What We Can Learn from the Next Generation of Leaders: Skateboarding, Social Justice and What Organizations should look for in hiring new talent
The corporate world is primed for a youthful and energized takeover by fresh talent who are looking to improve the world for their generation and beyond. Our series on “The Youth are Getting Restless” explores this exciting trend within a wide range of organizations. This series offers insight on how proactive corporate leaders can harness this wave of dynamic change to develop rising talent, ultimately improving their companies for a changing world.
The first interview in this series is with Kristin Ebeling, Executive Director of Skate Like A Girl, a 501(c)3 non-profit promoting inclusion within skateboarding. The programming and education that this organization provides to young people extends far beyond exposure to skating and focuses on life lessons central to future success.
When it comes to resiliency and determination, Ebeling is undoubtedly a master, both in her role as a leader of a national non-profit as well as an athlete. Ebeling has been skateboarding for almost two decades and has encountered more than her fair share of obstacles as a woman along the way. Through this adversity, Ebeling developed the passion and self-awareness she would need to change the world for other non-male skateboarders following in her footsteps. Skate like a Girl has become a national platform for the empowerment of women, inclusion and diversity through skateboarding.
Ebeling has plenty to share from her experience of running a successful organization. She sat down with Cadence founder, Aram Arslanian, to share her own personal growth and corporate insights with us. Her unique perspective will inspire anyone looking to maximize their hiring and professional development strategies.
I think skateboarding is something that’s very youth-centric and fun. It attracts a wide array of people and there’s a significant parallel between essential life skills and what you physically do as a skater. It requires a lot of resilience, confidence and courage; all the skills they try to teach in school but can’t. You have to experience resilience or courage, building confidence and community, first hand to really learn these skills. We thought skateboarding was a really powerful vehicle which brings people together, but in a non-competitive way. It’s something that’s difficult and through the process of learning to skate, we could possibly have larger conversations and educate people.
One instance of this is when we’re teaching our instructors how to teach others or facilitate more hands-on learning. A lot of that goes along with consent. So, we’ll have conversations about consent and how to acquire that from someone before you touch them. That’s extremely powerful because that’s not necessarily something that young people are learning in school. But it’s super important in an era of the #MeToo movement.
If we’re now looking at the corporate world. What advice would you give to senior leaders hiring people right out of university, who have done a master’s degree but essentially, they’ve just worked normal jobs. Now they’re transitioning into a corporate setting. What should leaders be looking for?
I would say, look for people that have a humble attitude, that are interested in having a growth mindset, where they don’t think that they already know everything. That they’re super open-minded, and willing to take feedback and grow and learn and communicate about those things. I would definitely look for somebody that has a basic understanding of social justice, because that’s only going to become more and more important. Going along with that, the growth mindset is really crucial, because the world of social justice and trading equity is constantly evolving. The language that we used ten years ago is not the language we’re going to use now, and it’s going to change again in the next ten years. I’d say looking for people that are driven and resilient, but definitely interested in training a more equitable world is really crucial. Eventually, they’ll be managing teams, and nobody wants to work with somebody that’s either a know-it-all or not open to feedback. I think that’s especially crucial in the realm I described of social justice, equity, and inclusion.
You just said something I’ve never heard someone say about interviewing talent. I find it really compelling. It sounds like, based on what you believe is important for any organization, is that new hires should actually have a good depth of knowledge about social justice, and an understanding about how society’s changing, and how important it is. How they need to interact with that, or not be a bystander in that, but be an active participant in that. Is that correct?
Let’s talk about an organization that employs 100,000 people for instance, most of these organizations would say, “Oh! We hire the best and the brightest people!” Why would this be important for an organization like that?
I would say it’s a reflection of the world changing. The world is getting more and more diverse. If you want the best of the best, you have to be able to have a company culture that can welcome everybody and not just people that look like the current leadership. I would say that’s probably the most important thing.
Secondly, even for people that are representative of the core identity of current corporate America; white, male or whatever fits in to that current corporate culture, their ideals or their views of the world on average are becoming more and more progressive I’d say. Again, if you want a company culture where people want to continue to work for your organization and really care about the workplace, I think you need to take a holistic approach. Your employees want to feel bought in to that culture, and I think a really big way you can do that is to be more open, progressive, and have an equity focus.
I’ve left jobs because I felt like my boss didn’t understand equity and inclusion. I think it’s a huge conversation right now. Employees actually do really care about this, and I don’t think that’s going to change. I think, if anything, it’s going to be larger in the future.
I’m hearing two things that I want to make sure we capture. One, it’s important in your hiring practice include among the best and brightest, the people who are most engaged and thoughtful about inclusion, equity, and diversity. They’re really involved in that and they understand it. That should be a key hiring practice. The second is, it’s not enough there, you also have to deeply educate your existing talent base and really focus on educating, supporting that growth of practice in your talent base, is that correct?
Yes, for sure. A third point would be to be aware of your client base, understand that your practices can build loyalty but also destroy it. For instance, if an energy drink company has a scandal of sexism, people are not going to choose to buy that product. It’s just not a good business model to be bigoted. If you’re a company that’s super progressive, put that at the forefront, because the majority of human beings are going to gravitate towards that and relate to it. I’d also say it’s never been a good business model to be exclusive or discriminatory in any way. You want to avoid that and be a company that does the opposite. I think that takes time and some real work.
So, why has that persisted though? Why is it today, you and I and anyone who’s reading this interview, could point to tons of different examples where we have seen or even partaken in things that are discriminatory in the workplace? If it’s such a poor business practice, why does it exist? From your perspective.
I would say it’s super institutionalized, and there hasn’t been enough critical mass to change it. I think a lot of these conversations are just starting, definitely with the #MeToo movement and women coming out about their experiences of abuse, is just part of it, just the tip of the iceberg. I think a lot of this is just so ingrained. I also think people aren’t willing to give up their throne or their power in any way. There’s not a whole lot of incentive for those in the power position to give it up, but I think moving forward in the future, that’s something that they need to maybe consider. The world is changing, and people are going to gravitate towards businesses and companies that represent their ideals in the changing world.
Finally, from your own experience in skateboarding and the barriers you faced, what advice do you have for women in general, who are trying to change the environment, the landscape that they exist in?
I’ve been in the game for 19 years and I’ve definitely faced a lot of barriers. I had to work harder than my male counterparts to be accepted and a part of the community, ride for the local skate shop, have a board sponsor and all of that. Over the years, the wall has definitely broken down. The sexism we experience currently as women skaters is much deeper now. I’ll go to the skatepark and guys will say things like, “Oh, man, I can’t even do that,” or like, “Oh, you’re way better than me.” They’ll say things as a compliment but what they don’t realize is they’re operating from a really sexist mindset that tells them that as a guy, they’re inherently better.
My advice for women in general would be to find community as fast as you can, find language that helps you understand what you’re going through and that your feelings are real. When you feel shut out, don’t gaslight yourself and tell yourself, “Oh, no, that didn’t happen,” or “They weren’t ignoring me.” Those feelings are real and having a community that will validate your experience is really important to moving forward with power and intention. Once you’re at the point where your experience is acknowledged it is so powerful; in the future you’ll be able to see it, call it out, and know that it’s not your fault.
Through Ebeling’s work and that of the women she’s building a community with, the path to inclusion is becoming more accessible day by day. When asked why skateboarding could change the world, she cites all of the crucial life skills that skating has given her: resiliency, courage, confidence, creativity and community building.
The world is becoming more diverse and her advice to leaders is to ensure new hires are receptive and engaged with social justice concepts. That could be the linchpin in taking your company’s growth and culture to the next level. Finally, her advice to young people is to find a community that fosters courage and emboldens them to find their voices.
“Don’t be scared that you fall outside of the norm, because that’s going to be super powerful in the future.”
Skate Like a Girl has chapters in San Francisco, Portland and Seattle, with mobile programming popping up across the United States. The organization partners with 20 schools each year to offer after-school courses on skateboarding. Each summer, Skate Like a Girl hosts around 70 summer camp programs, which include youth, adults, queer and trans youth, girls and all-gender programs.
If you’re interested in supporting Skate Like a Girl, please consider making a donation to the organization. You can also reach out for volunteer opportunities, as well as corporate sponsorship and partnership options. You can learn more about the great work they do by visiting them online at https://www.skatelikeagirl.com/