Amplifying Black Creatives: How Adobe’s Black Employee Network creates a different kind of change
Adobe is a haven for creativity. A leader and innovator in everything from photography to graphic design, products like the Adobe Creative Cloud have become the answer for creatives around the globe. And with hands in business solutions, marketing, commerce and more, Adobe has built a robust platform through innovation and diverse solutions.
Internally, the company has worked to build an inclusive #AdobeForAll culture, creating a network of employee groups to serve its diverse workforce. This includes the Black Employee Network (BEN), which is dedicated to “recruiting, retaining, developing and connecting the Black community and allies at Adobe.”
For Adobe, BEN is part of an overall effort to elevate diverse voices, especially the underrepresented, both inside and outside of the company — a critical component in an industry that is still largely male and white. BEN’s executive sponsor Karen Robinson shares her perspective: “The conversation surrounding diversity and inclusion in Silicon Valley is simple. We need to develop and hire more diverse candidates.”
As part of Adobe’s celebration of Black History Month and, earlier this year, honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., BEN is bringing community front and center. It’s created nonprofit volunteer opportunities at the Museum of the African Diaspora, sponsored performances from Oriki Theater and the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir, enhanced recruiting at Blavity’s annual AfroTechconference and partnered with community organizations Hack the Hood and Girls Inc. to host a series of career development days. In response to the recent incidents of racial injustice, Adobe and BEN leadership established the “Taking Action Initiative” to accelerate the representation, development and success of Adobe’s Black employees while creating change in the broader landscape of social injustice and economic inequality.
While they each have a unique journey to Adobe, we sat down with Caitlin Crews, Ronell Hugh and Ransford Hyman to discuss their shared experiences as Black employees at Adobe and how BEN has made it easier to navigate through their careers while working there.
Not your average techie over here
With a background in photography and creative writing, Caitlin Crews, Design Elements Outreach and Templates lead on the Adobe Stock team, took an unconventional path to get to Adobe. “I have a kind of roundabout way of landing in a design job within tech. I was working in fashion photography and decided to take a little break to go back to school for my master’s in arts and cultural management — thinking that I wanted to do nonprofit work — only to realize there’s no money, and I was super broke.”
Not easily deterred, while scrolling the internet one night, an Adobe ad caught her eye. “This job popped up on LinkedIn, and I had never thought of working at Adobe before. Almost like, ‘What do they do there?’ I put in an application at 11 o’clock that night and got an email back the next morning for an interview.” From there, the pieces just came together.
“Coming from fashion, this industry was a different kind of monster to me. The people at Adobe are one of the reasons that make it worth it. I get to work with designers all over the world, discovering new talent, new trends and how they work commercially. I’m someone from a very creative background and path, so being able to implement that in my day-to-day career is just… I feel very lucky to do that.”
As a leader within BEN’s New York chapter, Crews has planned several initiatives, including highlighting Black-owned businesses and nonprofits in New York. During Black History Month in 2020, she hosted a drawing night, where the focus was on Black leaders. Participants spent the evening creating together and fundraising for Black-owned nonprofit Black Art Futures. “BEN has really supported my career growth in many different ways. The network really keeps you rooted and connected,” she says.
As a creative in the tech world, support for the Black creative community is integral to the work Crews does at Adobe. “In general, diversity in the tech industry is a problem we all need to acknowledge and will be persistent until we do so. Adobe has a very unique position in the tech world because we make products that enable creative expression. We have a responsibility to foster the creative world. We’re celebrating our vibrant community by creating programs like the ‘Diverse Voices’ campaign, developing the ‘When I See Black’ film and forming a partnership with ComplexLand. We have to continue supporting the Black creative community and diverse perspectives because we are a catalyst to a growing culture.”
When the switch up is the real come up
No stranger to the tech industry, Ronell Hugh, currently the Head of Product Marketing for Adobe Experience Platform, previously excelled at Microsoft and Walmart, where he oversaw the majority of marketing for video games, movies and music categories. “I spent roughly six or seven years in gaming. I got to a point where I decided I wanted to keep diversifying myself and my skill sets, which motivated me to move out of consumer gaming. I feel like doing something different helps me develop, grow and expand my mind.”
Following a summer internship at Adobe in 2009, he was contacted by a former colleague to return. “There’s a lot of pride at Adobe as a well-recognized, global brand, but people mostly only know the Creative Cloud and Document Cloud side (Photoshop, InDesign, Acrobat, etc.) and don’t realize we have the Adobe Experience Cloud. I work on enterprise software called the Adobe Experience Platform, which is an experience management platform focused on helping brands develop a better understanding of customer needs. It’s always great to be a part of a company at the forefront of revolutionizing customer experience technology.”
For Hugh, having a connection to a larger community has been critical in his growth and development at Adobe. After moving from Seattle to Utah, a network like BEN was key in helping him adjust to a new region that overwhelmingly lacked many people who looked like him. “I was excited to get involved with BEN, take the reins and start to pull together new ways to engage with the community — whether it’s the Black community or others within Adobe — and help broaden people’s mindsets.”
Being able to openly share and explore experiences is one of the things about working at Adobe that truly empowers Hugh in his day-to-day exchanges. “With what happened in Minneapolis, with Georgia Floyd, or in Florida with Breonna Taylor, I felt motivated to pen an internal email that I felt comfortable sending and including my CEO and other executives on — and it was great because I didn’t fear any backlash. It’s important to have a voice in your company, and Adobe empowers us to have that.”
It’s all of me or nothing
Since joining Adobe almost two years ago, Ransford Hyman has become a subject matter expert within the world of artificial intelligence and its capabilities as a manager for Adobe’s AI technology, Adobe Sensei, and On-Device Engineering. “I was quite familiar with the field, but not as familiar with how AI and machine learning can be done with Adobe products because it was fairly new,” says Hyman.
“The position is a new frontier because a lot of machine learning is being deployed in the cloud, which comes with its own set of challenges. I enjoy working on trailblazing and innovative technologies, so it was something that attracted me to this position within Adobe,” he adds. Not only that, Ransford has also been part of projects that ensure diversity and inclusion is top of mind in Adobe’s AI models and datasets.
With nearly a decade in the tech industry, passing on knowledge and building up others around him has become a highlight on Hyman’s career journey. “One of my favorite accomplishments has been the mentoring experience. A lot of times, we look at it as they’re getting something from us, but I get a lot from it as well. Being able to mentor and strengthen my management skills; I see it as a byproduct of growing someone else’s career.”
And when he needed support himself, Adobe provided the space for him to be his authentic self at all times. During the social unrest prompted by the murders of Black Americans like Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, BEN became a platform for amplifying voices of frustration and others that are simply seeking solutions. “Something positive was the mental support that Adobe extended during the ongoing social justice movement, even going as far as to bring in therapists for us to talk to,” he recalls. “It’s helpful because, as a community, we were able to share our feelings and our thoughts about what was going on across the U.S. and in the world around us. It’s an environment where I can truly be myself.”
Although Hyman has found a community at Adobe, he believes there is still much work to be done to cultivate these inclusive communities throughout the tech industry. “Diversity still has a long way to go. It’s not just a hiring problem; it’s where we are seeking out candidates too. How are we integrated into communities or serving communities of color? Within Adobe, there are a lot of programs that I’ve been able to partner with or participate in that address this need, such as working with /dev/color on a resume building workshop or being part of a panel for high school students to discuss life at Adobe as an engineer. I see these efforts as being one of those areas where it has a very long-term and broad effect on society. So, I like to make sure that underrepresented minorities are involved in these activities.”
Adobe’s diversity and inclusion vision, Adobe For All, fosters a workplace that emphasizes the importance of inclusion, equality and empathy, which empowers Black creatives and enables them to be successful.
“I think that the thing I love about being at Adobe is that I’m always able to be my authentic self. Being able to bring my voice to the table, to express myself and then have leaders say ‘Let’s look into this and see how we can change or improve this’ is something I love,” Hugh explains.
“Bringing your authentic self is showing that this is who I am and affirming that you belong in the room as well,” Hyman says. Learn more about opportunities to join the Adobe team here.