Black Folks Doing Extraordinary Things: Caren Young - Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Consultant

I’m really excited to introduce you to a new video series called Black Folks Doing Extraordinary Things (BFDET). In this series, I’m going to be conducting short interviews with Black professionals who are doing some really interesting and exciting things to make a living.

My goal with this series is two-fold:

One, I really want to expose people, especially Black youth and Black professionals who are considering career transitions, to the endless career opportunities that exist in our world. There are so many interesting jobs and career paths out there––many of which, people may have never even heard of or thought to explore. So, this really serves as a way to provide more insight into some not-so-common-roles or jobs that are actually lucrative.

My second goal with this series is to highlight some of the incredible work that Black folks are doing in this world. Black people, like all other groups of people, are non-monolithic, meaning, we aren’t all the same––we come from so many different walks of life and carry diverse experiences. By highlighting more of our stories, I hope to reduce, or maybe even completely eliminate, some of the stereotypes that often follow us.

I hope you enjoy this content, and please don’t forget to subscribe for future updates! Oh! And if you’d like to be featured in this series, or know someone who should, please drop me a line: Thanks so much!

Without further ado, here’s the first interview of the BFDET series featuring Caren Young, Founder & President of The Professional Adult. Caren is a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion consultant and former Product Manager. Some additional context:

*Important note about salaries: Salaries vary greatly, depending on the role, industry, a person's experience, etc. Be sure to do your own due diligence and research, and as Caren mentioned in this video, don't hesitate to ask people, who are doing the work you want to do, questions!

Adriele: I am here with the amazing Caren Young today. To start, I just want to give Caren an opportunity to introduce herself. So Caren, if you don’t mind: your name, your age if you’re comfortable (or ballpark range), where you’re based, and what do you do?

Caren: Adriele, thank you so much for having me today. My name is Caren Young. I am north of 35. I am originally from Chicago. And I am the Founder and President of The Professional Adult, which is a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) consultancy.

Adriele: Wonderful! So let’s talk a little bit more about your primary role. What exactly do you do and what does your day-to-day look like?

Caren: As the founder of this consultancy, I do everything. I range all the way from admin to janitorial services, to strategy, to finance––I handle it all! As a consultancy, what the focus of The Professional Adult is, is to help people get from a pile of ideas and thoughts about DEI and help them make that into a scalable plan. It’s not just enough to say: “Hey, here’s what you should do.” I help people figure out how to actually do it. So, that’s what I do as The Professional Adult.

A typical day is never typical. [A day] could be as easy as: I have a down-day, where I’m spending the entire day writing content, figuring out the books––doing financial reconciliations, working on workshops, building content––trying to figure out where I want to build the business next. Other days I’m sitting with clients, facilitating conversations and workshops. Other days I’m working on building out roadmaps. Some days I’m doing sales. It really just kind of depends on where the ebb and flow of the day is. But that is the beauty of having your own consultancy, is that you get to flow with what you’re doing and when.

Adriele: Definitely! So, you’re doing all these things. Let’s talk a bit about some of the things that you really enjoy about your work and then, in contrast to that, what are some of the things that are your least favorite?

Caren: I love helping and building! And I know that that seems rather broad. But some of my favorite things to do is to get in one-one-one with the client and really start to break down: “Why are you doing this?” “What are you trying to get out of this?” “What is the subtext or the undercurrent of what you’re trying to do?” And let's build it. I think that I’m a builder and maker at heart, so any opportunity for me to craft a strategy, or to help build a roadmap, or to help build an initiative, or work with someone on building an ERG––like the building parts of it, I absolutely love.

The parts that I don’t love as much, and frankly I think that this is a sign that it is time to expand at The Professional Adult: I’m not a huge fan of admin stuff, and I fully understand and appreciate the importance of it––I really do. But, there is something that just doesn’t make my heart sing about, you know, making sure that I have put up this little piece of content, or did I email this person back, or, oh, I gotta make sure that I stopped by the bank to do this thing. And so, I appreciate it, but I just don’t love it [laughs].

Adriele: I completely understand! So what are some of the things that you are thinking of to take The Professional Adult to the next level, or to––I mean, what’s next, really?

Caren: I love the fact that right now, the Diversity space is really so open. And as a former product manager, I’m always thinking about how do you niche-down––how do you kinda differentiate yourself in the marketplace itself. And so because of that, I’m actually in the process of building two new products.

The first [new product] is [called] Manage In, and that is how to be an inclusive manager, however the focus is on first and second line managers. Everyone talks about executive leadership, everyone talks about the c-suite, everyone talks about all of these things. But most people leave or enter companies due to their immediate managers, not necessarily the CEOs. So how do you get the immediate managers to become more inclusive, to be more equitable, to think about people holistically. And also, how do you bring in more people, who well, look like me into management. And so that comes from my background of being a manager for years and being the only person in the space, and so that’s one product that I’m building.

The second product is [called] Diversity as a Product, aka DAP. And again, as a former product person, I realized that a lot of building out initiatives and spaces, was very similar to how I used to build products with clients. So how do you, and I’m going to use jargony terms here, how do you operationalize diversity work? And so that’s the second product that I’m working on, is how do you operationalize that, so that it truly does become scalable, it truly is agile, and it truly is something that you can experiment with, and do so in a way that makes a lot of sense, and not just throw something on the wall and see if it sticks.

Adriele: Definitely. I love that. So, for people listening, you’ve mentioned product a few times. And one of my favorite things about Caren is that she was a former Product Manager, which I think is really cool for someone coming into, or working in the DEI space, because I just think that there are so many interesting things that you can leverage from that. I still don’t know a ton about your background, in terms of what you did in product. Could you just talk a little bit more about how you got to where you are today. What led you here? What experiences or education did you have to come to the point where you were able to start The Professional Adult?

Caren: Absolutely! So I have been so thankful that my journey has been twisty. Because of that, that’s provided me with the opportunity to pull in all these different inputs and insights and really put them out in a way that is pretty unique. So I started years ago when I moved to Seattle, worked in project management for advertising agencies. And after ahile, I noticed that the work that I was doing was less about timelines and who’s doing what, and more about why we are doing things and what we are actually trying to build. It was product before product really had a name to it.

So I did that for advertising agencies and marketing campaigns for a number of years. Worked with Microsoft and Group Health and did all sorts of really fun stuff. Moved to Chicago because I wanted to work with an old-school Mad Man agency, so it was either Chicago or New York. I moved to Chicago and I worked for Ogilvy and did some of the same work. I worked for Huggies and SE Johnson for Glade and Popmoney. And did all sorts of cool things. Then [I] was poached by a software company, that was like: You’re amazing! We need someone to do what you do, but for our small company. So, did that––worked, again, with more amazing clients. And again, realizing that yes, I did timelines and that kind of thing, but I was more involved with “why are we designing this?,” “how is this wireframe going to work?,” “who exactly are our customers?,” “how do we know the business need is?” So I did that for a number of years.

Skipping ahead: ended up at Pivotal Labs, where we taught Product Owners how to build products. So I moved from being a Product Manager and Product Owner to teaching people how to do that. Worked with AH-mazing companies! Super big names. And realized after awhile, looking around, I was the only face that looked like mine on the floor. And this was for years. And this was after trying to bring people in, after trying to connect us with other Black and Brown people in the community, [and] realizing that I was still the only face in the room.

I became a manager, worked on revamping our PM hiring process, had a cross-functional reporting team––all of these things, and I was still the only Black woman in the space. And it got really disheartening.

And so I was like, well, do I just leave? Do I just quit and just leave. Well, no. I’m nothing if not but stubborn. So I was like, you know what? I’m gonna dig into it. And so an opportunity opened up on the DEI Team at Pivotal, to build a pipeline program for students from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) into their engineering team. And so I talked to the director, applied for the position, moved over, built this program, then moved into the DEI team. And for about 6 months, I was actually doing both: so I was doing the DEI work and still managing reports at the same time. Living in both worlds was––it was a lot. Realizing that I loved DEI work. I loved it. And so I gave up all of my reports, I gave up full product life, and moved over fully into DEI. And we had some changes and shake ups and I’ve been on my own as a consultant for just a little over a year at this point.

Adriele: Awesome! That’s great. I love stories like that. It just––I think a big reason why I wanted to do this series, is not only to expose some of the variety of different roles, and backgrounds, and industries that exist out there, that a lot of people don’t have exposure to. Obviously, to give you an opportunity just to show how amazing of a human you are, but to also really show that there’s no direct path from A to B. Sometimes you might have to zig-zag, backtrack a little bit, [and] you might have to pause and learn something. Right? Nothing is ever just black and white in life. So I love that story.

You kind of touched on this, but how do you think your identity as a Black person impact the work that you do or your industry?

Caren: I’ll answer it from product and then I’ll answer it from DEI, because I think that the answer there is slightly different.

From product: it informed my experience because I realized how often marginalized people were not included in the conversation. And you know, we build a lot of digital products, a lot of apps, that kind of thing. And I realized that a lot of Black and Brown people use mobile first. They do most of their work from their phones. But we never really talked to or about people mobile-first. It was always kind of an afterthought. We never really framed it that way. And so knowing this, I would always ask those questions, because it’s like: well, I know people in my community who don’t have laptops. They use their phones for everything, so how are we approaching this as a method of building it? So it was a point of lack that I kinda realized in product. That we’re just not there.

However, in the DEI space, I feel like it’s almost the opposite. That sometimes we’re almost over represented in the DEI space, because so many of us want to get people to understand and to learn and to validate our experiences. So we’re kind of overrepresented, but at the same time I still feel that we are underserved in the DEI space. So yea, it’s been a really interesting shift to be in a space where you’re not seen to a space where you’re seen but not always heard. It’s been interesting, and I really love DEI.

And it’s why I love working with you Adriele, and being in community with someone who understands what it’s like just to be seen and to be heard, and to make your voice known. I think it’s wonderful!

Adriele: Absolutely! Shifting a little here, I think it’s so important to have these candid conversations, because we don’t get to do it alot, right? I mean, we do, we have them all the time, but we just don’t record them. It’s usually just us. So I think it’s good to put this out there and give people more exposure to that.

I’m curious to hear from you: what are some tangible steps, not just advice, but real actions that you would advise someone to do if they’re interested in doing the work that you do. And again, we’ll kind of split it: so if you’re interested in product, what are some steps that you should take. And then if you’re interested in DEI consulting, what are some steps that you’d suggest people take?

Caren: Ironically, my answer is the same for both. It’s to do it.

In product, if you want to be a Product Manager, go build something. Go build it. See something that is out there, in your community; see a problem that needs to be solved in your community, and solve it.

It doesn’t have to be perfect, it doesn’t have to be fully finalized and realized, but know: who are you talking to? Why are you doing this? What are you hoping to achieve out of it? What happens if things go sideways? Go build it, you’ll learn how to be a Product Manager by actually being one. And then also, go talk to other people in the community. Go ask! Twitter has been amazing for this kind of thing––you find people who are doing the work that you want to do. As long as you’re respectful, go ask questions! Go do!

And the same is true for DEI work. If you want to start getting into that work. Unfortunately, one of the vectors of white supremacy is to show your credentials or show your paperwork. And one way that you can actually build that, is by doing it. In your own organization, are there affinity groups? Are there ERGs? Is there a [DEI] council? Has anyone made a statement about what’s happening in our community? Be that voice. Start to advocate for what’s going on. Start writing blogs. Make TikToks. Create content. Start to do that work and start to connect with other people. So, the short version: do it. Connect with other members of your community.

Adriele: Awesome, that’s great advice. And just really quickly, for anyone that’s not familiar with affinity groups or what ERGs are, or employee resource groups. Those are, essentially, identity-based groups that are often formed within an organization, that allow people, typically underrepresented people, to connect and, hopefully, and ideally, they connect and work on something that is related to the overall internal DEI strategy or desired business outcomes. Just wanted to add a little context to that.

Awesome! Any final words or anything else you’d like to share?

Caren: Yea! Again, we are in a time of really great change. And because we’re in a time of really great change we can either get underswept by that change or we can use that change to our advantage.

I would recommend that everyone, especially if you’re from a marginalized group, allow yourself to be transformed by the changes that are happening and make those changes for the better.

Adriele: I love that. I don’t even have anything else to say [laughs]. With that: Caren, thank you so much. I so appreciate you participating!

Learn more about Caren and connect with her:

The Professional Adult -