SoundCloud’s mission is to give people the power to share and connect through music. The platform’s community of creators and listeners are a young and an incredibly diverse group, and we work hard to ensure our employees reflect this diversity as well. SoundCloud approaches diversity as fundamental to our business strategy, not a secondary part of our HR function, because a diverse workforce enriches and adds real business value in terms of our company and the platform.
As general counsel, I proactively recruit and work to retain a diverse business and legal affairs team. The team works hard every day to make SoundCloud great, and they do this because not only are they hard workers, but they are each represented, valued and – in turn – vested in our collective successes. That’s diversity in action.
SoundCloud is unique, as it sits across multiple industries. For example, the music industry overall still has work to do in advancing diversity and inclusion commitments that truly reflect the breadth of the music community. The tech industry, on the other hand, has a steeper climb because of the lack of representation across women, people of color and LGBTQ. I was on a panel several years ago with other openly gay black men in tech, and everything I heard there confirmed the need for the tech space to do better at all levels, from hiring and cultural processes, to supporting STEM diversity. The good news is that people, from the CEO down, see the problems, which is the first step in creating change. I’m proud to work at SoundCloud knowing almost half our board of directors, and three quarters of our lead board members are people of color. It’s important for me to continually work and build on this achievement, while leading by example.
When it comes to improving diversity, as a leader, you need to first and foremost focus on visibility, because optics are everything. I present at as many external events and panels as possible. I say yes to as many networking opportunities for students and young lawyers as I can accommodate. I’m always willing to share my story – the good, the bad and the ugly! I also actively look for ways to raise the visibility of my team at all levels of the organization and sing their praises. We succeed when everyone gets an opportunity to shine, and I want to celebrate the good things and spread the love.
Recruitment is clearly the critical place to drive diversity and inclusion, and I focus on this area in my efforts at SoundCloud. First, it’s important to go to where the talent is, and ensure job postings end up on sites that draw diverse audiences. I then alert and activate my personal network, which helps funnel young and diverse talent that would benefit my department and SoundCloud as a whole.
It’s also important to have patience in the recruiting process to ensure we identify and interview diverse candidates. SoundCloud uses interview panels, which include multiple stakeholders with different viewpoints to help candidates get a strong sense for individual departments, such as my business and legal affairs team, and SoundCloud as a company.
SoundCloud also offers diversity resource groups (DRGs), which help to recruit talent and forge connections while building community. I personally encourage participation in these groups, because it’s not just enough to bring someone in the door, you want them to stay and contribute. Part of being able to do so is feeling comfortable, and DRGs provide an opportunity for people to find that comfort level, make connections, and feel empowered to bring their whole selves to work. For those who are not DRG members, these groups can provide a platform and an opportunity to learn about the backgrounds, culture and experiences of people who are unlike themselves. If we’re going to talk about our product road map or what’s next in music, but have gaps in understanding between our organization and our creator community, then there is a disconnect and a missed business opportunity. DRGs provide a concrete structure for bringing insight and connectivity to SoundCloud.
I serve as the executive sponsor of one of our DRGs, Clouds of Color. This means I have to truly show up, be available to the employees, champion and advocate for them and their ideas, and represent their interests. It’s a role I take as seriously as being general counsel.
Diversity should also be a topic of discussion with external partners. I ask law firms that are pitching us their services how they approach diversity in their ranks and, specifically, whether diverse lawyers will be covering my matters. What connects law firms and in-house departments is the relationship and level of comfort you have. Fundamental to building this up is simply the ability to have a conversation about these issues. It’s important to constantly nurture that comfort level for the relationship to grow. It’s important to me, my team members who interact with outside counsel, and to our company, that the firms we work with reflect SoundCloud values, and it’s my hope that the firms we work with hold us to an equally high standard. The more that companies engage in dialogue with potential clients, the better for everyone, both for the industries being served by law firms and also for the legal industry.
Looking to the future, SoundCloud needs to continually seek out ways to diversify our ranks, promote more diverse employees into leadership positions and foster a culture of inclusiveness. Going above and beyond is what SoundCloud does really well for the 20 million plus creators on the platform and our listeners who come to SoundCloud to discover what’s new and next. I always want to bring that same energy and thinking to our diversity and inclusion strategy, and watch it thrive.