The field of community management is buzzing. We have more tools available to us than ever before and an abundance of communities and resources to connect us with fellow professionals who know our work and want to share knowledge. But what goes into creating inclusive, diverse, and truly open and welcoming spaces for community professionals? Who is given a platform to share knowledge?
In this conversation with Faisa Mohamed, co-founder of Somalis in Tech, we broach this topic and how Faisa and her team approached launching Somali Women in Tech. On paper, the approach may sound simple –– Faisa made sure that that the Somalis in Tech team was onboard with the mission and purpose of Somali Women in Tech. “If you ask the other team members what Somali Women in Tech is, including the male members who are not in this group, they’re going to know exactly what it is and can tell you exactly what it is because they are fully aware of it.” (Head to 25:06 to pick up at this part of the conversation.) But in practice, we’ve seen that’s not a priority for all communities. In the case of Somali Women in Tech, Faisa provides an example of how building community with diversity, equity, and inclusion as important values from day one leads to more successful communities, both from an internal and external perspective.
So –– how are you creating space and opportunity for others in the community industry? To what standards do you hold the communities that you build and that you’re part of? We’re always interested in hearing from you, so if there’s something you’ve tried or learned from recently, let us know.
Faisa and Patrick also discuss:
- Reading between the lines of community job descriptions
- Gatekeeping in the community management industry
- Being “intentional” in inclusion efforts
Our Podcast is Made Possible By…
If you enjoy our show, please know that it’s only possible with the generous support of our sponsor: Vanilla, a one-stop shop for online community.
How inclusive and open are communities for community pros? (14:36): “With each [community professional] group and clique, you’re going to hear more buzzwords, and you’re going to hear more excluding language. People are going to plug into resources and share resources more privately as you become more within communities. [But that’s] just not how I came to be in this profession. I came into this profession through exposure to communities, people wanting to help you and that natural curiosity.” –@faisatweets
When your story isn’t told (22:48): “As a woman of many intersections, being a Black Muslim, child of immigrants, eldest daughter … navigating communities with these intersections, you often see the gaps of which your experience has not been acknowledged or thought about. Actually, this has been something I’ve faced mostly in women communities. Communities with the focus for women have often been one type of narrative. I feel, too many times, my story has not been told.” –@faisatweets
Getting internal stakeholders on the same page about building diverse communities (25:06): “I often find projects with an aim of inclusivity or diversity are personal or side projects that don’t get a lot of visibility. I can’t be the only one championing this. It has to be the entire team. If you ask the other team members, what Somali Women in Tech is, including the male members who are not in this group, they’re going to know exactly what it is and can tell you exactly what it is because they are fully aware of it.” –@faisatweets
Community is not a cure-all (39:40): “During the Black Lives Matter protests … I’m really paraphrasing here but [a prominent white man in the community industry] effectively said community is going to be the solution to discrimination such as racism. I actually just responded to him and said, ‘It’s also the thing that’s currently perpetuating it.’ It’s part of the problem, because community [is] effectively groups. The most extreme example is the KKK meets up every week. That’s a community. There are absolutely extreme right-wing versions of communities that exist. Just because we don’t acknowledge them or may not see them in our everyday lives, they are still communities. We have to understand the power that community has –– good or bad.” –@faisatweets
About Faisa Mohamed
Faisa Mohamed (she/her) is a community consultant, builder, nurturer, and manager with an interest in product. Faisa previously worked at Bumble and Peanut and is now a contractor at Facebook working on their developer community program, Developer Circles. Faisa is also the co-founder of Somalis in Tech, a community organization increasing the visibility and representation of Somali talent in the tech industry.
- Sponsor: Vanilla, a one-stop-shop for online community
- Faisa Mohamed on LinkedIn
- Faisa on Twitter
- Somalis in Tech
- Facebook Developer Circles
- Marjorie Anderson of Community by Association
[00:00:04] Announcer: You’re listening to Community Signal, the podcast for online community professionals. Sponsored by Vanilla, a one-stop-shop for online community. Tweet with @communitysignal as you listen. Here’s your host, Patrick O’Keefe.
[00:00:25] Patrick O’Keefe: Hello and welcome to the show. Our guest today is Faisa Mohamed, who co-founded Somalis in Tech and has worked in community at Bumble and Peanut. We’re discussing diversity, equity, and inclusion within the community industry and the practices of how we build our communities. This includes the gatekeeping of community knowledge and how that impacts how we view ourselves and our skills.
Our Patreon supporters are people who really value the show and we’re grateful for them. This includes Jules Standen, Heather Champ, and Rachel Medanic. If you’d like to join them please visit communitysignal.com/innercircle.
Faisa Mohamed is a community consultant, builder, nurturer, and manager with an interest in product. Formerly she was at Bumble and Peanut and is now a contractor at Facebook working on their developer community program, Developer Circles. Outside of this, Faisa co-founded Somalis in Tech, a community organization increasing the visibility and representation of Somali talent in the tech industry. Faisa, welcome to the show.
[00:01:17] Faisa Mohamed: Hi, thanks so much for having me.
[00:01:19] Patrick O’Keefe: It’s my pleasure. I want to start with something you told me before the show. You told me that for community pros job searching “can be difficult if you are unable to read between the lines.” I wanted to ask you about that. What are the lines that have been helpful for you to read between as you’ve been looking for jobs?
[00:01:37] Faisa Mohamed: Yes. Something I find some jobs don’t mention is the age of the community or even if the community have even started, and most importantly to me, is the case of the current state of affairs in the community. I’ve walked into some situations where there’s challenges like the community is just not active. It’s a dead one. Or it may be a community in which there’s a lot of issues, member hostility. To be fair, I’m pretty much in, I believe, the midpoint of my career, so walking into it as a junior it’s pretty scary to be thrown into that. I find community roles, there’s no sense of experience as well, depending on where you walk into. They may say they’re looking for someone at an associate-level to possibly do something perhaps someone a bit more experienced should be doing. I find that to be quite common in community roles. Yes, that’s definitely been my experience so far in terms of reading between the lines. I’ve definitely changed my line of questioning going into interviews these days.
[00:02:38] Patrick O’Keefe: It’s exactly where I was going to go next with it. My dad manages golf resorts and country clubs and he’s had multiple jobs come up where he’s going to be asked to come in and just basically fix the finances. They’re just not doing well. He’s coming in and having to do a whole restoration of that property and fix their books and get the things in line. I think the same can be true for online communities and any endeavor really. It’s one of those things where there is some element of privilege to, what and I guess, in some ways to be tough in an interview. When I talk to companies I say things that I know other people can’t.
There was a job post that was like, “You’ll contribute to the decision to choose the software of the community.” I was like, “This is a director of community role.” I did say this though. I said, “I’m at a point in my career where I don’t like to cook the meal if I can’t pick the ingredients.” I don’t know. I was feeling a mood that day or something.
[00:03:27] Faisa Mohamed: I hear that.
[00:03:27] Patrick O’Keefe: I don’t know. I put that in the cover letter and I hit send. I was like, “I don’t know if I’m going to hear back on this one, but I will tweet that I did this and I’ll get a few likes. You know what, I have a good fortune right now to be okay without this particular job.”
Yes, there is something to be said, if you can afford to, if you’re at the point of your career where you can, not only doing things like that before you get in the interview but once you get in the interview. If you’re going to be tasked with running a piece of the business what is the equivalent to, “Can I see the books for community? Can I get access to the community? Can I take a look around? What are your challenges?” If they have no challenges is that a red flag? I think it’s really interesting.
[00:04:06] Faisa Mohamed: Yes, 100% especially because I appreciate that this is, and we as community people, be externally facing. It needs to be shiny and nice and attractive. It may not always be the case internally. It seems to be the case in the same way when you’re interviewing for a role. You’re interviewing to be in that internal audience, and you’re not getting the full lay of the land, which I find really odd. If there’s problems and you want these people to be able to fix these issues, you’d want to identify them off the bat versus them coming and be very shocked and surprised and do the best they can. I guess as community people, the way we think of it is, at the end of the day it’s only the members that are involved that are going to be affected by this decision so they should be the priority effectively.
[00:04:51] Patrick O’Keefe: I mean I’ve been to programs before that had communities that were two years old but didn’t have any system of measurement were just completely junk. I just pull up
self-devotion and nonsense where I said, “You know what? Here’s what we’re doing. We’re kicking everybody out. We’re starting over. This is bad. There’s really nothing of value we’re saving here. It is self-promotion.” This was a paid member program for business professionals. Knowing they had not had any processes documented they’re like, “What do you do when you see something bad?” It wasn’t there.
It was like, “If you see it deal with it.” You could be the events person, you could be customer service, you could be the CEO. “Hey, you saw it? Remove it.” “Do you have different standards than everyone else?” “Maybe. Who cares about consistent standards.” I’ve entered programs like that and it just depends. If you want that, that’s great. There can be sometimes this confidence that I have where it’s like, “You know what? I can do it. I can go in there and I can fix that.” Of course, “Will you pay me enough to do it?” is the question. I can go on there. I will fix that. It’s really great to have that confidence. I think it’s better than feeling like an imposter sometimes.
Still, you get in there and you start doing it. I think the other side of that is being supported to actually do it and not be hamstrung in every turn because when you get in there and you’re in the trenches and you’re trying to do it, you’re getting it from the outside, members don’t love change, whoever’s in there don’t love change. If you’re getting it from the inside too, just the toll it can take on your mental health and the enjoyment of your job, it’s too much to get it from all sides.
[00:06:10] Faisa Mohamed: Yes, 100%. You’re effectively the middleman between the business and the community, if you’re working in brand communities in particular. Just to go back to the point you raised, which it was in my line of thinking, if you’re coming into a really challenging situation, should you be compensated the same way as someone coming in to just aid a community that’s still going really well and perhaps dealing with different challenges or possibly less challenges that you’d be going into? I just don’t think it’s the same thing.
It’s something that I’ve raised before going into a role saying, “This is a lot harder than I expected it to be and I don’t think any of it was in the job description,” which then provided me at least with the confidence to ask for a pay review and just basically list out, “Here’s what I was promised and here’s what I’m actually doing. Do you want me to go above and beyond to really save this? Then I need to be accurately compensated to be doing so,” which was a really hard conversation. It took a lot of guts, especially in amongst stakeholders that have no idea what you’re doing or why you’re doing it.
Community, so often it’s seen as a supplementary thing, something that c-suite can talk to investors about as a really nice thing, a place where marketers can source success stories from. However, ultimately, the management, and the maintenance, and the satisfaction of that community is put on us, and therefore it is a valued asset to the business. However, it’s one of those things that when it’s going well, they don’t notice until something actually happens, and then everyone’s got all eyes on you when something is going as well.
[00:07:43] Patrick O’Keefe: How did that conversation go?
[00:07:44] Faisa Mohamed: I got immediate pushback from the first conversation about it, but I went back four times. Went back four times and I said– This conversation, in particular, was about an ambassador program and I’m also doing moderation for the wider products just for our community. Doing the user operations side, as well as managing the ambassador program. I believe the last crack was me saying, “Here’s how things could look like, the solutions that I’ve got, and here’s what I can achieve with your support. The support to me and you being on my side and showing that you value my work, looks like this.” I think really drawing that out for them finally gave them the push that they needed. I feel like once they did that, it made community no longer this supplementary thing, but actually, now they feel like they’ve actually invested in it because I’ve had that conversation of that buy-in there.
[00:08:37] Patrick O’Keefe: Those conversations are so hard to have, but I think that those of us who can have them and have the wherewithal to have them, I don’t want to say it’s a responsibility we have. I don’t want to like put it on us necessarily, but if we can do it, that is really what moves the profession forward as a whole, is those small steps. It’s one step up at a time. It’s one job at a time. It’s one organization understanding it a little better at a time.
When we do those things, when we have those uncomfortable conversations that we don’t owe it to the world and we don’t owe it to anyone else, and we owe it to ourselves really, as much as anyone else, you make a difference. We make a difference in how the profession is portrayed when you’re looking at jobs and you’re looking at a role like that, that seems like more than it is when you come in.
I had a job once like that and I was like, “Okay, I definitely want to be director of community.” I said, “I respect what you’re saying. I respect what is going on here but I feel like that’s where the role is and that if I don’t do that, it’s bad for everyone.” It’s bad for the profession and, in that case, I got it but there are cases where we lose. Everyone who has those conversations, I think is doing us all a favor.
[00:09:41] Faisa Mohamed: The original pushback from them was, “We’ve looked at the market, and here’s what the market is saying.” I’ve had to push back to them saying, “Community just cannot work like that. You can’t really have a benchmark for community in particular because you’re dealing with different sizes of community, different challenges in community, different interests, different requirements.” Maybe we’ll get to a point, whether it’s a bit easier to benchmark, but for now, it feels quite siloed right now. I’d love to hear your thoughts about it, at least.
In the pay, in particular, the way they benchmark is very much like customer support almost. I think it’s the most that they can liken it to, so therefore, you get paid in a very similar way. However, we can go on all day about the differences and also to the fact that you’re creating experiences in community, and the way you plug into different themes, and the role you play, it’s just entirely different. I had to basically educate that business to get to that point. Yes, the benchmark is what really bit me and is what caused the issue, which is why I believe it was really important to have that conversation and why we should push back and set that standard just as you said.
[00:10:50] Patrick O’Keefe: When it comes to benchmarks around compensation data, I always love to see more conversation studies like more data, more polls, more surveys, or as they put out like 50-page research around what the community professional is doing right now and it’s like, “I get it. I don’t need it. What I need is for you to ask everyone with this same title, running a community of this size, where they live, what their experience level is and what they get paid, and what their benefits are. That’s what I need to know. I need you to just give me that data, ask them all that.” That’s really useful because it makes it easier for you to get raises when you can say, “Here is a direct data point, these people do the work that I do, this is adjusted for my cost of living in London because that’s more expensive than wherever the heck they were from.” You got to adjust based upon cost of living too.
That data, it pops up from time to time, and then no one does it for a couple of years, or it gets muddied because they throw too many things into it, or they try to lump a bunch of titles together, or all these things that make the data less precise. We get it. Community managers have different roles across the board, but if you can find people who are community managers of communities that are this active that have X number active users, or are in programs of this revenue or something, give data and let us sort it and make those cases ourselves.
[00:12:04] Faisa Mohamed: Yes, it’s all part of the growing pains, I suppose. Isn’t it?
[00:12:07] Patrick O’Keefe: I know other professions have this problem too. We just need the data.
[00:12:10] Faisa Mohamed: To the point, we said about titles, there’s no across the board for titles either. That’s another thing when you’re job searching is that you’re saving different iterations of, are you looking for a senior community manager? Are you looking for an associate community director? There’s just so many different titles for effectively the same job, which hasn’t been yet uniformed either, which causes issues as well.
[00:12:33] Patrick O’Keefe: Yes, and if you get really savvy in your job searching, what you see is differences in industries. Not only do you have community, let’s just say moderator and community and community manager, director of community, head of community, and just the word community, but also you have in news media circles, you have audience, audience engagement, audience manager. In associations, you have the association manager, often does the work that we do, trust and safety, trust and safety pros, directors of trust and safety, heads of trust and safety. Policy people often do what we– One of the more interesting jobs I’ve come in the last year was a policy role. I read it and I realized they don’t want an attorney. They want someone who’s made a bunch of moderation decisions. I’ve been doing that since I was 13, I’m a good fit. This is interesting.
Do I know a lot of the ways people talk about community? Yes, but there’s always one more. When I saw that job, it unlocked something else. I was like, “Oh, I do policy work. That’s another thing that I do, so that’s another thing to look for in my keywords.” That leads us into a conversation on skills because one of the things we’re talking about when we’re applying for roles is we’re talking about our skillset where we’re best suited.
[00:13:30] Patrick O’Keefe: Let’s take a pause to talk about our generous sponsor, Vanilla.
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You had mentioned on Twitter last month that you felt that community skills were in demand, but that it was “becoming a little gatekeepery.” You’ve said to me that you weren’t a fan of gatekeeping community building and management skills as the industry becomes more formalized. Let’s talk about that. What form do you see that taking? What’s the gatekeeping that you think we are running the risk of?
[00:14:21] Faisa Mohamed: I honestly think that with the growing culture of community, as a profession, as an industry, of course, we’re going to create our own communities of community people. It really makes sense, and that’s starting to manifest now more than ever. That being said, with each group and clique, you’re going to hear more buzzwords, you’re going to hear more excluding language. People are going to plug into resources and share resources more privately as you become more within communities. It’s just not how I came to be in this profession. I came into this profession through exposure to communities and people wanting to help you and that natural curiosity.
What’s really great about working in community is all you have to do is be curious. Ask for additional responsibilities when you’re in one and get that experience in that way. As we’re becoming a little bit more closed off as a culture, because it’s becoming quite trendy, being in demand, perhaps that idea of being in demand, you’d want to withhold your skills a little bit more, because then you become more exclusive, and have a bit more of a profile. You get the likes and the retweets. I’m starting to get the likes and retweets myself. It’s really nice. Don’t get me wrong. It’s really nice.
It’s really nice to feel like a smart person in the room. However, that gatekeepery vibe is in my head. It’s in my head, I feel it, and I can feel when there’s a disconnect for example, to someone I’m speaking to, when I’m talking about community. I just honestly don’t think that’s what it was built for. There’s communities outside of the profession. There’s fan clubs. It’s always remained in culture. I just don’t think it should be something that should be– gatekeepered and something to remain exclusive. That’s now become a personal mission of mine, going forward, to always remain open and provide those skills. It’s interpersonal skills, a lot of it more than anything. Then the strategy can come afterwards. That’s definitely a personal mission of mine to open it up and be more open to that.
[00:16:20] Patrick O’Keefe: I’m right there with you. I think that when you simplify the skill set, some business models are at risk. We just talk about the community of community pros, which most of which to me, are just icky. I don’t really care for them. I like Marjorie Anderson‘s Community by Association, and I pop into there once in a while. Overall it’s just like they make money from us. It’s important to remember that, is that a lot of these orgs are set up to extract money from the community pro. I wrote a book, I wanted people to buy it. I enjoyed when people bought it. It was $20 but that’s still money. I appreciated every purchase. I do some paid speaking. I want to get paid. I need money. I love money, give me money. I could use [crosstalk].
[00:16:57] Faisa Mohamed: It’s your experience. There’s absolutely a difference in sharing your experience because you’ve been doing this for so long, it’s valued information but you’re not keeping that to yourself. It’s effectively, you’re charging people, is what I’m trying to say.
[00:17:11] Patrick O’Keefe: Right. I think also when you simplify it in the way that you did, which when people ask me like, “How can I get experience in this?” I’m like, “It’s never been easy to start a community, the amount of tools, the cost.” When I started hosting my own communities in 2000, I was using phpBB 1 which was free. I remember the first time to walk me through the installation of it and it was not a thing that a lot of people would bother with. The technical side of installing it, even though it wasn’t much and if you’ve ever installed a PHP, MySQL-based software, you get the installation process.
You had to do that and to customize the look was going in the code. Installing customizations was going in the code. It was following line-by-line edits to the code. I’ve never been a coder. Then there was the hosting. I bought a domain name for $70 for two years, because that’s what it was then. There wasn’t $10 domain names yet. I paid for hosting at Dollarhost, I think it was, and it was like, “ugh.” Right now you can do so much. It’s just your time, which is valuable.
If you start a community, and it doesn’t go well, you’ve got the experience. If it goes well, you’ve got something for your resume. I started moderating for other people in ’98. I honestly believe that people who are well-versed in moderation, have been generally proven to be the best suited for whatever the social web throws at us. Whether it be like managing a Twitter account, which is more generic social, and often less community-building stuff but that baseline of moderation experience to understand what it’s like to have content come in, content be bad. What do you do with it? How do you handle it? How do you respond to people? Oh, this is great. What do we do with that? Just having that baseline knowledge, it sets you up for a lot of things.
The fan club call out is super-smart, too. There’s so many great fan communities that have cropped up out of– It’s not need, but it’s need to connect and find other people who are interested in the same thing. You build those skills out. If you build a successful fan community, to me, that’s as valuable as you started a customer support forum for a brand that gave you $5 million to do it. I personally and I know everyone does, but when I’m hiring in the past, I pay attention to those people. Those are skills that have value because I can tell when I get in the room with you, the virtual room, that you can talk the talk, when I throw things at you that you’ve actually done things and that matters.
[00:19:19] Faisa Mohamed: Look, call a spade a spade. Brand communities are effectively fan communities with money. That’s what they are. Even everything from how brand communities are now being structured all the way through to how they use their social media is almost exactly like a fan community conducting themselves. Like I said, except the fact that they’ve got money to back it and they can treat their members. I suppose they’ve got a product approach as well. However, effectively a brand community everyone’s coming together as a fan of that brand and that’s where it begins.
I absolutely see how interchangeable those skills are, which is why I made that point. Professional experience isn’t always relevant in community because it’s not always necessarily coming from a professional place, and some of the best experiences aren’t always going to come from professional situations. I’m far more experimental in my own community than I am at work.
What an interesting point you mentioned about moderation? Moderation is actually where I started professional experience within community. I lean on that so much just from seeing how much has gone wrong in the past and have learned to almost factor in every worst-case scenario. The way that’s often perceived by members is, “Wow. You’ve really thought about this situation. You’ve thought about that situation.” It’s nice to have a process.
Coming from a moderation background, I am really obsessed with people’s experiences as a result, and I think that’s what happens. You’re very much obsessed by the experience of people and most importantly, the safeguarding of people, which is why seeing the current popular apps right now, and just seeing some of the stuff that I’m pushing community as its main core product base, you can see how that’s safeguarding and trust and safety is not in mind. Then it’s an afterthought and it honestly gives me so much anxiety.
[00:21:07] Patrick O’Keefe: Yeah, no Clubhouse. What are you going to do? We still don’t know if they’ve made a hire for trust and safety right now coming up on a year. I think they launched an alpha in March of last year. We’re at a year. We’re at, I think over 100 million in funding. I think it’s unclear if they have an internal hire yet. I want to go back to what you said for a second because I have a community KarateForums.com, martial arts community. Most people would go there and think, “Oh, this is just a quaint little forum, whatever.” It is. It’s not like it’s massive, but it turns 20 on May 21st this year and I’ve managed it the whole time.
[00:21:35] Faisa Mohamed: Congrats.
[00:21:36] Patrick O’Keefe: Thanks. But, to your point, number one, I do experiment there. I do different things I want to try out and do, and people are receptive to it, but also it doesn’t matter who I’m dealing with like brand-wise, if I’m talking to CNN or Forbes or whatever, I think about things that have happened in that community over the last 20 years. I go back to things over and over again that taught me so much about how people interact, how they react, how to communicate in the way that allows us to accomplish a shared goal together.
The things I learned there when I was in my teens are things that I think about now. People don’t want to hear that necessarily and it’s maybe not the thing to say in your job interview, depending on who you’re talking to in the room. It may not impress some execs, but deep down, it’s not unlike any other education. You think about things you learned in grade school, in college or university, or whatever for the rest of your life. You have that crash course in community where there’s no one to turn to. There’s no one to blame. There’s no one else here. It’s got to be you. Who else is going to step up? The way you respond to those moments, you think about for a long time. I think it’s, again to the choir, but it’s definitely something that’s been true to my experience.
[00:22:44] Faisa Mohamed: Yes, 100%. Something that I really leaned on is my way of navigating, especially as a woman of many intersections, being a Black Muslim, child of immigrants, eldest daughter, lots of intersections. Navigating communities with these intersections, you often see the gaps of which your experience has not been acknowledged or thought about. Actually, this has been something that I’ve faced mostly in women communities. Communities with the focus for women have often been one type of narrative, specific stories being told. I feel too many times, my story has not been told. That’s the worst thing is that if I want to resolve that, then I have to create that difference. That’s because obviously, that’s an opportunity to flex those community muscles as someone who probably may not have that experience and then worse because it’s ultimately dealing with the truth of, my experience wasn’t thought about. It’s all coming from being left out.
Something tested in particular with Somalis in Tech is and I wrote an article on my LinkedIn recently about it. My favorite line of it is, “Somali Women in Tech launched the first day that Somalis in Tech launched.” Why? Because that’s a particular experience that I wanted to address in the creation of that group. There was just as many team members running that Somali Women in Tech channel as there is running the organization as a whole. Why? Because I believe that needs just as much love and TLC as the organization does as a whole. That’s honestly where it came from. It came from that feeling of, “I want your experience to feel intentional and well thought of and thought about,” which is something that I definitely want to explore further and see how we can encourage this inclusivity in communities going forward.
[00:24:29] Patrick O’Keefe: Okay. Let’s talk about that. With Somali Women in Tech, part of Somalis in Tech, as you said, you set out to implement, what you referred to before the show with me as intentional strategies for inclusion. Talk about that a little bit. What have you done? What are some of those intentional strategies that you’ve set forth to set the tone?
[00:24:44] Faisa Mohamed: One of those things is firstly, I needed the entire team on board and completely understanding the intentions behind it, versus I often find projects with an aim of inclusivity or diversity is often personal or side projects that don’t get a lot of visibility. I feel like I can’t be the only one championing this. It has to be the entire team championing this. If you ask the other team members, what Somali Women in Tech is, including the male members who are not in this group, they’re going to know exactly what it is and can tell you exactly what it is because they are fully aware of it. That was first.
Second is knowing off the bat that this couldn’t be something that was just my thing, me running it. I feel like it’s quite natural for us as community leaders to feel like we have to run absolutely everything. I tap back into that feeling of not wanting to be gatekeepery, which I think now is a word, being gatekeepery.
[00:25:38] Patrick O’Keefe: I bet the .com’s available, if you really want it. After we record, you should probably go check it if you want it because we might be there. I don’t know. I can’t make any guarantees after today.
[00:25:47] Faisa Mohamed: I definitely wanted to identify very quickly, as soon as the channel began to grow, some champions. Sometimes those champions don’t come out right off the bat through engagement. Actually, what we found when while the group was growing, and it grew really quickly, Somalis in Tech. I’m happy to divulge into why and a little bit further into why micro-communities I honestly believe is the future.
I just decided to start having chats with some of the women that have joined and identify and understand what they’re looking for from the community and what experience they’re looking for, and then molded effectively these community leader roles for Somali Women in Tech around their interests around what their aims are. It needed to be more than one person running it. If it’s something you’re running out of your own time, firstly, you can’t be the only one running it. In the sense of, if I’m nominating someone, I can’t just expect them to be the one to do it. I wanted them too to have support.
Especially when you’re running something off the back of your own personal experience as a woman, it’s a lot of pressure. You may want to have someone to talk to, some things might be triggering. You may want to support people in a way that you personally may not be able to. It’s nice to have a team. I intentionally built a team around it. We have quite a solid team now running it. Leading to my third point of taking a step back from the day-to-day running of it now, after having trained, effectively trained the ladies over the last few weeks and say to them, “This is your baby. I’m here to still be visible and support you. However, I also want this to be your win. Let this be something that you’re taking control of and you own.”
[00:27:28] Patrick O’Keefe: One thing I’ll call out from what you said is that, the day Somalis in Tech launched, Somali Women in Tech was part of that. There was something that was in our dialogue before the show, you said it’s so important for inclusion to be intentional, thought about versus being reactionary, and an afterthought. I think so many new apps, spaces, communities, platforms, whatever, cheat themselves on what could be the … easy isn’t the right word, but the golden moment you have when your user base is zero, to effectively set yourself up to build an inclusive, diverse platform of people by specifically seeding it in that way, understanding that the people that you bring in in the first 5, 10, 20, 30 are the people that will replicate.
Instead, what a lot of people do, they fall into this trap where it’s just growth. Hire a head of growth, growth, growth, growth, scale, scale, scale, fast. Whoever will come in the door. Who do I know? Well, I’m white. I know a whole lot of white people. We’re going to get them in the door right now. Our first 30 people are white. We have one Black person and one Asian person. Some of them are women. Most of them are men. Who knows? Who cares? It’s just all my social group as the CEO or the COO or the co-founder.
They get to a point where like, “Okay, I’m going to scale it up.” Then they don’t worry about that later. At that point, you’ve given away just a great, beautiful gift, a great moment in time, where you could have built something amazing from the start. Now you’re playing catch up in a social environment that’s already formed and growing and continuing to grow at the same pace. I was invited to join a group of community pros last year. It was like nine white presenting folks, people I generally like and respect, and I would be the 10th. They invited me to it and I was like- I didn’t say no, but I said, “Hey, before I join–” Because this is not where I’m at in 2020. “Before I join, I think we need to add some additional people, then I can join.” I’m like, “I know people. I have recommendations that I think would be great to this group and add something to it.”
All of a sudden, I wasn’t a fit and the answer was that, “I believe if you do good things, good things will come to you. Let’s just keep the momentum going and we’ll deal with that later.” I’m like, “What are you doing? What are you thinking right now? You want to stick my face in this group of 10 people that all look the same and theoretically think the same in many ways?” It’s like, “No.” The thing about it is, it’s not that hard. It’s this beautiful moment you have at the seeding stage to build something special. Again, I just wanted to call that out. Doing it at the start makes it so much easier to do it a year from now.
[00:30:01] Faisa Mohamed: 100%. Women, it’s just one example. We’re still very much at the beginning and I want to explore this with other lanes, but I wanted to of course start with something like me, passing, understanding experience. However, 100% building it from the beginning is way easier and if you yourself cannot relate, you can just ask someone else. Ask someone else if you can. I’ve always been professionally and socially part of communities that haven’t always been direct to my experience or stuff that I related to. My story, in terms of getting into communities, was as simple as I came from a pretty disadvantaged background, a pretty poor part of London, and I wanted to get out.
I was really bored. I couldn’t really afford to get on the train and go places. The only way I could do it is through these free initiatives that would take me places when I was younger. The trade-off to doing stuff like that is quite often, you’re in these charity groups of youth initiatives that are putting you in the room with people who feel like they’re doing a really great service to you because effectively they’re paying for you to be in those rooms with them. I was around a lot of upper-class British people and–
[00:31:08] Patrick O’Keefe: Quite a week for Britain we’re talking right now too. Quite a week. We’re recording during the week where Oprah had Meghan Markle and Prince– Is it Harry?
[00:31:17] Faisa Mohamed: Harry.
[00:31:18] Patrick O’Keefe: Prince Harry. Sorry, Prince Harry. On for a conversation that, it’s fair to say, has caused some ripples within the Royal family over there. We don’t need to talk about that, but it’s just the timing with which you’re speaking the context is interesting.
[00:31:30] Faisa Mohamed: Yes, I think the way it’s relevant is the way the issues surrounding race and class and so on and so forth, that differs from America is, class is far more prevalent here in the UK. There’s, of course, the element of race, but I feel like you notice class before anything. Being in those rooms is effectively where I learned to navigate and kind of maneuver through those people, and it’s pretty much where I got started and being comfortable in rooms that I didn’t belong. How that translated into my community experience is, “How do I join communities and understand the community experience without having had that experience specifically?”
For example, I’m literally part of a product design community of women. I think it’s a really cool community, but I’m not a product designer. I just really liked how the community is run. I love how inclusive they are, so I actually keep up with it. I turn up to their events, even if the content in which they’re talking about isn’t necessarily relevant to myself. Myself as a community person, I’m just quite interested in the inner workings.
Something that I tell people who are interested in community to do all the time, show up. Show up to community events, especially things you’re not interested in. Even now I’m managing my day job, managing developer communities. I’m not a technical person. However, I’m able to do the job because I’ve established a strategy that allows me to run a community without having direct experience with the people that I’m running it for.
[00:32:56] Patrick O’Keefe: Talking about communities and thinking about the industry, if you want to call it that, of community builders, there was a tweet that you had shared in January from Gil Krueger that I saw the other day, because I was looking at your Twitter feed to be prepared for this conversation. It was about a room on Clubhouse called Masters of Building Community. The phrasing on Master could be another conversation that we really can’t have right now, but it had 11 people in it and it looked like 10 were white or at least white presenting. In the quote tweet you wrote, you said that, “While the community industry is skyrocketing growth-wise, its influencers and the leading voices are, unfortunately, not very inclusive.”
Before the show, in our questionnaire, you asked the question you said, “What does inclusion look like in the wider community landscape, navigating this as a Black Muslim, young woman? You,” meaning you obviously, “Know it’s a lot of same voices, a lot of the same voices and same groups of people being overrepresented and it feels like it’s not spoken about much.”
We’ve talked about it today already, which is good. I know I want to speak about these things. I want to talk about them. I think it’s always a worthwhile conversation. I know it’s a tough subject, but I’d love for you to talk about it a little bit within the context of the industry, and maybe it’s just that tweet and that moment when you’re writing that. What’s going through your mind? What have you seen?
[00:34:13] Faisa Mohamed: Yes. First I’d like to establish, I feel like these are two separate things in the sense of having diversity and inclusion in mind, in regards to your own community, we all might be tapped by it and we may have to adhere to it and think about it within our own separate roles. But in terms of how we represent ourselves in our industry is a separate thing entirely where you may not have to think about it as much.
If you’re running community events for community people, you may not have diversity in mind because it might not be something you’re thinking about. As a person trying to navigate this from my various intersections, I was very shocked. I’m going to be honest with you, especially as this growth, like I said, is happening quite quickly and the popularity is relatively new and the visibility I suppose, is relatively new.
As people, there’s a degree of being quite socially aware that you have to be quite plugged in, in terms of what the character of a community person is. I was very shocked. I was very shocked to see some posters that there may only be one brown person, let alone situations where there isn’t at all. Even in the cases where I only see one, it automatically comes to me that is a tick boxing exercise. Actually, you wouldn’t only have that one person in your phonebook if it was the case where you just called on the people that you knew, and you know a diverse amount of set of people, which is why I made it a point to join so many different kinds of communities, including communities that I personally don’t identify with.
Whether it’s people dealing with gender identity or sexual identity, there’s so many different intersections that I don’t identify with. I’m someone who’s minority in many cases, it’s still very important for me to recognize my own privileges. I’m a cis woman, I’m straight, and there’s so many things I don’t think about. However, very much make it a point to educate myself, especially because I run a community. That’s why the shock comes to me because, like me, you’re all running communities. Why isn’t this a thing you’re thinking about?
[00:36:20] Patrick O’Keefe: It’s interesting, because like community, we talk a lot about empathy. I think when people ask me, like, “Tell me about you,” I think about two things, empathy and attention to detail. My mom taught me empathy, my dad taught me to pay attention to details, and I think both of those make me who I am as a community professional. Empathy, when I really think about it is being able to understand and protect people from pain that you’ll never experience. That’s empathy to me, is like I again, cisgender, straight white man, throw some Irish in there, if you want from the US, but there’s a lot of things I don’t deal with. I deal with a lot of abuse managing communities since I was just a teenager, and all these people will be nasty to me. At first, it was like… it always feels a way.
Over time, you get hardened, but it was never gendered. It was never about my skin color. It was never about like, who I loved. It was never about that. They would say those things as an insult, like “gay” as an insult but it was never about me personally in those ways. It’s interesting to me because, for example, anti-Semitism crops up quite a bit. There’s a basketball player the other day, who was playing video games on Twitch, and he said an anti-Semitic slur. That is a word that I would never have cause to use. To be clear, I’m married to a Jewish woman. I have Jewish blood. I’m not Jewish by religion. I don’t practice the Jewish religion. It’s like that word was like, “How do you hear that word?” It’s like, he doesn’t get it at first and now he’s apologizing and taking the break, which is good.
I’m rambling here, I guess, but I just think that we’re supposed to be empathetic. When we’re not empathetic in ways that don’t impact us, then we’re really not empathetic at all, and you’re going to have a tough time as a community professional. I think there was a tick boxing mentality here when it comes to panels or groups of people. At minimum, if you’re in a space right now, and you look around, and it’s all you, you got to have the wherewithal and the understanding in 2020 to realize that there’s the clout chasing for being on Clubhouse or the FOMO, or you want to be an expert or master.
For goodness sake, you’ve got to take a step back and recognize what you’re manifesting in the future. Just take a step back, because representation matters. The more you talk to people who aren’t you, the more you understand how much representation matters and how much seeing yourself in a space makes you more comfortable coming to a space. If you want to look at it cynically, take money. If you want more money from those groups, they need to see themselves in your group to give you the money.
[00:38:48] Faisa Mohamed: One thing I definitely want to mention, it’s not a case of those people just not being there. I guess, people may find it difficult because they may not be able to find the people to provide these diverse or representative views. I’m not going to hold you to that. I’m quite easy on people. I’m a community person. I’m quite empathetic in general. I’m empathetic with ignorance, even to a certain extent. You have to, as a community professional, because, at the end of the day, people don’t know what they don’t know.
However, I don’t feel that same feeling towards community people because I feel like we should really know better. I want people to know, underrepresented people have used communities for so long as a saving grace because they’ve not felt represented. Naturally, they’ve always created communities. There was one time that I saw someone tweet saying, ‘Community–” This was during the Black Lives Matter.
[00:39:41] Patrick O’Keefe: I really like where this is going. Oh boy, okay. Here we go.
[00:39:44] Faisa Mohamed: It was a white man, quite prevalent industry actually and he said, “Community is going to be–” I’m really paraphrasing here but he effectively said community is going to be the solution to discrimination such as racism, everything like that. I actually just responded to him and said, “It’s also the thing that’s currently perpetuating it.”
It’s part of the problem, because community can also be seen as– it’s effectively groups. The most extreme example the KKK meets up every week. That’s a community. There are absolutely extreme right-wing versions of communities that exist. Just because we don’t acknowledge them or may not see them in our everyday lives, they are still communities. We have to understand the power in which community has good or bad. That was definitely a point that I thought of then.
[00:40:30] Patrick O’Keefe: Our last show with Dr. Jennifer Beckett, she called out the fact that we use the word toxic sometimes, and maybe without realizing that toxic communities can be quite healthy. They’re not toxic to themselves. They’re toxic to people outside of their community. Like the KKK is a great example there. They’re not toxic to each other. They’re fully bought into each other. They love each other to some extent, you would say. They’re toxic to countless other people who aren’t a part of their community. It’s a great call-out. Tweets like that, I think people want to talk about community or want to mythologize it, if you will, to make it some golden thing or golden calf that we worship or that it’ll be the cure-all when all community is people talking to one another and they can say terrible things.
[00:41:14] Faisa Mohamed: [laughs] Yes, exactly. Even in the most well-intentioned communities, there are terrible things that can be said. They may be not the greatest people that join. Again, I’m just affording, especially while we’re in this culture of professional community leaders and community people, I absolutely hold them to a different standard as I would anybody else.
[00:41:34] Patrick O’Keefe: Please do and I’ll do the same. Faisa, it’s been a pleasure to have you on. Thank you so much for joining us today.
[00:41:40] Faisa Mohamed: Thank you so much for having me. Really appreciate it.
[00:41:44] Patrick O’Keefe: We’ve been talking with Faisa Mohamed, co-founder of Somalis in Tech, that’s somalisintech.com. Follow her on Twitter @FaisaTweets, that’s F-A-I-S-A tweets, and follow Somalis in Tech at @SomalisinTech. We’ll link to her LinkedIn profile in the show notes.
For the transcript from this episode plus highlights and links that we mentioned, please visit communitysignal.com. Community Signal is produced by Karn Broad and Carol Benovic-Bradley is our editorial lead. Happy St. Patrick’s day and bye for now.
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