Corner Office Q&A: Monster’s Bob Melk

Bob Melk has been Monster’s chief commercial officer for four years, joining the executive leadership team after serving as president at tech jobs site Dice, and a long career in media, sales and business leadership. Here, he talks about his path to Monster, bringing diversity and inclusivity to the workplace and why it’s important to have hard conversations.

What attracted you to Monster?

I love the opportunity to work on the transformation of a business. I find those challenging, exhausting, and also fun and exciting. Monster was just starting a new transformation, and I was impressed with the brand — it was a brand I was familiar with, having grown up on the East Coast. I was also excited about the opportunity that Randstad represented as the new owner of Monster, because of the synergistic opportunities in combining the strength of each company. Separately, Randstad and Monster represent market leading brands which offer unique value in the human capital management industry but when combined, the strength of these businesses has the potential to transform an industry.

What things along the way helped you succeed in your career?

First and foremost, it’s always the people around you. I know that my success was largely due to the teams I have been a part of. That includes peers, direct reports and of course, the leaders that I’ve worked with. I’ve worked with some truly inspiring leaders and also some less effective ones and I have been inspired and learned from all of them. There is a lot to be learned from people who do things really well but also many lessons learned from mistakes, including our own.

In being a leader, you need to be comfortable with the idea of failure and of owning that failure. Every day we should ask ourselves, ‘What am I doing to support my team? What are the challenges my team is working to overcome? Are we still on the right course, or should we pivot and own that failure?’ I have strived to challenge myself in that way every day, both in support of my team and the business

What obstacles have you faced on your path?

An obstacle we all face, at least to some degree, is ourselves. I know that sounds like a self-help book, but it’s true. My biggest obstacle was confidence in myself for many years. I think being a gay man adds a layer of complexity to that, because for quite a few years of my career I wasn’t out. I knew it would be limiting or even dangerous to advancing in my career. I worked with people who weren’t shy about voicing their disdain or disgust for LGBTQIA+ people in front of me because they didn’t realize that I was a member of the community. That does a lot to undermine your confidence, because you feel like you’re a fraud until you are ready to speak up, to defend yourself and your community. Even after many years as an out professional, I’ve experienced more subtle prejudices that could be coming from a respected colleague or a customer, and while I am now more confident in how to handle them, they are still obstacles. It took me years of working hard to be a confident and effective in addressing these issues before I believed that I have something to offer.

In hindsight, I know I was adding value. But the obstacle of having confidence in my value was challenging. We all face obstacles of confidence, and this has been mine.

June is Pride Month. Can you share some thoughts on the importance of building a diverse and inclusive workforce and workplace culture?

Regardless of whether you are a member or an ally to the community, leaders struggle with this issue, especially right now with the heightened awareness we have on the lack of equity in our society. This is true for women, LGBTQIA+, people of color, people with disabilities, and any under-represented group.

People’s identities aren’t always obvious. I used myself earlier as an example, and there are plenty of others. We don’t want to make assumptions so being mindful to encourage inclusion in small ways every day is a way to celebrate Pride in our individuality.

It was not long ago that we all were expected to live and work within established norms in a working environment. There was an expectation that to fit in, you needed to prescribe to a certain look, to a certain manner and for many this is still the experience This is so ingrained that it isn’t enough to say, ‘I want to embrace diversity and I want to have an inclusive workplace and I want people to bring their whole self to work.’ Those are good statements, it’s a good place to start. But it’s not going to move the needle because of the nature of ingrained behavior and expectations of what it means to fit in at the workplace.

On a daily basis, we need to drive change by, inspiring our leaders, our employees, our peers to be willing to put their whole selves out there. Though it may be uncomfortable, if we approach it with sensitivity and kindness, I truly believe it will open people up, and strengthen the team.

As a gay man, I could offend a member of the LGBTQIA+ community, perhaps someone who is trans by using the incorrect pronoun. Of course, that could happen. Should I therefore be afraid to interact with this person in a supportive way? Absolutely not. If I make a mistake, I should own it and apologize for it.

We shouldn’t be afraid to have these tough conversations.

What is your advice for other leaders on how to create inclusive workplaces, particularly for LGBTQIA+ workers, in today’s ever-changing landscape?

It starts by ensuring that when a diverse candidate is seeking information on your brand, they are seeing evidence that supports a diverse and inclusive culture. It isn’t enough to add the word ‘diversity’ in a job ad. Culture matters. Increasingly, candidates want to work in an environment where the company’s culture is aligned with their way of thinking. They’re going to do research, and if they’re not able to find evidence that your company embraces diversity and inclusivity, they’re likely be less inclined to apply.

In the hiring process, we need to remember that many people from diverse backgrounds have not been offered the same opportunities as others. As a result, they may not have the same credentials on their resume as another candidate. It doesn’t mean they aren’t as capable of doing the job. We have to rethink how we’re qualifying a candidate to even bring them in for the interview process.

Many companies are rethinking whether a college degree should be a requirement for skilled jobs. Do they need to have certain skills? Yes. Does it require a degree? Not necessarily. It starts with rethinking what is required. What are the barriers we will put in front of candidates which may intimidate them to apply for a job? What are you going to do in the interview process to demonstrate your company’s focus on diversity and inclusion? The truth is, there are very few companies that are as diverse as they should be. We should acknowledge that, and also let candidates know that we are working to foster a culture of inclusivity and diversity and that it matters. We should share this with every candidate. If we are going to foster that environment, it’s important that everyone knows that this is a part of our culture and everyone’s job.

You adopted a daughter. How has that experience shaped your views?

Having a kid just transforms your life in every way. Your priorities change. The way you think about life changes. All you care about is their well-being and that they’re thriving. Before I even started the adoption process, I knew that there are too many children that desperately need a good home and parents who will love them. It doesn’t matter where they came from — these children deserve a chance. When I got into the adoption process with my partner at the time, we were blown away by how many children are out there. While their stories are tragic, these kids are wonderful and deserve a chance at happiness. For us, it was super easy to make the call that we wanted to adopt.

I don’t consider myself a spiritual person when I read my daughter’s profile, I knew she was my daughter. I cannot explain why. But I knew she was, before even meeting her. Of course, now she is my Karma. She exhausts me and thrills me every day. She’s amazing. She’s an incredibly social, smart, caring person who blows me away. I can’t say enough good things about the experience. I hope just one person who reads this story and might be considering alternative options to welcoming a child into their life will give adoption another look. They won’t regret it.