Walk the walk: How 5 Boston companies are working toward a more diverse workplace

by Justine Hofherr
October 10, 2018

Many tech companies talk about diversity and inclusivity in abstract terms, but struggle to enact their values in reality.

The following Boston companies are putting those values into action. From revising their recruiting and hiring processes to partnering with community initiatives, these businesses are walking the walk to build more diverse, welcoming workplaces.

 

levelup
photo via levelup

Next-generation payment platform LevelUp knows there’s a lot at stake in cultivating a diverse workplace, including the success of your business. That’s why their people ops team leads the charge to maintain an inclusive environment, which includes hosting events at their office with groups such as She Geeks Out and Prospanica, and attending job fairs with a focus on diverse talent pools such as the LatPro Job Fair. They also had an amazing contingent of employees walk in the Boston Pride Parade this year and have their own Rainbow Group internally for members of the LGBTQ+ community. Members of LevelUp’s recruiting team shared why they take this matter so seriously.

 

What is the biggest pain point for the tech sector in diversifying the workplace?

The fact that most of the decision makers and leaders within the tech sector who should be driving and championing these diversity and inclusivity initiatives don’t necessarily come from diverse backgrounds themselves. Currently, diversity is usually measured as a numbers game focused solely on the quantity of people from diverse backgrounds brought into the company. While that’s a great start, it should also be measured by the growth opportunities and influence these people have within their organizations. Ultimately, everyone should be given a voice in these conversations, especially those who come from the communities and backgrounds we are looking to bring more into the tech sector. As these communities grow within tech and have more influence on a company’s decisions, we’ll be able to see the valuable perspective and impact they bring to the workplace.

 

What does diversity bring to the tech sector?

To put it simply: talent. But it goes much deeper than that. There are entire pools of people with the perspective and talent to solve important problems in the tech sector who just don’t have the opportunity to do so because of certain barriers. As we move toward a workforce that accurately represents the world it’s building technology for, we’re engineering products and services that have a more meaningful and significant impact to a wider range of people and communities. Diversity in thought, background, experience and ideas will be critical to building things that meet the demands of an increasingly global market.

 

datadog
photo via Datadog

At Datadog, a monitoring service for hybrid cloud applications, Recruiter Tabitha Upton said partnerships with organizations focused on diversity initiatives like Women in Sales, Tech Ladies, the Flatiron School, Out in Tech, General Assembly and Grace Hopper are crucial to moving the needle. Datadog not only supports these organizations in the Boston community and across their other geographies, but they also proactively sponsor and participate in events and bootcamps.

 

What is the biggest pain point for the tech sector in diversifying the workplace?

People believe diversity is having underrepresented candidates in the recruiting pipeline. They often forget that while it is important to hire underrepresented people, it’s also important to retain diverse employees and create an inclusive environment.

We have created support groups and affinity groups that allow open communication and connection across communities in our global teams that connect individuals with similar interests. Employees often create groups like our Women’s Lunch and Slack channels like Gaytadog and a Korean channel. We operate under the philosophy that, if something doesn’t already exist, feel empowered to create it.

 

What does diversity bring to the tech sector?

Diversity in the tech sector brings diversity of thought. Each person has different perspectives based on their unique experiences and ways of thinking. This enables teams to tackle difficult projects better and faster. The key to this, though, is enabling employees to feel comfortable sharing their perspectives and opinions, which is why creating an inclusive and safe environment is so important.

 

markforged
photo via markforged

Emma Plouffe, Markforged's head of people ops, said the 3D printing company said they recognize that promoting diversity is a continuous process, with no end point. At Markforged, one of their employee groups, Woman at Markforged (WAM) has been hosting inclusive events: most recently, WAM sponsored an around-the-world potluck and the screening of the movie, "Hidden Figures." 

 

What is the biggest pain point for the tech sector as they aim to diversify the workplace? What's the solution?

The biggest challenge for the tech sector is conquering the myths and biases, both conscious and unconscious, that inhibit diversity. This is a moving target that requires leadership on a company level, not just in recruiting. It's important that we continue, as an industry, to learn from each other's successes – and failures – and strive to be be better. 

 

What does diversity bring to the tech sector, particularly the engineering branch of tech? 

Diversity is the key to creativity, crucial for solving the engineering challenges of bringing new products to life. It's the heart of innovation, and a recent study by the Boston Consulting Group confirmed what we already suspected: diversity is an integral part of a successful and profitable company, with diverse companies generating 19 percent more revenue than their non-diverse counterparts. 

 

slalom
photo via slalom

Business and tech consulting firm Slalom takes an active approach in creating a diverse workplace. Each market has a dedicated inclusivity and diversity ambassador, and six affinity groups that operate formally within Slalom, including Women’s Leadership Network and Unidos, an organization that advocates for the rights of Latinos. Nancie Halfmann, talent acquisition manager, shares her company’s take on the lack of diversity in tech.

 

What is the biggest pain point for the tech sector in diversifying the workplace?

The biggest pain point is recruiting highly qualified diverse candidates and female candidates. Our solution is to think differently around the way we recruit. Attracting diverse talent requires the efforts of all employees, not just our talent acquisition professionals. We are building partnerships with organizations such as Women in Technology, sponsoring conferences like Grace Hopper, and working with university programs that are educating the next wave of women in the workplace intentionally by focusing on tech degrees.

 

What does diversity bring to the tech sector?

The benefits of a diverse team are well researched and documented. As a consulting firm, it means that we are able to be more creative and innovative in finding solutions for our customers. We are able to approach problems differently and challenge each other to really think outside the box.

 

ellevation education
photo via ellevation

Ellevation Education, a company that provides administrative and data management tools for English as a Second Language teachers, is already changing the status quo for the tech industry with its impressive internal stats: More than 60 percent of the company is female, and 25 percent of the software development and product team is made up of women. Mayya Bozhilova, people operations manager, shared how the company has achieved such an impressive representation of women in tech.

What programs and initiatives does your company have in place to promote diversity and inclusivity?

Over the last year, we almost doubled the number of employees working at Ellevation, and through this expansion, we continued to make diversity a priority. We believe that people from diverse backgrounds bring different experiences and diversity of thought to produce an innovative product. We ensure that all candidates go through a standard hiring process, including questions on values alignment rather than “culture fit,” to ensure each candidate is given an equal opportunity and to limit potential bias in the process.

We invested in a workshop for hiring managers on the topic of mitigating unconscious bias. The results of our diverse hiring practices are evident; we have employees from all over the world and over 60 percent are female. A few team members took initiative to form a diversity affinity group, focused on providing a safe space to talk about topics around diversity, equity and inclusion. They’ve been hosting events and Slack chats on topics like, working in the tech industry, privilege and mental health. Ellevation also added an option to share preferred pronouns in our HRIS system and we have invested in a new employee engagement survey tool, Culture Amp, that provides more transparency into our people data.

 

What is the biggest pain point for the tech sector in diversifying the workplace?

It is not a secret that the tech sector historically has been lacking diversity. There are multiple reasons for the racial and gender inequalities, such as unequal access to education. Minority groups, particularly those in economically struggling communities, have less access to STEM programs, resources, and higher education focusing on STEM. Investments in STEM programs, boot camps and access to education for minority groups could really change the demographics in the tech sector. Last year at Ellevation, we held an employee fundraiser and donated the proceeds to two amazing organizations that are promoting computer literacy and educator training in Puerto Rico. Investing in organizations and K-12 STEM education, particularly for minority groups, may not change the tech sector overnight, but will help pave the way for equal opportunities moving forward.

 

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