing any messages related to DEI. He also sends out his own messages coming directly from him that are super authentic, celebrating different days, months, activities, events related to diversity and inclusion. And he’s been a champion whenever I’ve had to deliver any messages about diversity, equity and inclusion. He’ll always kind of back up those messages, whether it’s an email or on a call, and he’s, he’s done some really cool things like asking the senior leadership team to attend ERG events and meetings, and a specific ask was that he’d like to see at least two senior leaders at each one of the events and/or meetings. So that kind of commitment and dedication and support from a CEO is pretty priceless and pretty fortunate to have that here at BARK.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:18:27.43] I want to try to link to the Gartner DEI questionnaire, and then we’ll also link to the Inclusively podcast interview that, that we had in the past, but these are great resources that every DEI leader, even HR leaders that maybe are just starting their DEI efforts at the organization should, should be thinking about as they start to, to build those relationships and really have some candid conversations with, with the CEO and the leadership team.

Kristi Robinson: [00:18:56.59] Absolutely.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:18:58.03] Another area I wanted to talk to you about and we haven’t talked about this a lot on our podcast interviews and we’ve been focused on our diversity, equity, inclusion leaders. What does your employee survey cadence look like for you and what are you including in, in those messages and conversations?

Kristi Robinson: [00:19:16.45] Yeah. So we use Peakon for our survey and that’s a Workday product, and we, we actually have been administering the survey on a monthly basis at BARK, which is a lot I will say, but it’s been giving us terrific data. We did just announce that we’re going to be moving to quarterly. But the cool thing about Peakon, if you’re familiar with it, is that you can filter down your responses so you can look at data and the response rates, et cetera, by category, and they have a category called diversity and inclusion. So as soon as you click on that and whether it’s me clicking on it to see how individuals responded, employees have access to this information as well. And you can see how the company responded and how it compares to other companies and like industries. And you can see that data over time, how we’ve progressed, what some of the gaps are. And then, of course, you can see comments. So what’s great is I have a lot of data. I have a lot of information because we’re gathering it on a regular basis. And I recently shared the Peakon results year to date and did a year-over-year comparison on an all-hands. So the key of what we’re trying to do at BARK with our DEI strategy is communicate. And I think that’s a gap that exists at a lot of organizations, is this kind of thought that it’s scary to communicate and/or discuss anything related to diversity. So we’re really taking it head-on with being as transparent as we possibly can be by having diversity data published that says what diversity looks like in each department, team level, et cetera, location, and having the survey data accessible. And it’s something that I’m also reviewing as well with the employee base.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:21:22.83] I love this, I feel like you’re giving everybody a playbook for the DEI right now. This is a great conversation. Everybody needs to listen to this four times. Take notes and use all the nuggets and the wisdom that you’re you’re sharing here as they’re building out their own efforts. What are the four C’s at BARK and how were they applied?

Kristi Robinson: [00:21:46.11] What’s cool is the four, I wish I could take credit for the four C’s, but the Four C’s is something that’s kind of out there for employee resource groups. And and the thought behind the four C concept is that employee resource groups have this powerful opportunity to cultivate a culture of inclusion within an organization. These are employees that are leading the charge and getting with other individuals that share the same common characteristics and/or cultural backgrounds and/or needs as them. So the way that employee resource groups can have a really big impact is by focusing on four different ways of engaging with employees. And those four ways are to have events focused on community, culture, career, and commerce and/or, like, brand awareness. So when you’re thinking about your ERGs, depending on the company, you may have ERGs where they’re always having a guest speaker to come in and talk about something related to that ERG. Or maybe there are ways the ERG that’s doing the happy hours or ERGs that do a lot of volunteer work in the community. What we’re trying to do is really embrace this concept that’s out there of the four C’s by having events that are in different categories so that you can really touch all of your employee base and you’re not just doing one thing or you’re not just known as the ERG that does one thing, like the ERG that always has a potluck or, you know, a virtual, you know, cooking competition.

Kristi Robinson: [00:23:29.19] You’re looking at how can we impact the community? How can we really focus on some very specific cultural events or events that tie into our ERGs? Let’s say it’s a mental health ERG, how can we think about broadening career aspirations or giving career education if it’s, let’s say, for instance, a gender-based ERG, maybe having in someone from the tightest successful career of that specific gender, come in and share what their career looks like. Or commerce, you know, doing things in the community, but that really bring brand awareness, that are really out there whether it’s, you know, having a table at a parade or having, you know, an informational somewhere and in a public setting. Thinking differently and having all of these different touchpoints for your employees to join what they want to join. That may be of interest to them really making it inclusive.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:24:32.07] Awesome. Thank you for, for sharing. And I hadn’t heard about the four C’s of the ERGs: community, culture, career and commerce. I think that is so, I mean, so easy to remember and such a great way to explain like really the impact that your ERGs can have on the organization and how employees can get involved. What does the future of strategic diversity, equity inclusion look like for you as you’re looking forward?

Kristi Robinson: [00:25:02.33] Strategic DEI, I would say, is really thinking about it in a way of making sure that you are looking at your entire employee base and or who you want to attract and not just focusing on one thing. Being as diverse in your thinking as you are saying that you are as a company, and that would be really what I would say is the future and what we all should be striving to do, in addition to utilizing data to make decisions. And I know a lot of diversity leaders don’t like to talk about data. And by the way, I don’t like to talk about data as in goals, we have to have this percentage. We have to have that percentage. I don’t, I don’t know if that’s the way to go. In my humble opinion, I think the way of the future is really looking at where there are gaps and strategically focusing on the gaps. Focusing on representation in that way and thinking about really strong retention programs and a lot of retention programs should be based on the employees that are there that you can leverage their expertise while you’re also making sure that they’re growing. How can we make sure that people are always growing, but then also some of those employees are your best recruiting sources, referral sources? So how do we get them involved in order to increase their engagement and their growth? So it’s figuring out all of those things.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:26:50.08] I love that. Specially the data piece, I, don’t be scared of, of the data. It’s supposed to empower you with knowledge and information so that you can make better strategic decisions and have more planning and talking points and communication with employees and senior leadership. So fantastic. Kristi, I am so thankful and grateful. Thank you for taking the time and the and out of your busy schedule to talk with us on the podcast today. Truly a great conversation that’s going to help so many DEI and HR leaders.

Kristi Robinson: [00:27:26.44] Oh, thank you so much for having me. This has been amazing.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:27:30.19] We will link to Kristi’s LinkedIn, her Twitter, and then careers at BARK. If you’re like, Hey, she sounds like a boss that I want to work with or you’re interested in opportunities, click on the careers at BARK link and, and apply away. I, I want to connect great HR leaders with, with great team members. So I mean, I feel like you have such a great organization at BARK that, and plus the weird component, the aspect of it, like all, all the people who, you know, walk into the world differently, welcome to apply. That’s amazing, too. Absolutely. Thanks again.

Kristi Robinson: [00:28:11.59] Thank you.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:28:13.39] Hands down one of my favorite and most informative diversity, equity and inclusion conversations coming from the Head of Talent Acquisition. I love all the work that BARK has done prior to Kristi joining, and I just love how she’s tying her work, the, the DEI work directly to business outcomes and the transparency of it all happening. I’m so thankful to have the opportunity to talk with Kristi on the podcast today. Thank you for joining the Workology podcast sponsored by Upskill HR and Ace The HR Exam. This podcast is for the disruptive workplace leader who’s tired of the status quo. This is Jessica Miller-Merrell. Until next time, you can visit Workology.com to listen to all our previous podcast episodes.

Connect with Kristi Robinson.



 – Kristi Robinson on LinkedIn

 – Kristi Robinson on Twitter

 – Careers at BARK

 – Gartner Says Diversity and Inclusion Are the No. 1 Talent Management Priority for CEOs; Most D&I Initiatives Ineffective

 – Episode 280: Using Technology to Bridge the Disability Employment Gap

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