Why aligning employee experience with employer branding matters

The connection between employee experience and employer brand has never been more important––or more accessible online. Job seekers, and customers, are increasingly interested in company transparency, and will research what companies say they stand for and how that compares to what actually goes on in their workplace. This applies to the visibility of internal employee experience efforts and to the follow-through of the commitments a company makes publicly to social causes, philanthropy, and community engagement. 

Given this demand for transparency and accountability, employers need to make sure they fulfill their external brand promise and values when it comes to the internal employee experience. How does your company measure up in going beyond “talking the talk” to “walking the walk?”

In Episode 4, we chat with Colleen Finnegan, Senior Manager, Employer Brand and Recruitment Marketing at Instacart. We’ll talk about how employers can invest in diversifying the workplace at every level of the organization, how dedicated programs and initiatives support this, and why even the smallest contributions in these areas can make a world of difference. And of course, there will be plenty of food puns.

What does it take to radically transform and disrupt our workplaces? Below is an edited transcript of Episode 1 of Envoy’s new podcast, Empowered: Envisioning Workplaces That Work, which explores what thriving, diverse, and innovative workplaces look and feel like, and what makes them tick. Spoiler alert: it’s the people. 

We engage in timely discussions about the workplace experience and celebrate those who challenge the status quo in all aspects of the contemporary workplace––through the lens of the all-important human elements. Hear workplace experience leaders, creative problem solvers, and other cultural producers reveal how they create the workplaces they want to see in the world: their wins, pain points, and all the moments in between. 

You can listen to this episode and to other full episodes on our podcast series page, or stream via your preferred streaming platform. 

Two sides of the same coin: matching employee experience and employer brand

Welcome! Thank you for being here and being a part of Empowered, where we’re sharing how we’re all challenging the workplace status quo. Part of your role at Instacart is telling stories about the employee experience. 

In your work, you make a clear case for the important relationship between employee experience and brand. They’re not mutually exclusive. Why does this matter to you, and to today’s workplace? How are you translating this idea into your work?

CF: In my opinion, you can’t have one without the other. I’ve worked in the employee experience and employer branding space for a number of years now, and it’s not been a big space for very long. Employee experience and employer branding started to become a business priority in the last decade or so. 

I’ve seen and worked at companies where a lot of this work is siloed, or put in one place or the other based on temporary, knee-jerk needs of the business. It doesn’t often work well that way, though; it kind of falls flat. If the products sold don’t do what they say, and the marketing is a bit of a stretch––that doesn’t work with employer branding. You can’t market something you don’t have. 

People are making serious investments in deciding to join your company: they’re changing their lives, maybe moving their entire families, and or moving cities. They are buying into what the company is, what the company is going to be doing, what the product is, and what the company culture looks like.

Employee experience walks the walk, employer brand talks the talk. To me, they’re two sides of the same coin. A great employee experience fuels a great employer brand, and a great employer brand will attract people who thrive, and fuel a positive employee experience.

It’s not something that you can fake. Otherwise, you’re going to get this revolving door syndrome of people showing up and being like, “wow, this is not what I was promised at all.” So, they really do fuel each other. 

I think it’s also important for the integrity of the business, and if you want to attract the right people as well. Employer branding is as much a way to keep folks out who might not thrive in your company as it is a recruitment tool. You don’t want to be false advertising.

Differentiating yourself, and making sure you’re authentic to what your employee experience is, and to your employer branding, is critical.

How many touchpoints go into a candidate choosing to work at your company? More than you might think. 

To your point, people are doing their homework on the companies they consider joining. We now have Glassdoor, and similar businesses whose core product is employee experience reviews and workplace transparency. We’re seeing an increase of employer accountability. Companies can’t hide behind flattened, one-dimensional versions of themselves. There are ways to find out what’s really going on.

CF: I mean we all do this with everything. You think about a restaurant, you’re going to go look it up on Yelp. You might take some of the reviews with a grain of salt, but that is one of the pieces that informs your decision of whether or not to go to a restaurant. You’re also going to ask your friends.

There’s a bunch of different touch points that you have before you make that decision to go to a restaurant, or buy a car. The same goes for working at a company, too. You’re not only going to their career site and then deciding. You’re going to look on Glassdoor or LinkedIn, and talk to people that work there. You’ll look the company up in the news to make sure that the things that they’re doing publicly are matching up to the values that are promoted on their websites.

What was one of those touch points for you? Looking at a job, what are the criteria that you look for in terms of employee experience?

CF: Well, Instacart was an interesting example. It wasn’t on my radar, and a recruiter reached out to me. I had a conversation with her, and simultaneously my favorite boss––Marta Riggins, the best boss I’ve ever had––went over there. She’s got a great gut and radar for companies that have great cultures. Marta and I worked together at Pandora doing employee experience, employer branding, helping out with social impact, and recruitment marketing––the whole shebang. 

I was talking to another company at the time as well, who I thought I was going to go work for, because it was an industry that I’d come from, the music industry. But when I saw and felt the company culture in person, there was a very stark difference. Instacart totally floored me. It has this neighborly, kind, sincere, vibe to it. It’s a little bit like the David and Goliath story too, which I like working for.

I experienced this in person based on everyone that I talked to, and it was the general feeling in the office. You can feel it right away. My job at Instacart is to tell people about that, because I didn’t know that from looking at collateral, externally. It just wasn’t on my radar. It’s now my job to put this on people’s radar so that when they’re deciding to make a career transition, or thinking about their next move, Instacart’s at the top of their list.

And the food puns!

CF: Yeah, I get to write food puns for a living, that’s pretty cool.

They’re amazing. I saw a post on LinkedIn recently about melons, I think.

CF: Yes ‘one in a melon,’ ha. There’s nothing ‘medi-okra’ about the food puns I write.

Across offices, countries, and teams: aligning employee experience with employer brand promise

I love that your work is so informed by your own experience with seeing that opportunity to tell the brand story better. Walk me through a day in the life at Instacart. What are some of the alliances you formed or cross-functional collaborations you have initiated?

CF: What I love about this work is that we work with everyone. No one team or one person creates company culture, or employer brand. Everyone does. It’s my job to tell the world about it, to put that in writing, and to figure out how to get that to more people and places. I read somewhere that it takes eight or nine touchpoints for someone to actually take the action to apply to a job.

Really?

CF: There are a number of different touch points that someone will have before they make the decision to join a company. It’s important to make sure that there’s consistent messaging everywhere. Experientially, digitally, or by word of mouth: this arms recruiters with the right talking points. 

We’re building the ship as it’s flying. Instacart’s growing really quickly, and with that we have to put together the foundation, the boiler plate messaging that we have. Something that feels like Instacart across offices, regions, and teams. Each region has its own particular flavor, too. So how are we talking about that? And what makes that different? 

I spend a lot of time with those teams, interviewing them, and talking to people about the rituals on their team. What are the fun and quirky things you do? What does it feel like on your team? How do you recognize each other? What do you do together outside of work, if anything? 

To that end, what was one of the first challenges you wanted to tackle when you joined Instacart? What stood out to you, or was exciting and inspiring to focus on?

CF: Re-doing our career site. Everyone goes to the career site, when they’re applying for a job. Usually that’s the place that people will apply to jobs, even if they’ve seen content on LinkedIn, or Glassdoor. They might see it in passing, on their phone when they’re out and about. 

When they actually sit down to apply, they’re likely going to be going to our careers site. That’s where we get most of our applications from; that, and referrals are typically the two highest sources of applicants for most companies.

The careers site was good for the time that we had it, and now it’s time for the next iteration. To talk about specific teams and regions, the company values, and where the company’s going. It’s a little bare bones right now, and so we just need to put a lot more of the Instacart look and feel there.

Do you have a favorite media for doing employer brand work? Video, photos, or do you prefer to write?

CF: It’s all important with the 360 marketing approach. People learn and absorb differently. Video performs well, and is highly engaging. LinkedIn video is doing really well for us right now. We’re also working with partners like The Muse, Fairy Godboss, Career Contessa, and Key Values. A lot of these great partner organizations help write articles, and editorial content about things that are happening at Instacart. 

I think it’s important to have all of those different types of mediums. We have our own tech blog, as well. We’re going to be launching a design blog fairly shortly.

Exciting!

CF: You just kind of got to be everywhere. 

Taking cues from Hannah Hart: Not sure where to begin to empower employees? Just start.

Happily, there’s a trend of forward momentum we’re seeing with companies starting to invest more in employee experience, brand, and in that connection.

It’s one thing to hire the right people, and get a diverse set of folks in the door. It’s another thing to make them feel included, and set them up for success. What is one piece of advice to companies who aren’t sure where to start in this regard?

CF: We recently had Hannah Hart come into our office. Hannah Hart is a food enthusiast, comedienne, and entertainer. She is the founder of My Drunk Kitchen, if you remember that. One of the first viral videos, I think in 2010, or 2011.

I do remember. Those are so funny.

CF: She’s an incredible activist for the LGBTQ community, and involved with No Kid Hungry. She came into our office and she spoke to the question around how to get started with volunteering, and giving back to communities. You want to make the most impact and it can feel really overwhelming to say, “I don’t know what to do because there’s so much that needs help right now, I don’t even know where to start.”

Can relate!

CF: Yeah, seriously. I loved the answer she had for this question––it’s just to start. Just start somewhere. Just start taking that first step. You’ll take a second, and then you’ll take a third, but you just have to take that first step.

It can be something small, like proactively engaging in professional development, like offering to send minority employees to AfroTech or Lesbians Who Tech.

It’s important for employees to have the opportunity to go and learn, and to be around people that identify similarly to them––and to see people like them that are in leadership positions, too.

Yes, exactly.

CF: Even if you don’t have leaders at your company of that specific non-dominant culture, you can send them to places where they will see themselves in those leadership positions, and that’s so important. That’s some low hanging fruit. I know I got the food puns, I had to use low hanging fruit there, I’m sorry.

I’m here for it.

CF: That could be an easy, quick step. Also, invest in employee resource groups. Make sure the company is recognizing, and funding them to back up what they want to do. Recognizing communities during specific months is important, too. We celebrate Black history month, women’s history month, Asian American Pacific Islander heritage, Latinx heritage, National Bring Your Kids to Work Day, and Pride, among others.

There’s lots of ways that you can create space within your company for these communities. You don’t have to have a huge process or initiatives in place. Show your employees that you’re thinking about it. Also, ask them what they want to do.

Yes. That’s key. I like what you said about proactively suggesting activities, or resources that folks could turn to. I feel that’s an important, often missed opportunity. 

CF: Most companies do have some sort of a professional development reimbursement for employees. It’s a common perk that you’ll see, but a lot of employees don’t know about it. I recommend asking your company if they have any sort of professional development conference reimbursement policy. Ideally the employer, or someone that’s working in recruiting, HR, internal comms––wherever this work is falling right now, put together a quick list of conferences that are coming up.

What I see a lot is employees don’t know to ask. Or they don’t know that it’s okay.

The role employee resource groups (ERGS) play in employee experience and employer brand

I want to dig into one of the specific programs that you’re involved with, which is Rainbow Carrots. It’s one of my favorite content areas in the Instacart social media posts that I’m seeing right now that I personally enjoy.

CF: Rainbow Carrots is the employee resource group we have at Instacart for our LGBTQIA+ community, and allies, and it was there before I came to Instacart. It was grassroots, and I think that’s a great way for ERGs to start. Though companies need to support the work, the direction, tone, and intention should be set by and coming from employees. 

During Pride month, the Rainbow Carrots community came up with a number of events, that we wanted to run with company support from our comms and workplace teams. We’re starting to launch Instacart Serves, for example, our social impact program.

What we’re focused on now is how Instacart is showing up for our community: how are we giving to the community? I think with grocery delivery, it makes sense, the alignment with food insecurity. In the United States, this is something that’s an identity issue, and something that disproportionately affects the LGBTQ community, people of color, and the elderly. 

So for us, pushing against food insecurity by helping people who are food insecure is going to be a big mission for Instacart. During Pride month, we partnered with organizations and shelters within the communities in which we operate. 40 percent of all homeless youth identifies as LGBTQ, so we focused on homeless youth shelters in San Francisco, and in our Atlanta and Toronto offices. The number’s closer to 50 percent in San Francisco because a lot of queer folks come here if they get kicked out. 

The Bay Area is a beacon for the queer community and recognized as a safe space, for sure.

CF: We partnered with Larkin Street Youth here in San Francisco, The Living Room in Atlanta, and The 519 in Toronto to donate non-perishable items to these food pantries. It’s important that Rainbow Carrots is not only taking care of the queer folks that are inside our offices, but also making sure we’re helping the community at large. 

How great it is to be able to lift up our employees, and help share their stories on a more public, contextual level. Pride is seen as a celebration, but it’s important to center the conversation around Pride around where we’ve come from, and the struggles of the community. There needs to be acknowledgement of people who launched the LGBTQ movement in the U.S. like Sylvia Rivera, and Marsha P. Johnson, and around the fact that trans-women, and self-identified drag queens of color, were some of the people on the forefront of the revolution here.

And continue to be.

CF: Our rights are rolled back month over month currently. When we talk about Pride we’re actually talking about the realities of what’s happening now, too. 

How to be an ally all-year round: create and support sustained space for diversity in the workplace

You touched on something I feel strongly about, which is that it is wonderful for companies to support any cause during their given month, or day. But that support also needs to show up throughout the rest of the year.

We need to think about the ways in which we can do and support that work. Within a workplace, you have multiple spaces that are co-existing depending on your employees and who they are. There’s a complex matrix of identities, experience, and background. 

This can be tricky because we still think about the workplace as this one unified entity, which of course we want it to be. Rainbow Carrots is one group within Instacart. How do you juggle equally important priorities for different groups in the workplace?

CF: We take a look at our employee population, and we look at where the most concentrated need is right now. This aligns to our customers and our shoppers, a high proportion of which are parents, women, and mothers as well. 

It’s important to give space internally to those communities to be with themselves, too. This was something that we did a lot at Pandora with Mixtape, which was our ERG for our employees of color. There was a non-ally group, and then a group with allies. There were certain Slack channels, and certain gatherings would be with allies, and certain ones without.

It’s important to give minority communities a safe space. When something happens that impacts a specific community in the news, for example, make sure that you have some crisis communications in place to be able to acknowledge the community impacted by that news event.

Make sure that you’re creating space in manager training for this, and that managers check in with their employees to see what’s going on. 

I want to dive a little deeper into this idea of being an ally. As the lead of our [email protected] ERG for queer folks and allies, I’m curious: how do you respond to questions around allyship and support of ERG work even if the individual doesn’t directly identify with one of these groups? What can folks do to get involved?

CF: For Rainbow Carrots, during Pride, we had our allies show up to bring the cars, and picking up the groceries, and helping to move the groceries. That was physical labor to help us deliver groceries.

Ask the communities ERGs serve how you can be of most service. This is the best thing to do. Sometimes that’s helping to make space, or helping to raise your voice around a particular issue. Call out workplace microaggressions when you see them. Step one is asking.

Literally showing up.

CF: That was really important for us. You want the rainbow T-shirt? Great. What are you doing to help support the community with Pride or LGBTQ advocacy year-round? 

Alternatively, sometimes the best thing you can do is to not insert yourself, and to help protect that space for those communities. Sometimes, it is to speak up when you see something that’s inappropriate, problematic, damaging, or abusive to someone. Those would be my first recommendations.

Want to uplevel your talent pipeline? Representation in the workplace matters

You serve on the board of Maven Youth, an LGBTQ youth non-profit. The focus is on empowering that group, and I understand they recently visited Instacart, and even took a selfie with your CEO. Why was that important for you to bring them to Instacart and what were some of the key takeaways and highlights of their visit?

CF: I just love Maven Youth. It’s an organization that I’ve been working with for a number of years now and I worked with them prior to being on their board as well. If something like Maven Youth had been around when I was younger, I might have taken a different career path, and been more involved with coding, which I was interested in when I was growing up. I went to Bring Your Kids to Work Day, and got paired up with some engineers in the late 90’s in D.C., which is where I lived at the time. It was two dudes in a basement, with a bunch of computers.

I was creative, and just coming out, and had weird hair, and a purple mohawk. I did not fit in with this version of tech at all, and so I put that goal on the back burner. 

What Maven Youth does now is it works with LGBTQ youth, usually around 14-18, and connects them with the queer people who are working in tech right now. A lot of these youth grow up in the Bay Area, or they come here, and they see all these big tech companies. It’s the dominant industry here right now. They don’t know how to get involved, they don’t know if it’s for them. But a lot of them love gaming, and are creative, incredible writers. How can we help empower them to join tech, change the direction of tech, change the face of tech, and bring their brilliant minds into looking at the problems that tech is facing differently?

It’s so inspiring to see them come in and connect with the queer people that we have at these companies already. You see the employees and the youth visitors light up. It gives a lot of these youth a chance to see themselves down the line, in the future, and picture themselves working somewhere in tech. 

Our CEO, he came and talked about how he designed games when he was younger, and his passion for that. It was so great to see him come in and take a selfie, and spend some time with Maven Youth while they’re there.

You don’t have to do that, but that’s what I mean about leadership that shows up. That is a form of being an ally, and creating space. You’re a CEO of a huge company that’s growing exponentially, yet you took the time to spend with 20 youth who came in for the day. That was important for the employees and the students alike to see. Maven Youth also got to meet with our Rainbow Carrots members in one-on-one mentorship sessions. We did roundtables with them, where they rotated seats every five minutes and got to ask different people about how they got to where they are.

How cool––like speed mentorship.

CF: Yes! Sometimes, you can best support organizations like that by just giving them your space. You got a bunch of conference rooms free on a Friday afternoon? Let an organization come in and use that. You have some Wi-Fi, you have some snacks? Open up your doors, it’s so easy to do.

Share your resources, and your privilege. I think that’s a nice example of walking the walk, and not just talking the talk, right?

CF: That tone starts at the top. Executives should be modeling that behavior.

Speaking of mentorship, seeing yourself, and being mirrored: who inspires you, and why? What are they doing, and how do you think they’re challenging the status quo of the workplace?

CF: Marta Riggins, my boss. She is such an incredible advocate, and an ally for me personally, but also for everyone in her life. One of the programs she initiated was to provide 40 hours of paid volunteer time off a year.. She’s a visionary leader in the employee experience, employer branding, and social impact space. I get to work with her every day, so I’m very happy about that.

Her boss, our Chief Communications Officer, is also a visionary, compassionate, empathetic, thoughtful leader. Again, that tone starts at the top. They should be able to articulate the value of employee experience, employer branding, diversity, equity, and inclusion, and why you have to put money in. Sometimes you can’t immediately see the return. It’s a long-tail approach to a lot of this work. 

Lisa Lee is an incredible leader in the diversity and inclusion space. If you don’t already follow her, I recommend following her. Lisa writes that we don’t have a pipeline problem, at all. We have an equity issue, and we have an issue bringing people in the door.

And a “culture fit” problem.

CF: Yeah, we need to get rid of the words, “culture fit.”

As we wrap up, where can people find out more about you, about Instacart, and about what you’re doing?

CF: My friends make fun of me because LinkedIn is my most used social media app. I’m on there all the time. That’s where I post the most, and that’s where I love to connect with people, and learn more about what people are up to. So definitely find me on LinkedIn. I’m going to be speaking at LinkedIn Talent Connect again this year with Marta. We’re doing a presentation together, which will be fun.

We all have a story to tell about our working lives: how we got there, what we experience, and what we can do to make it better. Find more information on this episode of Empowered in the episode show notes.

For more details on how to get involved, listen to full episodes and discover more about how to challenge the status quo in your workplace, check out the Empowered series page. You can also read episode recaps right here on the Envoy blog.