How diversity drives innovation at 5 Boston tech companies

by Justine Hofherr
January 29, 2019

Tech companies know that having a workforce with a diversity of thought and experience is beneficial for both recruitment and retaining talent — but what may be more surprising is the impact diversity can have on a company’s bottom line.

That’s right: A study by Harvard Business Review showed that companies with diverse teams “out-innovate” and “out-perform” their more homogeneous counterparts. In fact, employees at these companies were 45 percent more likely to report that their firm’s market share grew over the previous year and 70 percent more likely to report that the firm captured a new market.

Those aren’t small numbers.

We caught up with employees at five local tech companies who shared how diversity drives innovation at their workplaces.

 

loseit
photo via lose it

Software Engineer Novall Khan said that before she started working at fitness tech startup Lose It, she was typically the only female engineer in the room — something that often made open communication difficult.

 

How does having a diverse team shape your work?

Being a woman in engineering and coming from a biracial background, I’m dedicated to being part of a company that supports my career and viewpoints just as it would anyone else — but also a company that honors the variety that diverse backgrounds can bring. Lose It! is the first company where I’ve worked with other female engineers on my direct team — and we have multiple.

Having female colleagues on the team has improved our communication. In the past, I’ve defaulted to having conversations in Slack, or feeling like I had to solve a big problem on my own. Having colleagues with similar communication styles has allowed me to feel comfortable working through a big, complex problem in person. With these in-person conversations, we are getting deeper into the problems than we would have if we were chatting online.

Lose It! is the first company where I’ve worked with other female engineers on my direct team.”

 

How will your company continue to strengthen its diversity and inclusion initiatives?

Because our company is obsessed with learning and improving, we are always actively trying to get alternative views from different places; it’s what allows us to keep innovating. This breeds diversity, not just in terms of color or gender, but also in thought process, skills, experiences and worldview.

Every two months, our company goes through a weeklong planning process where every single employee at the company has an opportunity to present ideas that they think should be worked on. Every employee also provides their input into the final list of items that we’ll work on over the next two months. 

 

panorama education
photo via panorama education

Panorama Education’s software helps educators monitor how their students are doing across academics, behavior and college readiness. Having a diverse team helps the company intuit the needs of diverse school communities, according to Account Manager Presceia Cooper.

 

How does having a diverse team shape your work?

Diversity, equity and inclusion is critical for the work that we do. To achieve the impact we want to have on the outcomes of students nationwide, we seek to be a team that reflects the diversity of those students and models the inclusive and equitable environments we hope to help schools and districts foster. This belief informs our internal talent practices and drives the way we support our school and district partners. The work we do with our partners highlights the experiences of students beyond academics, and we hope that the data they receive through our survey instruments and early-warning system, Student Success, allows education leaders to more strategically support all students — especially those from historically marginalized populations.

 

Diversity is incredibly important, but we know that it cannot be separated from equity and inclusion.”

 

How will your company continue to strengthen its diversity and inclusion initiatives?

In 2019, Panorama Education will implement a DEI Strategic Plan, which comprehensively outlines the goals, key milestones and activities that will support the organization in achieving its goals. An important step in drafting this plan was defining what diversity, equity and inclusion mean to our company, recognizing that each pillar deserves its own definition and focus. Diversity is incredibly important, but we know that it cannot be separated from equity and inclusion, and that intentionality in all three areas will make us an even stronger organization. As a member of Panorama’s DEI Working Group, I’m excited for the plan’s official rollout and the continued learning I’m sure we will do together as a team.

 

mineraltree
photo via mineraltree

Daniela Joggi, human resources manager, people and culture, said fintech startup MineralTree is committed to diversity of thought in its workforce — something they enforce by hiring engineers at all different levels of experience.

 

How does having a diverse team shape your work?

The MineralTree team consists of 70 passionate individuals that bring unique perspectives to the work we do. Core to our growth strategy is our focus on building a diverse workforce that supports creative thinking, and ultimately elevates the quality of our AP Automation product to the highest possible level. For example, on our engineering team, we have gone out of our way to ensure we have seasoned experts, who have already enjoyed long and successful careers, working alongside entry-level engineers who are recent college graduates.

That variety creates a loop of continuous learning. Our experienced engineers impart wisdom to junior team members, and our junior team members introduce fresh ideas that sharpen existing methodologies. But beyond our engineering team, this diversity of backgrounds is a key to maintaining a balanced perspective across all business functions. In doing so, we are able to bring innovative ideas to market that ultimately make life better for our customers.

 

Our experienced engineers impart wisdom to junior team members, and our junior team members introduce fresh ideas.”

 

How will your company continue to strengthen its diversity and inclusion initiatives?

Diversity is discussed regularly at the senior levels of our team, and is recognized as a key factor to our company’s success. Strengthening our diversity and inclusion initiatives is an ongoing focus for our organization. As we continue to hone the diverse hiring practices we’ve employed so far, we’ll be following the example of companies that have established themselves as champions of D&I.

In 2019, a couple of ways we will strengthen these initiatives include: Establishing a stronger presence at conferences and local meetups hosted by organizations like Women in Tech and Tech Inclusion, and building a process for bringing new ideas to our leadership team. As we continue to grow as a company, we are looking for employees who will not only support, but also participate in, accomplishing these goals.

 

bookbub
photo via bookbub

BookBub helps millions of readers, and thousands of publishers, discover new authors. In order to foster these connections, Jordan Weiner, people operations, explained that the company must authentically reflect the diversity of its users.

 

How does having a diverse team shape your work?

Here at BookBub, we believe that building a team made up of people with different backgrounds, perspectives, and experiences makes us a stronger organization — one that is both high-performing and a great place to work. Our focus on diversity and inclusion helps us build products that resonate with the diversity of our readers and author and publisher partners, and supports us in attracting and retaining the employees we need to drive our overall growth and success as a startup.

Our focus on diversity and inclusion helps us build products that resonate with the diversity of our readers and author and publisher partners.”

 

How will your company continue to strengthen its diversity and inclusion initiatives?

Every year, one of our top company-wide priorities is our diversity and inclusion initiative, a cross-functional working group aimed at assessing and acting on inclusion work at BookBub. This year, we’re excited to have more than 40 employees from across all parts of the company participating on project teams. We’ll also continue to partner with leading D&I experts to design our annual company-wide engagement survey and facilitate unconscious bias workshops for employees.

We’ll always have more room for learning and growth. The results of our annual survey and the input we get from our employees drive our D&I priorities for the year and help us set tangible action steps. Currently, some of our priorities include continued work related to assessing and updating our recruitment strategy, continued opportunities for employee education and discussion, and efforts aimed to deepen our community outreach and impact.

 

wise systems
photo via wise systems

Wise Systems helps companies make real-time delivery decisions. Jemel Derbali, COO and co-founder, said having a team with a wide range of perspectives helps create a culture of understanding with customers.

 

How does having a diverse team shape your work?

Celebrating and valuing diversity are core values that the company was founded upon. We believe that having a range of skills, experience and perspectives always in the room strengthens the team and company. In practice, we maintain a culture that is inclusive and respectful of everyone, and work to recruit new team members from non-traditional and underrepresented backgrounds. This translates into products built by a team with a range of perspectives, a strong commitment to meeting our customers’ needs, and an ability to understand the many different roles we interact with in our customer environments.

 

We believe that having a range of skills, experience and perspectives always in the room strengthens the team and company.”

 

How will your company continue to strengthen its diversity and inclusion initiatives?

Every new hire at Wise Systems is an opportunity to align with our core values, so our recruiting processes are intentionally focused on seeking diverse candidate pools for all roles. As the company grows, ensuring that everyone understands, embodies and practices our values is something the leadership team is explicitly focused on. Beyond hiring, maintaining a kind, connected and respectful working culture benefits everyone in the company.

 

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