Can we make tech as diverse as NYC?

by Isaac Oates
July 20, 2016
“Is Justworks diverse?” 
This is the question that came up in a recent leadership meeting. Our headcount had grown steeply from 20 to 120 employees in the past 15 months. Taking a step back, Camilla Velasquez—our head of product—teed up a conversation about diversity within the company.
My first question was about the state of affairs. Is Justworks diverse? It’s a question that can only be answered after you know where you’re trying to go, and that was a topic we’d never confronted head on as a team.
In that first conversation, before we’d even looked at the numbers, we talked about what “diverse” meant and how it should be benchmarked. Should we benchmark against the US workforce? Other tech companies? Something else?
We concluded that we should represent our community. Our community is where we live, love, and work. Our community is New York City.
People often ask me about NYC versus Silicon Valley as a place to start a startup. Is it harder to raise money? Is it harder to recruit engineers? Do I wish I’d started Justworks in the valley instead?
Justworks couldn’t be what it is without being in NYC.
New York has been the gateway to America for hundreds of years. If you were born an American, someone in your family line likely came through South Street Seaport (once a slave port—now a mall), Ellis Island, or JFK airport.
NYC’s strength is diversity. NYC is eight million New Yorkers running around from different backgrounds with different strengths, passions, and perspectives.
This is why I love New York City.
We have interviewed thousands of New Yorkers for jobs at Justworks. The stories that I’ve heard are striking and humbling.
I’ve interviewed immigrants and children of immigrants; people who have overcome enormous hardship; people who put themselves through college while supporting their parents; people who have found themselves and people who are still looking.
While we’ve only been able to hire a small percentage of the people that we interview, every story leaves an impression. Every story makes me proud to be a New Yorker.
I’ve always thought of Justworks as diverse. When the team was just seven, four of us were racial minorities and two of us were female. That seemed pretty good for a tech startup.
Adam Meisel, one of our first team members, remarked to me early on: “It seems like everyone on the team has a different superpower. That makes us an incredible team.”
In that statement, Adam summed up the power of diversity.
In fact, as we’ve grown, we’ve remained more diverse than the tech industry. Today, we are 39% female and 35% racial minorities. (Compared to 36% and 31%, respectively, for the tech industry.)
But our goal is not to mirror the tech industry; our goal is to reflect NYC. Our benchmark is the NYC workforce, which is currently 43% female and 62% racial minority. We’re on the right track, but we have some work to do.
My commitment—our commitment, as a company—is to build a workforce that reflects our community. It’s not just about gender (identity), race, orientation, age, or the other “protected” dimensions; it’s about diversity of thought and perspective. It’s about strength.
Today I’m happy to announce that we made our commitment official by signing theTech Inclusion Pledge. I encourage other NYC startups to also sign on.
This is how we will continue to build a team where everyone has a superpower. This is how we will harness the power of the greatest city in the world.

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