The Value of Being Intentional With D&I
Chante Butler joined Flatiron in 2017 as a senior manager on the quality team. Today, she’s head of diversity and inclusion at the healthtech and cancer research company.
If you think those two roles are drastically different, you’re not alone — but to Butler, the transition seemed professionally serendipitous.
“Last fall, when the opportunity for a head of diversity and inclusion presented itself, it felt like a perfect moment,” Butler said. “I was able to align passion, purpose and job. You don’t get that often in your career.”
From the second she started at Flatiron, Butler has worked to raise the issues of diversity, equity and inclusion in tech. Within her first year, she organized a panel featuring Black and Latinx professionals in tech and science. Shortly thereafter, she became a key driver in a company discussion about creating dedicated employee resource groups (ERGs.)
“Our company mission is to learn from the experience of every cancer patient,” Butler said. “So by default, our mission is one of diversity and inclusion.”
Below, Butler explains why in diversity and inclusion, as in scientific research and business, a company’s intention is just as important as the outcome.
What is your role at Flatiron? How does D&I play a part?
When I joined Flatiron, I was looking for a mission-driven organization but still wanted an innovative environment. Being on the outside, you hear about the challenges with D&I and representation in tech. But seeing those challenges from the inside feels different. In tech, it’s always about speed. You can find yourself building a company that lacks diversity and inclusion not because that’s what you intended to do but because it’s the path of least resistance.
So when I started at Flatiron, I emphasized the importance of Black and Latinx representation in tech and science, including putting together a diversity panel. Last fall, when the opportunity for the head of D&I presented itself, it felt like a perfect moment. I was able to align passion, purpose and job. You don’t get that often in your career.
What does D&I mean at Flatiron today and how has it evolved?
Initially, our D&I efforts were decentralized. We now have more centralized efforts including structured programs and initiatives, which is really exciting. When I first joined Flatiron, we had what we called “diversity day.” We eventually moved to “diversity week,” and we started thinking about the smartest way to put ERGs together. We also thought about how we could leverage our ERGs to help with diverse recruiting.
Last year, the murder of George Floyd and social unrest across the country set off a real groundswell within our company. Six ERGs created a Black Alliance Network group to support Blackiron (Flatiron’s Black ERG) and other Black employees and people of color at Flatiron. The network gave non-Black colleagues a way to educate themselves without putting that onus on our Black ERG. Another result of this groundswell was the creation of the role I’m now in.
Your Flatiron diversity panel led to further inclusion and equity initiatives in the healthtech space. How did you bring it all together?
I got our leadership, including our chief medical officer and chief people officer, engaged in the panel right away. I leveraged my network. I reached out to people in the tech space I’ve known for years. The panel included a global VP from Facebook’s life sciences team, a Black Colombian researcher, a Black female doctor who was chief medical officer of a science and tech company, and a marketing professional and business owner who is LGBTQ+.
I really wanted to show that people of color are here, in technology and science. In my opening, I tried to convey that we have to have the same level of intention about building a diverse company that we put into building a mission-driven company, both of which take time.
Outside of ERGs, are there any other initiatives or partnerships that you are developing to promote D&I?
Because our D&I programs existed prior to me coming into the role, this year, we’ll be enhancing and iterating those programs. It’s about understanding what the most meaningful programs are from a strategic perspective.
Our recruiting team kicked off Flatiron’s first MBA internship program, which is focused on underrepresented minorities. We partnered with Management Leadership for Tomorrow, a company that focuses on career development for Black, Latinx and Native American professionals. We want to build on that partnership and relationship. And our talent development team has kicked off a race, equity and inclusion training, which includes a quarterly speaker series.
We’re making slow and steady progress. And I’m really excited and proud of what we’ve been able to do thus far.’’
Sometimes it can be difficult to get buy-in about company-wide initiatives from leadership. How has your experience been at Flatiron?
The level of commitment from leadership has been very encouraging. After last year, more leaders have become engaged and vocal. It’s by no means perfect. But I can see the shift in who’s engaging and acting.
We started an executive sponsorship program to mentor Black and Latinx senior managers and directors. The executive sponsors have been suggesting ways to engage all eligible employees. Individually, executives have invited me to speak about D&I at various team meetings, asked how they can participate and help, and created their own D&I metrics for their teams. It’s really great momentum coming into this role. It’s a really good springboard for success.
As a part of the race, equity and inclusion training, leaders and managers are documenting how well they and their teams stay committed to and advance anti-racism work. And they built a Google Sheet to document accountability, which we’re rolling out to all of the other leaders at the organization who complete the training.
HOW THE COMPANY HAS RESPONDED
What additional financial investments is Flatiron putting toward D&I?
Our financial investments fall in three buckets: recruiting, talent development and racial disparities research. Our recruiting efforts in particular are doubling down on where we’ve seen some success in tactics and process to increase our pipeline. I’m looking to develop strategic recruiting partnerships targeted at the senior manager, director and senior director levels to get people in place for progression to the C-suite.
We currently have a partnership with Paradigm, an organization that helps design race, equity and inclusion training.
This year gives us a chance to evaluate our investments in the programs that we have, including racial disparities research. And then next year we plan to iterate to see where we need to make changes.
What do you want the future of D&I to look like at Flatiron?
I really want us to embody a culture that is fair, equitable and inclusive for everyone. If we can do that, we can reach that ultimate piece of belonging. We’re on that evolution journey. We still have a long way to go. But I do think we’re making slow and steady progress. And I’m really excited and proud of what we’ve been able to do thus far.