How diversity helped 5 NYC tech companies flourish

by Katie Fustich
January 29, 2019

While it’s exciting to think that the principles of “diversity and inclusion” have officially been elevated to buzzword status, it’s important to remember that true diversity goes far beyond simply talking the talk.

Built In NYC heard from five NYC tech companies in a range of fields to learn more about the concrete steps that tech leaders are taking to promote diversity within their companies, and within the tech world at large.  


image via harry's

Since its founding in 2013, Harry’s has led innovation in the world of professional grooming. Senior Manager of Learning and Development Rachel Peck explained to Built In NYC how this innovation stems directly from the company’s focus on diversity and inclusion from day one.


Pointing to specific examples, how does having a diverse team shape your work in term of results or the products you deliver to your clients?

Having a diverse team has always been something that’s important to our co-founders Jeff and Andy. As two men starting a men’s care brand, they were initially very conscious of building a diverse team with people who could bring unique experiences and perspectives to the brand, particularly as it related to gender diversity. Most recently, we’ve most recently seen that diversity pay off with the launch of Flamingo, a hair removal and body care brand for women. Flamingo has been a long time in the making and was catalyzed by several of our female leaders at Harry’s.


How does your company ensure that everyone is empowered to share their perspectives?

Much like fostering a diverse and inclusive team, creating a culture where there’s the psychological safety for everyone to feel comfortable sharing their perspectives is an ongoing effort. To this end, we ran unconscious bias training with the full company at an all-team offsite, which was an important step in opening the lines of communication on the issue and exposing the reality that often discriminatory or exclusive behavior is unintentional; as a result, we try to hold ourselves and each other accountable, while always assuming good intent. One of the ways we hold ourselves accountable and track progress is through a question in our engagement survey: “To what extent do you agree or disagree with the statement that Harry’s is an environment that welcomes all perspectives?” We then monitor if this issue disproportionately impacts any given demographic or team so that we can create more targeted roadmaps and plans to improve.


image via sevenrooms

As one of the largest hospitality platforms, catering to a range of restaurants, hotels and more around the world, SevenRooms knows diversity is key to the success of a global company. Director of Sales Laci Horner shared how this mentality is imbued into the company culture.


Pointing to specific examples, how does having a diverse team shape your work in term of results or the products you deliver to your clients?

One thing we teach all sales team members, no matter their background, is that empathy and diversity of thought are at the core of a successful sale. This goes hand in hand with having a diverse team, as it cultivates a focus on unique perspectives and challenges our team to think in a different way. By going beyond our comfort zone and broadening our horizons, it helps us to connect on a deeper level with a client, and have a greater understanding of their needs. This leads to faster resolution of pain points and unique avenues to tailored solutions. It’s where we win time and time again.


How does your company ensure that everyone is empowered to share their perspectives?

SevenRooms, from its inception, has been extremely focused on empowering women within the technology and hospitality sectors, which has led to further diversity initiatives across our entire company. Our leadership team ensures that each and every perspective is heard, and that inclusion has continued to take center stage as we’ve scaled up to almost 100 employees, with clients in 250 cities worldwide. Because of our focus on diversity from day one, it has enabled employees across all backgrounds to feel comfortable sharing their perspectives and know they’ll be heard. People can come to work with the freedom of being their whole self — however they identify — and know that they’ll be accepted and valued by their team for their contributions.


image via aircall

Aircall is building the next generation of business communication technology. Laurah Mwirichia, a member of Aircall’s content marketing team, shared how communication not only fuels the company’s product, but is also a core element of how that product gets built.  


Pointing to specific examples, how does having a diverse team shape your work in term of results or the products you deliver to your clients?

Diversity heavily affects how we do business. Different histories, cultures and languages are par-for-the course since we work with people from all over the world. It’s a well-known fact that diverse teams are more effective — so it was up to us to make sure that we didn’t lose sight of that. We are able to problem solve better and be more creative in our solutions. We can deliver amazing customer service because we have people from all over the globe, speaking several languages, who can connect with a client or potential partner in an instant. When we write, design, code, or create– we are getting feedback from people who see things differently from all different spectrums and when it coalesses together in the final product, it’s nothing short of amazing.


How does your company ensure that everyone is empowered to share their perspectives?

Making sure that people feel empowered to share their ideas and their perspectives is a challenge in most businesses. Aircall tackles this with one of our company core values: Transparency. But having a candid culture isn’t enough — we also have to be conscious about it. Employees at Aircall are encouraged to ask anything they want during a Browsing Session hosted by the leadership team. Just put a question on Slack and during a company-wide call and it’s answered. This way people don’t have to resort to gossip and hearsay.

Giving people platforms to speak up in a safe space through D&I meetings is another way we can empower people to share their thoughts. We also have employee surveys that probe deeper into what people think and we can use that information to improve and succeed. If any company is going to address D&I, then the change has to come from within, and the best way to do that is to start from the hiring process. Bring in people who care enough to want to make things better, and then listen to them and their ideas.


image via abacus

Abacus builds tools that help finance teams work faster and smarter. Features like real-time expense reporting and spending analysis are the future of accounting. Andrew Donato, a sales manager at Abacus, said that a focus on diversity begins with a critical step: the hiring process.


Pointing to specific examples, how does having a diverse team shape your work in term of results or the products you deliver to your clients?

Specifically for sales at Abacus, having a diverse team enables us to creatively solve customer problems by blending together multiple viewpoints and experiences to solve customer challenges. We truly believe in the “win as a team, lose as a team” mentality, so we fully embrace diversity of thought and are focused on providing the best possible solution for every customer. An example of this is in the way we structure our “deal team” on a given opportunity; While some of those involved aren’t interacting with the customer directly, by having these eyes on each deal,we ensure that we are crafting the correct solution for the client not just for the challenges they have today, but for potential challenges they may have down the line as they grow. This system allows us to get in front of roadblocks before they happen and limit confusion after the sale. We strongly believe the sale continues after the contract is signed.


How does your company ensure that everyone is empowered to share their perspectives?

When I first joined Abacus, I immediately noticed that there were multiple outlets for people’s perspectives and ideas. These outlets span from one-on-one’s, to team meetings and even the all-hands environment. As a sales leader, I view my role as me working for my reps, not the other way around. In one-on-one’s at Abacus, each manager always dedicates time to active listening. Personally, I start each with a brief review of metrics followed by dedicated time for reps to share any ideas they have to make us better, or any feedback they might have about roadblocks that stand in their way. My main priority is to make sure the team is empowered to meet and exceed their goals.

In team meetings, we focus less on slideshows and more on collaboration. You’ll find that we do a ton of whiteboard work with multiple people contributing, and attempt to come out of meetings ensuring that everyone who wanted to be heard got an opportunity to participate. The goal is to give employees an outlet for ideas or concerns and to make sure leadership is always held accountable.


image via attune

Attune works with small business owners far and wide to help them secure the insurance they need, without the difficult bureaucracy and paperwork. Recruiter Michael Bonora shared how the company’s proactive approach to diversity has resulted in a creative and collaborative work environment.


Pointing to specific examples, how does having a diverse team shape your work in term of results or the products you deliver to your clients?

I officially joined the team not too long ago, and I am impressed that Attune has the foresight to prioritize D&I initiatives at this stage. Lots of companies wait until they are much larger, or until their approach to diversity initiatives is a problem that needs to be solved. Having diversity on a team adds new perspective, increases creativity, improves performance and has an incredibly positive global impact. The team here recognizes this, and there is a very inspiring cross-functional interest in creating and maintaining a diverse and inclusive culture. Diversity is not something that you can ever say is done. Through constant diligence and commitment to the cause, we will increase our diversity for years to come.


How does your company ensure that everyone is empowered to share their perspectives?

Empowerment and inclusion is written in our values. “No Costumes” means that we embrace and encourage our team members to share their different perspectives, and that our unique experiences are what bind us together. We encourage that thought-sharing with a second value: "Failure is Tuition,"  which means that everyone is not just empowered to share their views, but also to feel supported no matter what the outcome. By fostering a climate where everyone can freely share ideas without fear of judgement, diversity and inclusion become a natural and intrinsic part of our company culture.

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