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    “Alexa, should I take an umbrella with me today?”

    “Alexa, where did I put my car keys?”

    “Alexa, can you please run my life for me?”

    Okay, so we may not have arrived at that last point just yet, but we’re probably closer than we think. During a panel on Thursday at the Fast Company Innovation Festival, senior staff writer Jeff Beer interviewed Amazon vice president of Smart Home Daniel Rausch about all things Alexa, from its humble beginnings in 2014’s Echo, when it could accomplish just 13 tasks, to a future where it will be everywhere—even more everywhere than the 70 new Alexa-enabled devices that Amazon recently announced.

    Fast Company senior staff editor Jeff Beer (left) and Daniel Rausch, vice president, Amazon (right) [Photo: Samir Abady for Fast Company]
    According to Rausch, customers continue to want Alexa in more places. Increasing demand for Alexa-enabled services, combined with Amazon’s ongoing mission to enable developers to integrate Alexa into any device, Amazon or not, makes the idea of finding (or hearing) the digital assistant literally everywhere you turn not so farfetched.

    As Alexa’s abilities grow, and its presence expands into more people’s homes, users’ concerns about privacy remain at the forefront of discussions about this type of AI. When asked about security, Rausch emphasized it was a “foundational principle” for Amazon, and pointed out that every Echo has a mute button as a hardware feature, and that customers can delete anything Alexa has “overheard” and stored in the cloud. (Of course, you have to accept that it might be listening into your conversations in the first place.)

    [Photo: Samir Abady for Fast Company]
    Though Rausch was (in typical Amazon fashion) tightlipped on details about current and future plans for Alexa, he did say the company is currently working with the hospitality industry to incorporate its voice AI into existing hotel systems to help guests with everything from calling the front desk and requesting additional towels to ordering an Uber or getting dinner recommendations.

    In terms of the ideal smart home experience, Rausch described a near future in which Alexa, as an ambient interface, will be so ubiquitous that people won’t even think about what device they’re talking to. There will just be one giant interconnected “Star Trek computer,” as he put it. And that computer will become more proactive via Alexa’s burgeoning Hunches feature. In this system, Alexa would learn your habits so well that if you, say, bid it goodnight without turning off the lights in your basement, it would kindly remind you to do so.

    How long of a jump is it from there to Alexa finding your missing car keys or solving all your problems? Hey, let’s just ask Alexa.

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    People can’t stop searching for Fortnite on YouPorn, which has led the adult search engine to believe that this Halloween will be nothing but a parade of sexy skull troopers, plush tricera ops, and sultry brite bombers demanding a trick, treat, or both.

    YouPorn pored through your dirty, dirty search history and came up with a list of characters it thinks are going to be pretty popular on Halloween. Fortnite topped the list by a wide margin, followed by the slightly less scandalous ninja and pirate. Coming in fourth, according to YouPorn and anyone who has stayed too late at Comic Con, is Bowsette, which Super Mario fans will know is what happens after a power-up turns Bowser into a Princess Peach-looking character. Several Marvel characters made the list, too, including Harley Quinn, Black Panther‘s Zuris, and Deadpool‘s elderly friend Blind Al.

    It’s not just women either: Colossus, Deadpool, The Rock, Spiderman, and Venom are also popular options. “Weasel” is on the list, too, but I’m not going to risk a call from HR to figure out what that is, exactly.

    So this Halloween, if you run into any Dark Voyagers or Cuddle Team leaders, just nod knowingly as you hand them some candy.

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    Have you ever bitten into a delicious Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup and thought: Wow, I wish there was just less of this?

    Unlikely, and yet Hershey’s has decided to create a new product for those of us who are seemingly unhappy with perfection. On Thursday, the brand announced a new cup that will be a whopping 40% thinner than its traditional predecessor, reports Business Insider.

    Called Reese’s Thins, the product is meant to appeal to candy lovers who want “more permissibility,” said Hershey North America president Michele G. Buck in a company call. The newly redesigned cups will be available in milk chocolate and dark chocolate varieties in March 2019.

    While changes to iconic candies are rarely heralded, this seems hardly unexpected. The parent company reported lower than expected quarterly revenue on Thursday, as sales of checkout chocolate continue to decline. As Reuters reports, net income attributable to The Hershey Company fell to $263.71 million, or $1.25 per share, in the third quarter, from $273.30 million, or $1.28 per share, a year earlier. The candy maker has made efforts in the last few years to expand its offerings, thus becoming a broader snacking company.

    Hershey’s isn’t the only one suffering from lackluster sales. Consumers increasingly gravitate to more health-aligned snacks, which means legacy brands keep looking to cut corners. In 2016, Toblerone announced it was skimming its distinctive triangular shape to cut down on rising ingredient costs. (Following a national outcry, it has since reverted back to its original design.) Then there was the travesty that was the NECCO affair, in which the rainbow-colored wafers asked for the public’s help in staying afloat.

    This isn’t the first Hershey’s “innovation” of the beloved cups. In the past year, the company revealed Reese’s Outrageous, which is a bar stuffed with peanut butter, caramel, and Reese’s Pieces. And in December, it will debut a Hershey’s bar studded with Reese’s Pieces.

    Two years ago, it found success by combining Peanut Butter Cups with Reese’s Pieces for the hybrid that was Reese’s Pieces Cups. The Turducken of a cup increased brand sales by about 8% in the quarter.

    Regardless of the financial or “permissibility” reasons given, it’s unlikely the Hershey’s announcement will go over well with fans. Many are already voicing their disdain:

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    Sixteen million kids are growing up in poverty today, said Jennifer Garner onstage at the Fast Company Innovation Festival on Thursday.

    Garner has testified multiple times before Congress and other governmental bodies on topics like early childhood and nutrition; she sits on the board of the children’s rights nonprofit Save the Children and is an artist ambassador for the group. Onstage on Thursday with cofounder and CEO John Foraker and Fast Company editorial director Jill Bernstein, Garner discussed how her focus on children’s rights issues led to her role as cofounder and chief brand officer of the baby food company Once Upon A Farm.

    Watch a video of their discussion below:

    The one-year-old brand sells cold-pressed, organic baby food in retail stores, online, and direct-to-consumer, but Garner and Foraker also described their social impact mission: making healthy baby food more affordable.

    “We’ve gotta do a better job of feeding our kids,” Garner said. “It’s the most fundamental–you can’t ask kids to learn and be kindergarten ready and succeed and thrive if we’re not putting good, healthy nutritious food into their bellies.”

    That includes pushing to be approved by WIC, the federal program that offers supplemental aid to women, infants, and children. The approval process involves proving an item meets state-determined nutritional and price guidelines.

    “It’s a hairy, audacious goal,” said Foraker, discussing the challenges of scaling and pushing for the complex approval process. “We don’t want to be [just] another natural organic food brand,” he added. “I will consider us a total failure unless we deliver that kind of impact.”

    Garner and Foraker–who served as CEO of the organic food brand Annie’s for almost two decades before leaving in 2017, a few years after selling the company to General Mills for $820 million–founded Once Upon a Farm after discovering a shared interest in the baby food space, which they saw as lacking a fresh, organic option for parents who might normally try to make their own.

    “Fresh baby food should have happened a long time ago,” Foraker quipped. “You can find fresh dog food in 18,000 stores!”

    The duo work closely together to lead their team of 35, even going on sales calls together all over the country (most recently, to Walmart in Bentonville, Arkansas). Garner helps with recruiting— she is “really good at convincing people to join” the company, said Foraker—and her kids even serve as taste testers for new flavors. Some recent feedback? “Too banana-forward,” Garner reported.

    Garner cited her mother’s experience growing up poor on a farm in Oklahoma as an inspiration; the same farm, today, is now producing a small amount of crops for Once Upon a Farm.

    Will her role as a celebrity activist and entrepreneur eventually lead to a run for office, asked Bernstein?

    “It doesn’t seem like that much fun,” she laughed. “I really like my jobs as I have them now.”

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    “The minute you surprise your users, you screwed up.”

    That’s how Denelle Dixon, chief operating officer at Mozilla, described the work of the company’s policy group, which is largely responsible for what happens to user data–and responsible for ensuring that users are not surprised by any of it.

    Dixon, speaking on a panel at the Fast Company Innovation Festival, was partially referring to the alarm generated by the recent Mr. Robot-branded plug-in installed in the Firefox Quantum browser. It was disabled by default and no data was collected, but Dixon said Mozilla took a lot of flak for it, which proves that data privacy and protection are continuously evolving as new tech gets adopted and more information flows through it.

    That sentiment was echoed by Kate Black, 23andMe‘s global privacy officer and senior counsel. In healthcare and biotech, she said, data collection can power personalized care and medicine. “You want to make sure it is a learning healthcare system that grows with you,” she cautioned.

    Kate Black, global privacy officer, 23andMe and John Borthwick, CEO, Betaworks. [Photo: Samir Abady for Fast Company]
    Black said she sees 23andMe’s role, as well as that of other health tech companies, as stewards of data. “You have to be brutally honest about where the data is going, and make sure the user has enough choices and control over their data and information,” she said, “but are not confused by too many choices.”

    Black, Dixon, and John Borthwick, CEO of Betaworks, all discussed the changes that have led up to the “data industrial complex,” and how the EU’s new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) law contrasts sharply with the U.S. free-market approach. The difference, they said, is that the EU looks at data as something to be protected, while the U.S. is concerned more with privacy. “You could argue that GDPR at its core is so much further ahead,” said Black, who added, “I’m hoping over the next few years there will be American reckoning of the same kind.”

    [Photo: Samir Abady for Fast Company]
    Until then, it’s on companies to ensure they are doing all they can to protect user data and keep it private. For Borthwick, who works with startups, that is a discussion that happens around the life of the company. He says he can tell right away whether a founder is basing their mental business model on how much data can be collected and leveraged. “The most important thing you can do for a company,” he argued, “is to start building [policies to protect user data] in the culture.” As more companies derive revenue from user attention, Borthwick maintained, “That is the durable bit that gives you guardrails. Attention economics needs guardrails.” 

    Dixon said Mozilla went from not collecting data to assiduously determining what to collect and how to communicate it. Unfortunately, she said, “[In the U.S.] the word privacy means nothing. We tried to put the word data in front of it, but it still doesn’t mean anything.” However, she continues to believe that individuals have the power to change the way companies use their data. “Kids stop using products all the time when they don’t like them,” she said as an example. “That’s empowering.”

    Each panelist agreed that the U.S. government should be creating laws to regulate the way companies can gather and use data, in addition to giving people the agency to control their own personal information. “Data is the new gold,” said Borthwick. “The new oil.”

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    WeWork has built its business around community. But its distributed network of locations may have been what helped the company make its use base even larger. “We were the first physical business to expand as aggressively internationally simultaneously before we actually owned the U.S.,” said Jennifer Berrent, chief operating officer at WeWork, onstage this week at the Fast Company Innovation Festival.

    Long before WeWork had brand recognition, says Berrent, the company made the decision to grow internationally. She says the company was barely known in its home city of New York, let alone in smaller cities around the U.S. As it was making plans to expand, certain questions arose.

    “Should we own the U.S. like most other physical companies have done—be it Starbucks, Walmart, the Gap, any company that has an exceptional physical presence—or do we do cities of the world, and do we really start having our presence all around the world at the same time?” she asked.

    What the company found was that members were as interested in having access to offices in places like Shanghai, London, Tokyo, and Berlin as they were in other major cities in the U.S. Starting in 2014, WeWork began to open international offices in Amsterdam, London, and Tel Aviv. At that point it had a total of just 21 offices, according to a Forbes article in 2014. “We were almost barely known,” says Berrent, “and when we went to smaller cities, we would find coworking spaces with much more brand equity than WeWork had.”

    Using its global growth strategy, WeWork has grown to 287 locations worldwide; its member base now totals 268,000. The company has gone from courting small businesses and startups to major corporations. A year and a half ago, the company launched a product called Powered By We, in which WeWork designs, constructs, and operates offices for corporate clients. A compelling piece of that business is something called “Global Pass,” which entitles businesses to use WeWork’s network of desks and office spaces around the world. As it continues to pursue big businesses, these kinds of flexible arrangements allow companies to move workers around the world for various periods of time.

    While there is still a lot of competition in the coworking arena, WeWork has managed to capture the attention of big investors. Existing investor SoftBank is considering taking a majority stake in the company, which could push WeWork’s current $20 billion valuation up to $40 billion, according to the Wall Street Journal. Such funding only serves to assist WeWork in its global conquest.

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    On November 6, employees of Levi Strauss & Co. won’t have to choose between voting and going to work. Speaking at the Fast Company Innovation Festival on Thursday, president and CEO Chip Bergh said Levi’s was giving its employees up to five hours of paid time off to cast their ballots on Election Day.

    And Levi’s isn’t stopping there. The company teamed up with Patagonia on the “Time to Vote” campaign, which prompted more than 200 companies to grant time off for their employees. (“If Walmart can do it, anyone can do it,” Bergh quipped.) Levi’s has recruited celebrities and influencers to spread the word about voter registration and has worked with HeadCount to help sign up voters at concerts. Bergh said about 40 Levi’s stores even had voter registration booths.

    In other words: Bergh doesn’t want to give any of his employees–or anyone, really–an excuse not to vote. “The biggest issue to democracy is apathy,” Bergh said. “The winning candidate during the 2016 presidential election was apathy. Forty percent of voters voted for apathy; they didn’t show up, even though they could have. A lot of people want to complain about government. The best place to complain is the voting booth.” 

    But Levi’s is selling more than just non-partisan calls to action. One of the causes most important to Bergh is gun violence–and in 2016, he wrote an open letter asking customers not to bring guns into Levi’s stores. At the time, Bergh heard from thousands of NRA vendors who claimed they would stop buying Levi’s products. (He also received positive feedback from customers who were proud to see Levi’s take that stance.) “I’m not saying we should repeal the Second Amendment,” he said. “And I’m not saying gun owners are bad. But we need responsible laws.”

    [Photo: Daisy Korpics for Fast Company]

    This September, Levi’s doubled down on its commitment to fighting gun violence through the Safer Tomorrow Fund, which would put $1 million toward nonprofits and youth activists. Levi’s is also partnering with Everytown for Gun Safety to bring together other business leaders who are committed to mitigating gun violence.

    “My hope is that other CEOs are going to follow, and that we will encourage the youth who are now marching and emboldened to take this issue on–and empower them to make a change,” Bergh said. “I feel like my generation has let the next generation down. But there’s hope because the next generation sees this as the central issue in their lives. And they’re going to do something about it.”

    Bergh insisted social advocacy has always been the Levi’s way. (He cited the desegregation of Levi’s factories before the Civil Rights Act was passed, for example, and Levi’s extending benefits to same-sex couples.) “Having the courage to stand up and take a stand has always been part of our lifeblood,” he said. “It’s who we are. Our employees expect it.”

    It doesn’t hurt that since Bergh came on board in 2011, Levi’s has reduced its net debt from about $2 billion to $300 million; last year, the business grew about 8%, and Bergh claimed that number will be in the double digits this year. Still, wading into hot button issues like gun control and immigration–another political hot potato Levi’s has been vocal on–could cost Levi’s customers. “That’s a risk we’ve decided to take,” Bergh said. His stance is that corporate entities have a responsibility to use their platforms for good, even if it means alienating some consumers.

    “In a world that is increasingly more divided, where governments are pulling away from some of their responsibilities to society, CEOs have a moral obligation to weigh in,” Bergh said. “We do have clout, and we do have a voice. To stand on the sidelines on some of these issues, we’re not fully fulfilling what is possible in our roles as CEOs.”

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    At the highest level, employee experience or EX illustrates everything that people encounter, observe, or feel over the course of their time with a company. EX is defined by the sum of its parts–from the daily vibe in the workplace to the employee’s purpose and place on their team and how they deliver value for their organization.

    As leaders, we are stewards of culture and the environment our team works in. We create opportunities. We position individuals and teams to thrive. We tend culture.

    None of this happens without dedication and attention. EX, how our employees feel about the culture in which they work, is a true test of our leadership.

    With that in mind, here are seven ways to foster and build a great employee experience:

    1. Intentionally construct meaning

    Shaping EX starts with thinking strategically about what individual employees need, what the team needs, and how those collective experiences define our culture. When it comes to leadership’s role in culture building, employees are our customers; they are the recipients of our efforts. With the staggering costs of turnover, the stakes for getting things right for our internal customers are just as high as our aim for our external customers.

    It behooves us, then, to approach EX work with the same diligence and dedication with which we approach our customer experience (CX) work. Our efforts can’t be token gestures; internal customers need more than birthday cake, inspirational quotes, and foosball tables.

    Creating a stellar employee experience starts at the top–with leadership providing employees a sense of purpose around the company’s mission, vision, and values. What are we collectively striving for, what motivates us to get up every morning, and how does our broader strategy connect to everyday work?

    In order to improve EX, you need the commitment of every leader across your organization, along with a shared vision around the key areas you want to make progress on, how you will measure it, and how you will make it meaningful for employees.

    2. Evolve and foster employee engagement

    Consistent engagement is vital to EX. Engagement by leaders across the company helps to foster individual and team growth by opening up new opportunities for collaboration that shape the broader experience.

    While the social aspects of any workplace are important, employees are looking for meaningful engagement around their work that helps to motivate, inspire, and inform their day-to-day contributions and connection to the organization’s bigger mission and goals.

    Employees relish meaningful work and want to contribute impactful ideas. When someone is intellectually engaged, their personality is activated, not only as an employee, but as a human being using their skills and creativity to solve problems and stretch further.

    To define what works for your team, focus on each layer of employee engagement–from your organization’s structure, workflow, and processes to best practices for leaders in how they engage with their team.

    Processes and programs to improve employee engagement should be hyper-flexible, and constantly evolving to adapt to the changing needs. Another key element to engagement is leveraging technology and collaboration tools to keep employees connected and doing their best work.

    3. Create a culture of belonging

    Leaders champion meaningful work by creating a culture of belonging that yields a positive employee experience. In addition to engagement, this includes designing your office space in a way that invites and encourages creativity, flexibility, and collaboration.

    Think through how you want employees to use meeting spaces to work and collaborate. Employees matter. The company would not succeed without them.

    Double down on this message by providing for employees’ wellness. Allow them flexibility and balance in their physical space and their routines. Cultivate diversity on every level. Show your team how much they matter, individually and collectively, every chance you get. These aspects of EX make employees comfortable in their jobs, enabling their best work and positioning them to stay.

    4. Build trust and authenticity

    Trust and authenticity are fundamental to this work. Be genuine. Make room for your leadership role. It’s a full-time responsibility, not an add-on. Build trust purposefully, mindfully, and daily.

    Another key is transparency–being open, available, and honest. Consistently prioritize an employee-centric and one team culture. Model humility and respect. This is more than just treating people fairly, it’s about giving clear goals, trust, and being accountable for results.

    5. Seek out feedback to measure EX

    What do we think, team? How are we doing? How are we feeling? First and foremost, it is important to create a culture of honest dialogue. Cultivate an environment where employees know that their feedback is valued, where they feel heard and respected.

    Metrics matter, but fundamental to that is to create a culture of listening. Invite input. Create check-in questions for leadership to pose. Recognize great work and to build on its success. This should be an ongoing leadership initiative.

    Listen to information, insights about the culture you’re building. Make yours a culture of listening, learning, building. Activate effective channels of communication for employees to provide feedback. Listen, encourage ideas and suggestions, and follow up.

    6. Champion co-creators

    Culture building can be a heartening and mindful collaboration. The smart, innovative people we hire can help us shape our culture. They don’t have to stand by and watch us build. This enables us to develop our future managers and to earn their buy-in. Give employees the opportunity to do what they do best everyday. Focus on a continuous learning culture to drive and reinforce the connection and commitment to work. They sense co-workers’ commitment to quality and have a direct connection between their work and the company’s mission.

    7. Streamline culture

    Provide a culture where employees shape processes. Relinquish dependencies on bureaucracies, obscure tribal knowledge or one-off solutions. Pursue streamlined solutions that your team identifies.

    If an employee has the insight to suggest a revision to current practices, it’s important to hear that suggestion and to be open to revising. While it can be tempting to “table” a new idea in favor of “how we’ve always done it,” that approach runs contrary to evolutionary thinking.

    Listen to the ambassadors of your brand who work in the trenches of your processes; they are well-positioned to refine these systems. Let them. Doing so benefits processes, culture, morale, and retention.

    Your role as culture creator is essential to your success as a leader. While these efforts are encompassing and ongoing, so are the rewards. When you do this right, it brings out the best in you and in your team.

    This article originally published on Glassdoor and is reprinted with permission. 

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    Private employers in states and cities across the U.S. including California, New York City, Philadelphia, and Massachusetts were recently banned from asking candidates about their current and past salaries in order to set their pay for a new job. In theory, this provides someone who is currently underpaid an opportunity to break the cycle of underpayment and be paid fairly for their next role.

    Although I wish this solved the issue around equity and pay gaps forever, it’s more just a step in the right direction.

    Eliminating that salary history question from a company’s recruiting process attempts to solve only the problem of initial pay equity, which is a complicated, immense issue latent in bias and prejudice. When you peel back the layers, the salary history question is just one of many things that perpetuate systemic racism and prejudice, plaguing the financial success and professional development of those affected by it.

    How do we know this? Let’s take a look at the premise of Equal Pay Day, which symbolizes how far into a year a woman must work to reach the pay of white men from the year before. April 10 was Equal Pay Day for white women, while August 7 was equal payday for black women. For Native American women, equal pay day is September 27, and for Latina women it’s November 1.

    The difference in dates to reach parity is staggering and underscores how hard we have to work.

    While the conversation around salary history is important and the legislation related to it is critical to equity, the real issue at play isn’t the question of salary history–it’s equity history. The recently passed legislation doesn’t change bias and prejudice.

    Women, especially women of color, are up against a lot. The deeply entrenched, unconscious biases that permeate society contribute, every day, to inequitable power structures that hold us back. These biases influence what happens on a micro level, at every organization. They impact who is deemed a leader, considered intelligent–who “belongs.”

    The good news is equity doesn’t have to be a far-reaching, distant concept. There are actions that everyone can take to make equity and fairness more attainable and make a meaningful difference.

    Create intentional inclusion practices in your company

    Creating processes and inclusive frameworks are necessary for companies to make sustainable and ongoing changes that can break those patterns of bias and begin to normalize equity.

    At Zendesk, we make sure inclusivity efforts are threaded through our global recruiting practices, how employees are promoted, our formalized Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), various professional development opportunities, and manager training.

    We encourage our employees, at a more personal level, to use our unconscious bias training programs to begin to adjust automatic patterns of thought with 2.5-hour in-person learning sessions.

    Related: How Massachusetts’s new pay law will help close the gender wage gap (and how it won’t)

    We also examine our promotion criteria by implementing a transparent career development program we developed called RISE, which examines Readiness, Influence/Impact, Scope, and Excellence, to make sure our framework is based on standardized merit. Having this in place has fostered fairness, mitigated bias, and helps leaders frame career mobility for employees in a tangible way, leading to higher engagement.

    We also developed five different internal mentorship/sponsorship programs to help cultivate communities and opportunities for underrepresented groups. In the U.S., a significant percentage of the company participates in these opportunities–from individual contributors to C-level staff–which we believe is related to our employees telling us in our latest employee engagement survey that they believe our company is an inclusive place to work. This is because as important as it is for compensation and career trajectories to be fair, the work environment itself also needs to be built for everyone to win.

    Don’t wait for the rules to change–change the rules

    On a personal level, when you are asked for prior salary information or to provide a preferred range during the interview process, you are still in the driver’s seat. You do not have to answer point blank. Instead, shift the conversation to the work with something like: “I’d actually still like to fully understand the company’s overall compensation strategy.”

    Ask yourself questions such as: Is their compensation stock heavy? Bonus heavy? Does the company have the benefits you value most? How often do they evaluate performance and compensation? Who would your peers be? What is the scope of the role? Provide a range after you’ve done due diligence, and not based on the compensation leap you’d like to make.

    Related: How to dodge questions about your salary history on job interviews

    At an organizational level, companies that are not located where salary history legislation exists should take action anyway. From a recruitment perspective, ceasing to ask about salary history should not be a big deal. It does force hiring managers to calibrate more thoughtfully before giving someone an offer, and requires paying a lot more attention to the researched market rate than legacy company pay practices.

    At Zendesk, we were methodical about communicating why not to ask about past salaries to all of our recruiters (“Asking for salary history can propagate the wage gap and here’s why that matters”) and to the entire company at a town hall meeting, so that the new way of thinking stuck.

    This sets you up to be able to investigate other palpable ways to make pay parity a reality and inclusivity a best practice. This year at Zendesk, for instance, we conducted our first-ever annual internal pay audit across gender globally and racially in the U.S. We then made compensation adjustments based on that audit. After we’d made the adjustments, we took time to explain why it was important that we do this at our companywide town hall, where the news was generally well-received by both those affected and not affected.

    Take a holistic look to ensure pay equity and accelerate change

    If you are a C-level or senior leader at your company, commit to using your agency and influence to create opportunities and challenge the status quo. And if you are not, consider ways to raise this important issue to your leadership and advocate for the change you’d like to see. Systemic biases will only keep disparities thriving across industries for as long as we allow it. If we commit to the measures outlined above, we can change lives, break cycles of inequity, and create a workforce where everyone belongs and succeeds.

    Khalida Ali is the senior manager of diversity & inclusion at Zendesk

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    In the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the massive Ocean Cleanup device is currently beginning its first attempt to fish plastic trash out of the sea. It’s a difficult challenge, but the systemic challenge is significantly larger: Every minute, the equivalent of another garbage truckload of plastic enters the water globally. The world’s use of plastic only increases every year.

    Today, dozens of the world’s largest companies–representing about 20% of all plastic packaging produced in the world, some of which ends up in the ocean–joined a new commitment that aims to create a truly circular economy for plastic.

    “We’ve been working with many of these organizations from the beginning, and they know it’s not okay to produce plastic packaging that ends up leaking out of the system,” says Ellen MacArthur, founder of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, which led the new commitment. “It’s not the future. It’s not the solution long-term. What began as a result of the Industrial Revolution is now seriously out of control, and we need to reset the parameters and work out what success looks like for that industry.”

    The foundation began studying the issue of plastic pollution four years ago, calculating how much plastic is collected for recycling globally, how much is downcycled to a lower quality material, how much is incinerated or sent to landfill, and how much escapes into nature. Thirty-two percent ends up “leaking.”

    “We don’t know where it goes,” she says. “It’s just lost. It disappears, presumably, in the environment in streams and rivers, and then ultimately in the ocean.” The organization calculated that by 2050, there could be more plastic in the ocean, by weight, than fish.

    Armed with these statistics, the foundation sat down with leaders in the industry. Rather than looking at specific innovations that might help, they looked at the entire problem. “We tried to take a step back and say, What does the big picture look like?” says MacArthur. “If you stand back and look at the plastics packaging industry in 10, 20 years’ time, where do we actually want it to be? What could be successful?”

    Two hundred and fifty organizations, including PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, Unilever, Colgate, SC Johnson, and H&M, signed on to the new commitment, which sets out a vision with multiple steps. Companies are committing to eliminate plastic when it’s problematic or unnecessary, and to shift to reusable packaging in some cases. By 2025, they plan to make all plastic packaging either reusable, recyclable, or compostable. Every year, they’ll put out public reports on progress.

    The commitment also includes governments, which need to put policies in place to make sure that plastic that is “recyclable” actually gets recycled, and to build the infrastructure that’s needed. Companies that manufacture packaging will need to shift away from virgin plastic to recycled and renewable material, and use renewable energy to produce it. Collection and recycling companies are also part of the coalition.

    Changing behavior is a large part of the challenge–even packages that are easily recyclable, such as soda bottles, often end up in the trash. But MacArthur argues that making all packaging recyclable will help, so people aren’t confused about what can go in a recycling bin. “The place we’re trying to shift toward is systemic change to make all plastic have value,” she says. “So every piece of plastic that comes into your home can go straight in [the recycling bin] because it has value. It simplifies the system hugely. And it’s a much clearer message for consumers.”

    The industry will also have to design products that still appeal to consumers as the amount of plastic shrinks, says Fisk Johnson, CEO of SC Johnson. The company has tested selling refills that customers can add to Windex bottles along with water–one way to reduce the overall number of bottles–but customers have preferred buying new bottles. Brands also have to deal with challenges as they incorporate new materials. Windex bottles, he says, are already made from 100% post-consumer recycled plastic, but in packaging for other products that uses another type of plastic, it can be difficult to work with recycled materials. They also have to work with cities to push up dismal recycling rates. In Indonesia, SC Johnson is opening eight new recycling centers, along with the organization Plastic Bank, that will pay local waste collectors to clean up beaches and waterways. The company will recycle the plastic into new packaging.

    The company needs to make these changes, Johnson says. “If you look at our company and everything we do, the amount of plastic that goes into the waste stream, whether it’s in the landfill or somewhere else, I would argue is our single biggest environmental issue. And it’s critical that we solve it.”

    It’s not new for companies and governments to work on the issue of plastic trash. But the difference now, MacArthur argues, is that they’re working together in a more cohesive way. “These organizations are sitting in the same room–that’s some of the biggest competitors in the world in that industry saying, Where do we innovate so we change the system?” she says. “Even some of the biggest brands in the world cannot solve this on their own. They have been trying to, and they have not been able to. You can’t solve a systemic change on your own. You need to change the system.”

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    Gab—the supposed social media platform for free speech, which really just means racists and trolls—is now offline. I am usually trepidatious to write about Gab, because I learned that just discussing its existence gives the white nationalist online haven more credence than it deserves. But I’m going against this rule for this one update.

    This weekend 11 people were murdered at a Pittsburgh synagogue in a heinous act of domestic terrorism. It turns out the suspect, Robert Bowers, used Gab frequently to share antisemitic posts. With this, many online services over the weekend began refusing to support Gab’s site. They included Stripe, PayPal, Joyent, and GoDaddy. This, in turn, has taken Gab offline—at least for the time being.

    The site’s Twitter account, mind you, remains up. It still has a blue checkmark, which Twitter gave to it for some reason, and has been railing against these moves as silencing free speech. I will not link to these tweets. It is indeed ironic that while Gab’s site is down, it’s using the platform it originally claimed to be silencing its views as a way to communicate with the outside world.

    The conversation Gab and its followers want to be having right now is about free speech. They are claiming that their speech is being infringed because these tech platforms are shutting them down, thus silencing them. That’s not the case; free speech does not mean speech without consequences—GoDaddy, Stripe, etc., are not the law and can do what they want (crazy how the free market works!). But to delve more into this argument is to play into Gab’s—and other white nationalists’—hands. And it’s not worth doing.

    Instead, I’ll end with this thought: de-platforming works. The reason Gab is calling itself a martyr, and loudly throwing an online tantrum, is because it knows that once it no longer has a way to easily telegraph its users’ hate and a few days pass it will lose all relevance. When hateful and trollish accounts lose their ability to communicate widely on prominent sites—which, mind you, are not god-given soapboxes, but free services provided by private companies that supposedly have terms of services—they no longer have the only thing that kept them afloat: power. This has been proven with the likes of Milo Yiannopoulos and Alex Jones. They all claimed to be warriors of free speech, when they were actually just demanding the power to control the narrative—something for which they have no constitutional protection. And once they lost that ability, their entire online worlds crumbled.

    We’ll have to see whether or not Gab comes back online—the error message it presents people now says it’s transitioning to a new hosting service. But while the service flails and tries to get people’s attention by blaming the liberal media for silencing it, it’s important to remember that is not what’s happening.

    Late as this may be, I sincerely hope this de-platforming can successfully help stop the radicalization of the next terrorist.

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    The price makes it the largest software acquisition in history. IBM confirmed it was buying the Linux enterprise open source provider for $190 per share in cash. That marks a 63% premium over Red Hat’s closing price on Friday. Red Hat offers one of the most popular versions of the Linux operating system and charges fees to corporate clients for maintenance and custom features–making a bulk of its money off of recurring subscriptions revenues.

    Those subscription-based revenues are something IBM wants as it looks to beef up its cloud and enterprise offerings so it can better compete against the likes of Amazon, Google, and Microsoft in the sector. Announcing the takeover, IBM CEO Ginni Rometty said:

    “The acquisition of Red Hat is a game-changer. It changes everything about the cloud market. IBM will become the world’s #1 hybrid cloud provider, offering companies the only open cloud solution that will unlock the full value of the cloud for their businesses. Most companies today are only 20 percent along their cloud journey, renting compute power to cut costs. The next 80 percent is about unlocking real business value and driving growth. This is the next chapter of the cloud. It requires shifting business applications to hybrid cloud, extracting more data and optimizing every part of the business, from supply chains to sales.”

    The deal is expected to officially close sometime in 2019. For interest’s sake, prior to IBM’s takeover of Red Hat for $34 billion, the largest software buyout in history was Microsoft’s purchase of LinkedIn for $26.2 billion in 2016.

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    But if so, you aren’t alone. Almost 70% of Americans consider themselves to be middle-class, but in actuality only 50% are, according to new research by Pew. While some people define class in America as more than just the money you make, that’s still the most accepted metric, which is why it’s more semantically appropriate to think of “middle-class” as “middle-income.”

    As Pew notes in its study, “‘middle-income’ Americans are adults whose annual household income is two-thirds to double the national median, after incomes have been adjusted for household size.” The national medium income worked out to be $57,617 in 2016, meaning about 52% of the country is actually middle-class, despite almost 70% of the country believing they are.

    So are you middle-class? That depends on your family size, according to Pew’s definition, says CNBC. Here’s how much you need to make to officially be middle-class:

    • Household of one: minimum of $26,093
    • Household of two: minimum of $36,902
    • Household of three: minimum of $45,195
    • Household of four: minimum of $52,187
    • Household of five: minimum of $58,347

    According to Pew’s survey, that means in 2016 29% of America were lower-class, 52% were middle-class, and 19% were upper-class.

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    The membership-only retail warehouse club is testing a new concept store in Dallas that will allow customers to buy groceries without the need to stand in a checkout line, reports CNBC. The Dallas test location will see customers use a new Sam’s Club Now app that will allow customers to plot out their journey in the store to find the exact items they want, scan them, and then place them in their cart. Upon leaving the store, customers will scan a code with an “exit host” attendant, at which point their account will be billed for the items.

    For now, the Dallas store will be the only cashier-less store Sam’s Club has, but the company plans to roll out the concept nationwide if the trial is successful. Sam’s Club is just the latest brick-and-mortar store to test cashier-less payment systems. Target, Kroger, and Macy’s are also doing so–all in an attempt to offer the convenience Amazon offers with its Amazon Go stores. Amazon could have as many as 3,000 such stores open across the U.S. by as early as 2021, and traditional retailers want to be ready to offer the same convenience to technology-savvy shoppers.

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    The Slovenia-founded/Luxembourg-based cryptocurrency exchange Bitstamp has been bought by NXMH, a Belgium-based investment firm whose parent company also owns the South Korean exchange Korbit. It was reportedly an all-cash deal. Though Bitstamp isn’t disclosing the terms, Fortunereports rumors saying the deal was around $400 million.

    The exchange’s founder, Nejc Kodrič, told Reuters that despite the huge downturn in the cryptocurrency market, Bitstamp remains profitable. In 2016, it was valued at around $60 million, and the company says its transactions’ value exceed $100 million each day, making it Europe’s largest exchange.

    Despite sharing the same parent company, Bitstamp and Korbit will reportedly still operate independently.

    You can read the full report here.

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    Over the last year, Ideo’s philosophy of “design thinking“–a codified, six-step process to solve problems creatively–has come under fire. It’s been called bullshit, the opposite of inclusive design, and a failed experiment. It’s even been compared to syphilis.

    Ideo as an institution has rarely responded to critiques of design thinking or acknowledged its flaws. But at the Fast Company Innovation Festival, Ideo partner and leader of its Cambridge, Massachusetts, office Michael Hendrix had a frank conversation with Co.Design senior writer Mark Wilson about why design thinking has gotten so much flack.

    “I think it’s fair to critique design thinking, just as it’s fair to critique any other design strategy,” Hendrix says. “There’s of course many poor examples of design thinking, and there’s great examples. Just like there’s poor examples of industrial design and graphic design and different processes within organizations.”

    Part of the problem is that many people use the design thinking methodology in superficial ways. Hendrix calls it the “theater of innovation.” Companies know they need to be more creative and innovative, and because they’re looking for fast ways to achieve those goals, they cut corners.

    “We get a lot of the materials that look like innovation, or look like they make us more creative,” Hendrix says. “That could be anything from getting a bunch of Sharpie markers and Post-its and putting them in rooms for brainstorms, to having new dress codes, to programming play into the week. They all could be good tools to serve up creativity or innovation, they all could be methods of design thinking, but without some kind of history or strategy to tie them together, and track their progress, track their impact, they end up being a theatrical thing that people can point to and say, ‘oh we did that.'”

    [Photo: cheonlijyang/iStock]

    Hendrix recalls seeing a door near a client’s boardroom labeled with a sign reading, “creative thinking room/DVD storage.” It’s a perfect metaphor. Without the strategy and the discipline, the tools–like having a dedicated brainstorming room–ultimately won’t work. “Having access to the tools can be a little deceiving if you don’t understand how to use them in an appropriate way,” Hendrix says.

    Part of the challenge of doing design thinking well, he argues, requires balancing the methodology’s structure, which allows designers to successfully and consistently tackle a wide range of problems, with the danger of that structure becoming too strict. “If you make something rigid and formulaic, it could absolutely fail,” he says. “You want to rely on milestones in the creative process, but you don’t want it to be a reactive process that loses its soul.”

    Achieving that balance is tricky, especially in companies that don’t have the right culture. Hendrix sees two elements of company culture that lead to situations where design thinking fails. For one, coworkers need to trust each other and feel comfortable enough to share daring ideas. During brainstorms, coworkers who are always playing devil’s advocate or trying to be the smartest person in the room are going to squash any trust. “There is a real need to build respect for one another and trust in the safety of sharing ideas so you can move forward,” Hendrix says. “Knowing when to bring judgments is important. Cultures that are highly judgy, that have hierarchy, that are rewarding the person who is the smartest person in the room, don’t do well with this kind of methodology.”

    Hendrix also sees design thinking fail in cultures that don’t promote play, which he believes is a necessary circumstance for design thinking to truly succeed. “Playfulness and joy don’t need a reason other than that they create the conditions . . . to allow people to be more creative,” he says. “In cultures that are highly optimized, that promote efficiency, that celebrate intellectualism–they can push play and joy aside. It doesn’t mean those things are bad. Rationale analysis is very important. But coexisting with playfulness and joy will make those things work.”

    A lack of commitment to providing the conditions for design thinking to flourish leads to this so-called “theater of innovation” without promoting any actual creativity, he argues. That’s where design thinking falls short and doesn’t achieve what it claims. “We can bring powerful ideas to an organization, but it can just die if there’s not a willingness to take it and develop it in a way that’s effective,” Hendrix says.

    Ultimately, Hendrix believes that some people using the design thinking methodology poorly doesn’t invalidate it. But in his acknowledgement of design thinking’s limitations–that it can be too rigid, that company culture often is incompatible with its tenets–there’s a sense that design thinking’s reign as the primary way non-designers understand design is on its way out.

    “I do think it’s fair to start to have discussions about when [it] results in something good and when it doesn’t,” Hendrix says. “If there’s anything that we’re doing differently, it probably is engaging with the frustration and being honest that there’s a maturation period. It’d be great for everyone to come along and recognize that.”

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    A Lion Air airplane in Jakarta, Indonesia crashed into the ocean this morning only 13 minutes after taking off. The aircraft, which was headed about an hour away to Pangkal Pinang, was carrying 189 passengers–including one child, two infants, and 20 Indonesian ministry officials.

    According to initial reports, soon after leaving the runway the plane vanished from radar. Minutes before, it had made the request to return to its original takeoff base. CNN reports that the pilots did not indicate that it was an emergency.

    The plane was a Boeing 737 Max 8–a new aircraft, which had reportedly experienced some problems the night before. Still, Lion Air’s CEO Edward Sirait said during an interview today that the problem had been fixed, and the flight had been deemed airworthy. It’s still unclear exactly what caused the crash.

    No survivors have been found, and search teams believe that the plane has almost certainly sunk. Objects have been found near the crash site–including a destroyed smartphone, life vests, books, bags, and other plane debris.

    Search crews are now looking for black-box recordings and other evidence to help figure out exactly what caused the plunge. The search will be aided by a consortium of international players–including Boeing and the U.S.’s National Transportation Safety Board.

    We’ll be updating this post as more information comes in.

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    The chipmaking giant has told employees it is dropping financial support for controversial Iowa Republican Congressman Steve King, reports Popular Information. King has a history of openly espousing racist views and supporting white supremacists. But most recently King, who is up for reelection next month, endorsed Toronto’s openly white supremacist candidate for mayor.

    The move was too much for Intel, which sent an email to employees last Thursday announcing the company will “no longer [be] donating to his campaigns.” In the email, Intel’s director of policy and external partnerships, Dawn Jones, said:

    We had engaged with Rep. King because of his support for IP theft protections, which is important to Intel’s business. However, an Intel employee raised concerns about the donations earlier this month. We looked into the congressman’s public statements and determined that they conflict with Intel values. As a result, we are no longer donating to his campaigns.

    At the time of this writing, King’s other donors have remained silent as to whether they will continue to support him financially. Those donors include AT&T, Berkshire Hathaway, the American Bankers Association, and Land O’Lakes, among others.

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    If efforts to close the pay gap proceed at the same rate as they have since the 1960s, we won’t see pay parity across the U.S. until 2059, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR). That’s why, in states like California and Massachusetts, gender-based pay parity is being more aggressively addressed and codified through legislation. The Massachusetts Equal Pay Act, for example, went into effect this July and bars employers from paying workers “a salary or wage less than what they pay employees of a different gender for comparable work.” It also prohibits employers from asking for salary history or preventing employees from discussing salaries among each other.

    But all pay gaps are not created equal. On the whole, women now make almost 82% of what men make. But that really only applies to white women: Black and Latinx women make, respectively, about 68% and 62% of what white men earn. Since black and Latinx men are also underpaid, there is less of a gender-based pay gap in those groups; black women’s earnings amount to more than 92% of black men’s earnings, while Latinx women make more than 87% of what their male counterparts do. The opposite is true for Asian women, who see far less of a pay gap when compared against white men (93%) but a much bigger disparity within their racial group (nearly 75%).

    Gender-based pay parity efforts can only do so much, then, if women—and men—from different backgrounds aren’t starting on equal footing. Here are some of the ways in which pay parity efforts might fall short.

    Legislation alone isn’t enough

    A city like Boston has made a big push to close the pay gap in recent years. That means Boston hasn’t just relied on statewide legislation—the Massachusetts Equal Pay Act—to create change. The Boston Women’s Workforce Council has partnered with Boston-based companies to find ways to promote and support women in their workplaces, and the city has provided free salary negotiation workshops to thousands of women. “If we just had the legislation, and employers weren’t acting and women weren’t asking, then it’s going to close the gap a little bit but not enough,” Megan Costello, the executive director of the Mayor’s Office of Women’s Advancement, told the New York Times earlier this year. “It has to be all of these things together.”

    Legislation can help “mitigate” the pay gap, but it won’t do away with it altogether, according to University of Alabama professor and researcher Sandra Mortal. (Plus, motherhood is still one of the biggest reasons for the gender pay gap—and that’s an issue that won’t go away.) “It’s one thing to say you have 200 call center [employees] responsible for answering phones and you should pay them equally regardless of gender and race,” adds Vishal Gupta, also a professor and researcher at the University of Alabama. “The problem is, equal work is really difficult to measure as you move up the organizational hierarchy.” As Mortal points out, legislation on its own also can’t address issues that are more deeply entrenched—say, the fact that in top management teams, women often progress more slowly and are less likely to get promoted.

    Double minorities are further from pay parity

    Then there’s the issue of who benefits most from pay parity laws and efforts. Boston’s initiatives, for example, have thus far primarily helped women who are more educated and have higher salaries. The city has already rolled out more workshops outside of the downtown area and trying to reach a more diverse audience by advertising in more languages and partnering with local community groups.

    But it’s no coincidence that data tells us social stratification is, in fact, increasing as women earn more and are more “equal” in their marriages. We know minority women make less, but there’s also less data on them overall—perhaps also because it’s harder to quantify intersecting bias. “To be honest, I think there’s very little research when it comes to double minority status,” Gupta says. “The most research is on [men and women], in terms of pay. Then comes race and pay.”

    As Ariane Hegewisch, the program director of employment and earnings at the IWPR, points out, two of the key issues around pay are negotiation and recruitment—and that’s where race-based discrimination can play a sizable role. “Once you control for occupation and education, there still remains a big gap between black women and white women,” she adds. Teaching skills like negotiation doesn’t necessarily take into account the variance in how women of different races and backgrounds are perceived; legislation can help address the pay gap when women get through the door, but it won’t increase access to high-paying jobs. These are issues faced by men of color, as well, but pay parity efforts often hone in on gender.

    Pay transparency is still uncommon

    “We look at pay parity at the CEO level, and don’t find a difference by gender,” Mortal says (though that isn’t true in CTO or CFO roles). “But below the CEO level, females do have lower compensation.” She adds that there isn’t much of a race-based pay gap at the CEO level either. One reason for that? Pay transparency. “We argue in our paper that it is the highly transparent nature of CEO compensation that seems to level the playing field for men and women,” she says, referencing a paper she published with Gupta. “We believe that greater transparency has the potential to reduce pay disparity.”

    According to Hegewisch, that’s why unions can be important for black women in the workforce—because they hold employers accountable. She also cites the U.K. as an example of how transparency has forced public discourse around gender-based pay parity. A new reporting requirement, which went into effect this year, mandates that U.K. companies with more than 250 employees share their salary breakdown by gender.

    Hegewisch concedes pay transparency is a harder sell in the U.S. “It’s unlikely a lot of companies will switch,” she says. “But what you can do is say, ‘Okay, if you want to get to the next level, this is what you need to do.’ [Companies] could be more transparent about those steps and the salary range.” She adds that increased pay transparency would also make legislation more meaningful. “A law is effective when people feel they have the right—and feel incensed by the issue,” she says. 

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    Business has finally recognized design’s true value. But there’s still one problem: Where do you find enough good designers to do the job?

    According to Kate Aronowitz, a design partner at Alphabet’s venture capital company GV, this is something all the top heads of design at Silicon Valley’s most valuable companies are worried about. She recently asked a large group of them about their hiring goals. “They said, ‘It used to be a demand problem. Now it’s like, I was given 30 [positions to fill]. Where am I going to find 30 designers, let alone 30 good designers?'” she says. “It’s rampant.”

    Aronowitz was speaking as part of a panel at the Fast Company Innovation Festival, where she and other industry leaders talked to Co.Design editor Suzanne LaBarre about the shortage of design talent. But for designers, this kind of demand makes today’s job market a mecca of opportunity. How should young designers who are embarking on their careers tap into this talent grab? Khoi Vinh, principal designer at Adobe, Matt Rolandson, a partner at Ammunition, and Aronowitz share their advice.

    Pick companies that will invest in your future

    For Aronowitz, taking advantage of today’s demand for designers means “being intentional about where you go.” Whether that’s a big company or a small company, think about whether the job will support your growth as a professional and help you keep learning.

    “Make sure you’re set up to go somewhere that values teaching and collaborating,” she says. “Make sure you’re going to a place where someone is going to value your perspective and values investing in your growth.”

    Matt Rolandson, partner, Ammunition (left), and Suzanne LaBarre, senior editor, Fast Company (right). [Photo: Samir Abady for Fast Company]

    Speak up–and ask hard questions

    Young designers often don’t have as much of a say about what should be designed. But Rolandson believes that it’s crucial to make your voice heard as early as possible. “Use every opportunity [you] can find to credibly involve [yourself] in the conversation of what’s worth designing in the first place,” he says.

    That means expressing an opinion about what kinds of problems are most important. It’s also a helpful lens through which to evaluate a potential employer: Is this company solving the right problems? Are designers involved in identifying what those problems are, not just designing solutions?

    Kate Aronowitz, design partner, GV (left), and Khoi Vinh, principle designer, Adobe (right). [Photo: Samir Abady for Fast Company]

    Don’t get sucked in by the perks of big companies

    It might sound glamorous to work for Google or Apple or Facebook, but Vinh warns against that inclination. “I think a lot of designers who are just coming into the field tend to set their sights on these big brand names that they idolized,” says Vinh. “Spending your time at a company that maybe you’ve been wanting to work at for five to 10 years isn’t the best way.”

    Instead, he encourages young designers to recognize that their risk tolerance is going to be the greatest when they’re young. “If you can maximize your exposure to different kinds of experiences, that’s going to serve you really well long term,” he says.

    Aronowitz put it more bluntly: “Don’t get sucked up by the perks.”

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