October 2021 Alumni Spotlight
Marxe alumna and Senior Associate, People Operations at Sidewalk Lab, Keona Campbell talks her transition to the tech sector, her role at Sidewalk Labs, and more in our October alumni spotlight.
What brought you to the Marxe School? Can you name one or two of the biggest takeaways from your Marxe MPA experience?
As some New Yorkers can relate to, I have a love-hate relationship with the city. Just a year ago I was anxious to leave my New York City bubble, yet found myself only going as far as the other side of the Hudson River. There’s no place like this city and I’m very protective of it. I think that is what initially sparked my interest in understanding the decisions, policies, and dynamics that impact the quality of life in cities. To build this understanding, I was led to the Marxe School where it fueled my curiosities and value in connecting the dots. A big takeaway from my Marxe MPA experience was learning the importance of persuasive storytelling and how to conduct and analyze research to build effective programs. Since graduating, I utilize these skills daily to make an impact in my Human Resources career.
You transitioned from higher education and the nonprofit sector to the tech sector. Can you tell us a bit about that decision and the process of that transition?
During the second half of undergraduate school, I spent most of my time in the Ithaca College Career Services Office assisting students with their internship, graduate school, and job searches. After editing hundreds of resumes and giving hours of advice on the future of the workplace, I knew I found my niche in college and career readiness.
As an Admissions Counselor at the City University of New York (CUNY), I became a go-to person to help students narrow down their career ambitions and navigate the college application process. Their resilience and determination inspired me to hone my coaching approach and expertise. To further develop this expertise, I was driven to understand what resources were and were not provided to students once they arrived at their college of choice – specifically, my students who were primarily immigrant and first-generation. On a mission to answer this question, I found America Needs You (ANY), a non-profit focused on economic mobility for first-generation students through mentorship and intensive career development. While at ANY, I coached 200+ first-generation CUNY students to reach their internship and job goals as well as managed 30+ relationships with employers, ranging from top Fortune 500 companies to local nonprofits.
When having a tough time getting my Computer Science and Engineering students into the tech industry, I grew curious yet again. This time, to understand how to support them through bias recruiting processes and systemic barriers that hindered them from landing their dream roles. From there I built strategic relationships with tech employers, hosted one-on-one informational interviews with recruiters, and committed to bringing diverse untapped talent, like my students, into the tech industry. I achieved an annual internship placement rate of 92% for 200 of the ANY students in the program then went to pursue a recruiting career so I could be a change agent from within the tech industry.
What do you do as a Senior Associate in the People Operations department of Sidewalk Labs?
I recently shifted from recruitment to people operations in the tech industry. In my role at Sidewalk Labs, I manage the company’s equity, inclusion, and diversity (EID) in the workplace and learning & development (L&D) strategies. Sidewalk Labs is an urban innovation company that tackles cities’ greatest challenges. As a company, we create products and solutions, invest in new companies, and help developers build more sustainable, innovative, and equitable places around the world.
Over the past two years, Sidewalk Labs has created a 5-year EID ambition and invested in L&D opportunities to upskill their employees to thrive in today’s competitive landscape. My role is to create structure around both our EID and L&D efforts so that we can be proactive and strategic as we scale.
For me, this work is meaningful because I utilize my program management experience, curiosity about market changes and new technologies, and passion for equity, inclusion, and diversity to create processes to execute our strategies and impact our culture.
How has COVID affected operations and in what ways have you been able to meet those challenges?
Due to COVID, the past year has fundamentally transformed the workplace and employee experience for companies around the world. At Sidewalk Labs, we will be shifting to a hybrid environment in which our employees will be working both in-office and remotely. Research shows that when done intentionally, a hybrid workplace can lead to a culture of engagement, well-being, and productivity. At the same time, this is a big shift for our work environment. This shift can lead to communication, coordination, and inclusion issues as remote employees can feel left out and ambiguous norms can lead to inequitable outcomes especially for employees from historically underrepresented groups.
One thing I’ve done to proactively meet this challenge is lead a group of employees to create a guide for our company leaders that can assist them in preparing their teams for the hybrid workplace transition. Within this guide, we specifically focused on creating a collaborative and flexible work environment. The guide empowers leaders with the tools they need to lead in this transition and helps inform their team conversations around norm-setting while using an EID lens to prepare their teams. It also encourages teams to contribute to this work since it’s going to take every Sidewalk Labs employee to successfully transition together as a company.