Work to bring a better user experience for everyone. Who are you excluding by not actively including them? Every business can think about this question, regardless of field. I think many plan for what is easiest to accommodate for, but not reality. Are you thinking about each person that will be using your product or service? Are you doing more than getting diverse hires in the door? Work to bring the best experience for all, whether it be employees or product users.
As part of our series about ‘5 Steps We Must Take To Truly Create An Inclusive, Representative, and Equitable Society’ I had the pleasure to interview Becca Post.
Becca Post is the CEO and founder of Helen & Gertrude, a certified women-owned digital agency in Rochester NY. Becca is responsible for overall company mission, strategy, and growth of H&G. A self-proclaimed “awkward introverted extrovert,” Becca exercises all angles of her personality in — and outside — of the office. On any given day Becca could be anything from ‘office mom,’ operations manager or stepping in to do some design work for a client team under a tight deadline. Outside of the agency, she’s a devoted animal lover often fostering one or two extra dogs in her home and fundraising for local animal shelters.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?
I spent the majority of my life on a small family farm on a back dirt road in rural Pennsylvania. The highlight of every year was the county fair where we would show and sell our market animals. But, the menagerie you could find at our home always fascinated my friends. We had the classic farm with pigs, cows, and chickens, but then we also mixed it up with iguanas, ferrets, and other creatures. At one point, we even had a cricket business, where we would sell crickets to reptile businesses and owners. Fed up with commercial agriculture, my parents aimed to raise my brothers and I to understand where our food came from, and that we didn’t have to accept the status quo. It was a childhood they like to remind us that “builds character”.
While agriculture was a big part of my upbringing, when it came time to choose a college, I knew I wanted to study the arts. I studied New Media Design at the Rochester Institute of Technology, a program that introduced me to the world of web development, but also allowed me to focus on creating.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity by Kim Scott. The foundation of this book highlights how to lead with empathy and humanity without compromising your strengths. It was so relatable for me because I work to create an environment that fosters open and honest conversations, even when they’re difficult. This book speaks to how those important discussions overall help people to grow. Helen & Gertrude makes the steps needed to receive a promotion clear by having comprehensive role level definitions available for anyone to access via a shared server. Employees also complete 360-degree peer reviews twice a year. Employees have direct access to their manager at all times, and most meet weekly to exchange feedback and address questions. Myself and co-founder Leire are available for anyone in the company at any time, regardless of their role level. Promoting transparency in this way has allowed for clearer communication and goals to be met, and has always been a core piece of our business.
Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?
“We’re all a work in progress.” I’ve found myself repeating this mantra over and over, especially since I’ve been in a leadership position. This is true from interns to CEOs, everyone has room to grow. Having it all figured out 100% of the time is just not realistic, and is a lot of pressure to put on both yourself and your teammates. I’ve found acknowledging that we’re all improving and being transparent about how we can support each other allows the space for everyone to learn and grow from their mistakes and experiences.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
A leader is someone who clears barriers and gives recognition. Meaning, sometimes a leader’s job is to create the space for others to accelerate in their position. For example, during long days on set, I see senior management spending time breaking down boxes and shuffling props, allowing others to create and do the work they are so passionate about. It is inspiring to see leaders respect the work of their crew, which often brings respect in return. Leadership doesn’t always mean taking charge, it means giving others the space and trust to run the show. Leaders are not reflected in a title, but in their actions.
In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?
I totally harness the energy of a power stance. I remind myself to take a deep breath and that I’m in control. I remember back in fall of 2019, we opened our agency doors for the first “formal” occasion for a lunch & learn during Rochester Ad Week. Flooded with excitement and nervousness, I stood in front of the bathroom mirror. Sure, it feels a little silly standing with your arms on your hips and legs spread wide, looking back at yourself smirking in the mirror, but it really does help! I breathed in and out and reminded myself that I knew this topic backwards and forwards, and told myself “you’ve got this.”
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. The United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This is of course a huge topic. But briefly, can you share your view on how this crisis inexorably evolved to the boiling point that it’s at now?
2020 has been one hell of a year. No one has been spared from hardship, and people have finally had enough. The COVID-19 pandemic has heightened the exposure of how divided our country is, highlighting a clear privilege that some have over others. Some are able to work from home, while others are paid minimum wage for an essential job. Not everyone has the ability to keep their kids home or hire a nanny or tutor. Case after case of seeing white privilege in practically every instance of life, from resources available to treatment by law enforcement officers; we have hit a breaking point. With a large number of the population at home, more media is being consumed. People are raising their own awareness and education on the topics such as inequality and racial biases. With so many suffering, we have reached the point where we need to take care of one another.
Can you tell our readers a bit about your experience working with initiatives to promote Diversity and Inclusion? Can you share a story with us?
I have been on multiple panels highlighting the importance of gender equality, and have been asked a series of questions I was expected to answer with heavy stories, only to have my eyes opened to my privilege in the category. I hadn’t experienced half the things my peers had gone through, and while it wasn’t a walk in the park, I realized other people have experienced such a variety of issues and discrimination. I took this thinking and brought it into my own practices, considering the experiences of each of my employees and future hires. As a company, we celebrated Black History Month with internal presentations on our local upstate NY history and encouraged employees to visit the locations part of the underground railroad. We hosted a movie night to view Ava DuVernay’s 13th and discussed it together as a company. We annually celebrate Pride Month together as an agency by attending the Pride parade here in our city. Most recently, we focused on trainings on topics like Mental Health Awareness & Undermining White Supremacy in the Workplace. These conversations are so important to have, because unless you are living it, you may not realize the discimination those around you are facing. Workplaces need to create a safe environment where these topics can be discussed freely. On top of our internal culture, we have also looked at the recommendations we are making for our clients. From hiring more diverse models, to their involvement on social media, we are helping them navigate their position and push towards a more inclusive society. As we continue hiring more BIPOC, I think about how they would feel in our office. These thoughts need to take place before the hires even happen, to ensure your culture is one of acceptance and safety for anyone you bring aboard. We aren’t beating around the bush or walking on eggshells anymore, we are building up allies internally, to bring change externally.
This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?
The more diverse your executive team is, the stronger your business will be. You’re going to have a diverse team of employees, how are they going to feel working for a team they do not see themselves in? Your executive team should be a representation of the business you want to build. Employees want to know they have a path to move up, and without that representation on top they won’t see that. We must amplify Black voices and elevate Black & POC to positions of power. Having a diverse team will contribute to diverse perspectives and ideas, and propel the business forward.
Ok. Here is the main question of our discussion. Can you please share your “5 Steps We Must Take To Truly Create An Inclusive, Representative, and Equitable Society”. Kindly share a story or example for each. 1.
1. Work to bring a better user experience for everyone. Who are you excluding by not actively including them? Every business can think about this question, regardless of field. I think many plan for what is easiest to accommodate for, but not reality. Are you thinking about each person that will be using your product or service? Are you doing more than getting diverse hires in the door? Work to bring the best experience for all, whether it be employees or product users.
2. Focus on representation in the media. The media holds a lot of power, and as content creators we have an impact on others and what they consume. Post with purpose, fully read what you are putting out there and understand its importance. Perceptions of stereotypes come from the content people are exposed to from a young age. We should be building content that is more inclusive from the start, and give everyone a chance to feel seen and represented. At Helen & Gertrude, we work to find more diverse models in our advertisements to better represent all those that will be buying products. A Netflix documentary, Disclosure, shines a light on Hollywood’s representation of transgender people, reminding us that our work can affect consumers on a deeper level than we realize. We learned, 80% of Americans don’t personally know a trans person so our work is their only exposure to this community. It’s important for us to continuously educate ourselves to tell more authentic stories and better represent our audiences.
3. Better our education system — I remember going back to the career day at my high school, and I was so shocked by the lack of exposure to different career paths. Many small rural towns build a similar type of lifestyle, and kids are not exposed to the diverse opportunities the world has to offer. This is true beyond small towns, however. There is a lack of funding across the board that largely impacts schools in low income communities, many of those having a high minority population. It is a broken system that will continue to be in a loop until we prioritize funding education for everyone. In the beginning of 2020, we’re proud to have partnered with a local Rochester city school, Edison Tech for the ribbon cutting of their Digital Media Arts and Communication Pathway. They provide tremendous amounts of resources to their students promoting education in specialties such as, technology and media. We were able to go in and give students real world experience in our field, by creating tasks for them to promote the ribbon cutting of their new renovated space and resources
4. Get everyone better access to technology– The pandemic has definitely heightened our awareness of the barriers in place for many to have access to technology. Children are expected to learn from home, but funding doesn’t exist to provide them the necessary resources. The FCC reported that 6% of the population — still lack access to fixed broadband service at threshold speeds. In rural areas, nearly one-fourth of the population — 14.5 million people — lack access to this service. How are people expected to learn when they are not granted equal access? The lack of access to technology creates a strong division and continues to propel the privileged. Our world is so focused on the next best technology, but allowing everyone the opportunity to even have access to technology is step one.
5. Open our wallets — Participate monetarily to causes that truly need it, don’t just talk the talk, walk the walk. This also means hiring BIPOC, get them into your hiring pools and bring them into your workplace, while ensuring you are providing fair and equal pay. Partner with Black-owned businesses and influencers if applicable. We track the amount of props we source from Black-owned businesses at H&G and have a monthly goal to hold ourselves accountable, which is a very simple but effective way to be involved.
We are going through a rough period now. Are you optimistic that this issue can eventually be resolved? Can you explain?
I am very hopeful that we’re on the path of big change. While we are in a painful and difficult time, I believe that this was necessary to bring the change we have been in such desperate need of. Gen Z is taking no shit, and I am here for it. You have the well-known figures like Greta Thunberg standing up to the President of the United States, and Malala Yousafzai fighting for her right to education. But the beautiful part is, you have youth in every corner of the world getting more involved than they have ever been. Surviving high school is hard enough, but they are taking to the streets and demanding policy change every single day. In addition, political conversation is becoming more commonplace. The general population is becoming more educated in every facet from who they vote for at a local level to what corporations they are willing to support. Everyone is being held accountable for their actions, biases, and their part in our way forward.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
I would love the opportunity to sit down and chat with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. AOC is a great example of a leader, and someone I look up to. She’s created a role model for many young people, and shows that you don’t need to wait until you have 20+ years of experience to make an impact, you just need action. She shows people that you can be passionate and involved, regardless of the things others say about you. She is standing up for a lot of people who do not currently have a voice, which is something more of us should learn to do. I’d love to hear about her can-do attitude and her continuous push to get stuff done, while practically not giving a damn about the haters.
How can our readers follow you online?
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!