For Liz Wamai, Black Excellence means being unapologetically Black. “There is something about the way we, as Black people, celebrate. We celebrate our excellence and we should be unapologetic about it,” Liz shares.
Her story begins in Africa. She was born and raised in Nairobi, the fourth of six siblings. While at university, Liz studied education but learned early on she didn’t want to be a teacher. Her father encouraged her to “figure out something to pursue” which led to a job at a travel agency. She describes that time as her first foray into understanding what was happening outside of Kenya. It gave her a taste of the world.
Liz’s wanderlust eventually led her to the US where she pursued an MBA in management and human resources. She went on to build a successful career in diversity recruiting, holding various senior level positions at global financial institutions. She is a self-described builder with an entrepreneurial spirit. But after 14 years in banking, her career started to feel stagnant. She took a year off, traveled to Kenya, Latin America, Asia and South Africa, and set her sights on the technology industry.
Today, Liz is the Vice President and Head of Business Recruiting, Attract and Diversity Recruiting at Meta. When Liz talks about Meta’s mission to bring the world closer together, it is undeniable she is deeply passionate about bringing that mission to life. “I thrive when I’m in an environment focused on community, where we share the same goals and values,” she reflects. “My family is spread out across the world. But with WhatsApp, we’re able to communicate seamlessly – all the borders and time zones dissolve – and we’re able to share life’s most important moments. That is the power of Meta’s mission to build community and bring the world closer together.”
Liz joined the company in 2016, when there were about 17,000 employees. Today, Meta employs more than 68,000 people. Four years after Liz joined, in the summer of 2020, America erupted in turmoil following the murder of George Floyd and the protests demanding racial equality that followed.
“This was a very pivotal time if you think about what was happening in the world. Within Meta, the conversations started getting more real as people began to show more vulnerability based on their own experiences,” Liz recalls. “It was the first time in my career where I saw both with leadership and with other people around me that everyone was getting comfortable having the uncomfortable conversations—unpacking and addressing their own biases in a very thoughtful way. It was the first time I can remember professionally having very meaningful conversations about issues like structural racism, about privilege, about what role do I play in facilitating all of this?”
Liz knew she could make an even more significant impact and she approached her manager about taking on the role of Global Diversity Recruiting for Meta. In that role, she oversees the company’s diversity recruiting efforts around the world. The goals are ambitious by design. Last year, the executive team committed to increasing people of color in leadership roles by 30% by 2024, including 30% more Black leaders.
“Our focus is centered around being diversity-driven, a vision that came out of many strategy sessions last year. Our intention is to make sure we are always looking out for untapped and underrepresented talent. We have a specific focus on recruiting women in tech, Black and Latinx leaders, as that’s where we see the biggest opportunity,” says Liz. “Our goal is to celebrate representation and make sure we represent the world because we operate in the world. We set very clear goals and are transparent about those goals. The time and resources we’ve dedicated to analyze and report against our goals and ensure data is driving our decisions is unprecedented.”
Liz and her team have also created space for people to grow and learn. “We have listening sessions where leadership just listens to our team. It’s not about trying to fix the situation. It’s about carving out the time and space to listen and learn, while leading from a place of vulnerability and empathy. That, to me, makes your leadership more expansive and comprehensive because it shows you’re human.”
One of the programs Liz is particularly proud of is called Meta Table Talks, something that started as an opportunity for Meta leaders to expand their networks by hosting casual coffee conversations or dinners with leaders across different industries. While initially a learning and networking opportunity, the recruiting team has since hosted more than 400 Table Talks, some of which have also turned into recruiting opportunities.
And these efforts are paying off. Based on Meta’s most recent annual diversity report, in just one year, the company achieved a 38.2% increase in Black leaders, getting a head start on the five-year goal to increase leaders who are people of color by 30%. Additionally, Meta increased representation of women in technical, non-technical and leadership roles globally, as well as Black and Hispanic employees in the US.
From a travel agency in Kenya to helping run recruiting for one of the world’s most well-known brands, Liz credits part of her success to advice she got early in her career: “Don't take feedback personally. Identify what is important to you personally and professionally—your guiding principles—and anchor everything back to that.”