Cut & Polish

Gem Celebrates Black History Month

As part of Gem's celebration of Black History Month, we wanted to highlight some of the individual Gems that make our product and our company tick—and whom we wouldn’t be “Gem” without.

It’s Black History Month; and we’ve got a lot of things in the works at Gem—thanks to our Obsidian ERG and supporting players—that equal opportunities for us all to learn more about Black histories and Black cultures, celebrating them even as we keep awakening to our blind spots. Our Obsidian ERG is sending out periodical, company-wide facts and figures about heroes that are significant to our Black Gems. We’ve planned a speaker series, a movie night, and a company-wide celebration with Black trivia, catered by Black-owned restaurants. 

But we also wanted to highlight some of the individual Gems that make our product and our company tick—and whom we wouldn’t be “Gem” without. Thank you all for being so brilliantly, unapologetically you; and for being our teachers, and mentors, and friends, as well as our colleagues:

Alem Abai, Account Executive 

How would you describe what you do at Gem in one sentence?

I help people make great decisions 

What feels most exciting to you about your job right now?

The opportunity. Gem is in a really exciting place this year; and it's been amazing to be on the sales team and to have that direct impact on, and perspective of, company growth. We’re on the verge of even more exciting things this year, so I'm just pumped and ready for 2021, honestly. That said, one of the things I’ve always appreciated about Gem is the opportunity to collaborate with other teams. I really enjoy working with the marketing team to offer product demos in our webinars. Public speaking doesn’t come naturally to me; it’s uncomfortable. So it’s exciting to get to challenge myself in those collaborations.  

What would you say your greatest strength is?

My kindness. I live by doing right by others. It used to feel like a weakness or a vulnerability when I was younger; but now it's what I celebrate most about myself. 

Who are your Black role models?

When I think about the type of leader I want to be, Michelle Obama comes to mind first. What she was able to do with her platform is super inspiring to me. She used it to fight for things that are uncomfortable, like social justice. She empowered children through education; she empowered women. I would like to embody that. I hope that I do.

When do you feel most empowered?

When I can help others achieve their goals, or somehow support them on their path to success—whether that's giving advice or opening doors for them that I might have access to. 

What's one book or resource we should be reading or video we should be watching?

In some ways, this is a continuation of my answer about empowerment. The Empowering Women of Color Conference (EWOCC), which used to be held at Cal Berkeley every year, was the place I first felt empowered; and I think it’s such a great resource. It’s happening virtually now; but the conference used to be talks and workshops on everything from how to get a mentor and advance in your career, to poetry and music, to history. It felt like Disneyland, but for women who wanted to better themselves. And it was an inspiring experience to be around so many young women who wanted to lift each other up and provide each other resources. I think EWOCC continues to be a great resource for young women—even virtually. 

What Gem’s Sales Manager Nic Cryns says about Alem: “Alem is such a valued member of our sales team at Gem. She brings a high level of ownership to her role, focusing on her customers’ goals to drive her results. What stands out the most to me is Alem's poise—when challenges arise, she has a lighthearted but steadfast focus on winning, being a reliable teammate, and an active member of her family/community.”

Clyde Autin, Sales Development Representative

How would you describe what you do at Gem in one sentence?

I'm an opportunity-seeker. I seek opportunities for Gem to build new partnerships; but I also seek opportunities to make other companies’ recruiting workflows better. That creates opportunities for people to join those companies. It’s really a virtuous circle. 

What feels most exciting to you about your job right now?

When I think about what’s most exciting, I think about Gem’s growth—how far we’ve come and where we’re going. Through everything that’s happened in 2020 we’ve not only survived but found a way to overachieve. And when I imagine the big picture—that exponential growth in the coming years—that excites me. 

The product is definitely my favorite part of the job. I’m confident in my product, which means I’m never in a position to feel like I’m selling something to someone who doesn’t need it. Whenever I come across recruiters that are sourcing candidates on LinkedIn, I know that odds are that Gem could make their lives easier. I’m that confident in what Gem does. The prospects who get it really get it: I’ve been on sales calls that were so easy for the AE. The prospect was just like, “Oh yeah; I get what Gem does. Can I have access by Friday?” That’s powerful. And the product is getting even stronger by the day.

What would you say your greatest strength is?

Being able to look at things from a third-person perspective. If I'm looking at a problem, I try to extract myself from it a bit. I consider all the elements, all the people involved, all the different gears in place to understand why something might be happening, or why I feel a certain way, or why someone else does. It gets me out of my subjectivity and opens up a world of possibilities. And it keeps me from taking things so personally. 

Who are your Black role models?

Muhammad Ali was my first Black hero for being willing to go against the grain and take a stand when it mattered—even if it meant risking it all, putting it all on the line. Refusing to be drafted for Vietnam, for example. They stripped his title; they took him to jail. But that refusal empowered so many people. Not to mention his level of confidence: he wrote poems about his opponents before getting into the ring. “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.” He knew the power words had to unsettle his opponents.

I’d also say Lewis Hamilton. He's a Formula 1 driver—in fact, he’s the first black driver to race in Formula 1—and a 7-time world champion. He’s competing in a sport that is very wealthy and White-dominant, and he uses his platform unapologetically for social justice. Hamilton came from very little and made it all the way to the top. And now he's one of the greatest drivers of all time.

When do you feel most empowered?

I think empowerment is often tied to a sense of accomplishment for me. Setting out to do something; knocking out a to-do list. My passion project is making YouTube videos; and no matter how long I’ve been doing it, there’s always something very daunting about starting to record. But it’s empowering to put myself in a position to try out new things—camera angles, slow motion, voiceovers—for the sake of creation. And when those videos get good traction, and people are subscribing and writing to tell me they love what I’m doing, that feels amazing. 

What's one book or resource we should be reading or video we should be watching?

One really important video came out last year from CNBC: "Is Big Tech Still Struggling with Diversity?" Working at Gem, this conversation feels even more relevant. The video presents the data and tells the story about how underrepresented people still aren't being captured by tech companies; about how big tech publicly takes diversity seriously but then puts no serious efforts into diversity hiring. 

I was at Talent Acquisition Week last week, and one of the panel speakers mentioned that African American women have the highest rate of unemployment of any demographic in the United States. 14.8% unemployment. That’s devastating. But if we don’t know the extent to which it’s a problem, we can’t address it. That’s what I think videos like this are good for. I think there’s also a really important lesson in all the thumbs-downs videos like this get. Media about Black empowerment, media that gives visibility into the plight of underrepresented folks often gets hate. Looking at those numbers is reflective of where we still are. That alone should be a wake-up call.

What Gem’s SDR Manager Catherine Ladd says about Clyde: “Clyde is such an asset to Gem. From bringing in meetings with really impressive logos to constantly identifying ways for us to get better as a team, Clyde’s contributions have been invaluable.

One of the many things that I appreciate about Clyde is his eagerness to improve processes to help us become more efficient and effective as a team. One of our company values is velocity, and we pride ourselves on helping recruiting teams become more efficient. Clyde embodies this value day in and day out, constantly finding productivity hacks and spearheading enhancements cross-functionally.”

Temi Vasco, Controller

How would you describe what you do at Gem in one sentence?

I make the past make sense.

What are you working on right now that's most exciting to you?

Our migration to NetSuite has definitely been exciting. This was the first time I had a project at Gem that touched other people; it wasn't just me in the driver's seat, doing the work. It made me a better communicator; and now we have so much automation power to make our numbers easier, the information readily available, and Gem so much more competitive. Soon we’ll have a dashboard for every team for historical and forecasted data. We’ll have financial information that anyone in the company can literally go in and see, and use that intelligence to make really good decisions. That’s a thrilling thought for me.

What would you say your greatest strength is? 

I play devil's advocate really well—which is sometimes frustrating for other people!—because I tend to try to see things from other perspectives. No matter what my point of view is, I typically understand where the other person is coming from... and if I don't, I really want to understand. It's a strength in the sense that I make better decisions because they’re not being made in a silo or a vacuum; I’m considering where everyone else is and how they might be affected. 

When do you feel most empowered? 

When I feel I have enough information and the freedom to act on it. For my specific role, not having enough information typically leads to poor decisions; and having information I know is viable and reliable, but that I can’t act on, is so frustrating. But when I have both intelligence and agency, everything just kind of lights up, and I feel very aligned because I don't have to wait. I don't have to be fearful or wary about moving forward. 

Who are your Black role models? 

Maya Angelou. Her books are these amazing interweavings of poetry and imagery and prose; and I literally feel my heart palpitating when I read her—she dispels harsh truths in little sound-bytes so we can handle them, and the work just pulls you along. James Baldwin is another one. He had such incredible insight into American society and Black lives; he got right to the heart of the matter in his writing. Everything I read by him still feels so relevant. Michelle Obama, of course. She managed to stay incredibly accessible in a way that public personas rarely can. It makes her story, her journey, something folks can actually aspire to. 

And finally, my mother. She’s a person of faith, and she gets a lot of resilience from that. Everywhere she goes, everyone she meets, she’s trying to give them something, offer them something. She’s constantly thinking about how she can help in these quiet, intimate ways. She used to buy food for other families when she went to the food pantry and would spend the rest of the day distributing it. If she ever met you and you happened to mention you like a specific kind of chocolate, she would think of you next time she was at the store and get it for you. I aspire to be that thoughtful, that loving, to be thinking of others that often. Imagine 70 years of doing that. She’s definitely a hero of mine.

What's one book or resource we should be reading or video we should be watching?

Childish Gambino's “This is America.” It’s—I can’t even use the word “exaggerated,” because to some degree it's not—but it’s a remarkably powerful and indicting video. So if we’re talking music videos, I’d recommend that. Urbanintellectuals.com sells these Black History Flashcards that are made for kids but I think everyone should have them. My kids and I go through them often at our house; we’ll pull out one card a day and talk about it—Marcus Garvey, W.E.B. Du Bois, Zora Neale Hurston. They have a volume on general history, a volume on Black women in history, and so on. I’ve learned a lot about Black American history from these, because I was raised in Africa so I didn’t have a lot of context when I first moved here. 

Another resource I’d mention is When the World was Black. It tells the story of African people as they moved from Africa into the diaspora—before the trans-Atlantic slave trade, through travel. It gives context to a lot of the words we use today. I have kids; I’m trying to teach them about world history and their place in it. Our history doesn’t start with slavery. It goes so much further back; it’s so much deeper, so much more nuanced, so much more powerful than that. For me, it’s a reminder of connection to a broader swath of people.

What Gem’s VP of Finance & Business Operations, Susan Phan, says about Temi: "What makes Temi so effective at her role is her continuous quest to improve Gem's financial infrastructure. She's relentless at rooting out inefficiencies in our processes, making enhancements to our systems, and making things that work well work even better. Even though she is already a master at her craft, she's always looking to up-level herself and the way things get done at Gem. Her passion and sense of humor also make her an amazing teammate." 

Diana Ogbevire, University & Technical Recruiting Generalist

How would you describe what you do at Gem in one sentence?

I help find amazing talent for an ever-evolving team and create exceptional candidate experiences. 

What are you working on right now that's most exciting to you?

Working to build out processes and improve our recruiting operations as well as creating partnerships with organizations to increase our talent brand awareness. I worked on our values interview process which was great to be a part of—especially because it was a reminder of how deeply Gem holds on to its core values. They’re important enough to make it a standalone part of the interview process. And it was so fascinating working to translate a single value into a series of questions.

I find excitement in talent branding and partnering with organizations to help increase the awareness of Gem. Some of the projects I have worked on have included creating social marketing posts to celebrate our new hires and partnering with organizations, such as Blacks in Technology, to create webinars and events. There are so many topics in tech and the corporate world that should be discussed and I am excited to help bring them to the surface. Two of my favorites so far have been our webinars on imposter syndrome and on demystifying the startup world. I am working on one now that focuses on how product engineers are shaping the future of recruiting technology.  

What would you say your greatest strength is?

My ability to bring people together, and my empathy. My mom would tell me: “You just understand; it’s like you read the room and you automatically know what people need.” I didn’t see it in myself for a long time; but she wasn’t wrong. I pay attention to the gaps—in spaces, in communities, in companies—and I want to help fill them and bring people together to provide resources and support. When I was in graduate school, my friends called me “D.O.” Those are my initials, of course; but they meant “The DO-er.” The person who wanted to do all they could to help. 

When do you feel most empowered? 

When I take on something that makes me uncomfortable. I take on projects that feel like they’re going to be really difficult or challenging and just the bold act of taking it on is empowering for me. I also feel empowered by having positive people around me. Which is why that’s something I always look for in a workplace. I ride the waves of their empowerment, their strong willingness and desire to accomplish their goals. That fuels me.

Who are your Black role models?

I would say Michelle Obama. She is from Chicago, like me. And to see her in her power and hear her story of overcoming her experiences in the education system and workforce is inspiring. She is a reminder that you should always continue to believe in yourself and go get what you deserve. There are a lot of young Black women who are first-generation college students like me, and to see examples like Michelle Obama gives us the drive and hope to fulfill our dreams—and it's a reminder to give back to your community. 

My second role model is definitely my mom. Seeing her work hard made me want to work harder. She always told me: “Give 110% ... and do things you care about because it’ll be much easier to give your 110%.” 

What's one book or resource we should be reading or video we should be watching?

Becoming by Michelle Obama and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou. These are both books that are really inspiring for black women. They're both memoirs that provide insight into their lived experiences, especially when facing racial prejudice and navigating imposter syndrome as a black woman. I enjoyed seeing how Michelle Obama and Maya Angelou persevered through many challenges and found the freedom to follow their dreams. I also want to highlight Don Miguel Ruiz’s The Four Agreements. It’s an oldie but a goodie. And it kind of transformed and changed my outlook on life.

What Gem’s Head of People, Caroline Stevenson, says about Diana: “Diana is the ultimate team player, willing to jump in wherever help is needed. She’s proactive in seeing things that could be improved, then jumping in and taking it on. Regardless of the situation, Diana will always show up with a positive, can-do attitude. She is often seen as the glue of our recruiting team because she’s so finely-attuned to how everyone is doing, and keeping an eye out for how we can all support each other.”

Darwin Irby, Sales Operations Analyst

How would you describe what you do at Gem in one sentence?

I basically play with Legos. I connect lots of systems, right? I'm playing with systematic Legos. Sometimes they chip, sometimes they break; but I'm in charge of snapping them back together.

What are you working on right now that's most exciting to you?

I lead the Obsidian ERG, which is the Black ERG at Gem. Planning for Black History Month has been one of the more exciting things on my plate these days. It's been amazing to see how Gems from all teams and all backgrounds genuinely want to pour their energy into the celebration and the remembrance. I can't say that I've ever experienced that at other places. Folks want to help. They’re like, “I want to support and uplift your culture and your history.” And that's beautiful.

What would you say your greatest strength is?

I think that I have a pretty good balance of cynicism and optimism. I try to approach problems and questions with some level of skepticism, but I have a tendency to be bullish about solutions and optimistic that we can solve them. That's kind of how I live my life. Before I do anything, I do tons of research. I'm a bit skeptical until I feel comfortable with the idea. And then once I've reached that threshold of certainty—I can do this, I have the resources—I’m off and running. Watch out.

When do you feel most empowered?

Hands-down when I'm helping others. If you asked anyone who's ever come into contact with me, they’d probably tell you that I can elevate people and make them feel empowered to do the things I know they can accomplish. That makes me empowered. It's like one of the things I've been doing my whole life. I do it with the ERG. I do it with my team. I do with my mom. Whether it’s grunt work or research or helping folks talk through a plan or a solution, it gives me such joy to be able to help them wherever I can. I love to be both cheerleader and coach. 

Who are your Black role models?

More recently, Barack Obama. That may seem like an easy choice, but it’s not because of his presidency exactly; it’s all the humanitarian work and community service work he did before entering the spotlight. His story shows that you can have a serving heart and truly care about your community and reach the highest office by being that servant to the community. 

One of my favorite poets is Langston Hughes. Everyone should read his work. One of my favorite sociologists and civil rights activists is W.E.B. Du Bois. To be an intellect, such a strong voice for Black people while slavery was still so prevalent took so much courage. I’d recommend his books and essays to anyone. 

What's one book or resource we should be reading or video we should be watching?

Hughes, and Du Bois, of course. I’d also mention this coffee table book, which is one of my favorite books right now: The Fire Next Time. It’s James Baldwin’s classic, but with photographs by Steve Schapiro, who followed Baldwin during the Civil Rights Movement. It tells such an eloquent story of the Black American experience, of the Jim Crow South. It’s transporting. Everyone should look at this book.

What Gem’s Director of Business Systems, David Hoang, says about Darwin

“Darwin is....

...the long-lost friend you never knew you had. His interactions are warm, empathetic, supportive, and engaging. He immediately puts you at ease as if you've known each other since childhood—the perfect x-functional business partner—and why everyone loves working with him (including me!)

...the eye of the storm aka the calm amongst the start-up environment chaos. "What would Darwin do?" This is the question I ask myself when I want to ensure that I'm making a thoughtful, rationalized, and level-headed decision as we balance a million priorities and move at light speed—because that's what Darwin does.

...human and authentic. Probably not adjectives normally associated with start-ups. Darwin brings his true self to work everyday. You see it in his work and the energy he puts into initiatives he's leading from the Obsidian ERG, Mentorship programs, just to name a few.”

If you're as thrilled about the possibility of working with this amazing crew as we're thrilled to have them on our team, Gem's hiring this year, and we'd love to hear from you. In the meantime, check out some of the resources Alem, Clyde, Temi, Diana, and Darwin offered up. We'll be reading and watching them with you.


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