We’ve talked on the Train Like a Champion blog about the need for diversity and inclusion in the learning and development field and have talked about the impact that learning and development professionals can have through their training initiatives. As we celebrate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., it feels like a good time to share the conversation Brian had with Natalie Mazzie from F5 about the realities of doing the work of promoting diversity and inclusion in the workplace.
Transcript of the Conversation with Natalie Mazzie
Brian Washburn: Hello, everyone, and welcome to another edition of Train Like You Listen, a weekly podcast about all things L&D in bite-sized chunks. Today, I am joined here by Natalie Mazzie who is a Sales Enablement Specialist III at F5. And myself – I’m Brian Washburn. I am the Co-founder and CEO of a company called Endurance Learning. Today we’re going to be talking a little bit about advancing diversity and inclusion initiatives in informal ways.
Brian Washburn: I’m going to let my guest introduce herself in just a moment, with a 6-word biography. I would start my biography by saying “i’m hesitant to say something wrong”…when it comes to topics like this.
Natalie Mazzie: (CHUCKLING)
Brian Washburn: Natalie, how would you introduce yourself in six words?
Natalie Mazzie: Can I at least say “hola” and then I start?
Brian Washburn: (CHUCKLING)
Natalie Mazzie: Just kidding. So for me it would be “first-generation Latina diversifying the industry”.
Informal Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives With an Organization
Brian Washburn: And that’s really interesting. So let’s talk about this. You know, ever since we met I have been very interested in the work that you’re doing because it is a much more informal approach to diversity and inclusion initiatives than organizations typically take.
You know, there’s a lot out there about classroom training that goes into diversity topics or anti-racism. But I have seen so little out there about the impact that informal learning opportunities can have on an organization. So, can you share a little bit about the work that you’re doing inside of F5?
Natalie Mazzie: Sure. It’s a lot of work but it’s fun, right? So for us, we’ve actually created high touchpoints with our members. And in that way we — and I keep going back to this — we recruit, retain and reinvest in our F5 employees. And that’s — essentially every meeting, every lunch, every event – they’re learning opportunities.
So what we really strive for is we’re pushing the fact that Latin America comprises itself of 33 countries and territories. So we want F5-ers to learn that the Latinx Hispanic community isn’t monolithic. We aren’t all from Mexico, alright. We don’t all eat tacos or hot sauce or what have you.
So, as an example, this is pre-COVID and then it’s now shifted a bit but it’s very similar — but, pre-COVID we would have informal events, right, where we would have to host people and we had food. Even the food would have little placards, in regards to where the country of origin is for that particular cuisine, and then a fun fact about the country itself, and then the ingredients of the food. So it was a way to at least show people “hey, this isn’t just ordering from, you know, Del Taco”. I don’t know why that keeps popping up here, but anyhow. Something like that, right?
Brian Washburn: CHUCKLING
Natalie Mazzie: So just a good way to at least to show people that we are more than just what’s assumed here in the U.S.
Various Types of Employee Inclusion Groups
Brian Washburn: And when you talk about “we” or “our group” are you talking about the entire organization, or is there a specific group that you’re working with?
Natalie Mazzie: Good question. I probably should have given more context. (LAUGHING) So, by “we” I mean the Latinx e Hispanos Unidos Employee Inclusion Group at F5. So I created that last year in June 2019 and it started with about — I want to say a little less than 10 members. (LAUGHING) Now we’re sitting at about – I believe last I checked yesterday it was about, say 166 people.
Brian Washburn: Wow.
Natalie Mazzie: And that’s inclusive of a lot of folks, not just from Latin America or from the U.S. So it’s nice to see that.
Brian Washburn: And are there other Employee Interest Groups as well across the organization that do other types of work or have focus on other races, ethnicities, things like that?
Natalie Mazzie: Yes! It’s actually really, really neat to see. I started with F5 a little over 3 years ago so to see this huge shift is amazing. But, we have F5 Appreciates Blackness, which, they call themselves “FAB” for short, which is really, really awesome. Then we have the LGBTQ+ Group, which is called “Pride”. We also have a Veterans Group. We have a Multicultural Group as well. We have ourselves. And then we just got a new one that started not too long ago called “Abilities” and that one is regarding mental health, and also abilities – visible and invisible. So it’s really, really nice and then, obviously, the Women’s employee inclusion group as well. So we try to really talk to them as well, to get that intersectionality touchpoint with our members and their members and overall, all of F5. Because if we can unite we’re stronger in numbers and our voices can be heard.
How Does Formal Diversity Training Intersect with Informal Initiatives?
Brian Washburn: Absolutely. So listening to this it sounds like there’s a ton of work that’s being done creating networks and groups. Is there actual formal diversity and inclusion training initiatives that also happen within the organization?
Natalie Mazzie: There is. So, like most other tech companies there’s always the unconscious bias training and things like that. But for our department it’s a little more formalized, in regards to it being partnered with the Learning & Development Department. So they actually offer Learning Paths and they’ve launched these through our LMS, and that’s for easy access to all F5 employees. So they’re comprised of short video vignettes, pdfs, articles, that kind of thing. And they actually consult with the respective EIGs to ensure that the material submitted is on-brand with F5 and the EIG community it’s representing.
So we have a dedicated “Zoom out” day and so for that particular day it’s really for people to take on different learning initiatives that they want, their personal development. And that’s an option, is having those Learning Paths that are dedicated to either learning more about the Latino community or learning more about the Black community, things like that. So it’s really nice to see that these are being formalized on a bigger scale to be able to be offered to all of our employees across the world.
How Do You Get Influencers To Support Diversity & Inclusion Work in Your Organization?
Brian Washburn: This is really cool, just in terms of the structure of how everything is coming together. You know, you have the Employee Interest Groups and then you have the formal learning opportunities. When it comes to the Interest Groups and the work that the Interest Groups are doing, and some of the less formalized training work and the more relationship-building work, how have you gotten — because you mentioned that you started pretty small and now you’ve grown exponentially, right? How do you get influencers to buy into this work? You know, people across the organization that could be key managers or other people that hold sway and say “hey, you should check this out”. How do you get those people to buy into the work?
Natalie Mazzie: Good question. Because — (LAUGHING) — sidenote, we started with no budget and no executive sponsor when we first launched. And so part of being able to have a bigger footprint is getting that executive sponsorship. So we have the CIO of F5, Mary Gardner, actually join our effort. She came to us and wanted to be our executive sponsor. So it’s a very different relationship when she wasn’t voluntold to take us on, right?
Brian Washburn: Yep.
Natalie Mazzie: So, with that being said she really pushes just that awareness and really holds people accountable when it comes to being a lot more diverse in the way that we think – a lot more inclusive. And having that equitable type of approach to, even, training — all sorts of things that happen within F5.
But at the bigger scale there’s a pledge that was written out and then it was signed by the CEO and subsequently by the executives, and then subsequently by the directors and all that. So what’s transpired from there is having middle management also doing their pledges, so getting their entire team to commit to specific DEI initiatives. So they all come together during their quarterly business review for right now what F5 ‘21 is going to look like, and sign this pledge. And so with that you have, not just awareness, but to a certain level some sort of accountability in that way. So it does help with holding them accountable. And then, of course, there are the poll surveys. The ones that come out asking how everyone is doing, right? It’s really nice to see that executives are really pushing for this to be at the forefront, because it is — i mean, we’re in tech, right? It’s a very diverse community. So it’s nice to see that that’s also shifting within the leadership as well.
What Do You Think Has Been the Biggest Impact of Your Diversity & Inclusion Work?
Brian Washburn: So this is all very heartwarming, right? This is really exciting to hear about. Now a lot of times people who make decisions, and influencers, oftentimes will say “alright, what’s in it for the organization? What’s the impact?” And I’m kind of curious what you think has been the biggest impact of your or your group’s work to date?
Natalie Mazzie: Yeah, like I said I’ve been with F5 a little over 3 years. And to see that since we started in June 2019 to now, we actually have allies that have joined our EIG. And now they openly ask questions. So we have had people ask how they can be a better ally, how can they show up for us. And being able to see that has been — it’s shifted, actually, the way that F5 is in regards to their global mindset. A lot of times that’s something that they keep pushing, like “oh we think globally. We’re –” No. No, no, no. Because when you’re in headquarters it’s very America-centric. Jokes are very aligned to American culture. English is primarily the only language that everyone is supposed to speak, but yet everyone speaks at a really, really, really, really fast pace. And that, unfortunately, affects people that are in the rest of the world, right? So being able to see that this is really shifting that mindset, it’s really creating that more diverse and inclusive way of thinking, is huge.
The Benefits of Employees Being Seen and Feeling Heard
Natalie Mazzie: So part of what we ended up doing to really build the bridge between Latin America and America was pilot a Rosetta Stone program for our members. And that’s for them to learn English, Spanish or Portuguese and it’s brought a huge level of unity. And that, alone, helps with really having our employees feel seen. And that’s the huge impact, right? That they do feel seen and heard. And they’re no longer scared to say “hey, this person said something racist” because now they can come into a safe space and bring that up and not feel as if they’re alone. It makes a difference.
There’s a lot of data out there that shows if you have your employees be seen and feel heard and you have more diverse and inclusive ways of thinking, that alone is really going to push, honestly, an innovative way of building out your product or solutions, and problem-solving. So it’s really beneficial for the company, long-term.
What Happens In an Organization When Diversity & Inclusion Work Is Not Being Done?
Brian Washburn: I think that’s pretty amazing. Now, kind of on the flip side of that, what would your organization be like if your group and the other groups that you had mentioned never existed?
Natalie Mazzie: That’s easy. (LAUGHING). If you had asked me like 3 years ago this conversation would be completely different. It’s really wild. So there’d be, obviously, a lack of awareness of other cultures, and other people’s experiences, be it based on gender, abilities, ethnicities, etc. Honestly, there would still be that willful ignorance. Like I mentioned, and I think this weaves everything together, is that visibility, and being able to be heard. So I know for me when I first started about 3 years ago, I experienced a lot of racism within F5. And that was tough. That was tough because I come from Texas. You want to talk about racism? (LAUGHING) That’s a whole different monstrosity.
Brian Washburn: Sure.
Natalie Mazzie: And to come here and see it in a passive-aggressive way and people — when I would call it out, people would just say “oh, well…you know, I didn’t go to the best high school”. And I’m like, “I’m from Texas. We –” (LAUGHING). “If we want to talk about education, we’re on the lowest totem pole of that, or the lowest spectrum of that”. So it’s that willful ignorance. And if we didn’t have these groups that would still continue. And now because we do exist, like I said, there is strength in those numbers. We’re able to see a shift now, where people are no longer allowed to say that. And there’s accountability to a certain level.
When Did Diversity & Inclusion Work Really Begin to Make a Difference?
Brian Washburn: Yeah, it’s fascinating. And do you think that that would be the case – even with the unconscious bias training and the other standard trainings that are out there – without these groups, do you think there would have ever been that shift that you’re seeing?
Natalie Mazzie: Honestly, and I’m going to be really frank right now, I feel wholeheartedly that there wouldn’t be a shift if the George Floyd murder hadn’t happened. That’s when things really took off. And that’s when it really started making a difference, in regards to our trainings. So unconscious bias – you can take that all day long – but it doesn’t make a huge difference, right? And so after George Floyd’s murder, at F5 everything started to shift. And that became more of an initiative than it honestly was prior to that. So I feel that the awareness isn’t the issue. It’s the accountability that’s the issue. So how do you hold these individuals accountable for the things that they say or the type of work environment that they’ve created? And honestly that’s going to take a long time. A very long time.
Brian Washburn: And I would love to continue this conversation, perhaps in another episode because there’s so much more, I think, to this conversation and to the work that groups like yours are doing, to the work that needs to be done. We’re going to have to leave it there, just for timing’s sake.
Get to Know Natalie Mazzie
Brian Washburn: But thank you, Natalie, for sharing your thoughts. Before we leave, though, we would love to get to know you a little bit better through the course of our speed round. Are you ready to take on the challenge of these speed questions?
Natalie Mazzie: Let’s do it. (LAUGHING)
Brian Washburn: (LAUGHING) So, when it comes to training it sounds like you do a lot of presentations. What is your go-to food or snack right before you give a presentation.
Natalie Mazzie: This is going to be weird, but it’s usually cheese and water. (LAUGHING) I don’t know why.
Brian Washburn: Everybody has their thing… (CHUCKLING) …and it sounds like you have yours. What’s a piece of training tech that you can’t live without?
Natalie Mazzie: Camtasia. Oh my goodness. I also — I do the video vignettes sometimes and I have to do intros and outros and overlay and blah blah blah. So, Camtasia, and Canva.
Brian Washburn: Yeah.
Natalie Mazzie: Canva is awesome. Oh my gosh. I LOVE it.
Brian Washburn: Those are two great ones, when it comes to visual design, when it comes to putting together videos. How about what people should be listening to today, what people should be reading?
Natalie Mazzie: So, I have three. I know that sounds like —
Brian Washburn: Go for it.
Natalie Mazzie: I have a ton, but I dwindled it down to three.
Brian Washburn: (CHUCKLING)
Natalie Mazzie: So first, obviously, is How To Be an Antiracist. I’m sure a lot of us have already read it, but Ibram X. Kendi really wrote a really great book on that. And then the next one is really to understand the Latin American community and the Latin American experience, within history and whatnot. So The Open Veins of Latin America by Eduardo Galeano. So that‘s a really, really good one.
Brian Washburn: Mm-hmm.
Natalie Mazzie: And on top of it it would be My Time to Speak which is written by Ilia Calderón and it’s how — this is really impactful because, for her, she’s an Afro-Latina. So, again, Latinos come in very different shades, very different countries, experiences, what have you, right? And so it talks more about silence and how she needed to break that to no longer be compliant with the things that she was experiencing. So it’s really neat.
Brian Washburn: Sounds like some powerful books for people to add to their list. Last, before we go, do you have any shameless plugs for us?
Natalie Mazzie: Yessssss. Oh my goodness. Ok. Ahhhh! So this is really neat and if you’re in Washington, or outside of it that’s fine. Techqueria is huge. They’re a really, really giant community. I believe they have about 1900 people on their Slack channel and they’re all Latinos, for the most part. So I would definitely reach out there and join Techqueria, if you can, as an ally, or as a member of it. It’s really active. And then another would be Latinos in Tech. That’s another – it’s a Washington chapter, but it’s really good to get that perspective on what it’s like to be a Latin American person or a Hispanic person within the tech community here in this state.
Brian Washburn: And when we’re talking about Washington, we’re talking about Washington state, not Washington D.C. (CHUCKLING)
Natalie Mazzie: (LAUGHING) Exactly.
Brian Washburn: Excellent, Well, Natalie, thank you so much for bringing your experiences as well as your passion of the subject to this conversation and I look forward to doing this again a little bit later this year because I think that this is just Part #1 of a conversation that really is to be continued. There’s some really cool things that are happening but tons of work still needs to be done.
Thank you, everyone, for listening to another episode of Train Like You Listen. And if you like what you hear, go ahead and subscribe to us on Spotify, on Apple, on iHeartRadio, or wherever you get your podcasts. And also give us a rating, because that’s how other people find out about us. Until next time, happy training.
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