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BAM For All: Bek Chee

101 Black Tech Titans 2021

BAM For All is a new interview series featuring outstanding leaders in HR and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI), many of whom are within the tech world.

BAM has made a long-term commitment to DEI trainings, education, and implementations and we are pushing to make the same standard across the PR world as well as Silicon Valley.

In this interview, BAM's Head of People, Jill Veglahn, sits down (via Zoom) with Bek Chee, the Chief People Officer at TCV, to discuss all things DEI. Bek found her way into DEI early on in her career and shares her experience in what it takes to initiate and manage a successful DEI program at scale. We also get to know Bek personally through her favorite quote, her superpower, and the most valuable career advice she has received.

Q: Tell us about yourself.
Bek Chee:

My name is Bek Chee. I live in a little town called Orinda, which is just outside of Berkeley in the Bay area. I am the new Chief People Officer at TCV, a large growth equity firm, that backs technology leaders like Netflix, Spotify, Peloton, and more. I joined last year, and I’m excited to talk with you.

Q: What’s your favorite quote?
Bek Chee:

Henry David Thoreau said, “Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant?”

Since I was little, I felt that if I could have one superpower, it would be to transform into another person for 30 seconds… enough to feel what they’re feeling and experiencing. A lot of time, what we struggle with in this work is empathy.

Q: What does inclusion mean to you?
Bek Chee:

I think inclusion is the first step on the way to having your ideas, your thoughts, and your differences considered and contemplated as important.

There’s shared responsibility for inclusion and belonging in the way I see it. The environment is an important part, and we need to make people feel they are in a safe place. Critical to this work is an understanding of what inclusion means to each person – we’re all different and require different things to feel part of the team.

The second part is our inner voice. We all have an internal narrative that can be unhealthy at times, which is “Maybe I don’t belong” or “Maybe I don’t deserve to be asserting myself.” We have to take personal responsibility for stopping that inner narrative. That’s the inside work.

“I think inclusion is the first step on the way to having your ideas, your thoughts, your differences, actually considered and contemplated as important.”

Q: What does "equity" mean to you?
Bek Chee:

“Equity” is similar levels of value being rewarded equitably.

What that means is that regardless of your background, your race, your education, your pedigree, your gender identity… everyone providing the same level of value is supported, rewarded, compensated, and treated equitably. The hard part is that there’s a lot of subjectivity in measuring value.

I will also say what “equity” is not. If two people perform in the exact same way, but one person is rewarded or treated better simply because whoever is administering that reward is either consciously or unconsciously biased towards that person, that’s not equitable. We’re not asking for reverse favoritism or excessive rebalancing. We’re just asking for consistency.

Q: What is one question, one thing or comment you wish people would stop saying or using? 
Bek Chee:

“We really believe in diversity, and we’ll do whatever it takes to support the effort… but we’re not going to lower the bar.”

I know people have heard this so this isn’t new. For anyone who’s ever had that thought, I would just like to say that it is incredibly insulting to co-locate in the same sentence the idea of 1) hiring a woman (for example) and 2) lowering the bar, as if it’s an either/or decision. Like, either I get to hire a woman, OR I get to hire a good, qualified candidate. These two things are not mutually exclusive.

Q: How did you get into the DEI space?
Bek Chee:

I was born. 😊 We are all in the DEI space, simply because we are human.

I focused on it professionally because the first reason I felt disadvantaged in a corporate environment was not about being gay, female, or Asian… it was being young. I was 22 when I got my first job at Microsoft, which at the time had about 90,000 employees. I was pretty overwhelmed by the scale of the company and the wealth of experience.

I felt because of my age, I hadn’t earned my right to speak up. I remember realizing that this doesn’t feel right to me. It was the beginning of me starting to look into the diversity team at Microsoft, and it just so happened there was an opportunity to be mentored by a strong DEI leader. I eventually took a role as program manager leading diversity for North America Microsoft sales and marketing. My mentor said, “Trust me. I’ll help you.” And he did!

Q: What is one thing that you suggest to an organization who wants to get started, but is on a shoestring budget?
Bek Chee:

There are creative ideas that involve little cost, like starting a DEI book club. Another one is facilitating a monthly Zoom call with random people across your organization getting to know each other — three or four at a time — with diversity prompts.

In my last job at Atlassian, the very first decision that I made was to revisit our budget. We were doing global programs for a 2,000-person organization, so we spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on partnerships. We kept some of them, like Women Who Code, Girls Who Code, and thought of other ways to redeploy dollars. Very unpopular at first.

We made diversity and inclusion part of our performance system and decision making. We created a new personal development plan template that had inclusivity at its core. The head of DEI and I created an entirely new performance system that was designed to be equitable and inclusive. This ensured that we thought about DEI at every single touchpoint across our programs. That was very intentional. After we had done that across the portfolio, we opened the budget up again and said, “Now go!” given that there’s now increased awareness and education.

“There's all sorts of creative ways to raise the level of literacy around a topic without spending much money at all.”

Q: What is one of the most impactful experiences you've had in your career?
Bek Chee:

When I was working at Microsoft, I specifically began seeking out female mentors. I asked a few women, “What advice to you have for me in terms of how I can manage my career?” The conflicting advice I received from two senior women has stayed with me.

The first piece of advice was, “Always have a Star Trek joke ready.” I thought she was joking at first, but she said, “No, I’m not joking.” She told me to get people to like me first, and then they would take me seriously. I look back at this now and realize that this was not great advice, even though at the time I thought it was.

Compare this to the second piece of advice I got later that year. I’d been asked to be on a women’s panel, with women of different generations. I was representing the twenties. Another woman late into her career, who was amazing, was asked, “What advice do you have for young women…?” and she said unequivocally and calmly and with a sense of sureness, “Be willing to reinvent yourself over and over and over again.”

As I thought through these two pieces of feedback, I realized they were similar in intent, which is be agile, be flexible, adapt, stay open, but they felt very different. The first piece of advice felt like, “You need to assimilate at the cost of who you are,” and the second one felt like “You have to adapt in honor of yourself, in honor of the changes that are going to happen over the course of your lifetime.” These are two very different messages.

These two pieces of advice were juxtaposed at the same time in my twenties and together they are really powerful. A lot of people have molded themselves into a biased environment to survive. I think in the process, they have had to compromise a lot of their identity. It is a privilege we have now that being adaptable and being willing to reinvent yourself shouldn’t come at the cost of who you are. It is also a great reminder to try to stay courageous and stay true to yourself, down to your bones.

“Be willing to reinvent yourself in the way that honors yourself."

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