The knock at the door that changed my life forever

When Talent Sourcing Lead Refilwe Gaobepe opened her home to her neighbor’s three children, she found support and community in unexpected places.

Nearly two years ago, I found myself in a situation that changed my life in ways I could have never imagined. I was working from home one day when there was a ring at my front door.  

When I opened it, I stood gazing at three small children, the youngest being a toddler. The oldest, who I recognized because I’d seen him before, told me their mother (my neighbor who I had not seen in several years) had abandoned them. I brought them into my house—as a mother of a now-teenaged son, I knew I needed to make sure these children were clean, fed, warm, and safe.  

We involved the authorities, but after weeks went by and they couldn’t locate the children’s mother, my husband and I decided to take them in permanently. That’s where our journey together began. I had no clue what would happen from there onward.  

In those first months with three small children at home, I dropped the ball a bit on the work front. Noticing the shift in my work habits—arriving late to meetings and contributing less—my manager expressed some concern. After I shared my story with her and my team, they sprang into action, sending a truck full of items for the children to my home and even sending Christmas gifts. I also received a month of parental leave, a time I needed to focus on settling in with my new family.  

Being a mother of four has forced me to reevaluate my priorities at work. I used to be fully engaged and available, but now I have had to reduce my capacity. Thankfully, my team has been incredibly supportive, allowing me the space to ask for and receive help when I need it.  

With my son being much older, I had forgotten the challenges of parenting a toddler. I would ask, “Am I the only one going through this?” Joining the Families at Microsoft Employee Resource Group (ERG) has been a lifeline for me. It has given me the opportunity to hear from other parents about how they’re dealing with these challenges and offer my own insights to the newer parents.  

People don’t always talk about how parenting can make you feel and how sometimes it is just the scariest thing that you could ever do, to be honest. Families at Microsoft has made me recognize and understand that the journey that I’m going through is a journey that most parents are going through. And that has made it OK. Their compassion, empathy, and support give me the strength and energy to want to do better and push further, both at home and at work.  

As a talent sourcing lead at Microsoft, I am responsible for hiring for investment projects that have a specific time frame and targets. Our team faced challenges with meeting our targets quickly enough. Sometimes in anticipation of the next round of candidates, the business declined candidates. Recognizing that this process wasn’t working for us, I reviewed our candidate pool with the goal of rethinking what makes a “qualified candidate.” This meant looking at the skills of unsuccessful candidates and asking whether the gap could be remedied with simple training. I presented my case to the business, which motivated us to have real conversations about our hiring goals and to revisit some of our previous candidates, ultimately leading to a more robust hiring process. 

This experience showed me the importance of looking at the whole spectrum and asking, “If given the opportunity, what can this person bring to the table?” Being open to new ideas and approaches can help us achieve our goals and make our workplaces more inclusive. It would be unfair to say, “Get rid of your unconscious bias completely,” because it is unconscious. But you can be conscious of your biases and constantly question yourself before you make a decision. 

As my community has modeled for me, inclusion means thinking about everyone on your team and ensuring everybody’s voice is heard. Inclusion is about going to your silent thinkers and asking what they think. What is their contribution? When people feel that they belong, they can be their best. They can bring in the best of ideas and really shine.

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