Crystal Huang: “When in Doubt, Always be Kind”

One of the best things I have seen come out of this time is revamping the sanitization process in many different industries. We see more employees sanitizing and keeping surfaces clean. Airline companies are upgrading their filtration systems and sanitization processes. Parents are reminding each other not to bring sick kids to school. I see […]

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One of the best things I have seen come out of this time is revamping the sanitization process in many different industries. We see more employees sanitizing and keeping surfaces clean. Airline companies are upgrading their filtration systems and sanitization processes. Parents are reminding each other not to bring sick kids to school. I see employers being more lenient with employees who have sick ones at home. I see people trying to stay healthy and eating healthier. Perhaps I am a little obsessive about cleanliness and health, but this is bringing about improved health efforts in communities all around.

The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Many of us now have new challenges that come with working from home, homeschooling, and sheltering in place.

As a part of our series about how busy women leaders are addressing these new needs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Crystal Huang.

Crystal Huang is the Co-founder and CEO of ProSky, a high-growth HR SaaS company that gives organizations innovative tools to recruit, hire, and retain diverse talent with the best cultural fit. As a mom, a business leader, and an award-winning entrepreneur who guest-speaks for organizations like the Gates Foundation, Institute for the Future, Close-It Summit, Cornell, and the ACT Foundation, Crystal is passionate about providing equity and access for women and minorities through education and sharpened human resource strategy and tools. During the pandemic, Crystal and her executive team have taken steps to improve their employees’ work-life balance and maintain the family-friendly, remote environment cultivated at ProSky.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

Igrew up in an HR household. My father consulted with C-suites of Fortune 500 companies on a higher HR — Organizational Development and Structure level. Call it the 90’s, but I remember going with my father to some of these meetings after school. I would sit in a corner with my book or homework while he went on in his meetings. This was perhaps the best education I got in HR and was the foundation of my understanding of HR. Fast forward to when I started my own career — I ran a marketing department for a fast-growing company and had to take care of a lot of their hiring needs. It was surprising to me to find that no HR software had any functionality for organization development and that the majority were catered specifically to recruiters. As I did more research, I learned that the few economic downturns that happened as I grew up contributed to the watering-down of the HR role. The role downsized from being a strong partner of the C-suite with a large budget to an administrative role with no HR background. At the same time, I saw a lot of politics and bias happen within the companies. Topics of how to build a great culture and eliminate biases were being discussed globally. I knew this gap was widened because of the absence of a good organization structure and development strategy. I did what I could with the best software out there, but I knew something bigger and better had to be created to not only fix HR but to make an organization whole. That became the start of ProSky.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started at your company?

The great news about being a mother while starting a company is the many fun stories you tell. When the company was in its infancy phase — the bootstrap phase — I was multitasking, taking care of two toddlers, and building a company. Once, I had an important call with one of the top decision-makers at Cornell. I got my kids’ favorite TV show up with a large selection of snacks in front of them. It was perfect. Then, I went to my room and wisely locked my door (I had a camera on the two troublemakers) as I proceeded to take my sales call. Just three minutes into the call, I heard cries of “Mom!” from the living area. Knowing my quiet “office space” was currently being overthrown, still talking on the call, I booked it to my closet, shut the door, and continued speaking like that ten-second dash never happened. There, I closed one of our most important sales that later brought us many companies as clients, while my two toddlers were crying and banging on the door. It turns out that Toddler 1 had eaten too many of Toddler 2’s snacks. Lesson learned — have two platters of snacks next time around.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Yes! Through our partnerships, we are building a stronger bridge between industry and candidates. One of the hardest things in recruiting, which seeps into organizational structure, later on, has been the ability to find the right qualified candidate for the job. We are partnering with some of the most innovative enterprises and candidate distribution channels to improve the training and development of candidates before they even get assessed by the company. We are working to create employment networks with unique distribution channels to seek a diverse mix of candidates, who usually get lost in the shuffle of job boards. From there, we implement a unique evaluation of the candidates within their hiring pathway to give a 360 view. This eliminates bias and allows the company to focus on what the candidate is bringing to the table. As a result, we are seeing more minorities and women get hired as they can show that they are just as good, or often better, than the mainstream candidate. This carries into a more diverse culture for the company with a stronger set of candidates. It also sets the foundation and precedence of evaluations for employees as the measure of performance vs. relationships and other biases within the company.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Eric Denna comes to mind. He not only had a significant impact on me learning how to start a business, but he taught me a very valuable personal lesson. I was trying to start my first business, before ProSky, confused and eight-months pregnant with my first child. I reached out in a LinkedIn group, asking if anyone had a few minutes to chat and offer some much-needed advice. Eric Denna responded and emailed me. I told him I would meet him at a place and time that was most convenient for him. Instead, he told me, “No, you are pregnant. I’ll come to you.” We met at my home office, where he proceeded to spend hours talking through the issues I was going through and giving valuable advice. He later connected me with some instrumental people who helped me even more. It wasn’t until later that I learned that he was at that time the CIO of the University of Utah and was also owner and board member of seven other entities. He was a man with very little time, and I was certainly of no value to his network. Yet, he found time to help out a desperate stranger. I had been so used to busy people who would often cancel time or reschedule because of their stature of importance and would tell myself, hey, they are really busy people. But that day, I learned that no matter how big you become, you can always find time to help others.

The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Can you articulate to our readers what are the biggest family related challenges you are facing as a woman business leader during this pandemic?

Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?

Being a mom brings many complexities to the picture. As a woman, you are expected to give 100% to your work and 100% to your family. That is not expected of a man or a dad. Juggling homeschooling my children and the rigorous schedules of a founder has not been easy. I imagine that to be the same for any working mother. As a working mother, you feel the guilt of not always being there for your children, as most SAHMs do. Even as you are with them, your mind floats to what needs to be done at work. The most significant challenge I have faced has been learning how to compartmentalize both aspects. I learned that responding to an email at a later time will not make a big difference. But not being 100% there mentally with my children during the time I have with them will show. While it hasn’t been the easiest, as some people have asked for instant responses despite the unique challenges we are facing during this time, I have also learned that the job still gets done, and none of that is worth sacrificing what’s most important in life. I will be forever grateful for a text I received from one of my investors a month ago. All it said was, “How are your kids doing during this time?” There was no mention of work, and it reminded me of the little things that matter in humanity. It certainly reminded me that I need to do the same for my employees and partners, just as I hope for patience for what I do. As I consciously remember to do that, I have seen stress melt off employees’ shoulders, and I have seen more productivity. It pays to care.

Can you share the biggest work related challenges you are facing as a woman in business during this pandemic?

As companies all around struggle and freeze certain budgets, we have certainly had to bring our initially optimistic sales goals down a notch. It was not easy doing that as 2020 was supposed to be the year for us.

Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?

We focus on existing customers and partners. We are working on automating more functions for our customers. We are working to build a stronger product. We are working on larger partnerships that typically take up a lot of time, which has eased up for a short period during this COVID-crisis. Effectively, we are re-routing our efforts to parts of the business that we usually don’t have a lot of time for. While many of these efforts do not see the dollar sign immediately, or even in the short-term, we know these efforts will help in the long-term.

Can you share your advice about how to best work from home, while balancing the needs of homeschooling or the needs of a family?

Personally, I have flipped my schedule around a bit. Mornings after breakfast are now devoted to homeschooling. We take care of the kids first. Then, we take care of our own business. The kids sacrifice by eating breakfast by themselves while we try to take care of the most important emails. Once homework is done, the kids do personal activities while we get more work and meetings done. We spend time together in the late afternoon doing family activities and dinner together. After dinner, the kids usually get ready for a quiet activity and bed, and that’s when work really starts up for us. I’ve learned that if you fill your kids’ buckets first, you will be able to then focus on what needs to be done.

Can you share your strategies about how to stay sane and serene while sheltering in place, or simply staying inside, for long periods with your family?

You need to find common interests together as a couple or as a family. When you enjoy being together, it certainly makes having long periods of time with your family great. We also have a small rotation of friends we know are taking all the same safety measures. This way, we can do mini get-togethers while allowing the kids to have some much-needed playtime. But most importantly, taking the time to understand how to fill everyone’s buckets first helps keep the calm and fun within the household.

Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your perspective can you help our readers to see the “Light at the End of the Tunnel”? Can you share your “5 Reasons To Be Hopeful During this Corona Crisis”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.

  1. There will always be uncertainty and fear in different cycles of our lives. One of the things that have made me hopeful is seeing old videos of past presidents’ interactions with one another pop up on my feed. It is heartwarming to see videos of the Bushes, Clintons, and Obamas coming to events to support each other and, sincerely, casually, and with light-heartedness, joke about each other. It reminds me that no matter how polarizing issues can be, we are all Americans first, and as we remember that, we can choose to see the good in each other. It gives me hope that this divided time, politically and racially, is but a small bump in the road, and we will come out of it because we are all Americans at our very core.
  2. One of the best things I have seen come out of this time is revamping the sanitization process in many different industries. We see more employees sanitizing and keeping surfaces clean. Airline companies are upgrading their filtration systems and sanitization processes. Parents are reminding each other not to bring sick kids to school. I see employers being more lenient with employees who have sick ones at home. I see people trying to stay healthy and eating healthier. Perhaps I am a little obsessive about cleanliness and health, but this is bringing about improved health efforts in communities all around.
  3. One of my biggest fears has always been people not seeing that automation is taking away jobs and merely pointing fingers to different racial groups on that issue. I know it is coming as our platform engages in creating automation within HR, as well. It is not a bad thing. It is a much-needed technological advancement, but such advancements can hurt people if they do not prepare for it. The pandemic made that come around faster and perhaps, sometimes, in a more positive light. Because of the pandemic, we recognize the need for automation, but we now realize that we need to do something for the base of people directly affected by it. Conversations and discussions about solutions are now open. While we are still a way from a proper solution, the important thing is that the conversation has finally started, giving me great hope.
  4. There was a story about a little boy who stood in front of his sister in a charging dog’s line. He got bit in the face instead of his sister. First, the heroism and love of that little boy gives me hope for the next generation — that we are raising courageous kids who choose to do what’s right. Then, the outpour of love sent back to this little boy by the public and even the actors of the Avengers was so encouraging. It reminds us that, above all of our differences, we are all humans. I also loved watching the “Good News” segments on YouTube created by John Krasinski. It reminded me that humanity cares for each other despite our differences. Seeing all the goodwill gives me hope that not only can we do better, many of us are already doing good in our communities despite news outlets not reporting on this side.
  5. Finally, this pandemic has forced us to take a second hard look at our education system from kindergarten to college. It’s a known fact that our education system has been suffering — from a lack of funding to a lack of innovation. I am hopeful that the industry is opening up many new discussions for change that will better serve and build our communities. I hope that we will better ourselves in giving the best education to every child and innovating our college system so that everyone has a fair shot at the American Dream.

From your experience, what are a few ideas that one can use to effectively offer support to their family and loved ones who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?

It is important to explain things to children. Shielding them from riots, serious issues, and unkind things may result in heightened anxiety when they see pictures they don’t understand. I believe children have the capacity to understand things, and that understanding will keep them calm as they will feel they have control over that knowledge and know how to process such information. It takes time to explain such complicated matters, and one must take time to do so.

We actually have a situation with a co-worker who has been feeling very anxious about various things. Sometimes, it is not up to us to fix things. Sometimes, all we can do is tell them we care and that we are here for whatever they need.

It may be just enough to listen with friends and family who have different and sometimes very opposing viewpoints. This is something I do better with friends than with family, and I am learning as I go to just listen and keep certain opinions to myself. Sometimes, people need to talk about such issues to release and vent the stress that has been building in them.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“When in Doubt, Always be Kind.” I have no idea who coined it or where it came from, but now, more than ever, this quote, this mantra is so relevant to not just my life but in the lives of everyone. We may not agree on every issue. We may not understand why someone is doing something or why things are done imperfectly or not the way we want them to be. But we can have compassion and always be kind first and foremost.

How can our readers follow you online?

I tweet at @crystalprosky and sometimes on @ProSkyers. Thanks for having me!

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

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