Moving the needle: How 5 companies launched impactful diversity initiatives

by Liz Warren
October 24, 2018

Diversity in the workplace is a tough topic, but an important one — and the reasoning goes far beyond basic ethics. Not only is having an inclusive office more welcoming for employees, but it’s also good for business. According to a 2018 McKinsey report, diversity and profitability are “clearly correlated.”

While many NYC tech companies have been conscious of diversity and inclusivity for years now, a number of them have recently stepped up their initiatives. We talked to five HR and talent professionals who walked us through their most successful programs.


image via dataminr

Manager of Technical Recruiting Kenji Porter has been at Dataminr, an information discovery company, for about three years. During that time, he’s helped drive initiatives that bring employees of all backgrounds together, building a more connected, innovative and inclusive company.


How do you promote diversity and inclusivity in the workplace?

We work hard to provide a welcoming and supportive environment through policies and practices. For example, we ask new hires what their preferred pronoun is. We provide generous leave to parents and reservists. We enable everyone at meetings to have a voice and to hold each other accountable for demonstrating empathy, a core Dataminr value. Additionally, we launched “Together@Dataminr,” our company-sponsored, employee-led program that drives a variety of diversity and inclusion efforts in partnership with our executive leadership team. These include internal education and training sessions, community outreach initiatives and recruiting events aimed at engaging diverse talent pools.


Why is keeping diversity and inclusivity top of mind important for your culture?

When people feel comfortable being their authentic selves, they are more likely to be creative, take bigger risks and perform at higher levels. Prioritizing diversity and inclusivity is critical for a company and its people to reach their full potential. It’s more than creating an environment with people from different backgrounds — it's also encouraging diversity of thought and empowering everyone to share ideas, participate in initiatives for positive change and make meaningful contributions. I’m proud to work for a company that values and includes different perspectives in everything we do.

image via newsela

Diversity programs within Newsela are an extension of the instructional content platform’s mission: to give students from all backgrounds the same opportunities for advancement. Chief People Officer Eric Bacolas walked us through the team’s initiatives.


How do you promote diversity and inclusivity in the workplace?

We start from the interview process, where we do our best to assemble a diverse interview panel that’s designed to both expose candidates to many different perspectives across Newsela as well as reduce bias in selection. Once hired, people go through an orientation that includes a session on EQ (emotional intelligence), where they build further self awareness and are given tools to understand people’s differences. In addition to that, we’re beginning to do more with affinity groups at Newsela to continue creating a place of belonging and to bring in a broad array of voices and perspectives in our policies and practices.


Why is keeping diversity and inclusivity top of mind important for your culture?

Newsela is a tech platform founded with the understanding that every child learns differently. In order to give each student the same opportunities for advancement in the world — regardless of reading level, gender, ethnicity, cultural or socioeconomic background — we would need to “unlock the written word for everyone.” With a mission like that, diversity is just an underlying part of who we are. Creating an inclusive culture is not only important to the people who choose to join us — it also helps us best support and serve our diverse userbase of teachers and students.


image via stash

As a company that builds financial tools for the average American, Stash is focused on diversity and inclusion inside and out. VP of People Operations Natalie Ledbetter, who was employee number 28, discusses all of the ways they keep an inclusive company culture.


How do you promote diversity and inclusivity in the workplace?

We continuously assess and improve the way that we are hiring based on the candidates that we are bringing in. If we’re getting a homogeneous set of candidates for particular roles, we make it a priority to go back and tweak the way that we’re working. While there's no silver bullet, I can say that we have managed to hire and retain a staff that’s 49 percent non-white and nearly 40 percent women.

As far as inclusion initiatives, we engage in Lean-In Circles and have frequent celebrations for holidays that our employees align with. We just did a month-long celebration for Hispanic Heritage month, where we patronized only Hispanic-owned businesses for our Friday team lunches, held a drive for a charity that services a large Hispanic population and did a team ride at Swerve to the sounds of Latin music. Additionally, we observe Diwali, Chinese New Year, Pride month and a whole host of other historical celebrations and holidays.


Why is keeping diversity and inclusivity top of mind important for your culture?

Keeping diversity and inclusion at the forefront is incredibly important to us for a myriad of reasons. First, there are endless studies that show that the most diverse teams build the best products. Having a diverse set of eyes, with a range of life experiences as lenses, allows us to spot holes or potential pitfalls much more proactively. Second, if we are building products for the everyday American, and not just the one percent, we need to be representative of them!


image via vts

Recruiting Manager Whitney Clark has been with VTS, a leasing and asset management platform, for three years. She explains the company’s diversity initiatives and how instilling them has created a more open, encouraging workplace.


How do you promote diversity and inclusivity in the workplace?

One of our key initiatives this year has been to build a diverse and inclusive work environment, which we are tackling with a three-prong approach of leadership, recruiting and environment. We have established a diversity committee and unconscious bias training company-wide. Within recruiting, we have rolled out a values interview to reduce bias in the interview process, and partnered with several organizations in New York to host events focused on increasing diversity within our product, engineering and design teams. We also architect our interview process with inclusivity in mind, making sure our interview panel represents the diversity of our team.


Why is keeping diversity and inclusivity top of mind important for your culture?

We want to ensure that every team member brings a full expression of themselves — including their unique experiences, thoughts and backgrounds — to their work. By including diverse perspectives, it enables us to better serve our clients and build the best products. Overall, making people feel valued and included makes VTS a place where people are excited to come to work every day.


image via yotpo

To determine how it can be more inclusive, marketing tech company Yotpo collects surveys straight from its employees. By doing so, they’ve identified several areas in which they can create a more welcoming environment. Senior Talent Acquisition Specialist Stevie Cogan explains more.


How do you promote diversity and inclusivity in the workplace?

Not only is it important to seek out and welcome unique backgrounds but once a person joins, it’s essential to create an environment in which each person is heard, appreciated and recognized for any sort of difference.

To track our progress, Yotpo conducts bi-annual surveys to collect feedback from our employees. That survey inspired our Women at Work group where we discuss the trends, challenges, and issues women and other marginalized groups face in the workplace, especially in the tech industry. It inspired our Pride Month initiatives including choosing to donate to the Equity Fights AIDS charity that month. It also shows us where we still need improvement: celebrations for Black History and Hispanic Heritage months, involvement in Pride Planning from both LGBTQ+ employees and allies, in addition to prioritizing hiring and promoting more females into leadership.


Why is keeping diversity and inclusivity top of mind important for your culture? 

It’s simply the right thing to do. The easy thing to do is sweep it under the rug — having open (and sometimes uncomfortable) conversations is harder. However, the only way to ensure that we are progressing in the right direction is to welcome other perspectives and evolve from a variety of backgrounds. If you don’t keep it top of mind, the next time you look up, you’ll be surrounded by much of the same.

Yotpo’s not perfect, but prioritizing diversity in our individuals’ backgrounds, experiences and thought processes continues to be at the forefront of our growing team. There are always ways to improve, and we’re proud that our leadership has made diversity this year’s global initiative.


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