Katrina Kibben Purveyors of Optimism World of Bias

Katrina Kibben: Becoming Purveyors of Optimism in a World of Bias

In episode 43 of the Talent Experience Podcast, we had the pleasure of sitting down with Katrina Kibben (they/them), who is a non-binary LGBTQ+ advocate, a sought-after keynote speaker, and a writing expert. With 15 years of corporate copywriting and training experience, Katrina is passionate about educating organizations on becoming more inclusive and creating unbiased job postings that will attract expert talent.

Along with host Rhonda Taylor, they dive into the topics of creating space and a sense of belonging for everyone in the workforce, making jobs accessible to those without degrees, ageism in the world of work, creating change in our organizations, and so much more!

Tune in to Katrina’s episode below, at tlntx.co/e43 or wherever you like to podcast!

Here’s how the conversation went… This interview has been edited and condensed.

Rhonda Taylor: Welcome to another episode of the Talent Experience Podcast. I’m your host, Rhonda Taylor, and today my guest is Katrina given who almost 12 years ago, I can’t believe it, founded Three Ears Media. Katrina is known globally for writing job postings. She is very well respected and keeping diversity and inclusion top of mind when creating her job postings. Katrina is also on the global speaking circuit. And she just shared with me earlier this week that she is discovering a new level of normality. Katrina, there is so much more about you. Please share with the audience what’s demanding of your time these days?

Katrina Kibben: Yeah, so thank you for having me. I think the world is definitely a little different today than it’s ever been when you and I had met up, so it’s always good to catch up in the world. And I think what probably makes me special, the thing that most people know me for is the fact that I’m one of the only people in this industry that focuses on writing for recruiting. Because I’ve been in this industry long enough to know that hiring is always hard, right? That’s the one thing we all have in common. It’s the only universal truth. However, the reason it’s hard is a little different for everyone. And I believe that the only variable you can actually control is how you communicate with people, how you talk to them. And job postings are 90% of my time, they’re 90% of the topics that I talk about, because they’re the beginning of this conversation about work.

Rhonda Taylor: Yeah, and I love the kudos that you give to Mary on this letter. Because when you were a young, energetic, and you still are young, and you’re still are energetic, owner of a media firm, she gave you some words of wisdom, and what were they?

Katrina Kibben: Yeah, I don’t know if she’ll remember this, but I hope she listens, because some advice she gave me really early on was that there, you know, focus on one thing. Be the best at one thing, Katrina stop trying to be everything to everyone. And at first, I completely ignored her advice. And I pretended that I was smarter. And then I figured out pretty quickly that she was brilliant in that. And as we narrow down the idea of what recruiter communication can be, because there are a million elements. And figuring out that the job posting was the one that everyone had in common. It’s the currency of recruiting. And no one was ever taught how to do it. And so, I definitely owe her a drink in probably a very, very nice dinner for that piece of advice.

Rhonda Taylor: I guess so, yeah! And I also owe you something because two years ago, when I wrote my book, you and your partner were so supportive in me self-publishing my book, and I want to say thank you, because I never formally have had that chance. But before we jump into our podcast, why don’t you share with the audience and a change that we’ve seen in the past year and the new classification of LGBTQ+, and I’m not sure when the plus arrived, but everybody’s now adapting to it. But please share with us, what does the plus mean?

Katrina Kibben: Yeah, you know, and I’ll share a personal story, because I think the plus means a lot of things to a lot of people. That’s why it exists. It’s almost an umbrella that says all are welcome here. And as someone who has moved through the letters, so to speak, right? So, at one point I identified as female and a lesbian now identify as non-binary, and a lesbian, right? And there are so many layers to who we are and how we see ourselves. And I think the plus allows for people to know that there’s more than we know today. If 10 years ago, I sat you down and explained the spectrums. And the understandings that we have today of gender, people would be like, no. And that motion, that movement, I think the plus allows space for the change.

Rhonda Taylor: Exactly, and it just leaves the gate open. So, there’s no more surprises.

Katrina Kibben: Hey, you know, I want to give, almost like a little less of a surprise, but more of you can look in the mirror and you can be anything and you can be included. We haven’t made space like that before in this culture, in our society, we have not made space for anyone to be included. Even in the queer community years ago, the T part of LGBT was not a thing. Right? So, there’s a lot of layers here, and it is about evolution.

Rhonda Taylor: Oh, and as you know, I come from a sport that was traditionally not a woman’s sport. And, you know, I am very active now and doing podcasts, and we at that time, called these individuals butches. But these queers, as we have identified them today, they were trailblazers in the women’s sports movement, because they were the ones not afraid to step outside of their comfort zone.

Katrina Kibben: I think as someone who looks like the people, we might have called butchers at some point, I know the feeling of a craving. A want to crack the door a little bit for the person behind you. I think back to my 16-year-old self, and how they would lose their minds to look at me. Right? they would lose their mind to think of a world in which I exist without all that curly hair, and the girly clothes and trying to like, force myself into pink T shirts and skirts, and to allow them to say you just do whatever you want now. I mean, can you I, that’s something that we, we don’t think about enough, but as we succeed, right, as people like me become CEOs, as we become keynote speakers, as we stand in front of thousands of people and say, we are successful, and we create impact in this world, that door opens for someone else who looks just like us to say, I believe in who I am, and I can be anything and be successful. Because that was not the equation that we were given in the early 2000s when I was coming out.

Rhonda Taylor: Oh, exactly. And I’m following up, we try to provide an opportunity for these individuals to fit in through a lens of equality. You know, Katrina, how do we create space for these individuals in today’s workforce?

Katrina Kibben: You know, I think the first stage is to actually admit that we all have a little bias, right? And that moving towards a better place is not about knowing what it means to be gay. Like, I truly believe in the early 90s, there was this like fascination of like, what is gay life really like? And now we all live like normal people living next door, our neighbours are gay, or whoever’s are gay, right? There’s a lot of people in your life. And so, I think the first piece is to say that, yeah, we probably hold some bias in the background. There’s something there. And our understanding what changes things, is realizing our ability to help other people feel safe, not to understand what it means to be gay, right? That actually doesn’t help other people be safer. It’s knowing what it feels like to be safe. And I would love if every person listening to this right now, let’s think of one person who made you feel safe in your life. Like, deeply safe, for me, it was my grandfather. And I want you to think about what they did to make you feel safe. And to listen and to think about the future of work and making your work more equitable from the lens of paying it forward. of paying for the safety and kindness that that person paid into your life. To know that you get to pay that forward. And that any recommendation I’m about to make to you, any workshop you go through anything you learn is about paying forward, the love that is based in safety and kindness.

Rhonda Taylor: Amazing, and it’s just sounds so, simple and so natural. And yet, people make it such a huge mountain some days. Well, working on your job postings, how do you make a point to eliminate all the biases, which we were speaking about earlier, in order to create a clarity in the opportunity?

Katrina Kibben: Yep. You know, I actually went backwards to go forwards on this one. And I did a 100-year research on job postings to look at how they changed over the last century. Because culturally, you might look around and say, “Oh, look how different, you know, the biases have changed. We’re not as biased as we were 100 years ago, clearly so much should have changed.” And the premise in the market today is that the bias simply exists in the linguistics i.e., the words we use, these are the boy words, the girl words, and oh, look, you made a boy post and now you made a girl post. And as someone who identifies as non-binary, I have a fundamental issue with this, right? You literally just tried to binary to remove bias when we know that binaries don’t exist. Okay? We know that binaries are exclusive. Hmm, now what? So, I did this research study, and I went back to look at the techniques that we’ve been using for the last 100 years, not just the words to understand the biases. So, for example, college education does not appear on job postings, until college education became equally accessible by all people in the United States of all colours. Why do you think that is? So, for example, one of the biases that I teach people how to remove is college degrees. Of course, I want my doctor, my accountant, my lawyer, get your degrees, y’all go to go to school, give me a nice pedigree stamp that thing twice. Now, everyone else, I’m gonna second guess this. Because if I have a VP of Marketing, who doesn’t have a degree, 14 years into their career, we both know Rhonda, that marketing was a little different 14 years ago than it is today. And I wouldn’t be betting on somebody with a college degree where they learned to the three P’s of marketing to run my VP role and to base all of my lead generation off of.

Rhonda Taylor: Oh, exactly, exactly. You know, and like our multimillionaires today, you know, how many of them have university degrees? So, we pigeonhole job descriptions when we put a requirement of a degree.

Katrina Kibben: And we remove people’s dream. That’s the other piece of it. And when you asked me is this idea of like removing the bias to provide access, I’ve shown you one element of providing access, which is to actually see people that look like you. But you can’t do that in a job posting. What you need to do in a job posting to create clarity, is to help people imagine the work. They should be able to read a job posting, close their eyes, and picture it. They can picture the office, they can picture the people they work with, they can tell you what they do every day, the second they sit down in their chair. And if you do not have that level of clarity, and I’m not talking industry level clarity, as in someone who does this job at a parallel role can understand this. I mean, anyone, my test of clarity is I could walk out to any single person I see outside right now hand this to them, and they go, oh, no, I don’t want to do that. But they tell me what they do.

Rhonda Taylor: Yeah. Yeah. Now, I’m just gonna deviate a little bit. And it’s one bias, which is very close to my heart. And we know several people caught in this, these biases right now. And, and it really doesn’t fit into gender gap. It’s just pure and simple ageism. People making decisions on one’s capability based on age. And it’s probably one of the greatest, pre-existing biases in today’s talent marketplace. How do you go about quantifying expertise while being politically correct when addressing ageism?

Katrina Kibben: So, ageism is one of the techniques that we were able to pull out that 100-year research study, because I figured out really quickly that years of experience quantifies time, it literally tells you how long someone has done this thing, but it qualifies no one. Because we don’t have parallel experiences. Even if you and I went and had the exact same job for the exact same period of time. I can bet money, I would bet any amount of money that you and I do not do the exact same work. We don’t really hire people to do the exact same thing as the person next to us. And we surely do not have those parallels across different organizations. The example that I really love to give people is, you know, Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon and I have both been CEOs for five plus years. Okay. We both run executive teams we both manage we both created new industry sectors. Why wouldn’t you put Jeff Bezos and I up on the same slate for an executive role? Because the time does not align with the experiences we have had. And that’s one of the easiest ways to remove this age bias is because when you ask for years of experience, you’re saying, I want someone that’s much older, or this much younger, and it doesn’t actually mean anything.

Rhonda Taylor: That’s right. And there’s also an element of culture (inaudible) ageism, but also, you know, of being gay or being queer, that culture fitting into your organization. You know, how do people handle that?

Katrina Kibben: I wish I knew, every time someone says culture fit to me, I swear, I can feel the gray hairs just start to sprout out of the back of my head, because some part of my heart hurts. Because at one point, none of us fit into any culture. Right? At one point, women didn’t fit into the culture. At one point women didn’t fit into the sports culture hell, they still don’t fit into certain cultures, right? Gay people don’t fit in cultures, there are men that don’t fit into certain cultures, the only guarantee in our life is that every single person will experience bias. And so how dare you perpetuate that? If you age, you will experience bias do something now.

Rhonda Taylor: Yeah, yeah. But even taking it a step further, you know, like, how do we facilitate a pool of employees so that these individuals who are experiencing these biases, how do we make them feel that they belong?

Katrina Kibben: Yeah, you know, I can’t speak to what happens after the hire. But here’s the part that I am the expert in, it’s how we ask, right? And so truly, I do believe that belonging starts at the very first ask it belongs in the job posting. Because if you’re using bias from day one, that is a reflection of culture, that is deep bias that is deep inside your company. That’s on you, right? And so, I think the way that we change our culture, and the way that we start to create that pipeline of people from every background is that first, we change how we ask. Stop using the years of experience, use the augmented writing tools to understand the gender bias that exists. Remove those details that are stopping talented and qualified people from applying to your job, that college degree that really only reflects privilege and not actual ability. I can go on and on, but I think if we start to make change the seeds of the get-go, that’s how we change the actual culture and change the pipeline.

Rhonda Taylor: Yeah. And, you know, to change it Katrina, I think we all need to take the blinders off and start taking a look at our own biases. We do not even know the biases that we have. And in fact, where does that education begin? Is it in our school systems? Or is it in an onboarding program? As a society, we’re lacking in it.

Katrina Kibben: Yeah. You know, I actually think that’s an incredible opportunity, and as someone who owns a business, I feel very passionately about this, about the idea that we have the opportunity to influence our communities. That if we provide training and education to our employees, that we that actually ripples into a more safe and better community where everyone can thrive and that that starts to reflect because if we want to be truly competitive, we have to be competitive on acceptance now. If we set the bar at acceptance, if we set the bar at belonging, our competitors have to step up too. And so, as an organization leader, as an educator, I think talent teams need to step up and understand your role as educators, not just of people, not just a process, but actually of people who are creating movements and changing communities.

Rhonda Taylor: Finally, you know, at the Talent Experience, we so believe that everyone should be passionate about their career. Katrina, you just use beam enthusiasm, and someone who’s obviously on top of her a game, please share with all of us, how do you keep that positive energy flowing?

Katrina Kibben: We are purveyors of optimism. People who work in talent, we have the opportunity to be purveyors of optimism to create optimism and hope in other people’s lives. I believe that every single day when I sit down and write a job posting, and I’m changing the life of someone who I will never meet. And as talent leaders as people who create roles, as people who create companies, as organizational thinkers, we have the opportunity to create opportunities that will expand people’s vision and optimism for their own life. And if that doesn’t motivate you, you’re in the wrong industry.

Rhonda Taylor: Exactly. And that’s, that’s exactly why I am where I am today. Because I can make a difference in a person’s life working with the company that I work with.

Katrina Kibben: That’s why we’re talking after all these years, Rhonda!

Rhonda Taylor: That’s why we’re kindred spirits, exactly. Katrina Kibben from Three Ears Media, I can’t thank you enough for being a guest today and opening our eyes to the LGBTQ+ community, and our own personal biases.

We hope you enjoy listening to this episode of the Talent Experience Podcast with Katrina Kibben! We look forward to sharing more learning with you.