With a mission to close the education gap among English-language learners in schools across the country, Ellevation Education understands the importance of empathizing with diverse backgrounds when programming its software platform — so much so that Ellevation has made diversity and inclusion a cornerstone of its internal culture.
We spoke with three team members who are involved in the company’s D&I initiatives to learn how leadership supports these actions and why recognizing these important traits are central to a strong company culture.
EMPLOYEES: 120; 85 locally
WHAT THEY DO: Ellevation is a mission-driven technology company that partners with public school districts across the country to develop software that supports the fastest growing population of K-12 students: English language learners (ELLs).
WHERE THEY DO IT: Boston and remotely
DELL: The Diversity for Ellevation affinity group (DELL) is intended to facilitate interaction and organize activities that support the sustained conversation on the subject of diversity and leadership.
FLEXIBILITY: Employees enjoy a flexible work schedule that allows them to take time when needed to attend to their personal needs and life demands.
ALL-COMPANY OFFSITE: Biannually, the entire team gathers in Boston for two full days of professional development workshops, team building exercises and deep dives into the work Ellevation is doing. The offsite culminates with a celebratory party.
Kerrel Brown, New Business Marketing Manager
Kerrel is responsible for developing communications that provide educators with valuable resources to support their work as well as information on how Ellevation can help them solve challenges.
BEYOND WORK: Kerrel loves crocheting and is currently working on a hoodie for a friend’s first baby.
What is your background? How did it lead you to Ellevation Education?
I came to this country at a young age and my parents instilled in me the importance of education in achieving my dreams. As I got older and realized that access to opportunity is not, in fact, equitable, I became passionate about helping underserved populations, particularly other immigrants, close the opportunity gap.
I was elated to find Ellevation, which combined my desire for a mission-driven company with a focus on education and the fast-paced environment in which I thrive.
I was elated to find Ellevation, which combined my desire for a mission-driven company with a focus on education and the fast-paced environment in which I thrive.”
You co-founded the company’s first affinity group, DELL, which promotes diversity and inclusion at Ellevation. Tell us how that initiative developed.
I was initially skeptical when Greg Anderson (profiled below) first brought the idea to me. There wasn’t any other affinity group at Ellevation, nor had I previously worked anywhere where such a group existed, so I wasn’t sure how effective it actually would be. But, as we talked further about shared experiences, I realized that a group like DELL was something we could all benefit from. Ellevation has continued to give DELL the time and space to have events with participation from every team and department across the company.
You worked in the Boston office before moving to Washington, D.C. How did Ellevation support your move? How does the company help you feel included even though you work remotely?
My manager and team were supportive from the very beginning. I was encouraged to take time off to not only move and get settled but also to explore my new city and surroundings. Between Zoom and Slack, I hardly notice I’m not even in the office anymore! I see and speak to my colleagues on a regular basis and never feel like I can’t reach team members when needed. It’s not uncommon to jump on a quick Zoom call with team members to troubleshoot or brainstorm, which feels like I have the same access and support as collaborating across the pod of desks.
Greg Anderson, Senior Implementation Manager
Greg works with school districts to build and customize their platform to best meet their individual needs.
BEYOND WORK: Greg enjoys writing and performing spoken word.
What spurred your passion for education?
My mother was a special education teacher and she taught me the importance of helping everyone, particularly those in need. While obtaining my bachelor’s in sociology, I continued to learn more about the impact that education can have within people’s lives and developed a belief that it can be a great equalizer in promoting social, professional and personal growth. It may not be the only factor, but I think access to quality education can save lives.
What inspired you to co-found DELL?
Around a year and a half ago, many of my coworkers were discussing a recent film, “La La Land.” However, I did not hear anyone discussing another film released around the same time, “Moonlight.” This surprised me due to the impact that the film was having within my own friendship circles due to the display of homosexuality within the black community — an often taboo topic.
I reached out to some of my coworkers, who were predominantly people of color, and we began to discuss a common theme: often in the working environment, diverse topics were not as actively discussed. In fact, some of my coworkers had encountered the subtleties and more overt examples of racism within their social and professional lives. So, we set to work to create an affinity group focused on building a safe space to discuss topics focused on diversity and inclusion. We hoped this would also help members grow professionally, personally and socially as we learned from each other and shared our individual experiences.
We hoped [DELL] would also help members grow professionally, personally and socially as we learned from each other and shared our individual experiences.”
Outside of DELL, how does the company support diversity and inclusion?
Our people operations team continually has diversity and inclusion in mind. They share reports detailing the demographics of the company, including average compensation that particular groups make. Unconscious bias training was also made available for any employee to take. Some of our leaders have also worked with people operations to boost applications from people of color for roles within their teams.
Colleen Sharry, Product Education Designer
Colleen is responsible for the development and design of the customer-centered product education program that supports educators as they configure and use Ellevation’s software product.
BEYOND WORK: Colleen loves traveling and planning trips with friends. She comes prepared with an itinerary but jumps at the chance to deviate from the plan.
How is Ellevation's culture different than previous companies in which you've worked?
One of my favorite things about Ellevation is the people who work here. We have a diverse group of people who come from different backgrounds, have had varied life experiences and live all over the country, but we all come together to work towards our mission. There’s a strong feeling of mutual responsibility and care within our organization. Our CEO, Jordan, even took the time to meet with me during the interview process.
There’s a strong feeling of mutual responsibility and care within our organization.”
How has your role evolved since joining Ellevation?
I started at Ellevation in a client-facing project management role as an implementation manager in January 2017. I learned a lot about our customers and our product in that role, which has set me up to understand and empathize with our customers throughout my time at Ellevation. After about 10 months as an implementation manager, an instructional designer role opened up internally and one of my coworkers recommended that I apply for it. It was a great fit for me, allowing me to combine my background as an editor and content creator with what I learned in my time as an IM.
After a year, I moved into a new role as a product education designer on the newly formed product education team within our partner success organization. In this new role, I’m really focused on providing scalable and consistent asynchronous support for the users of Ellevation.
How do you participate in the company culture despite being on a small team?
I seek out opportunities to share and collaborate with people across the organization as often as possible. Since its founding, DELL has been a great place for me to connect with my coworkers and participate in the company culture. Also, we have rituals that bring us together for work and fun, such as biweekly company-wide meetings, DevPro Demo Fridays, monthly catered lunches, and drinks in the kitchen on Friday afternoons. I also participate enthusiastically in our annual hackathon event and our all-company offsite — I can usually be found doing karaoke with my coworkers during the offsite!