Interview with Jabu Dayton, CPO at Energy Impact Partners
Watch the latest videos from Dylan Green featuring a focus interview with Jabu Dayton, the CPO at Energy Impact Partners.
Part 1 Transcript
Catherine: So today I have with me Jabu Dayton. Jabu is based in the bay area. And Jabu is going to tell us a little bit about herself and where she is working at the moment.
Jabu: Yeah, so I am a Chief People Officer. I’m focusing mostly on Human Resources and people operations. I serve a few different clients, actually several right now, everybody’s in need of this kind of support. One of the most exciting ones is Energy Impact Partners. And I have a few others, actually all over the country right now, Kansas City, Columbus Ohio, and New York City. So, I’m a little bit everywhere.
Catherine: I want to talk, first, about the BLM movement, and all the things that have been happening in the U.S. and around the world. Do you think that the recent events and the growing strength of the Black Lives Matter movement will result in greater DNI in the workplace? And what do you think that the energy industry can take away from this and represent our diverse nation more?
Jabu: Yeah, I definitely think that we are going to see incredibly positive results from this movement, which is so deeply tied to this country’s history. And any movement around civil rights and human rights has been fought for in a way that was disruptive to the existing society and marketplace, so this is no different. I know that can be very unsettling for people but these changes are long overdue, in my mind. I think the energy space will be the same as the tech spaces that I support, in the sense that some of these changes may be new to them, quite frankly, but by getting uncomfortable and reaching outside of our network that we’re going to be able to leverage some of these changes and bring them inside. By that I mean actually hiring people that are different from you and different from folks that you know in your community. That can be really uncomfortable. So, how do we create companies and spaces where people belong, no matter what their backgrounds are? I think that is the challenge, or the call, the call that I would make to all companies across the board, but particularly with energy as well.
Catherine: We have to talk about Covid. There’s some research that shows that remote work can actually improve diversity. For example, companies located in primarily white areas can now recruit candidates from all over. Have you seen this take place because of Covid? Or do you think we will see more diverse hires in the future as a result?
Jabu: Yeah, this is something that I have been talking about, really, for the last 10 years with my CEOs, that if they really wanted to optimize and scale in a way that is cost efficient, and made more sense for people’s mental health and wellness, that going remote would be a way to do that. It’s an obvious benefit that you can also then open up opportunities to people from all kinds of backgrounds. So I’ve supported lots of companies. I was CPO at a company called Abstract that was 70% diversity inclusion per Silicon Valley metrics. So that was something that we achieved in a really short period of time, and we definitely used the remote platform to attract and retain employees. My experience at Airbnb is the first, as the first head of HR was a similar experience. We were hiring domestically and remotely. For example, I was taking the customer service team from 16 to 150, I needed to do that internationally and in the U.S., and so that opened the doors for me to really reach out to people that I might not have been able to access before. And to give them opportunities that they might not have been able to have. It’s the most sensible way to grow your company now and I think founders and CEOs really need to pursue it.
Catherine: Tell us what a Chief People Officer is and what some people might not know about the work that’s involved in the role.
Jabu: I am typically not very good at following rules and I sometimes don’t take direction well. So I have created a role for myself, and for my CEOs and founders, that includes things that are banal as payroll and benefits and recruiting, with the strategic visionary aspects that you would hope to see with the C-level candidate. I wanted to sit at the table and be a part of those conversations and so I negotiated my way into the room. I was getting stuck at a VP level, that wasn’t offering me the types of experiences I thought I deserved. I also am about 50 years old. My CEOs, my CTOs, CPOs, CMOs, were all a good 15 to 20 years younger than me and yet they had that C-level title. When folks insinuated that I should be happy with the VP level, I insisted or went and found someone that understood my skill sets and abilities. So, with 25 plus years in the space, I felt confident I could add value, and I have, but it certainly is a non-traditional CPO role, and that’s what I love about it.
Catherine: You have an extremely impressive background, you worked at TaskRabbit, Airbnb, Nordstrom and now Energy Impact Partners. So, it’s your first role in renewable energies, so I want to welcome you to the industry. And I want to ask you, you’re coming from outside the industry, how can an organization like EIP benefit from your experience?
Jabu: I think any industry really is well served by having folks within it that are completely from outside of that framework. We get into habits of thought and we stop getting curious. When we stop thinking, “what if?” What I have learned in tech, and certainly before that at Nordstrom, was that when you have something that you need to get done there may not always be a straight path to do it. You may have to think outside of what is normally done. That kind of experience actually gives me the greatest joy and it offers companies greater resiliency, greater ability to speak to their demographic, their clientele, greater ability to manufacture a product that is actually in demand by a greater part of their community. There’s just endless reasons that this makes sense but primarily it is about being resilient. So when something like Covid happens, or you move your workforce to a remote setting, having people that know how to operate without a lot of frameworks and without a lot of guidance is really key. And you can typically find that in a diverse and inclusive population of employees.
Catherine: Well, I will leave it there. I really appreciate your time, thank you so much. Best of luck in renewable energy, I hope we treat you well!
Jabu: Yeah! Thank you for having me.
Part 2 Transcript
Catherine: The tech industry, as well as the energy industry, remains predominantly white male. That’s the latest statistic from SEIA and the Solar Foundation. It is 24% female in the energy industry and the clean energy industry. Can you provide some examples from the companies you’ve worked with in which you’ve seen that diversity has actually proved a strategic advantage?
Jabu: Yeah, I am typically not drawn to companies that lack an understanding about why this is really vital and critical to their business. But I have had occasions where companies have not pursued it with intention and focus and drive. And they typically tend to have a more difficult time getting themselves out of tricky situations, and these can just be day to day situations of like, “hey, we’ve got some resistance in this particular area. How do we get through it?” And yet, my companies that do have folks that are from all different walks of lives and backgrounds, whether that’s class or education or age, typically can solve almost anything that comes up in a way that’s creative and serves the company. And often have a greater sense of what’s efficient and productive. That’s something you often don’t see in homogenous groups of folks, where there is not that sort of outside opinion or idea or creativity. I can’t think of any specific examples because there’s so many, where it’s a positive value add. I think it can be as simple as unintentionally missing things, a lot of it is unintentional. If you don’t have friends that are African-American, which I forget the statistic, but most white folks don’t have close friends that are African-Americans, then you may not know how to speak to that customer. So, putting dollars to that experience might be a vital piece of what your work needs to contain. So how do you access that? If it’s not a team member, do you have the resources to reach outside of your network to find those folks?
Catherine: I think it’s interesting, what you said about the dollars to access that, because a lot of people look at DNI as a cost to business, HR as a cost to business, I’m marketing to attract these people as a cost to your business, but there’s so much data out there that talks about how it’s not just a feel good issue. It’s bottom line, companies are more profitable when they are diverse, it’s really that simple.
Jabu: Yeah, it is that simple. And we need to remember that white people actually don’t want to work in all white companies either. It’s not just that you’re being gracious and allowing people to come in and work with you. But it’s also that you’re providing a workplace that everyone can benefit from. So if you have someone on your team that has skill sets that you don’t have, you are thereby learning from them as well, and adding to your own personal value and brand. I think we forget about that and we think of it from the entry point but we want to create something that’s interesting and vibrant for everyone and retain some once they come in. That includes everybody.
Catherine: What is your biggest piece of advice for organizations looking to get started with DNI?
Jabu: That’s an excellent question! There are so many amazing providers doing this work right now. I would say, obviously, that DNI starts at recruiting, so really looking at your recruiting team and assessing whether they have inclusion and diversity hiring skill sets. So if your recruiter is just reaching out to a certain subset of folks, you’re going to get a certain pool to hire and interview from. So you may have to find recruiters who specialize in this type of work and/or you really need to push your recruiters to bring you the results that you hope to see. Sometimes that means developing frameworks around – listen, if we are interviewing 5 candidates, one of those has to be someone who has a different gender, has a different ethnicity, or lifestyle, or disability, or different age. There’s so many things, right? So, again, you can’t sit there and hope that folks are going to be attracted. Your website has to reflect it. Your marketing has to reflect it. There is a dollar cost to that. Either you are going to, as a CEO and founder, you’re going to pursue this and do it actively ahead of this trend, or you’re going to wait until you don’t really have a choice. And I would much rather be on the leading edge of anything that’s coming up. I think that doing now is still the leading edge, people shouldn’t feel embarrassed that they haven’t been able to achieve these goals before.
Catherine: Seeking a leading edge, I just want to give a quick shout out to Adam James, the staff at Energy Impact Partners who introduced us, because he is the prime example of somebody that is in the energy industry, and he is only from the energy industry, his whole background, that recognizes the importance of bringing people in from different industries. He went and sought you out to help with the industry within the RE.
Jabu: Yes, Adam is an example of a visionary and someone who’s really passionate about this work and dedicated to it through action. So, if you think of me as an example that, we were not in each other’s networks at all, and he did reach out to me and supported me and has made sure that my entry into this space has been as graceful as I would allow it to be. He’s an incredible ally.
Catherine: Yeah, he really is. I want to talk, a couple more questions, about something that’s come up recently in my recruiting, that I want to get your thoughts on and I want people to know about. And that’s the salary history ban. The salary history banning in California, in New York, and I’m sure it’s also true in Massachusetts, Massachusetts is always right there with us. So tell us a little bit about the salary history ban and why it’s important.
Jabu: Mm-hmm. So California and New York are the states that are very protective of employees overall, and so companies that are based in those states really need to be cognizant of the laws that they have there and have an HR person or recruiter who also knows how to navigate that. What this means is that you can’t ask people what their previous salaries were. And that’s a pretty typical question for a lot of folks who have been out in the workforce for a while. So these are some of the habits that we need to develop as a professional. We really can’t ask any questions of our candidates and applicants that indicate, really anything like where they live, any association that might allow you to put them in a category to be discriminated against, so protected class. Women are protected as a protected class. As we looked at some of the salary differentials between women and men, one of the things that was decided was that by sharing your salary history, you would allow allude to the obvious fact that you were paid, sometimes 84 cents less to the dollar than most men are paid, and that would then lead them to offer you less, and continue the cycle of not paying people equitably. So it is another law that’s put in place to protect the employee and it’s going to go without a hitch, for the most part, in California. And I think it’s probably one of those things that we’ll see go through most states, fairly quickly, negotiating for people who are from underrepresented backgrounds, it’s always though, so you need to make sure that you are optimizing to get the best salary possible and this is one of the ways you can do that.
Catherine: Yeah, I have to admit, I was at first a little dubious about it because, as a recruiter, you want as much information as possible, so as soon as you don’t have the salary of the candidate, then the employer becomes more ambiguous about what they want to offer. But I have to admit, I’ve gotten on board because there’s been quite a few women that have gotten pretty substantial pay increases, who tell me after the fact, and I’ve been so happy for them because they’ve been paid on their merit, on the global that’s been advertised, and they were super vulnerable, and that’s what they should have been paid. They should get the right value for their money. I’m on board now.
Jabu: Yeah, the first tech start-up that I worked at paid me a salary that I know, now, was completely ridiculous. But I was coming to it from Washington State and it was my first time in California, and I had no idea A) how to negotiate, how to talk to that process, or that there was a process, so I just accepted the first thing that they offered, so that’s no one’s fault but my own. But as we try to take care of our candidates and applicants as they are coming in, trying to offer them as much protection from making those kinds of mistakes that can set them back for decades, these aren’t small things.
Catherine: I really appreciate your time. Thank you so much for your time on this sunny afternoon. Best of luck in renewable energy. I hope we treat you well.
Jabu: Thank you, yeah! Thank you for having me. I appreciate your time. Thank you, they are.