‘Just the Beginning’: Shana Sumers Talks Black@INBOUND & Growing Inclusion Efforts at HubSpot

A group of people happily gathered, working on a project. The HubSpot Sprocket and INBOUND logo appear.

Image Description: A group of people happily gathered, working on a project. The HubSpot Sprocket and INBOUND logo appear.

‘Just the Beginning’: Shana Sumers Talks Black@INBOUND & Growing Inclusion Efforts at HubSpot

Shana Sumers is an engaging, inspiring force of empowerment and advocacy for safe spaces and intentional inclusion. As HubSpot’s Senior Manager, Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Belonging Communities, Sumers has grown the Black@INBOUND community to new heights and aspires to launch other groups in the future.

Nov 16, 2022

A proponent of intentional inclusion and safe spaces, Shana Sumers has revolutionized the communities she touches with impactful leadership, passion, and engagement.

Whether working in the classroom, expanding leading tech apps, or most recently, growing professional networking spaces with leading CRM platform HubSpot, Sumers continues to inspire, uplift, amplify, and celebrate diverse voices and create accessible, safe spaces.

HubSpot & Black@INBOUND

In her role as HubSpot’s Senior Manager, Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Belonging Communities, Sumers has had a transformative impact.

Within HubSpot’s networking event INBOUND—hosting a selection of marketing and business sessions from industry leaders and prominent speakers, such as former President Barack Obama—Sumers has grown the impactful Black@INBOUND community, which originally began as a Twitter hashtag in 2016 by Sumers’ coworker, HubSpot Senior Marketing Manager, Partner GTM Enablement Devyn Bellamy.

“When you walk into a conference, especially as a Black person, you’re not really seeing a lot of yourself,” Sumers tells InclusionHub in an interview following INBOUND 2022. “You’re not really seeing a lot of your representation, especially in 2016. That wasn’t really happening, unfortunately.”

According to an Association of National Advertisers (ANA) industry report on diversity, 6% and 8% of ANA members are African American and Hispanic, respectively.

The numbers are even less in leadership: African Americans hold only 3% of chief marketing officer (CMO) or CMO-equivalent positions, and Hispanics hold 5%. Across U.S. marketing departments of ANA board member companies, African Americans have 4% of senior-level marketing roles while Hispanic individuals have 9%.

More than grateful to Bellamy for trusting her to continue what he started, Sumers preserved Black@INBOUND’s networking focus, while creating a welcoming atmosphere where people could relax on the fuchsia, navy, and gold chairs and couches and have “unfiltered” conversations with successful Black professionals—sometimes, over a round of UNO or Spades.

“We wanted to create a space that felt like the new ‘Bel-Air’ show,” Sumers says. “We wanted it to feel like ‘Bel-Air’ and HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) homecoming mixed in. Those are two big things of our culture that we should be recognizing, so I wanted to have a space that celebrated who we were and reminded people how great we are.”

The space included an affirmation wall that asked, “Put yourself on—How are you Black excellence?” on which Black professionals shared messages of positivity. They also posed for photos—destined for social media, of course—at the “Check Your Crown” station, which was a massive black and gold chair, with a gold crown overhead.

“It’s still growing and thriving, and it’s really awesome, having the first space at INBOUND,” Sumers continues, “to see people’s responses and reactions to the space, was everything I could have hoped for and then some.”

A banner from INBOUND 2022 that says, 'Put Yourself On—How Are You Black Excellence? B@I.' Cards with messages about Black Excellence are pinned over the section that says B@I.

Source: Shana Sumers on LinkedIn

From Australia to the States

Since beginning at HubSpot, Sumers has always felt she had the “full support” of the company, “all the way up to leadership.”

The industry-leading CMS provider sought to create “skilled, safe spaces for underrepresented professionals”—especially after the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and related racial justice demonstrations in the spring and summer of 2020.

Sumers’ wealth of experience—whether at a popular tech app or in the music therapy classroom—made her the perfect person for the job.

Before coming to HubSpot, Sumers was instrumental in growing and re-branding popular LGBTQIA2S+ dating app HER, where she also co-hosted the still-running Bad Queers podcast with Kris Chesson—a space aiming to break queer stereotypes for those who “feel like they came out of the closet and got placed in a box,” reads the podcast’s site.

Having recently come out, Sumers had joined the app in search of community while earning a master’s degree in special education from the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Australia. She quickly rose the ranks—beginning by writing her experiences as an American in Australia during the country’s Pride Month, and soon ran HER’s social media platforms.

Later tearing her ACL, Sumers’ return to the states did not bring her back to the music therapy classroom, and her former hands-on work with people of all ages with varying levels of developmental disabilities. Instead, she continued growing the HER app—creating eight community groups centering around identity, relationship status, and interest before leaving as Head of Community in 2020.

“It was a really awesome experience to see community work, seeing all the different ways that we were working with different identities,” Sumers says, “It was really awesome to get into that and work on the intersectionality of our identities, which, I think, was really a smooth lead-in to the work that I’m doing at HubSpot.”

Goals for the Future

To Sumers, Black@INBOUND was “just the beginning.”

“I’m hoping that we continue to launch other groups that use the framework that we used at Black@INBOUND,” Sumers says, “to continue to grow and provide the same feeling of comfort, and safety, but also value, that we’ve been able to build with our Black@INBOUND space.”

She adds that many in the space voiced an appreciation for the level of comfort they felt.

“I had a woman at the end of the week who just fell into my arms crying about how grateful she was about the space,” Sumers says, “where she was just like, ‘You come to these areas and we, as Black professionals, tend to go into a lot of these experiences just having to just have our armor on. And it takes a lot of energy to be in spaces that are more geared toward white professionals.’”

“Think of your medium- to high-level of discomfort,” Sumers continues, “and then having to do that all day, every day for, like, four days, while also being a professional, while also still delivering on stuff, while also trying to be personable. It’s exhausting.”

For this reason, Sumers strongly encourages companies to create safe spaces for people of all abilities, races, genders, socioeconomic statuses, and identifiers.

From including daycare options for parents, to hiring signers for d/Deaf or hard of hearing individuals, resources that actively include all people prioritize the “humanization” aspect of conferences such as INBOUND—not solely the business aspect.

“We can’t just ignore a whole group of people, or multiple groups of people, honestly,” Sumers says. “You could probably take away the bigger-and-better speaker aspect of it, and if you just provide opportunities and experiences that people find valuable, that people find safe, they’re going to be more likely to come.”

As HubSpot continues garnering feedback regarding accessibility and other subjects to shape next year’s conference, Sumers encourages “hard conversations” and resources to support not only workplaces but build more inclusive global cultures on the whole.

“Things aren’t going to change until people take the time to have hard conversations, and to recognize history and how it’s showing up in the same way,” Sumers says. “The police brutality that we’re seeing now is not new, but people are having the audacity. There’s a lot of audacity going around.”

Creating safe spaces helps reinforce that “people don't need to change who they are to be part of the community that you've built,” says Sumers.

“There needs to be a collective understanding,” she continues, “and the folks who have the audacity need to do a lot more listening and paying attention, but it’s going to be a lot of community effort. In my opinion, I don’t think it’s going to come from government any time soon. I think it’s going to be community movements and the resources that the community is able to provide.”

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