Office Hours: I help startups with everything org-building: Recruiting, People Ops, Coaching, Diversity & Inclusion. I'm Jennifer Kim.Featured

Hi Elphas!I’m Jennifer Kim. I help startups with everything related to org-building: Recruiting, People Ops, Executive Coaching, Diversity & Inclusion, etc. Previously, I was the Head of People at Lever, which I helped from single digits to 150 employees. You might be familiar with Lever, the recruiting software company, as a job applicant or as a customer – or, you may have heard about Lever’s reputation as a workplace. I led a unique Diversity & Strategy that led to previously-unseen results in Silicon Valley: a 50/50 gender balance, as well as significant representation of Black/Latinx, LGBTQ employees, parents/caregivers, etc. Until recently, it was common for Silicon Valley insiders to say that it’s not possible for startups to build for real diversity and thoughtful People Ops. I’m proud of having played a role in proving them wrong. As a startup advisor, I help startups prioritize People Ops *early,* instead of letting everything break. I’m also an executive coach to startup founders and emerging leaders in People Ops. If you want to learn more about me or my work, check out my website or my D&I advice column Inclusion at Work. In addition to answers to your questions, I can also offer 2 more resources I recently launched: - Startup Recruiting Bootcamp: a 3-day workshop for founders/leaders at early-stage companies to learn the fundamentals of hiring. Sessions in January and February in San Francisco, mention Elpha in your application and get $500 off your tuition!- An online course on Diversity & Inclusion strategy for startups! Although my work has focused on the company-perspective of things, I also have a background as a career advisor and love designing/hosting workshops on job searching, startup career development, personal growth, etc. – so hit me up with your questions!In my spare time, I’m a voracious reader (2019 favorites: Educated and Know My Name) and prolific on Twitter on all the topics mentioned above! Say hi @jenistyping
Hi Jen! Thanks so much for joining us!Hi Elpha – please ask Jen your questions before this Thursday. She may not have time to answer every question, so please emoji upvote the ones you're most curious about.
Hey Jen! Great to hear from you and I love your posts on LinkedIn. I'd love to hear more about your approach to achieving 50/50 gender balance, Black/Latinx, LGBTQ employees, parents/caregivers population in the workforce? We have a huge recruitment drive right now and we've been working hard on being visible in the right communities in the last year so it's been abit of a slow burner. I was wondering what were the initiatives that led to successfully achieving that?
Thanks Christine! And thanks for your question – it’s one I hear often as so many companies are interested in recruiting with diversity in mind!My origins in Diversity & Inclusion work has been rooted in empathy. Here's what it looks like when it's applied to the challenge of recruiting with diversity in mind: 1) how might a company *build* an environment where underrepresented groups can thrive, then 2) how might they then *reach* the right communities? I find that currently, many companies are quick to jump into 2, and spend not enough time on 1. But that’s why empathy is key.The reality is, people in underrepresented groups in tech are surviving, not thriving. *That is why we have a diversity problem* – because this is an industry that traditionally, hasn’t been the most welcoming or safe to certain groups. (There’s been countless examples of brave individuals telling their stories from Susan Fowler (, Erica Baker (, Amélie Lamont (, and so many others) So, I don’t think we can ‘fix’ the diversity problem without actually examining the causes that got us here. And my concern with many startups’ diversity recruiting efforts focus on the *company’s* benefit (“how do we look good, by being able to say we have a bunch of minorities on staff?”) and not actually on improving the *experiences of underrepresented groups.* One of the reasons my D&I strategy at Lever worked is because the origins had honestly nothing to do with numbers or trying to look good. When we were less than a dozen employees, we happened to hire a female engineer who I became close friends with. She shared with me horror stories about her experiences that I learned were close to the norm for women in tech. And because the company was so small, I realized we didn’t have to repeat those same patterns – instead, we could actually build an environment that treated her differently, made her feel less than. And by doing that, we’d actually be making a great place to work for *everyone* in general. So the nice statistics about 50/50 gender balance etc – they help get a PART of the message across, but I can tell you it was focusing on the HUMANS that led to those numbers and successes in recruiting, not the other way around. Because being great in recruiting in general involves being attuned to your target pool of talented people and their needs. If you accept that diverse teams lead to successful teams, and that people from underrepresented groups have been mistreated, there’s actually a TON of opportunity for companies to look at this challenge and get into all kinds of creative, highly impactful solutions – whether it’s about showing the leaders’ authentic commitment to diversity, investing in management training to make sure they can provide career dev support to everyone, cultural initiatives that up level everyone’s familiarity with D&I, etc. This is a long answer so I’ll wrap it up, but if you are interested in more, I’ve captured a lot more advice and specific strategies in my Udemy course! I just created the code “ELPHAS” so you can get 50% off :D
Hi Jen,Thanks for sharing your experience.I completely agree that underrepresented groups in tech are not thriving and that it's crucial to look at the systemic issues in tech, it's not a STEM volunteer program or an ERG that will fix it. However, in my experience empathy doesn't deliver that kind of change. (1) There is not a clear cut definition of it: Psychologists and philosophers are still arguing about what exactly is. (2) It's very susceptible to bias: There are tons of studies that show that we are more empathic towards those that are close to us. (3) It's very subjective: We use it to make sense of the world (what we believe others feel) and then to judge the person (would we do the same or not?). As I wrote in this article, I believe in curiosity - rather than empathy - as a D&I enabler.
Hi Jen, I remember meeting you before at an event you spoke at last year. Thanks for all your work. I am also a stealth startup founder, but I also have two diversity and inclusion non-profits I co-founded, one for FilipinX Americans in STEAM (FASTER) and another focused on emerging tech, , focused on serving women and underrepresented communities (particular to Augmented and Virtual Reality). The criticism I've had over the years from some folks is our AR VR organization is still predominantly white. I am the only board member of color and a co-founder. I've made more concerted efforts in past years to try to scale and be more inclusive, though my co-founders, bandwidth wise felt the need to be more personal and intimate with existing members of the community (majority are white). What are some strategies outside of myself raising my voice in board meetings to say that we need more women of color and concerted outreach? Ultimately, I really care about diversity and inclusion within this non-profit and have committed to serving as an advisor. Proceeds from my latest book go towards educational programs at our non-profit, however there is still a lingering issue that persists for lack of women of color in these spaces and I'm trying to figure out a way outside of bringing it up, finding a more actionable way to address it. Others have suggested forming their own group outside of it. Do you have any thoughts or recommendations? I personally am spent on the issue (also a busy stealth startup founder and advisor) and feel like I'm running out of energy and bandwidth and time, but do sincerely care and am trying to find other ideas/solutions to address the issue as I recognize that being seen as exclusive for a diversity and inclusion organization is a problem.
Hi @jen! Thanks for your collection of resources regarding to People Ops for startups. I totally agree with the "early, instead of letting everything break"! We saw few great startups on the news in 2019 related to the people/culture issues. What are your advice for early-stage startups so they will not fall on the paths like that. Thanks.
Hi Samantha – What an interesting Q, thanks! First off, I will say that I actually spend very little time trying to "convince" people. What I mean by that is, there is no law that says you have to care about People/Culture (besides the legally-mandated compliance issues ofc). And a lot of startups/founders don’t. And to that I say – let them. They’re going to end up regretting it, but honestly? Not my problem. Because the evidence is there. Whether it’s study after study that shows us diversity matters, or the zeitgeist around People Ops / Org Dev / Leadership – or the growing press coverage of employee empowerment, tech activism – we’re in the midst of a shift. And there are a lot of people who DON’T want to accept that, and there’s very little I or you can say to convince those who do not ultimately want to be convinced. I instead focus on people who DO want to better invest in People/Org, but find themselves blocked for a variety of reasons. I find that part of that is general sense of overwhelm among founders and leaders – when everything is on fire, how do you know what you’re supposed to work on? Super fair Q, and it’s no wonder the “people” stuff - which seems far more ambiguous and fuzzier than say, lines of code written or revenue #s – tend to get put on the backburner. So I often frame the People Ops / Org Dev work as just one of the things you do to build a successful company. It’s no less important or rigorous than Product or Go-To-Market. Admittedly we haven’t had a lot of examples of that in the past, but I think that’s starting to change. And looking at problems and solving for it – that’s what founders/leaders at startups are good at anyway. I also find that part of being overwhelmed / not knowing HOW to invest in this work is people don’t know where to start! That’s why I’ve open-sourced a TON of materials (for example: but I’m also cooking up some projects in 2020 to solve the more problem systemically. I'll be sure to update Elpha when I have something to show to the world ;)
Thanks, @jen! Oooh, I'm excited to see what you come out with next!
Hi @jen! Thanks for sharing your thoughtful tips! They are great!
Hi @jen! You're everywhere :) I am preparing an internal workshop for my team where I want to present some basics of giving & receiving feedback. It's a relatively young and small team, 50/50 office/remote, heavier on the tech side with a cultural mix between Hong Kong and SF. I am planning to include some key lessons and ready-to-use statements from Radical Candor, Powerful, and NVC and make it practical rather than theoretical. I am wondering if there are some broad things, tips or tools you'd recommend I include based on what you've previously observed to work in improving the culture of feedback in small startups :)
oh hey @sandrasobanska 🤗Love hearing your line of thinking! Feedback/communication styles are SO worth the investment for startup teams – I've find huge successes with the internal workshops I ran at Lever + startups I've been consulting with, in that it's not serves as effective team-bonding, but equips the team with language+skills to better work together. The resources you mentioned are already some of my favorites! I'll add on a few more:Thanks for the Feedback ( an excellent resource, will undoubtedly give you more ideas!Certain types of assessments when used well, can be really helpful. For example, I've run workshops on StrengthsFinder to help each individual realize their personal "superpowers". Another good one is Insights Discovery which focuses on communication styles of different personalities. (DM for more details! I'm also happy to talk about me coming in to your startup to help with these)On a meta note, I'm a huge workshop-design nerd and have open-sourced a guide on how to design internal workshops. This version has been slightly modified to focus on Diversity & Inclusion workshops, but the lessons in here are really applicable to all! Hope you find it useful :)
This is SO useful @jen, as usual :)
Hi Jen! Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions!What has been your observation with regards to employee engagement and career growth in less diverse versus more diverse organizations? How have you guided underrepresented folx in navigating the underlying current of bias that may not be apparent to anyone else but the employee themselves?
Hi Shelly, thanks for the question! Even though my work is primarily with companies, I do spend a fair of time talking to people from underrepresented groups as well – whether it’s as a coach, mentor, etc. While everyone’s stories and career challenges are unique, there are broad themes that come up in these conversations over and over again – and here are perspectives/advice I find myself sharing most frequently: === Community ===This is for you if you’re from an underrepresented background – especially if you’re “the only” on a team (e.g. the only woman, the POC, etc.)Deliberately invest in a community, whether that’s inside of your company’s walls or outside of it. This could be 1:1, mentors, a Slack room, or even just a small group that meets for breakfast every couple of weeks. But it’s so important to have a place where you can find validation, safety, people who just “get” what you’re talking about without you having to explain it too much. AND it’s a way for you to give to others, which can be a healing and empowering experience of itself. Being underrepresented can already be an isolating experience, but it doesn’t mean you have to go through it alone. === Models ===Similarly, look for models to inspire you in your work. Because representation matters. It truly does affect us in how we think about our careers and where we find motivation. For example, I find that my women friends/mentees in technical roles are constantly questioning their roles and future career paths. This is ESPECIALLY true if they don’t have role models in their immediate circles (e.g. a VP of Engineering). If you’re say, a woman in engineering, it can be hard to find motivation to do the work of climbing the ladder etc. when it’s hard to relate to the the people at the top – why would I want to be a CTO when no one looks like me / I don’t identify with their leadership styles at all? To be fair, each individual’s choices are valid and career decisions are always dependent on context. But I also think that just having a couple of models you can identify in your career path (it doesn’t even have to be exact) can be SO helpful. At least, it was for me! So keep an active eye out for people whose voices you identify with, whose work inspires you. Look for people who might have similar backgrounds, whether that’s in engineering, Product, Growth, or People Ops! – that you can see a little bit of yourself in. You don’t necessarily have to ask every single person to be your mentor (they might not have the bandwidth 😅) but follow their work, read their writing, listen to podcasts/talks. And imagine yourself going on paths they’ve gone down and how you might make it your own :) === Obligation to diversity work ===If you’re from an underrepresented background, you do NOT have to do diversity work (unless of course, it’s part of your formal job description). You don’t have to feel guilty. Sometimes, you being able to survive and thrive IS the diversity work and how you are contributing. Read this post from Bukky Adebayo at Inclusion At Work! D&I as an invitation to open your eyes and self-reflect ===Common perception with D&I is only about recruiting numbers, happy hours, and maybe even like communities like Elpha. And that’s def a part of it! But I think what’s not as widely talked about – because it’s not as visible – is that it’s also the springboard for a potential *internal journey* in each of us. The reality is that we live in a very biased world, where systems of oppression are so baked in into our institutions, our brains – we can’t even see them! And leaning into this work has been a bigger eye-opener than I could have possibly imagined.Because you’re right – underrepresented groups are CONSTANTLY navigating underlying current of biases that they may not even be aware of. Many of us are being constantly gaslit and not even aware of it. That’s not to say none of us should take responsibility for our own actions or stop working hard – rather, it’s being able to see the truth that allows us to find power again, and work on the RIGHT things, instead of throwing ourselves at games that are already rigged against us.One previous example of D&I as an invitation for an internal journey was right here in Elpha, when an anonymous poster shared their experiences of being excluded, being on the receiving end of micro aggressions, etc. ( I shared some resources about experiences of women of color/Asian-American identity. I received comments/DMs from so many people saying it was validating for them. And that’s just the beginning – there’s so much to be learned about ourselves and the world from leaning into Diversity – esp when you dig into intersectionality (see and dimensions of diversity that we may not personally identify with). ====Again, every person has a different story but these are patterns that have come up a lot for me – hope they're interesting perspectives to consider!
Hi, Jen! Thank you for making Inclusion at Work and writing such thoughtful tweets. I always learn something new, or gain a resource to share with others. :)Q: How do you handle recruitment for engineering teams/CTOs who say they can't afford to "hand hold" new hires due to limited time/resources/bandwidth so they are only hiring sr engineers who can work independently with little instruction?I understand in a lot of cases the eng teams are stretched thin, but IMHO, there's a conscious/unconscious sentiment behind this of "I need to hire people who look, think, and communicate the same way I do (white cis het men) so I don't have to put any effort into learning how to work with other kinds of people or explain any of my decisions," resulting in either a homogenous candidate pool or an unsupportive work environment for POC and white women.It's a huge barrier of entry for people who aren't white men, and I'd love to hear your strategies for convincing engineers in particular that DEI and mentorship are key elements of team building. TIA!
Hi Jen--congrats on the progress you have made in helping startups achieve D&I and purposefully create cultures of belonging! Thanks for all you do in the world.
Hello Jen,Great job on creating a balanced work force. I read a lot about psychology of leaders so I can help CEO’s align their values and behavior with building companies with strong accounting and finance models. When theory and practice meet and become one, there is nothing more satisfying.
We'd love to invite you to !