e021. Product Development w/ Franchesca Carrington

Franchesca Carrington (she/her) is the Vice President, DEI & Talent Development at SharkNinja. SharkNinja is proud of its history as a pioneer in small household appliances and cleaning solutions that fit the lifestyles of busy people.. Based in Needham, Massachusetts, SharkNinja employs about 2700 in 10 countries. In this episode, Carrington shares how SharkNinja integrates inclusion in its product development process.


#IncludingYouPodcast Interview with Franchesca Carrington

Interview Transcript

[00:00:47] Amy: Welcome back to including you. I’m your host, Amy C Waninger. My guest today is Franchesca Carrington. She’s the vice president of DEI and talent development at shark ninja. Shark ninja is proud of its history as a pioneer in small household appliances and cleaning solutions that fit the lifestyles of busy people.

[00:01:06] Amy: You probably have a few other products in your home, I know I do, and they’re based in Nita, Massachusetts shark ninja employs about 2,700 people in 10 countries. Franchesca, welcome to the show.

[00:01:17] Franchesca: Thank you, Amy. I’m happy to be here.

[00:01:20] Amy: So, I don’t wanna play favorites with my guests, but when we talked about what we were gonna talk about for this show, I got very excited and I’ll get there in a minute, but my family was laughing at me because I couldn’t shut up about the hair dryer.

[00:01:32] Amy: So, we’re gonna get to the hair dryer story in a minute, but before we get there, can you explain to our viewers and our listeners shark ninja does all kinds of products, right? The vacuum cleaners and blenders, and we’ve got a very nice double oven what’s that called? The thing air fryer, right?

[00:01:51] Amy: Yes, sitting on our cabinet. I think I’ve got your blender that has the cups really cool products. But can you talk a little bit about why is inclusion so important to shark ninja as a company?

[00:02:04] Franchesca: Oh, for so many reasons. One reason as you said, because we make products, and so we know just based off of research, within the DEI space that consumers are being intentional about their buying dollars.

[00:02:20] Franchesca: So that’s number one, they want to spend their money at companies that are not quiet about, things that are happening in society, they want to spend their money with companies that show representation that looks like them, and so they are being very intentional about that. So that’s one of the reasons.

[00:02:44] Franchesca: But another reason is, as you said, we make so many products, and when we are thinking about product development, we have to think about all demographics. If we want our product to be inclusive, which is the goal for shark ninja, then we have to think about what does that mean? We need to define it and we also need to work towards it.

[00:03:06] Franchesca: And so that is one of the reasons that it’s also important at shark ninja and that’s external facing, but internal facing. Let me just talk about that for a second as well, just the internal culture of shark ninja. We want to build a culture where people feel like they are belonged, that they belong.

[00:03:27] Franchesca: And so, we work very hard about around doing that. We want our employees to feel included, we want to hear their ideas, we want them to bring their very lived experiences to the table, especially when we are making products, we want to hear about their cultures, we want to make sure that our products are appealing to a diverse group of people.

[00:03:54] Franchesca: So that’s some of the reasons why it’s important to shark ninja.

[00:03:59] Amy: What I love about this is you all are pretty new in your DEI journey, right? You’ve not been doing this a long time at this company, the company, the role is new.

[00:04:08] Amy: The department’s kind of new at the company, but the way this has taken, hold in what I believe is the driver of culture, which is everyday decision making by everyday employees. Has been phenomenal for the amount of time you’ve been doing the work internally and the hair dryer is part of that story.

[00:04:27] Amy: But can you talk about how this shows up and how it’s shown up so quickly in shark ninja culture?

[00:04:34] Franchesca: Yeah, I have to say, I have to give kudos to our president mark Barocas, because it really started with him in the C-suite with the executive team, and mark has been the driver of DEI and it is actually one of the things that attracted me to the organization, because I strongly believe for DEI to be embedded, to be infused in an organization.

[00:05:03] Franchesca: It has to start at that executive level, and I will say shark ninja got it, it started there, and so in my opinion, that was the right place for it to start and it has not, and we haven’t taken our foot off of the gas. DEI has only been around for two years at shark, but man, have we gone far within those two years and we just have such dedicated, passionate people that are involved in DEI.

[00:05:31] Franchesca: And so, we have, a number of affinity groups, a number of business resource groups, a number of DEI groups globally, but it goes back to what you said that each employee owns DEI, and so one of the questions that I ask do during new hire orientation is how will you champion DEI in your role? And that is a question that every employee has to think about, because that is the message that we want to send immediately.

[00:06:02] Franchesca: That DEI is owned by every single employee at the organization, and so when you are thinking about your role, no matter what department you’re in, think about, how will you champion DEI, whether that is in your personal interactions, where, whether that is with team collaboration, whether that is with making products, we want you to really think about how you’re champion DEI and how you’re being intentional about it.

[00:06:34] Franchesca: So just constantly being aware, constantly, being intentional about your efforts, and so that is just, one of the things I think that makes shark ninjas special,

[00:06:45] Amy: And employees are taking this to heart, because they are actually championing. DEI they’re incorporating different perspectives at every stage of the product life cycle.

[00:06:55] Amy: Can you talk a little bit finally about the hair dryer and I love this, not because of the hair dryer. I love it because of what it represents, I love it because of the story around it, how this came to.

[00:07:07] Franchesca: So finally, we get to the story that everyone is waiting for, but the perfect example, as I shared with you, Amy, the perfect example of how DEI can impact a business, how it impacts an organization and decision making.

[00:07:25] Franchesca: So, with the hair dryer, which is now out, on shelves. So, if you don’t have a hair dryer, plug go and get a hair dryer, go get the shark ninja hair dryer. But as we were thinking about making the product a question came from an associate, of have we thought about how this is going to react or act on various hair textures?

[00:07:50] Franchesca: And it was just that one question that spiraled everything, all it took was one question for us to think us, to start thinking creatively and to start thinking differently, and so what I loved about it is that the subject matter experts, put themselves in a vulnerable space and they were okay with saying, hey, we are not the subject matter experts on everything.

[00:08:18] Franchesca: And so, we need help, we need feedback in order to make. Inclusive product, we need to think differently, and so I love that they put themselves in that space and that they were, okay with being uncomfortable with, not knowing everything, and as a result of that, we engage Latin ex hair salons.

[00:08:40] Franchesca: We engage black hair salons, we tested the products with internal employees, we held focus groups, we engaged the affinity groups, and the various DEI groups, we talked about the connection between culture and hair, which was a very rich conversation, we looked at the marketing materials and started talking about, how do we want to present this product?

[00:09:08] Franchesca: And what does that mean? and so it was just a very collaborative initiative, and it started with that one question, and as a result of that, that made the product better, all the teams accepted the feedback and it, at times I’m sure it was not easy hearing that feedback either, but all the teams were open to getting to receiving that feedback, but not only receiving the feedback, acting on it because we truly were bought in and we really wanted to make an inclusive product.

[00:09:43] Franchesca: So, I love telling that story because I feel like that’s the perfect example of how DEI can impact, product, how it impacts and organizations bottom line, and so it’s just a great story to tell,

[00:10:00] Amy: And I’m sure that there was also the catalyst for a lot of conversations that opened people’s eyes.

[00:10:04] Amy: Because hair, especially for black men and women, black people in general, I shouldn’t be gender binary about that, but black hair is a big cultural flashpoint, but it’s also a big topic of discrimination, and this was a way to open that conversation that might have, and probably in some other companies is uncomfortable.

[00:10:27] Amy: For some people who hold power to have an open, honest conversation about why is this important? Why is it important to be on the product? Can you talk a little bit about how does awareness spread from this one question beyond the politic design?

[00:10:40] Franchesca: It’s just so happened, not just so happened because again, everything is intentional, but during this time, so we did this, but also during this time we had black history month.

[00:10:55] Franchesca: And so, the black affinity group we’re doing, various events, and so some of the things that we do is we bring in external speakers so that we can continue learning, as an organization, and as we were thinking about, because we’re always thinking about how are we connecting DEI to what we do as an organization.

[00:11:16] Franchesca: And as I was having that conversation with the affinity group leader, of course, we thought about the hair dryer, and one of the reasons we thought about that is because this was a time where the crown act was getting a lot of awareness, and so we sought out as a speaker, an external speaker to talk about the crown act, because we thought this was a great opportunity to educate employees and also just talk about, what this means, how this plays out with a product that we have made, as an organization.

[00:11:49] Franchesca: So, we brought the external speaker in to talk about the crown at, somewhat, some weren’t aware of it, some were not, and during that conversation that presentation, the speaker also talked about the petition to sign, and so there was just a rich discussion around what is this and what does this mean?

[00:12:07] Franchesca: And why is this important? and some people said, I had no idea that hair discrimination even existed, and so it was just a very rich conversation about that, and then of course, the conversation turned to, does Massachusetts, support is Massachusetts, supporting this? how can we support this?

[00:12:27] Franchesca: What are some actions that we can take? So, it was just really a really rich conversation, but again, this started on one question and we are linking and we are continuing that conversation through the speaking events that we do as part of, a heritage month.

[00:12:47] Franchesca: And so that is just an example of how it can just blossom how it grows, but you do have to be intentional about it as well.

[00:12:57] Amy: I love this story so much, I’m still geeked about it, I’m so glad we get to talk about this. It occurs to me that because your products are in people’s homes. Because so many of your products are in so many people’s homes and home is where culture and tradition are lived and passed down.

[00:13:15] Amy: It’s not just a hair dryer, right? The way food is prepared, the way homes are cleaned, the kind of the surfaces that exist in people’s homes to clean the textures of the food, I’m thinking about my blender, and the, and how a puree in India may not be the same as a puree in Massachusetts and how those textures are so important.

[00:13:37] Amy: Because when they’re not right, and it’s an intergenerational experience people notice and it feels in-authentic, even if they’ve made it themselves. It, to me, this is, it’s just such a beautiful story of interweaving the internal diversity, making sure people feel included and empowered, making sure that the consumer base is represented inside.

[00:13:58] Amy: Leading not just to your own internal processes, but to broader advocacy and education. It’s just a remarkable microcosm of what’s possible when the work is done intentionally and systemically.

[00:14:08] Franchesca: Exactly, yeah. I talk about intentionality all the time, because nothing just happens, and that is part of my job. That’s, my role is to connect, DEI to everything is to see those opportunities and help others see those opportunities as well, and you do, you have to be intentional about this work, right? And so that is also why we know, or we haven’t taken our foot off.

[00:14:40] Franchesca: Is why we continue to focus on DEI as an organization is why we also say to associates that this isn’t just a one-time thing. This is something that we continue to do, and it has to be built into every decision that we are making. So, it goes to being transparent, about policies and processes.

[00:15:03] Franchesca: It goes to having to revise some of those policies and processes to ensure that, we are being equitable. So, you are absolutely right, and I have another good story for you, Amy, it’s a story that I didn’t tell you, but I have another good story because when you started talking about food, also, which is interesting during black history month, we brought in an external speaker who actually was an ex shark ninja employee, but she had, she has since left the company to start her own catering business.

[00:15:37] Franchesca: So, we brought her back in to talk, and she’s a, and she’s vegan, and so she came in and she did a cooking demonstration using shark ninja products, of course, but she did a cooking demonstration about, being vegan, and again, that is something, when you thinking about DEI, I think a lot of people think about that.

[00:15:59] Franchesca: The narrow definition of DEI sometimes, so people only think about race and gender, age, so those typical things, but when you are thinking about DEI, it means so much more. So, it also means, providing a platform to talk about like diet restrictions or food restrictions and, bringing in the variety, the different, the variety of food and, for example, but we brought her in to do a cookie demonstration using our product.

[00:16:30] Franchesca: Talk about vegan, cooking, where that started, why that’s important, to her personally, but also to her culture as well, because she’s shared a piece of her culture with us. So, it’s just, it’s so much you can do. It’s so much you can do, and I can talk all day about DEI.

[00:16:48] Amy: I love it. I could too, and I loved what you said about being intentional because, a lot of times when I’m working with corporate clients or speaking to conference audiences, one of the messages that I give them is you’re making decisions all day, whether you realize it or not. Don’t you think you could make better decisions if you were doing it on purpose, and that’s really what you’re talking about is looking at all of those little decisions that people make and making them with intention, with purpose with this notion that we need to include as many perspectives as possible. So we can come up with the best product, and ultimately, for the company when in the market, the why is a little bit different for every organization, but that, that need to.

[00:17:27] Amy: Solve problems from a variety of perspectives, so that we’re not going back and bolting something on at the end, if we make it part of what we’re doing, if we, like you said, infuse it in, it makes the whole process better, it makes us better, it connects us more effectively and more personally, in a very human way.

[00:17:45] Franchesca: Yeah, exactly. Like thinking about it at the, from the start, that is really the goal that we all want to achieve thinking about it to be at the beginning. But if you don’t think about it, then don’t be afraid to course correct either. So, it is fine, if it is oh, I completely missed that, but don’t just say I completely missed that and don’t act on it, say, I missed that.

[00:18:10] So now I’m going to go back and correct it. So, it’s also giving ourselves grace, allowing ourselves some grace to get it right, because you’re not going to always get it right the first time, but so we have to remember to allow grace, to be able to get it right, to do it differently, to course correct.

[00:18:32] Amy: Absolutely, and just saying that calls people into the conversation, that might have been afraid of it, or might have stood out from it out, apart from it, and seen it as someone else’s job or someone else’s issue or, someone else, benefits from, but really the reality is we all benefit and it should be everyone’s job.

[00:18:47] Amy: And so, I’m just, I’m so grateful for the stories that you tell for the work that you’re doing. Franchesca, thank you so much for being on the show.

Franchesca: Thank you, Amy.

[00:19:46] Amy: That’s it for this week’s episode of including you join me next week when my guest will be Carolina Veira from CareMax.

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Amy C. Waninger Author Bio

Amy C. Waninger is the Founder & CEO of Lead at Any Level, where she improves employee engagement and retention for companies that promote from within. Amy offers assessments, advisory services, and training on essential skills for inclusive leaders. She is the author of eight books. Learn more at www.LeadAtAnyLevel.com

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