Interview: Jeesoo on Gender Equity in the Workplace

Interview: Jeesoo on Gender Equity in the Workplace

The Fine Art of Hiring Talent

Jeesoo (no last name, thanks) has been a leader in recruitment roles at Glossier, Duolingo, Google, and Carnegie Mellon University. She recently returned back to Pittsburgh, PA to start her own HR/culture/talent consulting business helping companies build, grow, and scale. Her 2018 article "How Duolingo achieved a 50:50 gender ratio for new software engineer hires" earned international attention and she has been featured in numerous publications including the Financial Times, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Pittsburgh Business Times, and WQED Radio. In a past life, she was an accomplished classical musician who performed at notable venues such as Carnegie Hall, Davies Symphony Hall, and The Strathmore.

We spoke with Jeesoo about what it's like to go viral, why she chose recruiting over a music career, and her best salary negotiation advice.

Q: In January of last year, while working at Duolingo, you wrote a blog post about achieving the goal of 50/50 gender parity in incoming hires from universities, explaining how your team managed to do it. What has happened since then, and how did going viral about this topic affect your life?

Jeesoo: It was more than just writing it, it was also being proud of the work that I was able to accomplish, that was reflected in it. The reactions immediately after I posted it went one of two ways. Either I would get email or LinkedIn messages saying "Wow, congratulations, I would love to learn more about how this works and get more details." I love things like that because I think it's stupid when companies hold things close to their chest and don't share their methods.

There were the positive responses, the people who wanted to know more, and on the other side of the coin, there were really negative things. If you look at some of the comments on the actual article itself, they're still there, and there are some really nasty things, the majority by white men, about the work that I did.

But generally, it's been great. Some people I meet still reference it. Tech is such a huge place, but I think tech recruitment is small so we all kind of know each other. It's still a thing that I love to talk about and I try to find that same sort of innovation and desire to make things as equal and inclusive as possible, wherever I am in life, whether that's socially or in my new job.

Was it hard to convince the company to let you reveal these processes?

Well, for me, just as a human, I'm not very afraid of risk or loss. So, I just wrote it and then I thought for a hot second, "I should probably show this to PR as well as the CEO." They made minor comments but mainly they were like "this is great!" and I published it.

It makes a name for our company to show the world all the advanced things we're doing in detail. I think a lot of companies love to talk the talk. They love throwing around buzzwords like inclusion, diversity, culture, equality. We're asking, "what does that mean and how do you show up for that?" People love to be in echo chambers and just talk. This was action that I took.

You have a background as an accomplished musician and a BFA in music from Carnegie Mellon. How did you find your way into, or chart your way into, becoming a recruiter of tech talent?

That's kind of a weird one right? Music has always been the greatest passion in my life, I started playing at age five and quickly it became obvious to my teacher, my parents, and myself that there was something there. I was seriously committed to making a career out of this talent. During college, I had the amazing opportunity to play at Carnegie Hall in New York. That was such an incredible experience, but I slowly realized through all the different concerts and competitions that I didn't want to ever rely on my greatest passion to pay for rent, pay for utilities, and put food on the table. That took out some of the magic and love that I had for music.

I was a tour guide for the office of admissions. I worked my way up and when senior year came around they offered me a job as an assistant director of admissions, helping make admission decisions for Carnegie Mellon in the technology school. So that was my first taste of recruitment; it's not industry recruitment but it's undoubtedly recruitment on some level.

I realized that I loved representing something I believed in. Higher education tends to be a little slower-moving, so I was thinking "what is the polar opposite thing of that?" And that's tech. I was already familiar with tech from admitting students into the tech schools. That's how my job at Google happened and then Duolingo and then here we are today.

How does your background and identity as an Asian American woman influence your life and work and perspective today?

I would say that it affects everything that I do. I grew up being the only one. I remember always looking around in the classroom being like "I am the only Asian, I'm the only Asian female."

When you experience things like bullying or exclusion you can dig yourself into a hole of safety or you can use that experience and say, “I will try my best to never let this happen in any work or any situation or any community that I am a part of.” Every time I lead an inclusion training at a company that I work for, every time I write something -- like the article that went viral -- it's because I have this genuine desire and connection for wanting places to be as inclusive as possible.

You also give advice on salary negotiation, especially for women, and that is something people can feel like they never know enough about.

You've got to be prepared, and you've got to do your research. If the job is in a different location, you look at the city and the cost of living, you look at all these comparable companies, ask people there who are willing to share. Recruiters are kind of lucky because we know everything. When I go through any process I do have that bottom line and I'm very clear and unapologetic about it.

Many studies have shown that women are less likely to negotiate, and some never negotiate a salary in their lives. That's crazy to me. I think, for me, it’s about knowing how great my worth is in comparison to the average applicant and not being willing to step down from that. If the company can't meet me there or recognize that, it's not the company for me.

You were the head recruiter at Glossier, a very popular beauty brand. What was that like?

I'm drawn to things like beauty and fashion and design and the creative sector in general. My friends can tell you I'm always sending them photos of all these new trends or this new makeup I bought. Glossier was a brand that I got into because of the strong branding of the products. There was a clear sense of identity and I think I've always been attracted to companies that have that.

The CEO posted something on her Instagram stories wondering why so many of the AI assistants, like Alexa and Siri, have female voices, and I just responded. I didn't know her at all. I had a lot of thoughts on the subject, and next thing you know I'm interviewing and talking to her in New York. So Instagram is really how I got the job.

Wow. Do you have any advice as a recruiter for how people can get noticed for a job, maybe in an unusual way like your story with Glossier?

For me, the authenticity aspect of job searching is most important. I know everyone gets the advice all the time: "Apply to as many companies as possible, someone will bite." I actually disagree with that: Only apply at the companies you actually want to work at and know why you want to work there. Are they just a super sexy company or do you want to work with them because they're really well-known and that's a good resume-booster or do you use their products every day or do you admire their leadership? It has to be from a genuine place because that will show throughout the entire interview process in all of your answers.

Apply to the companies you really believe in, like Duolingo. I completely stand behind their mission of free education for everyone. Google, I was completely behind the fact this was an amazing, huge tech leader in the world that I could really learn a lot from. And at Glossier I was a user even before I thought about the potential of working here.

People might want to know, if you want to share this, what do you look for in talent?

It is important to articulate why you want to be a part of this chapter and part of this movement, to translate that to any company or client to any industry whether it be health or education or entertainment: What is your piece of the puzzle that you are contributing to this?

Do you have any books or other media that you like to recommend to people who are thinking about their careers?

I actually find a lot of advice through social media, like Twitter. I also find a lot through Reddit. There was a thread on /r/AskWomen, it was like name your job and your salary and nothing else. There were all of these amazing conversations and it was very empowering for women, these would be people who were saying "Hey, I make seven dollars an hour" and then people who make like a million-dollar salary. It was just an incredible conversation.

That's amazing.

Yeah. For me, it’s social media everything!

Jeesoo’s LinkedIn