The Stack Overflow Podcast

Job description: professional workplace bestie

Episode Summary

Stack Overflow’s Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) are a cornerstone of our efforts to create a diverse, inclusive, and equitable workplace. For this episode, Ben chats with Stack Overflow employee engagement partner Joey Randazzo, senior software engineer and friend of the show Kyle Mitofsky, and Natasha Maiorana, executive business partner and co-chair (with Kyle) of the Allyship ERG. Topics include what led Kyle and Natasha to found the Allyship ERG, focused on allyship across all identity groups; how ERGs support employees; and what it’s like to be a professional workplace bestie.

Episode Notes

Stack Overflow’s Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) focus on aspects of employees’ personhood, “who you are outside of your role, who you bring to every single room that you enter,” Joey explains. Among our ERGs are Black and Brown, LGBTQ+, MIND (mental illness and neurodiversity), and a group for caregivers and parents. Interested in learning more about our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion, plus more about what it’s like to work at Stack Overflow? Start here.

Members of Stack’s MIND ERG contributed invaluable perspective, insights, and feedback that helped us write our two-parter on ADHD and neurodiversity: Developer with ADHD? You’re not alone and What developers with ADHD want you to know.

Joey is on LinkedIn.

Natasha is also on LinkedIn.

Kyle is on Linked, GitHub, and text-based social media.

Stack Overflow user apostofes earned a Great Question badge for their query How do I get the value of a tensor in PyTorch?, which has helped 175,000 people and counting.

Episode Transcription

[intro music plays]

Ben Popper Hello, everybody. Welcome back to the Stack Overflow Podcast. We have a very special episode for you today: we're going to be talking about one of the most interesting things about working at Stack Overflow. I am here with my good friend Kyle Mitofsky. How's it going, Kyle? 

Kyle Mitofsky Hello, hello. 

BP You brought this episode to my attention and I'm so glad we're doing it. Today we're going to be talking about DEIB and our ERG groups. So Kyle, I know you are participating in at least one of these, but we have a couple of great guests on with us today: Joey Randazzo, who is our Employee Engagement Partner and professional workplace bestie. Hi, Joey. How are you? 

Joey Randazzo Hello! Thanks for having me. 

BP Oh, we're so glad to have you. And also Natasha Maiorana, who's an Executive Business Partner and chair of the allyship ERG. Welcome, Natasha. 

Natasha Maiorana Thank you so much. I'm happy to be here. 

BP So let's kick things off. For folks who are listening, what is an ERG and what is sort of the layout of the different ERGs we have within Stack Overflow?

JR So an ERG is our employee resource group. So we have two groups here, we have our ERGs and we have our BRGs– BRGs are our business resource groups. The main difference between them is that our ERGs focus primarily on your personhood, who you are outside of your role, who you bring to every single room that you enter. And our business resource groups focus more on your particular interests, so we have great things like our book club, our running club, our fitness club, things that are more tied into someone's particular interest as opposed to like our API for Asian Pacific Islander, those are very different groups. That's the main difference between the two. 

BP Nice. And I remember there being ERGs here when I joined. I don't know if they had that name, but they were here when I joined. That was back in 2019, but we've recently begun a new one– the allyship group. Kyle, you are co-chair of that along with Natasha. So Natasha, what prompted the start of a brand new ERG?

NM I think what prompted it was just seeing how strong these communities were and how a lot of people felt like, “Okay, maybe I'm not LGBTQ or Asian Pacific Islander, but I want to support them, and I'm also here to learn more about their communities and how I can support those communities.” And I remember meeting Joey and just kicking it off and having a great time and just kind of talking to her about my previous work experience and joining Stack and how much I love the ERGs. And she was like, “I think we should start an allyship ERG for all those people who need another space to learn and grow and share their experiences,” and that's kind of how it started. And it's been a year, actually. We launched in July 2022, and it's been a really wonderful experience.

BP Very cool. 

KM Yeah, it was so exciting to hit that year milestone too with a bunch of different folks in that group. I remember participating from the outside. There's a small set of people who help govern each of the ERGs, but it's really about the members who are part of that group anyway. And so I was a member for a long time and just got a lot of value out of that as someone who joined Stack at the time and got to hang out with all those folks and talk about different ways to be supportive and be allies. And so it's been so exciting to see that growth of the group over time and the kind of commitment Stack has to not only this group, but all of our ERGs that we have. One thing that kind of goes hand in hand in different ways, this episode is a little bit about our ERGs. One thing ERGs really do is support a broader DEIB initiative. That's really at the heart of kind of making sure that stackers feel included and belong at work. So ERGs are one portion of that. But Joey, I was so excited to pitch this because you're a professional workplace bestie, but also you have this much broader view of all the employee engagement initiatives and making sure people feel comfortable and at home at work. And so if you could just kind of break down for those listeners who don't know what DEIB is and maybe those different facets of it and how we treat those here at Stack.

JR Sure. There's so many parts to that question.

KM I know, sorry. I did daisy chain that a bit. 

JR Okay, so the first part, let's talk about all of the ERGs that we have because I only mentioned the BRG versus the ERG. So we have seven ERGs currently. So they are API, for Asian and Pacific Islander, B and B for Black and Brown, and also our Latine community. We have MIND, which stands for mental illness and neurodiversity. We have our LGBTQ+, the letters say it all. And we have Moxie. Moxie stands for all of our underrepresented genders here, allyship, which Natasha just told everyone about. And finally, our latest and greatest is our caregivers and parents ERG. Caregivers is first because not all caregivers are parents, but definitely they need a space to feel supported and to find that community within themselves. So that's our ERG network and it feeds into our larger DEIB initiatives. So we have a three year plan and we break down our DEIB initiatives into our workforce, our workplace, and our community and product. Those are the areas that we try to engage with and bring the most change through. The workforce is everyone here who you are when you come into the room. Our workplace is how you work, and our community and products are our end results. So that's how we try to sprinkle in a little DEIB into every single thing that we do. So our ERG network ties very closely to our workforce because a lot of times, I know Ben mentioned that he started in 2019, I can't believe that was five years ago. In the before times when things weren't 100% remote, you could really walk into a space, get the vibe, meet people and make those organic connections. But now in this landscape of being more remote, it's really harder to meet people outside of your teams, outside of the people that you work with day in, day out. And if your team doesn't really reflect who you are or you don't really see yourself there, you need a way to connect with people. So we started this finding your place employee orientation where new hires come in and we have all of our ERG leaders come in, talk about what they do, who they are, things that they're passionate about, so that you can learn more about finding a place here and finding a community here, even if it's not necessarily directly in your face. So hopefully that was answering each part of your question, I think.

BP And it really brought up an important point that I can relate to which is, when I joined Stack Overflow, it's not quite five years, it'll be five years this April, but one of the things that I treasured most about it was getting a lunch every day. And it was sort of encouraged to have that time off and to sit at different tables, maybe with sales this time, marketing this time, engineering this time, and people brought a bit of themselves. Some people always had an UNO game going and some people would stay after work to have beers and do different things. And so you could meet people from across the company. You could find people that you related to, and I haven't personally had to face the challenge, but it sounds daunting of coming into a company as a remote hire and then figuring all that out. I had a little bit of Stack community that I made at the New York office before all this started. So glad that these groups exist and it's something that sounds daunting to me because I haven't had to do it really. 

JR Luckily, I'm a professional workplace bestie. It's not my first rodeo of rounding people up and getting people to talk to one another. 

BP That's good. 

KM I'll say too because we had the meetup several months ago, the self-appointed title of professional workplace bestie maybe is one of the most fitting titles I've ever seen. You’ve got to see Joey in her element just mixing with all the folks and just checking in with everyone, genuinely caring about everyone who works here and making sure that they have someone to come and talk to if they need to vent about something or if they have change that they want to see, making sure that there's multiple different channels. It's not just all on Joey's shoulders, but she really makes sure that that channel of communication is open for everyone. So it’s just wonderful to see and wonderful to have.

JR Thank you so much. That means so much to me. I feel like in different organizations that I've worked at, I've always kind of been that person also so it just works with my personality. It's just something that I organically do no matter what my job title has been. It's just something that is in me, it's not on me. 

KM So Natasha, one thing I wanted to kick over to you is, I think Joey has this lens of all of our different ERG networks which is one of the reasons we have her on to talk about that broader picture. And also you as the chair of the allyship group have this lens into what we're doing within that one specific group. We have a lot of other groups as well, but in terms of allyship, from your perspective, how does allyship aid in those overall bigger picture efforts? 

NM Yeah, so I think just a couple things. Ben had mentioned something that he got the experience of having that in-person connection to meet people, and I think when you're working remotely it is hard to find that where it's so important to us that people have other people to connect with so you don't feel so isolated. You're sitting at home by yourself, but you're not really by yourself. One thing I love is that Joey changes her profile picture all the time and so sometimes I'm like, “I’ve got to DM Joey real quick.” And then I'm like, “Wait, is that the right person?” And she’s just keeping it exciting, and I think with allyship, everyone needs an ally, or everyone either needed an ally or has been an ally sometime before in the workplace. So I think it's a place where everyone can really see themselves belonging to because there's been a time that you needed to call somebody to be like, “This thing happened. Am I overreacting or is this a thing?” Or even just if it's not something serious, just having something to celebrate that makes you your unique self and that people are here to celebrate you and people are here to actually see that you're just celebrating what makes you you. And I think what I really like about allyship is that it is an open community, so people can see that when I joined I was so happy that there was a MIND channel because I have anxiety, so when I started a new job I was like, “Oh man, I have all this past trauma of different workplaces and I'm bringing it in here.” And meanwhile none of that's the same, and having people to be like, “It's okay. That's totally normal. That's happened to me, and you don't have to worry about that here, and if you ever need a hand.” And I don't know these people, these are just brand new people I've never met before. We're coffee chatting and I'm spilling my guts because I'm like, “They'll get it, right?” And they do, and it's so nice to not have to feel like maybe I need to say something differently, but it's very much like we're here. And so I really like that allyship is kind of a web. You can really kind of touch into the different groups that we have and still feel very much supported because we're all somewhere in that web.

BP Yeah, I think what you said is so important too because it's a little bit harder sometimes to get a read on somebody remotely, especially if you're just doing a Slack message or an email, you might not know that that person's having a tough day or feeling off, the way you would if you were meeting them in person and are seeing them at the office. And so a place where you can just go to vent is so valuable. That is something that is going to help employees as they onboard, but also just with the burnout and the long-term effects I think of some of what remote work means. It has a lot of benefits– my commute is a lot shorter, but it has a lot of drawbacks. And I think ERG is a great, not solution, but it's a great counterbalance to some of that stuff. 

JR I think it's great that it's very organic here, which is really, really cool, because I remember in my interview process I was interviewing with someone and I was just like, “Well I'm okay with this. I'm not the best, something I need to definitely work on.” And she was just like, “Hold on, wait a minute. Why would you say that about yourself? Take a minute. Relax.” And I was just like, “Oh my gosh!” It was the kindest way and just interviewing is such a daunting process, but this person treated me with so much kindness in that space and gave me a minute to just take a breath, think about what I was saying, and really present myself in a better light which I greatly appreciated to the point where I was extremely passionate about working at a place like this that has people like this. And it's been consistent. Every single one that I've met has been really, really helpful, wanting to help, wanting to learn, which is why I think that starting the allyship ERG was just very organic as well, because so many people want to learn more and want to help but they don't know how and they don't know the right ways to. And I think that allyship provides that space, it provides a place where you could say, “Hey, how do I say this?” or “How do I elevate this?” or “What should I read about to learn more about things like that?” And that's why it's so important here. I don't think that allyship would necessarily work in every organization, certainly not at organizations I've worked at in the past, but for here, it's just so nice and organic and natural because there's a thirst for helping and there's a thirst for being in support of here.

BP Well said.

KM So I know we talked, one of the things that you can do in an ERG is just vent, and certainly that's a thing that all ERGs, allyship and anything, but there's a much larger scope to some of our initiatives and things that we try to do within the group. Natasha, what are the details? I'm part of an allyship group.

NM So with allyship, unlike the other ERGs, the other ERGs are private, very much for those people so they can have that space. But allyship is open to the public and I think what's great is in a remote company, how do you get the chatter? How do you get to hear what the buzz is? There's all these different Slack channels and very easily it can become, “Where do I tune in to find things out?” And I think with allyship it's open. You can just go in and see what everyone's talking about. And one thing that I really enjoyed seeing is the creation of our inclusive language spreadsheet and how much that just resonates with so many people. And when you're not aware of saying that “Hey guys” can be gendered and maybe some people don't find it offensive and maybe some people don't even acknowledge it, but when it's brought up to your attention it's like, “Oh, hey. I could use another word. It's not that hard for me.” Or normalizing things so it doesn't have to feel like it's us and them. It's just creating this blend. And another thing we like to do is host casual chats. So conversations around DEI can be kind of sensitive or uncomfortable and we're here, we're friends. Casually you can ask and we can explain why this may be offensive or why it's important to call certain things, or why allyship is not a self-given title. It's something that you're actively doing in the workplace or in your personal life. And one thing I heard from a donut was that someone had joined allyship and was learning so much about neurodiversity and then kind of figured out maybe those things apply to me. They were there to support their friend's kid who's on the spectrum and then they were kind of diving into more based off of the resources that the allyship provided and they were like, “Hey, these things kind of apply to me too,” and kind of coming to this realization that they're there just because they want to be a better ally to their friends or family, but then seeing how these resources even helped them personally grow is amazing. 

BP That self-discovery is very cool. 

KM One thing I just absolutely love has been our casual chat series. We've done a whole bunch of them, and I think there's this core commitment that allyship is a verb, not an adjective. It's really something you do, something you actively participate in, because we all have our own limited scope of lived experiences and you really have to invite in other viewpoints and other ways to challenge that and grow from it and learn and do all that stuff. So I know, Natasha, you mentioned we have donuts and casual chats. The donuts are just kind of everyone gets together, sales meet marketing, marketing meet devs, and talk about anything. Those are like water cooler discussions and we have some recurring ones of those as well. 

BP We should probably clarify for people what a donut is. We have these donuts. I think we should say what a donut is. 

KM Donut I think is just the name of an app that you can install into a Slack workspace and it is a scheduling tool to help facilitate a water cooler conversation between multiple people. 

BP Yeah, the donut kind of hooks you. It says, “You're going to have a quick chat with these three people.” It's like a chat roulette, and then you go and have a hang with some coworkers you might not ordinarily meet, and it’s great. 

JR I love the donuts– the apps, and the food, so I'm all about it. 

KM Our casual chats, in contrast to that, are kind of scoped on a subject of allyship that we really want to take a group of people to explore, and it's really nice to bake time into doing that with folks. There's some active work involved in being an ally for those folks who choose to participate or have time to participate, but those are some of the fun things you get to do here within the allyship group and they’ve, for me, been very personally rewarding to get to talk to different people within our group within our organization.

BP That's awesome. 

JR One thing about the casual chats are I feel like something that Natasha and Kyle haven't mentioned, which is the actual titles. There was one on microaggressions that was amazing because it's hard when you don't know the language and you don't know how to express how what someone said made you feel. And it's hard to be a bystander and to see someone speak to someone else and then not know how to stand up for that person. And there was another great one about comedy where it was just like, “Is this really funny if you're punching down versus punching up?” The conversations are just really, really dynamic and really, really interesting and you get so many different people from so many backgrounds to share and express their opinions and their views from their lens. And it's just a great conversation to have within a safe space. 

NM And one thing I love hearing, following up with those who participate in the casual chats, like what did you think, how are you feeling, and hearing that people say, “I'm so glad to have a time to have a conversation like this.” And I think not all of us are in cities or in areas that are as open and inclusive as what the culture is at Stack and so sometimes maybe they don't have other people to really have those conversations with in their immediate circle sometimes, but it's nice that they feel that they have the space to express that and know that there is strength in numbers. We're not alone. There's a bunch of us on this chat that are talking all on the same topic. 

BP There was one note in here that I wanted to touch on. Joey, it says allies within the org in past places as “gatekeepers” in quotes. What does that mean?

JR So other organizations that I've worked in, I wanted to make sure that when I started here, that I created a separate space for allies. I feel like a lot of times allies join other ERGs as allies and then it takes so much work, so much extra work to walk someone who doesn't experience that life through the process. And a lot of times these allies are maybe higher level in the organization, senior leaders, and they position themselves as, “I'm an ally because my title is X, Y, and Z, and I can do this.” And that's a disservice. Because if I have to explain to you why taking this action is a bad decision, and then you are from a certain place in the organization and I have to walk you through why this is damaging, why this would be hurtful, why this would be impactful, how this would negatively impact a community, it's so much extra work for me that it's not even worth having the conversation. So you can't have those truly authentic conversations when there's someone else in the room really saying, “But why is that bad? What's the problem with that? I do that all the time. You should just…” No, that's not the way it should be, because if I have to explain it to you, then that's just extra work for myself. So the allyship group is a space where other allies can actually walk you through that process without doing the labor of the impacted community. The impacted community, although I hate calling things a safe space, it's a place where you can authentically share things with people who have your same experience, because things that are understood do not need to be explained. I don't have to explain to another black woman why this manager described my hair as fun and why that's offensive. Someone else might say, “Yes, Joey. You're always changing your hair color. That is fun.” It is fun, but it comes off as a microaggression in certain instincts. You can say it's nice, you can say, “I like it,” but there's a certain language that's used. So it's more about creating a space where allies can be there to support, call onto when needed, but then people within the community can also share and explain things the way that best serves that. 

BP Right. That's very cool. I'm glad to hear that. That sounds like you're leveraging a lot of past experience to try to build something new that has improvements, so that’s very cool. 

KM I'm the co-chair of the allyship group and I had never really thought about it framed that way, and it makes a ton of sense that in the path to understanding better how folks feel across a wide variety of things, you're going to have a lot of growth and self-discovery and learning that you have to do, and it is very exhausting for minoritized groups to be the ones to constantly be the educators about what those things are, to constantly say, “Oh, this is a microaggression. When you say, ‘Hey, guys,” and there are five guys and one girl on the team, I don't feel included in that.” And it becomes very exhausting to constantly have to defend yourself. And I think that's where allyship can kind of fill in the gap there and have folks who are committed to making sure people feel represented and have that conversation there and people who have already gone on that journey can help maybe bring other people along with them. 

JR Absolutely. We need allies not to be in the room, but speaking to people who don't understand. Be in those rooms that we're not in and explain it to them. I should be able to call out and say, “I'm not included in this. Take it away, allies. Explain to everyone else why this is a bad idea.” And it shouldn't fall on me to constantly explain. 

BP Glad to hear we're fixing that problem. So I guess before we go, we've been adding groups and we have one more coming. Do we want to talk a little bit about that? 

JR It's not official yet. There is a group of people who want to start a peoples of faith ERG, which I think is very, very important because people's faith is a huge part of their personhood. It's definitely how they navigate life. And I wish we had a bigger group and more people to come forward to say, “I would like to be a part of this representation of various different religions.” Unfortunately, our people of faith is just one group so far, which isn't really inclusive. So I would love to start a people of faith ERG with people of various religions and various faiths and various practices to come together and share and learn from each other and participate in that. And I think it further helps the business as well. There's plenty of hiccups because of events or things happening on holy days that if we had a people of faith ERG, they would be able to tell us, “Hey, this week is actually this celebration. We're actually doing this. This is a very important day because of these reasons.” There's so many things that as a person who doesn't follow a religion that I just simply do not know unless someone explains it to me, unless someone tells me about it. And I'm always so interested in people's faiths and religions and traditions and the foods that come with the customs and the holidays. Hello, I'm always here for that. So I would love to personally start that. It hasn't gotten off the ground yet, but hopefully soon we'll have more people of various faiths being able to feel comfortable sharing their full authentic selves at work. 

BP Awesome. Love to hear it.

[music plays]

BP All right, y'all. It is that time of the show. Let's shout out someone who came on Stack Overflow and helped to share some knowledge. Awarded 28 minutes ago to Apostofes, “How do I get the value of a tensor in PyTorch?” If you have ever wondered, there is a great question here. It's been viewed 173,000 times, so helped a lot of people, and has an accepted answer, so congrats on your Great Question Badge. Obviously it's a great question. I am Ben Popper. I'm the Director of Content here at Stack Overflow. Find me on Twitter @BenPopper. Email us with questions and suggestions: And if you like the show, leave us a rating and a review, because it really helps. 

KM I am Kyle Mitofsky, a Senior Software Developer here at Stack Overflow. And you can find me online at Stack Overflow itself as UserID 1366033.

NM I'm Natasha Maiorana. I'm an Executive Business Partner and you can find me on LinkedIn.

JR I am Joey Randazzo. I'm your workplace bestie, and you can also find me on LinkedIn. 

BP Wonderful. We'll put all that in the show notes so folks can check it out. And as always, thanks for listening. We will talk to you soon.

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