Damien Hooper-Campbell On Why Tech Has a Shot at Moving the Needle On Diversity

Blavity, Special Contributor

Read Blavity's interview with our new Chief Diversity Officer.

Editor's note:  This interview originally appeared on Blavity.com.  

Damien Hooper-Campbell is eBay’s first Chief Diversity Officer. With a background in community engagement and experience leading diversity efforts at several top technology companies, Damien is tasked with creating and expanding programs that foster a more inclusive culture at eBay and across its online marketplace.

Get to know Damien before he joins us at AfroTech this November, and read our interview with him below:

Blavity: There has been much debate and discussion of the state of diversity in tech. Can you talk about what you’ve seen in the Valley over the past few years?

Damien Hooper-Campbell: The tech industry is getting a bad rap right now. But from my vantage point, it’s actually a huge opportunity to change the narrative. From the time I’ve spent inside companies like Google and eBay, I’ve realized that tech is actually very serious about diversity – both from an investment and a “this makes good business sense” standpoint.

If there’s any industry that can have a real shot at moving the needle, it’s technology. The industry has the four key ingredients that I feel are absolutely critical to making meaningful change:

  • First, you need a culture of innovation. Continuous innovation and improvement are the lifeblood of the technology industry.  Challenges in diversity an inclusion in tech didn’t happen overnight – they are the result of a long history of social structure and culture issues in our world. As a result, they won’t change overnight and won’t change without some truly innovative mindsets and courageous and honest ideas;
  • Second, you need capital to invest in materializing those innovative ideas and building out the teams to lead those efforts.  And tech was among the top four cash-heavy US industries in 2016;
  • Third, you need a visible problem.  If you’ve ever walked through the offices of technology companies in the Valley, you can’t help but notice a lack of diversity for the aspects of diversity that are visible.
  • Finally, you need leaders who are willing to acknowledge, understand and address the issue. eBay’s CEO, Devin Wenig, and his leadership team are committed to driving sustainable organizational and cultural change around diversity.  They are willing to acknowledge the uncomfortable and sticky problems and push the envelope to address them, and that’s exciting for me.  More important, they know that making impact in this area takes time.  That was made really clear when I originally interviewed with the company and is one of the main reasons why I decided to join the eBay family.

B: What do you say to the non-believers about why diversity is important in a corporate context, and more specifically in a tech context?

I’d say that the benefit to looking at diversity in a corporate context goes way beyond recruitment and aspirational hiring goals; it’s also a means developing and retaining the talent you currently have and focusing on create an inclusive environment for everyone inside of the company. As Tech leaders, we must continue to be deliberate about identifying and highlighting examples of how diversity and inclusion can help to drive the bottom line. Diversifying your workforce is always the right thing to do – not only from a human standpoint, but also from a productivity standpoint. Sure – best ideas win in our companies – but are we sure we have all of the best ideas even at the table to be heard?

B: We’ve heard businesses talk a lot about efforts to diversify the workplace, but we aren’t seeing a ton of results. How do you drive meaningful change? How do you translate words into meaningful actions?

DHC: First, I wouldn’t say that we aren’t seeing a ton of results – I think it just depends on how we define “results”.  If “results” is defined as the percentage of underrepresented employees at a company year over year, then sure – we aren’t seeing huge gains.  But should that be the only metric we evaluate?  What about innovative programs that are pushing the envelope on how we engage communities? What about the empowerment of Employee Resource Groups to get started for the first time in a company’s history – and the ability of those groups to create “safe spaces” for people to discuss topics meaningful to certain communities?  What about the products and marketing strategies that are inclusive of underrepresented populations for the first time in a company’s history?  What about the partnerships that help to support incredible entrepreneurs like those who founded Blavity?

I guess my point is that we have become obsessed with defining “results” almost myopically through the annual diversity data releases that we read.  I think that’s an oversight – driving an increase in representation incorporates so many factors that go beyond how many recruiters a company has focused on diversity hiring.  As mentioned before, this isn’t an overnight strategy – it’s not an app-based solution that you just develop overnight and launch.  It’s complex, way more than representation numbers and will take well beyond a year-over-year measurement to see widescale impact.

Let me be clear, numbers are very important – but they are only one measure and will take more than 365 days to truly impact. Let’s begin to adopt and acknowledge a much broader definition of what “results” should mean.

B: We understand you joined eBay a few months ago. Tell us about your current role at the company.

DHC: I am blessed to be eBay’s first Chief Diversity Officer. In my role, I am responsible for ensuring that we influence our people and processes to infuse a diversity and inclusion lens across several areas:

  1. Our workforce – how we think about hiring, what define as a “successful” profile, the schools we go to for recruiting and the processes we undertake when evaluating potential employees.
  2. Our workplace – how we feel when we’re at eBay. To be clear, diversity and inclusion for us goes well beyond gender and race. It obviously includes those two things, but it also focuses on how people think, on introverts vs. extroverts, on generational differences, on the fact that we are a Silicon Valley- and US-based organization but have offices all over the world – how do we ensure those offices feel represented at HQ. Inclusion for us is not just focused on under-represented minorities and women, it’s also about making sure that majority stakeholder feel included and safe in the conversations that are often tough to have.
  3. Our marketplace – how we embed diversity and inclusion in everything that we’re doing as we think about our buyers and sellers around the world. Because eBay doesn’t thrive as a company if we continue to have the same profiles of buyers and sellers; we have to expand that profile and continue to be more inclusive.

B: Tell us about your career journey and what led you to join eBay?

DHC: For me, getting to this point has boiled down to five things – faith, personal experiences, an amazing mother, incredible mentors and a little bit of luck. I grew up in environments that were very racially polarizing – from Chicago’s Southside to Connecticut’s Fairfield County, from a Historically Black College to studying abroad in Southern Spain. I have a diverse family from race and nationality to education and socio-economic group. All of these experiences are ones that, over time, have forced me to expand how I view the world.

I never set out to be a Chief Diversity Officer, and until a few years or so ago, I didn’t even know this role existed. Throughout my careers in finance, nonprofit, academia and HR, I’ve maintained a passion for helping people and fighting for equality. A few years ago, I got a call from Google asking to join their boundary-pushing diversity team. To be honest, I was initially hesitant as I was jaded by experiences with companies who paid lipservice to diversity and inclusion, but weren’t really serious about it. However, the more I talked with people at Google and learned about the tech industry, I realized that companies like Google and eBay are very serious about driving change in this space.

I made the decision to come to eBay for a number of reasons.

  • First, I was blown away by what I heard from the senior-most leaders at the company – starting with our CEO. This role was not only created by our CEO, but he made it clear that this wasn’t some “we’ll hire you and that will keep the rest of the leaders at eBay from having to be visible on this topic” situation. Instead, he and the other senior leaders committed to joining me in being out in front on this issue.  
  • Second, diversity and inclusion is one of eBay’s founding principles as it’s the backbone of our business model. eBay is about connecting people from all over the world, and it has used technology to help countless entrepreneurs from all backgrounds start and grow businesses and gain economic empowerment.
  • Finally, the people – I’d heard that eBay had some of the smartest and low-ego people in Tech and I’ve found that to be absolutely true.  Not only is eBay full of genuinely good people, but there is an incredible demand from our people across the globe to learn, contribute and lead when it comes to diversity and inclusion.  

B: You’ve worked with a ton of big name companies. What are some career lessons you’ve picked up along the way?

DHC: Wow.  Where do I start?  Feedback is a gift. Direct and honest feedback is a gift that you will hopefully receive, but it is even more important when you give it. Most of my growth moments have come from receiving the toughest feedback. We have a responsibility to make each other better.

Also, invest in yourself. I am very passionate about mentorship. Early in my career, I was pouring more into others than I was giving to myself. I wondered, had I invested in myself as much as I’d invested in others? Just like on an airplane when the flight attendant says, “put on your oxygen mask before helping the person next to you,” you need to invest in yourself and look out for yourself in order to be better for you and others.

Finally, find something or someone that anchors you and helps you to keep perspective.  For me, it’s my faith in God – something my grandparents and mother instilled in me from a young age.  It’s made me humble and helped me to realize that there is a source of power and direction that goes beyond what I can understand.  Especially during tough times, my faith has been my rock.

B: What advice would you give students and young professionals beginning to explore and start their own careers? 

DHC: Be patient. Very few of us are lucky enough to find what we are passionate about at an early stage. This beautiful world tries to force us to decide early – whether by major, what you want to be when you grow up, etc.  But you need to be patient. Try to block out the noise and don’t worry about following the herd. The quicker you can get to a place of self-awareness, the better off you will be. It may feel very uncomfortable in the near-term, but maintaining conviction in what is true to you will catapult you forward in the long-run.  And, whatever you do, try to be exceptional at it.