Fahad Khawaja is the founder of Hue, a community-centered 501c3 nonprofit organization built to amplify voices, increase visibility and pave career paths for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) talent—both by directly supporting that talent and by nurturing talent pipelines for employers. Hue’s recent report, Unsafe, Unheard, Unvalued: A State of Inequity, followed up on last year’s inaugural data to show that during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, BIPOC employees suffered job loss and financial hardship three times the rate of their white counterparts. We talked to Fahad about how and why he founded Hue, how its mission has evolved, and the best advice he has ever received.
Lonny Pugh: Tell us a bit about your background and what led you to found Hue.
Fahad Khawaja: I’m an eternal optimist and connector with a deep belief that we can build a better future together, by bringing the margins to the mainstream and doing well by doing good. I’ve always valued the power of community and connection—from my earliest days bridging social groups, to leading media orgs, to my career transforming companies with purpose across tech and the Fortune 50.
I founded Hue to address the network gap and systemic issues I’d seen across companies throughout the country. These issues hold back people of color from accessing opportunities for generational wealth creation—ultimately impacting the health and wealth of us all.
LP: Hue supports employers as well as BIPOC talent. How do those dual purposes inform each other, and how has Hue evolved during the last couple of years?
FK: Hue’s community is what drives us to do the work we do. As a 501c3 nonprofit, we’re focused squarely on helping BIPOC get access to better jobs, higher pay, and a support system of leaders—BIPOC and otherwise—who can be there for active support. Employers build relationships with us and our community to help deliver on their commitments toward a workforce that reflects the country’s diversity. They recognize that our community is a diverse mix of professionals—we’re overrepresented where everyone else is underrepresented in terms of background racially, ethnically, on gender, and across functions of professional expertise.
LP: What was your intention behind the new research you’ve published this month?
FK: Our new report Unsafe, Unheard, Unvalued: A State of Inequity shows that discrimination is rising, burnout continues to affect BIPOC at disproportionately higher levels, and that advancement at work is an ongoing struggle nationally. I’m a firm believer that data leads to insights, and those insights help to drive action. What we need now more than ever is action. Only action can improve BIPOC health and wealth across the country.
LP: What in your mind is the most impactful statistic about the current state of diversity in marketing, advertising and communications and design?
FK: Nearly 90% of Americans report their companies did not invest financially in recruiting or promoting racially diverse employees. Professionals in marketing, communications, advertising, and design report significantly more often that their employer has not effectively invested financially in promoting racially diverse employees.
LP: What do you hope people take from the research? What do you see as the next step for anyone who reads it?
FK: The report is a call to action. And the time for action is now. Not tomorrow, next week, or next year. Consider the recommendations we make, and reach out to us to see how we can work together to make a positive impact. Don’t wait for the “perfect” time—there’s no such thing. Just reach out. I’ll always prioritize progress over perfection.
LP: What is the best advice you’ve ever received, and how has it helped you?
FK: Be aware of your impact on others, and build relationships for the long term. It’s something I think about every day, and it’s helped me be more self aware and adaptable. I may not get it right 100% of the time, but I’ll always try to leave things better off than before. Maya Angelou said, “I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” To me, this is core to building community and relationships that stand the test of time. It’s core to bridging differences and finding common ground. And relationships are—and will always be—at the very core of what Hue is all about.