An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis
Working through diverse perspectives, opinions, ideas, and ways of communicating takes extra effort. But decades of research across industries and cultures have proven that even the process of working through diverse ideas leads to better results, never mind the direct benefits that come from having multiple sources of ideas (as opposed to the same three over and over).
As a part of our series about “How Diversity Can Increase a Company’s Bottom Line”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Natalie Hausia-Haugen of Auth0.
Natalie Hausia-Haugen is the Head of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, responsible for accelerating Auth0’s DEI vision, policies and processes, and further developing Auth0’s culture of inclusion and belonging. Natalie brings more than 15 years of industry experience and most recently worked at Nike, where she held senior employee engagement, diversity and inclusion, and people-related roles. She was a leader on Nike’s diversity and inclusion employee council and the co-chair of Nike’s employee resources group for teammates of color with roots in Asia, the Middle East, and the Pacific Islands. Before Nike, Natalie worked for Target, Inc. leading both local and national diversity and inclusion strategies.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive into the main part of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit more. Can you share a bit of your “backstory” with us?
Most of my career has focused on the employee experience as I have been passionate and inspired by people. Personally, diversity and inclusion has always been part of being in this world being the daughter of an immigrant and interracial marriage who was raised in the U.S. military and a woman of color who is “ambiguously ethnic.”
Over the past two decades my successes in my career have been rooted in helping others thrive, especially the underrepresented and the misunderstood. Because of these passions, both personally and professionally, I have always been drawn to DEI leadership roles, which is where I am today as Auth0’s Head of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? Can you tell us the lesson or take away you took out of that story?
One of the most meaningful projects I’ve ever worked on was with Target. I helped open the first stores in Hawai’i. It was especially meaningful because of my Polynesian heritage, and because I considered Honolulu my home. My role was intercultural training, helping Target teams learn about Hawaiian culture and what it meant to work there, and helping the local team members we hired in Hawai’i learn about Target culture and what it meant to work at Target.
This was important because, although Hawai’i is part of the United States, it is also, in many ways, its own nation. It was both a great honor and a great degree of responsibility for me to feel like a diplomat between the two cultures and people. As much as I appreciated my role with Target and respected them as an employer, I love the people and culture of Hawai’i immeasurably more. What made this more complex was that, at the end of the day, this was a business deal and Target was coming to Hawai’i to make money in a new market. I accepted the role knowing it meant I would be helping a big corporation come to a land and people who had already been annexed and colonized. I also accepted the job because I knew I would be able to help make sure Target did it right. All in all, the opening of Target stores was successful, in terms of sales, operations, and culturally. It was not perfect, and mistakes were made. But we were deliberate about working with local leaders, honoring traditional customs, respecting the pace and process of the islands even when it cost money and time. Unlike for other big corporations that had entered or tried to enter Hawai’i, protests were small and short-lived, and the locals embraced Target quickly.
One of the biggest lessons I took from this experience was that, even when I may not agree with a project 100%, I may be in a unique position to help align the results and ways of working more closely with what I do believe in. It may seem easy to say that if you don’t agree with something 100%, you should not agree to it at all. But it’s not that simple, especially when culture, social justice and business are involved. And though you may believe contributing to the work is the best thing, others may not understand, even when it is in service to them. You have to accept that. There will be many times you’ll have to play the role of diplomat, which can be exhausting. But it’s worth it.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you tell us a story about how that was relevant in your own life?
My favorite quote is from Dr. Maya Angelou, “You should be angry. You must not be bitter. Bitterness is like a cancer. It eats upon the host. It doesn’t do anything to the object of its displeasure. So, use that anger. Write it, march it, vote it, do everything about it. Talk about it. Never stop talking about it.”
This quote is meaningful to me in many ways, but mostly because it validates emotions we are often told to hide or get over — either because it’s not professional, “ladylike,” or normal. It is common for people to be told or taught to stifle their true feelings when it makes others uncomfortable. This is often true for those in the minority or lesser position. So often, if our feelings risk making those in power feel something negative, or worse, culpable, we’re made to feel badly about these feelings. If you’ve ever been in the minority and felt wronged by or in conflict with those in charge, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Thanks in part to this quote from Dr. Angelou, I take note of when I feel myself or sense others discrediting a valid sentiment because we’re worried it may make someone in power feel uncomfortable. Yes, there are times when the setting or those present make it necessary to hold off from expressing that sentiment in that moment. But it does not mean the sentiment is not justified.
Acknowledging what you feel is necessary to get clear on the why, which is necessary to get clear on what can be done. And that’s the important part, that you don’t stay in that feeling but you use it to get somewhere better. What we cannot do is tell someone or ourselves that we shouldn’t feel the way we do. At best, it’s dishonest. At worst, it’s delaying a difficult truth that will have to be addressed one way or another and will only grow more difficult in the meantime. I can be angry with my parents, my leaders, or my government, and still be a good child, a good employee, and a good citizen.
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?
My husband, David Haugen. We met in college, over 20 years ago. I’ve been with him more than half of my life. There are many times when he has believed in me more than I have believed in myself. He knows where I’ve come from, the best parts of me that I’ve kept and sharpened, the parts of me I’ve had to change and heal, and the parts of me that still need work. He is also one person whose counsel I always trust because he is brilliant and wise, incapable of sugarcoating, and loves me unconditionally. So even if it’s hard to hear or not what I want to hear, I know it’s probably right. His faith and his counsel have often helped me keep moving forward until my faith and reason caught up.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Most companies have values, but at Auth0, our three values are beloved and common parts of our everyday work-life. They are used as shorthand to get us aligned quickly, to celebrate each other, and to guide decisions.
I believe that because our culture and mission are so strong, we attract people who know who they are; people who aren’t out to prove anything because they know who they are. This manifests in very active value alignment:
People don’t just do things because they’re told; they do what they believe is the right thing.
Our folks are joyful helpers. People don’t hold back from giving help, sharing information, tips, and things they’ve learned the hard way because they are confident in who they are, what they know and have done, so do not worry that making others better will decrease themselves.
Better ideas go unblocked by ego — people are more open to hearing each other out because, again, different, or new ideas do not challenge their own sense of achievement or value.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now? How do you think that might help people?
I’m currently developing a workshop tentatively titled, Outshining the Skeptics. For context, let’s acknowledge that there are many programs aimed at helping companies hire more talent from underrepresented minorities. This is a good goal. However, one challenge is that if you are part of an underrepresented minority and get hired or promoted at a company that has publicly stated this is one of their goals, there’s a very real risk that others may believe you were only hired or promoted because you are a minority. This can be a very difficult label to carry or worry about, even when you know it’s not true.
The workshop I’m designing is meant to help those who are worried about being labeled as the “diversity hire/promotion.” In this workshop, you’ll dig deeper into the label, how you think it will manifest in your job, and the extent to which you want this concern to control how you work. You’ll get tools and tactics to help you not let this concern keep you from shining your brightest.
I’m passionate about this because it’s hard enough to get the job or the promotion when you’re in a system that wasn’t designed for you. We cannot have this newly hired or promoted talent wasting energy worrying about ignorant thinking or holding back their shine because they got a few signals from skeptics. Like I told members of our Women’s Leadership Group, “So what if some people think you got the role because you’re a woman. Forget that. Do your thing and soon enough, it will be so clear you’re where you should be, anyone who dares suggest otherwise will look jealous and desperate.” I realize it’s not as easy as that…but if we all linked arms, it could be.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I hope I have added goodness to the world by helping others see and be more of the goodness in themselves. For me, “success at work” has allowed me the opportunity to serve more people with greater impact. I only consider myself successful if my efforts have somehow helped others get closer to finding, being, and feeling the best versions of themselves. As I’ve been trusted with more elevated roles that have greater and greater impact, I’ve seen it as a way to help more and more people thrive at their jobs, believing that by doing so, it’s helping them thrive overall.
Ok. Thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main part of our interview. This may be obvious to you, but it is not intuitive to many people. Can you articulate to our readers five ways that increased diversity can help a company’s bottom line. (Please share a story or example for each.)
I could talk about this all day, especially because when it comes to talking about DEI at work, most people think, “social justice.” But this is not about social justice. In this context, diversity is all about the bottom line.
If you’re going to quote me on this topic, you must include two extremely important things that must also be true, if your company’s bottom line is to benefit from diversity. And that is that one, you must have diversity throughout the process (i.e. as things are being created, tested, marketed, etc.). And two, you must have a culture in which diverse voices are respected.
Assuming those two things are true, below are five ways diversity impacts a company’s bottom line:
- Diverse teams = greater market share for your bottom line. These days, just about anyone can design, create, and sell a product or service. This growing number of options and increasing access to sellers means consumers are less dependent on businesses to tell them what they should do or buy or think. It flips the relationship. Now businesses better be listening to and understanding their consumers. If they don’t, consumers have no problem swiping left until something resonates. The best way to know your consumers? Have them on your team. For example at Auth0, one reason we stand out in our industry, the identity and access management space, is that we were the first and are the best at selling directly to the developer community, while our competitors sell at the enterprise level. The reason we were able to establish and own this market is because our team is made of developers.
- Diverse teams help you do no (less) harm, saving your bottom line from reputational damage, lawsuits, and recalling a product that’s already hit the market. As is often said in the legal system, ignorance is no excuse for breaking the law. In other words, just because you do not intend to cause harm, it does not absolve you of responsibility for the harm you caused. This is another reason diversity on your team is important. You don’t know what you don’t know. The more diversity you have at various stages of the process, the more likely you are to have someone identify a risk or issue you don’t want. Clothing retailers provide many examples of this. For example, a retailer releasing clothing designs or marketing ads that are blatantly offensive to certain demographics that probably would have been caught if someone from or adjacent to those demographics had been somewhere in the process and able to speak up. One tech example is facial recognition software which has been proven to be significantly less accurate for Black, Brown, immigrant and trans faces, leading to particularly dangerous consequences when used for policing. While I cannot speak to who was or wasn’t in the rooms for this software, I can say it was not diverse enough to include a very wide range of the population it negatively impacts.
- Diversity in your strategy = your ability to create or sell in the first place. It’s not enough for a company to say they support an important cause. Their support must be demonstrated through their business practices and partners. Having a stance on DEI and strategies to support them will impact your ability to get the contract, as well as your ability to get the supplies or partnerships you need to produce what you sell. At Auth0, it is with increasing frequency that we complete surveys that include details on our DEI strategy before a potential customer finalizes the sale. In the same way, there are some companies we simply will not do business with because their actions and values do not align with ours. Consumer research shows us DEI matters are of increasing importance to an increasingly diverse market. We’re only a few years out from a day when companies who do not truly care about diversity will be looked at like a company who openly dumps waste in the ocean. Only, they won’t get time to clean it up the way companies did back in the 70s and 80s.
- Diversity = tension = strength. The reason we even have to talk about diversity — why it requires focus — is because it’s difficult. It’s difficult because it requires you to change (i.e. if you keep doing things the way you do them, you’ll keep getting the same results) and it adds something new into the system. Change and new things take extra effort. And in the same way lifting weights or learning a new song on the piano takes extra effort at first, it makes us better all-around. Working through diverse perspectives, opinions, ideas, and ways of communicating takes extra effort. But decades of research across industries and cultures have proven that even the process of working through diverse ideas leads to better results, nevermind the direct benefits that come from having multiple sources of ideas (as opposed to the same three over and over).
- Diversity overall = healthy habits that help when diversity is low. If you come from a team or system where diversity — and the results of diversity — is the norm, you know why it’s important and you notice when it’s missing. This is helpful for those unavoidable times when there is less diversity around the table than you’d like. It helps you pause and ask, “Who are we not thinking about?” or “What questions are we not asking?” Even if you cannot get access to more diversity, you can note the risks and adjust accordingly. For example, we had an engineering team working through a new solution that would be applied across our global company. Unfortunately, due to time zones and deadlines, certain regions of the world were not represented on the project team. Knowing that the missing perspectives of these regions would mean missing out on nuances only those in-country would know or could experience, the project team agreed to adjust their goals. Instead of developing a global solution, they would pilot a solution for EMEA and the Americas, factoring in as much as they could about the other regions, but not commit to full rollout until the other regions worked through the challenge, too. As a result, the solution was rolled out six weeks later but with an error rate that was 75% lower than expected, and a 99% adoption rate four weeks ahead of schedule, across all regions.
What advice would you give to other business leaders to help their employees to thrive?
The best advice I can give other business leaders is to lead with empathy and foster a space where courage, real freedom, and our shared humanity meet. These ingredients will help create a culture of inclusion and belonging where all people can show up as their authentic self, speak their truth, learn, develop, and grow together.
As leaders, it is also important to hold people accountable. For DEI leaders, this means first defining what it means to be inclusive and consistently demonstrating that being anything less than inclusive is not an acceptable. Period. By building this inclusive culture employees will believe they are being seen and heard, which enables positive company culture.
What advice would you give to other business leaders about how to manage a large team?
- Protect your middle: Larger teams start to have more layers. As your team gains more layers, it becomes increasingly important you take care of the middle managers who often bear the added stress of pressure from above and below, but lack the relief or benefits that come with meaningful power and access. These folks are already tired from balancing pressure on both sides, then you add the extra work they’re putting in to earn their way to the next level. At the same time, they’re incredibly important because they care for the masses AND they are the next set of leaders. It’s a strange irony of business that such an important group with so much impact on the majority of your team should also be the ones who are most worn out and feel the least empowered. As the boss’s boss, you will do well to have a strategy dedicated to caring for this middle group. They manage the masses and are your future.
- Make sure you “have clothes on.” There’s an old folktale called, “The Emperor Has No Clothes,” about an emperor who is tricked into thinking he’s wearing invisible clothes but is actually naked. His employees and subjects are so worried about making him upset or looking dumb, they do not tell the emperor they see him as naked. He ends up walking naked in a parade until a child finally says the truth. Recognize and reward those who give you difficult news and challenge your thinking. Make sure people know you reward this behavior and expect it. While it may be nice to be surrounded by people who make you feel good, smart, and like everything is in control, it is also a sure way to find yourself in a bad situation that should have been prevented.
- Trust Your People and Lift Up: Realize that there are some important things that only you can do for your team, given the access and position you have as a leader. This means, if you’re not doing it, no one else can, which means, you don’t have time to do the things your team CAN do. Trust them to do it so you can focus your time and energy doing the things they need in order to be successful, but can’t do it themselves.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this 🙂
Lena Waithe. She’s so many of my favorite things about this world, all in one person: she’s a brilliant teller of untold stories; she’s naturally gifted but has also worked incredibly hard to develop her craft; she’s not just brave — she’s also brave enough to go out front; she respects and grows from criticism instead of letting it bring her down; as her access and platform grows, she cannot help but use it to bring others up; she wants to entertain and make you think; plus, she has wicked fresh style.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
You can follow me on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/natalie-hausia-haugen-3869a4114
Thank you for these excellent insights. We wish you continued success in your great work.
Natalie Hausia-Haugen of Auth0: How Diversity Can Increase a Company’s Bottom Line was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.