Kali Beyah: Q & A.
April 4th, 2022.
Huge's Women's Affinity Group caught up with Global Chief Talent Officer Kali Beyah to learn more about her career background, hear about women who inspire her, and see how she looks to #BreaktheBias in the world each day.
You have a really interesting career trajectory, starting out as a litigator and advisor at a law firm, then moving in-house as Assistant General Counsel at Delta Air Lines before pivoting to heading global talent management and acquisition for the organization. How did your career journey lead you to join Huge as Global Chief Talent Officer? What are the challenges and opportunities working in this space vs. law?
You’re right — I’ve had a winding road, from litigator to lobbyist, to leading talent for Delta, and now Huge. Steve Jobs once said, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.” Joining Huge presented an opportunity to connect the dots—tapping into my start in professional services (as an associate and then partner in a law firm), and to unlock the potential of people and teams in a global organization as I’d done at Delta. On top of that, Huge presented an opportunity to work alongside a brilliant team and in an organization doing bold creative work. More and more, that boldness and creativity extend to the work we do to create an organization where people and the business thrive.
There are many similarities between practicing law and working in talent. Much of the work is about connecting information and people to understand a narrative and achieve a goal, whether that goal is retention and attraction or persuading a jury. I’ve always been drawn to adaptive challenges (situations where there are no known solutions to the problem or cases where there are too many solutions but no clear choices). Both talent and the law present adaptive challenges in spades, but talent has to take the trump card —- the challenges are always fluid, complex and interesting and ultimately, rewarding.
This year’s International Women’s Day theme is #BreakTheBias. What biases, if any, have you faced in your career, especially as a woman of color? How did you navigate it? Are there any life lessons you could share? And more broadly, how can we help each other break the bias and what should companies/corporations be doing to break the bias in their organizations ?
As a Black woman and mother, I’ve faced and had to overcome bias throughout my career. And like many, I live with the indelible marks— and sense of responsibility— that comes with breaking bias. I’ll always remember a deep sea fishing outing early in my career. The head of the organization talked with my friend and colleague the entire time about how she reminded him of his daughter. He was so engaged and interested in her story, her goals and the work she was doing. I was just a few feet away and he treated me as invisible the entire time. As a Black woman, I realized it was unlikely that I would remind him of his daughter, at least visually, and if I was invisible there was no opportunity to learn or share more. It was painful.
One of the biggest lessons I took from this was the importance of seeing people in our workplaces, and as importantly, not relying on parallels to our families or social circles as the predominant or singular bridge to building relationships. That is inherently limiting and biased at a systems level. Fortunately, I’ve had many experiences of being seen, heard, valued and amplified in my career. That kind of active sponsorship has been essential to breaking barriers in my career, whether it was being the first woman on my team in more than a decade to have a child before making partner in our law firm or rising in leadership at a Fortune 100 company.
Before I talk about what else we can do to break bias, I want to expressly call out that those who have the most impact, capital and representation are uniquely positioned to break bias, clear hurdles and make space for the business imperatives of diversity and inclusion. I’d love to say that we all have an equal ability to make that difference— but the truth is that those with the greatest “capital” in an organization— whether it’s leadership capital, relationship, performance, social or otherwise— can have an outsize impact on unlocking the possibilities for women and underrepresented people.
A key lesson/action item for breaking bias is to keep ourselves accountable for outcomes, more than words and inputs. Specifically, ask yourself “Who is at the table, in their dream role, or progressing quickly because I invested in them, cleared the way, promoted and advocated for them ?” In other words, for whose career progression and success did you advocate when that person was not in the room? Ask yourself if that person looks like you, has your same diversity dimensions? Have you had this impact for women and underrepresented minorities? What does the make-up of your team, your most recent promotions and hires, or supply chain say about your legacy and commitment to advancing women in the workplace? Then get to work diversifying your circle of impact— do so unapologetically, thoughtfully and continually just as we would do for any other business imperative.
What women, past or present, inspire you the most? Who is someone that epitomizes the #BreakTheBias theme that you think everyone should know about?
I’m often annoyed when I hear someone answer this question and cite their mom or family member, but I have to start there myself. I come from a family of amazing, bias and barrier-breaking women. My grandma taught Black people to read the constitution so that they could pass literacy tests in the Jim Crow South; my mom was in the first class of women at Yale and even then some refused to room with her as a Black woman—so I count myself as fortunate to start from a place of resilience, brilliance and productive defiance.
I have also been inspired by brilliant thinkers, provocateurs, truthtellers and multipliers such as:
Michelle Obama, Faith Ringgold, Melody Hobson, Nina Totenberg, and RBG (who I got to see and win a case before!).
I’ve come to think of admiring people like I think of leadership—- we shouldn’t look to any single person to be all things. We should look to have all the right pieces, capabilities, behaviors—and then bring them together to create something magical—something that isn’t possible with just one, even an amazing one.
From your perspective, what is the state of women in the workplace? How has the pandemic affected women specifically? What are some of your biggest takeaways from this chaotic and uncertain period in our lives?
Women have made important gains in workplace representation, but the pandemic has disproportionately squeezed women, leaving us in a precarious position when it comes to the workplaces of our world. The pandemic’s blurring of boundaries, crisis in childcare, unequal job losses and impact on health and wellness were and remain acutely felt by women and mothers. The longer term impacts of the pandemic on women, including retirement insecurity, are no less concerning.
The good news is that we also have an unparalleled opportunity to rethink the workplaces, make them more inclusive, and ensure our policies and norms are more likely to retain, attract and engage female talent. Returning to the status quo isn’t an option— employees are telling companies that again and again. We’ve got an Overton window, and we are leaning into it at Huge— with new policies, norms and ways of working. Our ambition requires it, and that’s exciting.
Although Huge has always prided itself on being a human-first company, we recently rolled out our New World Working policy, which you led in building. The new policy includes important benefits like MTO, Huge Holidays, Early Fridays, Caregiver Time, and Taking Care Days, among others. What was the goal in rolling out these policies? How are we, as a company, breaking the bias for women at Huge and beyond?
Our New World Working approach to the future of work is about a genuine belief that thriving people and a thriving business go hand-in-hand. It is about the sum of our policies and how we create an ecosystem that allows people to be well and thrive, and to have the periodic pauses that create the capacity and perspective needed to do amazing, creative work. Sustainably. It is also a bold rejection of the oft-held belief that martyrdom in the name of work is laudable. It is not.
We believe this approach is particularly supportive of women and caregivers. And we’re complementing NWW with other strategies, including more development, transparency, internal mobility and the important work our affinity groups and Office of DEI do for the organization. We’ve focused our strategies, and increased transparency and bias disruption to continue the work of breaking bias and building a better Huge.