Driving diversity: How 3 NYC tech companies are changing the industry

by Katie Fustich
June 13, 2018

Diversity is more than just a buzzword — it’s an industry-changing revolution that has come far in recent years, yet still has a long way to  go. Statistics indicate that the majority of tech employees fit the homogenous stereotypes we’ve grown accustomed to, but powerful efforts are being made to change this. Built In NYC spoke to three NYC tech companies about what diversity means to them, and how it is changing their culture for the better.


image via foursquare

As a creator of location-based tools that help people find their way around the world, Foursquare understands the power of diversity. The company’s Senior Vice President of Human Resources Meghan Lapides explained to Built In NYC how the company’s mission is directly integrated with it’s drive for diversity.


In recent years, what programs and initiatives have been used to elevate the diversity of your team?

We have a working group that exists to work on diversity and inclusion initiatives, be advocates and allies, and foster open communication. The group’s three pillars of focus are the following: recruit and retain diverse talent, cultivate a diverse and inclusive culture, and stay committed to the advancement of STEM education and career opportunities for all. To that end, we actively partner with NYC Tech Talent Pipeline (which I am on the advisory board for), Coalition for Queens, Code/Interactive, Fresh Air Fund, Girls in Tech, Girls Who Code, Out in Tech, OUTC, Paradigm, ScriptEd, West Mentorship, Women in Tech and Women Who Code.

We’ve also held mandatory training sessions on unconscious bias as well as workplace sexual harassment. Additionally, we’ve recently embarked on a partnership with Paradigm Consulting to do an intensive assessment of all of our policies, procedures and practices to ensure we are doing everything in a fair and inclusive way that allows for people of all backgrounds to be successful.


What would you say is the biggest pain point for the tech sector as they aim to diversify the workplace? What do you feel is the solution?

The biggest pain point in the tech sector is that not enough companies are prioritizing diversity and inclusion efforts in their hiring practices. These types of necessary changes do not happen overnight, and require significant effort and support from the entire organization. I’m really proud that diversity is something that Foursquare has prioritized and has invested a lot of time and resources into reinforcing. Everyone here truly understands the benefits of diverse thinking, which can only come from having a diverse team, and are relentless in their pursuit of fostering an environment that is inclusive for all. We know that we have a lot of work to do, but we are doing it with the full support of our senior leadership and all employees.


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

Our mission at Foursquare is to invent the future of location, giving millions of people around the globe the tools to better understand the world and how they interact with it. To do this accurately and effectively, we need a diverse team. The community we serve includes 50 million people around the globe who love our apps, Foursquare City Guide and Foursquare Swarm, as well as a robust community of global developers, each of whom has a particular background and need that we hope to address. Our technology touches people in every corner of the earth, and we believe strongly that it takes many perspectives and points of view to create products that can benefit everyone.


image via harry's

Though Harry’s is a men’s grooming company, the culture behind the scenes tells an entirely different story: it takes a wide-ranging team to create a top of the line product. Vice President of Engineering Christina Wick walked Built In NYC through the company’s robust onboarding process, and the company culture that keeps that spirit alive.


In recent years, what programs and trainings have been used to elevate the diversity of your team?

Our founders were conscious of wanting to build a diverse team from day one — they knew it would be important to our culture and business, while recognizing it might be even more challenging to hire great women given that we’re a men’s brand.

We think about diversity before anyone even steps through the door, and our recruiting team has worked with external experts and consultants to remove as much bias as we can.  Research shows that process is the enemy of bias, so we’ve implemented a rigorous recruiting process. We work with hiring managers to create scorecards that outline the criteria we are looking for in a candidate in order to create a consistent set of questions that we use for every interview. We’ve also implemented the "Rooney rule" for searches for directors and above, where we try to have at least three onsite interviews with candidates from underrepresented backgrounds before making an offer.Once someone is in the door, our focus shifts from diversity toward fairness and inclusion, in order to create an environment where people of all backgrounds, life stages and skill-sets are set up to succeed. To that end, we’ve created employee resource groups for people to build community among those who identify similarly, conducted company-wide unconscious bias training, created a rigorous compensation process to ensure people are paid fairly, and have brought diverse speakers to Harry’s.


What would you say is the biggest pain point for the tech sector as they aim to diversify the workplace? What do you feel is the solution?

I think the biggest pain point is found at the top of the funnel. I don’t mean when people are thinking about what college degree to pursue, but in high school, middle school and even elementary school.  

When my daughter Victoria was 8 years old, she came home and told me the boys at school told her girls can’t program so she wanted to give up trying to learn how to program. I told her she can be whatever she wants to be and that  her older sister and many women that I have worked with are fantastic programmers and it had nothing to do with gender.

So how do we have more diverse leadership teams across the industry? In order to do this, we need more diverse candidates entering and staying in the industry, which means we need programs to support and coach our children at a young age to embrace the tech industry and not let things like gender, age, race, etc. stop them from even trying.  


image via stride

Every day, Stride Consulting helps engineering teams become the best they can be. While the agency works with a variety of clients to provide technical mentorship, they also maintain a powerful internal focus on diversity. Founder and CEO Debbie Madden shared her perspective on what it takes for real diversity to blossom.


In recent years, what programs and initiatives have been used to elevate the diversity of your team?

All of our initiatives are volunteer led, and this is a key point. The worst thing a company can do is require employees to care about diversity and force individuals to take on initiatives. The most impactful initiatives we’ve used to elevate the diversity of our team are a zero tolerance policy on harassment and equal pay. Teams make the mistake of thinking that increasing diversity starts with going out and finding a bunch of women or people of color and hiring them. This is a myth. Diversity starts with ensuring your current work environment is fair to all and safe for all.


What would you say is the biggest pain point for the tech sector as they aim to diversify the workplace? What do you feel is the solution?

The biggest pain point for our sector is a true understanding of a clear path forward for improving diversity and inclusion. The biases we face are largely unconscious, and therefore invisible and harder to combat. Sure, there are the blatantly “bro-ish” cultures out there, but they are few. The biggest pain point is the lack of understanding of how to improve diversity. The solution is ending harassment and providing equal pay. These two things are complex, yet they are possible for every single team.


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

Everything. Diverse teams are smarter. It’s a proven fact. Reason being, when I sit across the table from someone that looks like me, I assume we align on thinking, and therefore I ask fewer questions. When I sit across the table from someone that doesn’t look like me, I assume we don’t align on thinking, and I ask more questions. More questions are better. Everything we do —  from writing code, to sales and marketing — gets better the more diverse our team becomes.

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