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Yahoo Finance Presents: Hispanic Stars - Maria Cuba

This series of Yahoo Finance Presents highlights Hispanic and Latinx executives and leaders in the fields of tech, science, and finance for Hispanic Heritage Month. On this episode of Hispanic Stars, Maria Cuba, Diversity and Belonging Business Partner for Airbnb, sat down with Yahoo Finance's Ines Ferre. She discussed the shifts in consumer behaviors during the coronavirus pandemic, the new virtual experiences Airbnb is hosting due to COVID, starting Juntos at Airbnb, and the benefits of having diversity in the workplace.

Video Transcript

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INES FERRE: Welcome to "Yahoo Finance Presents Hispanic Stars." Today, we're speaking with Maria Cuba, Diversity and Belonging Business Partner at Airbnb. Maria, thanks so much for joining us.

MARIA CUBA: Thank you for having me.

INES FERRE: And you've worked both on the community front and also internally. What changes have you seen happening due to COVID-19, and especially these last few months?

MARIA CUBA: So, yes, I have worked with the community directly, engaging hosts, talking to hosts, to organizations, et cetera. And now more recently in the last few months since the end of 2019, I've been working more internally with our community. I think there's-- there's lots of changes. Number one, people really are focusing on safety in general.

The safety at work now means safety at home, making sure that your family is safe, making sure that you are also having an eye on your colleagues that nobody is, you know, doing too much. Or if you see somebody is stressful, maybe starting meetings with a, "How are you doing," allocating time for that. And then on the community side, the more important thing that we are doing, the most important thing is really listening to the community. What is it that they want? What are they looking from us?

And-- and I-- I think that it's clear that the community wants to stay closer to what's familiar, where it feels safer, right? So they don't necessarily want to be at home. They still want to take a trip. They still want to travel, but they want to do that close by where it feels familiar, where it feels safe, where they can turn around and come back home if that's needed.

I think that people are also looking for things that are more unique because now the stay is the prize. The stay is the thing that you're looking forward to. So unique listings like treehouses, listings that have a pool, listings that might have, like, a family theater or a nice patio or are surrounded by nature, right? We're seeing that the community are saying, we want that, we want more of that.

And then the other thing is just the flexibility. So combining, you know, internal and external, I think that people now have the flexibility to work from different places, not just in-- in tech, but in almost every industry that allows for that to happen. So longer stays, people wanting to find a place when they can go experience something different, feel like it's not necessarily the same routine, but they can work from there and stay longer.

INES FERRE: Talk to us also about Experiences, because I know that you worked with Experiences as the virtual experiences happening.

MARIA CUBA: Yes, so I did, I worked for Experiences for three years. This is another thing that goes directly to what I said about listening to the community and listening to what they want. Early during this pandemic, our hosts, our Experiences hosts came to us and said, we don't want to stop hosting. We want-- what can we do to offer our community these experiences? We can do this online. We still want to do this from the-- you know, from the safety of our home, but we want to bring guests in and we want to entertain them and we want them to have these experiences.

And that's how Online Experiences came about. I think it-- it was great to see a really, like, you know, just diverse, from different business units and from different functions, coming together to work so quickly to get the input from the community and-- and have this product now be live for a couple of months and really successful in providing people not only an outlet to, like, do something while you're at home, but it's super safe, but it's still very engaging.

You can do an Online Experience with your friends who live miles from you, but here you are doing something together. So that's one thing. But then also, I think that the opportunity that it offers to the hosts to still make an income, right, to still use their skills and what they have in a safe way to provide for their family and for themselves. And I-- I was-- I was just so happy to see that-- that we could take that input and turn it into a reality so quickly.

INES FERRE: And when we talk about Experiences, what are some of the activities that you're talking about here?

MARIA CUBA: So it's-- some hosts have been super creative in taking an-- an activity that was outside and, you know, seeing how they can reinvent this. And some other ones were just doing the things that they were doing before, but instead of having it face to face, online. For example, classes is one thing.

There is a-- there's a few Experiences in Mexico. I took one the other day where you learn how to make mole. And I thought, oh my god, this is so great, right? There's been Experiences that-- there was this lady from Puerto Rico that was teaching, you know, how to make a pernil. I don't know if you know what a pernil is.

INES FERRE: I know what a pernil is, yes. I've been to Puerto Rico, yeah.

MARIA CUBA: Oh, well, then you know that this is like our [INAUDIBLE], you know, quintessential thing. Like, we love our pernil. And I didn't know about it. It was actually a Brazilian friend who said, guess what, I'm bringing you some pernil that I learned to make through an online experience. And so I thought it was fantastic. There is music, and there are so many other things. I took one the other day about the art of laughter. And what I thought was so unique is that, you know, right now some of us are a little down. We're stressed.

There's so many things hitting us from so many different places. And here I was taking this Experience where this host was teaching us that laughter actually can precede happiness. And by-- by wanting to laugh and wanting to provoke laughter, you can actually go from one state of mind to actually feeling happy. And I-- I don't know about you, but that blew my mind because I never thought that laughter could precede happiness. So that's just a little bit of a-- of a taste of the things.

INES FERRE: You started Juntos at Airbnb. Explain to the-- us what that is and why you started it.

MARIA CUBA: So part of our diversity initiatives that we have at Airbnb is the creation and support of employee resource groups, better known as ERGs. The ERGs are groups that are formed by our employee force, and they usually group people by specific characteristics. For example, race is one of them, LGBTQ status, parent status, veteran status, things like that.

In, I want to say, 2015, I, myself, and Pedro Avila founded Juntos, and it was one of the-- I want to say it was the third or fourth Employee Resource Group. It is now one of the biggest Employees Resource Groups. We have chapters not only in the United States and Latin America, but also in Europe, for example, where we have a lot of Latinx Hispanic employees.

And what we do is that we come together on the one hand to really just enhance and support the experience that employees are having at Airbnb, giving them opportunities to come together to learn from each other through mentorship, sponsorship, et cetera. And then on the other side, we are also partners to the business, making sure that we're there to support the business initiatives that have to do with our community, whether that is in the United States or Latinx communities in the United States, the diaspora in the world or in Latin America.

INES FERRE: And both on the host front and internally in the workplace, talk to us about the benefits of having diversity.

MARIA CUBA: Wow. I think we've heard a lot that diversity makes companies better, communities better, et cetera. But I would say this, diversity is not just good business sense, it's not that just, you know, [INAUDIBLE] sense. But if we want to really serve our community, our internal community needs to be reflected in the people that we're serving.

I like to say that when we talk about tech and any other company actually, what we're doing is that we are creating the building blocks for the future. If you think of, like, how do you want to receive your groceries, how you want to travel, where you want to stay, how you want to measure your health, education, all these different changes that are happening, that are being grown, happen in-- in these walls, right? Well, now these figurative walls.

So it's very important that-- that all the community and the community's needs, as diverse as they are, are represented so that we can include all the different needs that everybody has. It's not just a matter of does it make sense, it's a matter of really looking at diversity as the one thing that makes us stronger and it makes us serve our communities better. And in turn, it makes our community engage with our products in a better way.

INES FERRE: Is it challenging to find diverse talent?

MARIA CUBA: I don't know that finding the talent is the challenge. There's many different things that companies can do. I can tell you, for example, Airbnb, right now we have a commitment to making sure that by the end of 2021, our board of directors and our executive team, it's at least 20% people of color. So, right, so making decisions like that is a great way to really be intentional in the decisions that you're making.

We-- the executives are also working with their teams and developing specific plans for their teams and-- and sharing those plans and talking about how we're going to make those plans come to life. And that is directly tied to our goals for diversity that we have worked and-- and sort of, like, created for ourselves with 2025 in mind. Other than that, there's things that you can do in your every day.

For example, we implemented, I think it was in 2017, a diverse slate, which means that for each position that is out there, we make it a point to make sure that a woman is represented and that people of color are represented in that pool of candidates that we're working with. Again, being intentional about the actions that we're taking. And it's not just about who do you bring through the door, but also how the people that are already in are feeling and what are you offering them.

So we work with having allyship training, anti-bias training, and-- and different offerings so that people can better their careers, but also learn how to be good allies and how to be inclusive of everybody. And there's this series that we're creating that is called Build Belonging that also allows to bring representatives of different communities to talk to our employees so that everybody feels that we represent them, we're listening to all the different points of views.

INES FERRE: Finally, give us any advice that you have for anyone that wants to follow a career like yours.

MARIA CUBA: So I will say this, and this applies to everything. The most revolutionary act that you can do for yourself is to think of yourself outside of this group that society sort of has for you. I think that a lot of us see ourselves as a specific thing because of our background, where we come from, our family background, the language that we speak, the culture that we represent. And there's certain things that sometimes are associated to that, and that might limit or influence how we think of ourselves.

So the one thing I would say is, like, think of you and all your potential. Potential doesn't know gender, doesn't know socioeconomic background, doesn't know anything. And the potential really lives in all of us. So once you start thinking about what you want, then you can actively start looking for those things.

In my case, it's been really thinking about tech as something that is beyond tech, right? I have no technical skills whatsoever. I have been at Airbnb for 9 and 1/2 years. I felt that I have contributed greatly to the story of Airbnb in the community because I've been able to identify the skills and where I'm the strongest and bring that to the table.

The other thing I will say is, don't be shy to express your opinions, whether that is by looking for a mentor who can help you, by going directly to people that you think could benefit from listening to your point of view or something that you have to bring. Because at the end of the day, the skills that you have and the point that you have, your empirical experience is unique to you, and it's one of the most valuable things that we have, not just for-- for ourselves, but to do good for others, particularly for the communities that we represent.

And lastly, go to your networks. Don't be afraid-- even beyond your networks. Don't be afraid to try to reach out to people on-- on different networks or to friendships or et cetera and have conversations about opportunities. Because oftentimes, there might be things out there that work for you that you don't even have a [INAUDIBLE].

INES FERRE: Maria Cuba, thank you so much for joining us.

MARIA CUBA: Thank you so much for having-- having me.