Breaking barriers: How 4 Colorado companies are taking an active approach to diversity

May 31, 2018
Diverse Colorado tech team
photo via shutterstock

Building a diverse workplace is an ongoing process that takes concerted efforts. Hiring the right people is a great start — but nurturing that talent is just as important. In Colorado, companies are finding new ways to create a more diverse and inclusive environment while addressing the challenges that create these barriers in the first place.

With that in mind, we talked to four local tech companies about how valuing diversity has had an impact on them.

 

Gusto team
photo via gusto

Denver-based Gusto is a provider of HR, payroll and benefits software. According to Maryanne Caughey, the company’s head of people, Gusto focuses on three core tenets when creating and implementing diversity and inclusion initiatives.

 

Tell us about the diversity initiatives you are currently working on and the impact you have seen.

At Gusto, we’ve divided our diversity and inclusion initiatives into three pillars: awareness, composition and space. Last year we formed a cross-functional committee at Gusto specifically dedicated to diversity and inclusion. Here are some recent highlights:

  • Awareness: We facilitated unconscious bias trainings in both our Denver and San Francisco offices, and we were recently profiled in Forbes for improving the diversity of their engineering team from only 11 percent women engineers in 2015 to 24 percent today.

  • Composition: Today, Gusto is 50.5 percent female overall, which is best-in-class among tech companies. Our Chief Operating Officer Lexi Reese has championed many programs related to empowering women and other underrepresented groups in tech at Gusto. For our university recruiting program this year, we set an explicit goal for at least 50 percent of our university hires to come from underrepresented backgrounds. That’s why our campus recruiting tour included Historically Black Colleges and Universities and other schools that attract top students from underrepresented groups.

  • Space: We have dozens of groups like Gaystos, Women #withGusto, sports teams, book clubs, and more that bring together employees with shared backgrounds and interests. Recently we created a new process for these groups to get an annual budget and sign up for executive sponsorship. For Black History Month, any employees who wanted to see the movie “Black Panther” could sign up for free tickets to see it together. Those outings were among our most popular social events to date. To celebrate International Women’s Day, we held social events in both the Denver and San Francisco offices with pastries from women-owned bakeries and provided thank-you notes and stamps for Gusties to craft notes to all the special women in their lives.

As a company that is reimagining HR, we always want to be progressive in our approach to employee benefits.”

Can you talk about an accomplishment that wouldn't have been possible if your company didn't value diversity?

Gusto’s mission is to create a world where work empowers a better life. Our small business customers come from all walks of life, so in order to serve them well, we need to build both a diverse team and an inclusive workplace.

We’ve also been recognized for our unique approach to mitigate bias as well as our successful efforts to improve gender diversity on our engineering team.

As a company that is reimagining HR, we always want to be progressive in our approach to employee benefits. For example, in 2016, we became the first company of our size in California to make fertility benefits inclusive for LGBT employees.

 

What are some of the biggest challenges to promoting diversity, and what can be done to combat these challenges?

One of the biggest challenges to promoting diversity is having everyone recognize that bias (both conscious and unconscious) is a significant barrier to effective decision-making, team collaboration and management. That's why we held training this year to learn how to recognize unconscious bias and discuss concrete actions we can take to make better, more objective decisions.

However, this kind of training is not a silver bullet and can backfire if not designed intentionally.

It’s not enough to simply become aware of unconscious biases — we need to equip people with specific skills and tools for managing bias. That’s why we’re continuing to invest in ways for everyone at Gusto to take responsibility for making the company a vibrant and welcoming place.

 

Thanx team
photo via thanx

Thanx is a SaaS platform that allows businesses to leverage data and automate marketing campaigns. Diversity is something the company focused on early, according to Head of Talent Kristopher Osborne.

 

Tell us about the diversity initiatives you are currently working on and the impact you have seen.

Diversity and inclusion are woven into the fabric of Thanx in many different ways, but it starts with our people-first culture, values and leadership team. 

You can’t just have words on a page; you need leadership to live and breathe these values and genuinely care about  employees — which you will find here at Thanx. We strive to create the best place to work and are continually evolving to make sure we do just that.

Some new initiatives we rolled out this year are internal and external women’s groups, a recruiting team that is dedicated to targeting diverse passive talent, and diverse hiring philosophy and processes. We also recently increased our parental leave policies.

We do all of this and more to ensure we foster connectivity across functions and offices, discuss topics that are top of mind for specific groups, and attract/retain top talent.

 

Can you talk about an accomplishment that wouldn't have been possible if your company didn't value diversity?

We are currently 40 percent women across the company with women represented at every level of management. If you look at our management team, we have 50 percent women and 50 percent men.

There is no silver bullet for solving the diversity challenge, but the best way to set yourself up for success is to have a people-first culture.”

What are some of the biggest challenges to promoting diversity, and what can be done to combat these challenges?

Our CEO, Zach Goldstein, understood early on that we have offices in two of the hardest recruiting environments in the United States: San Francisco and Denver. To add to that, he also knew tech companies are notoriously known to not focus on diversity. Zach put on emphasis on diversity early on and made it known company-wide that we are focused on having a diverse workforce. That beginning, coupled with all the new initiatives and thoughtful, focused recruiting practices, have us starting on the right foot.

There is no silver bullet for solving the diversity challenge, but the best way to set yourself up for success is to have a people-first culture and continuously develop your company to foster diversity and inclusion. It takes time, and we are not done evolving. We will continue to test different initiatives and programs.

 

Maxwell team
photo via maxwell

Maxwell’s platform connects mortgage professionals with real estate agents and homebuyers. For Maxwell CEO John Paasonen, being intentional when addressing diversity has been crucial to maintaining an inclusive team.

 

Tell us about the diversity initiatives you are currently working on and the impact you have seen.

Earlier this year, we set a company-wide goal that at least 50 percent of candidates who make it to a screening interview should be from an under-represented group. In addition to larger strategic goals, we're investing time at our early stage to consider employee benefits that make Maxwell a more attractive place to work. For example, we've convened a small team to make recommendations on rolling out a maternity and paternity policy. And there are a lot of little things we do to promote diverse thinking and idea-sharing — from encouraging cross-department 1-on-1s to reviewing our job postings to ensure the words are attractive and engaging to a broad set of candidates.

 

Can you talk about an accomplishment that wouldn't have been possible if your company didn't value diversity?

We're proud to be tracking toward our strategic goal (50 percent of candidates coming from an under-represented group) so far through the year and the results are meaningful already. If you look at our employee base, we've gone from representation of just 8 percent women at the end of 2017 and minorities to over 30 percent now in mid-2018. For many of our roles, this means avoiding the temptation to just hire the first qualified candidate that comes along. That's a difficult thing to do in a startup where time is a scarce resource. But by recognizing the long-term performance value of diversity and the broader impact it will have on our culture, the ROI goes up tremendously on the time investment to interview four or five more candidates to ensure we can hit our strategic goal. In many cases, we not only found someone even better qualified but also someone who could take their role to the next level.

Our city and our industry in fintech are already not diverse, so in many ways we're working uphill, and that takes effort and focus.”

What are some of the biggest challenges to promoting diversity, and what can be done to combat these challenges?

At Maxwell, we see this as an on-going challenge we need to be intentional to address. Our city and our industry in fintech are already not diverse, so in many ways we're working uphill, and that takes effort and focus. Like anything in a startup, you have to continue to improve and iterate. That means being disciplined to review every job description through the lens of inclusiveness, for example, or extending the search for a candidate to ensure you've opened the funnel wide enough for broad evaluation.

 

Xero team
photo via xero

Xero provides cloud-based online accounting software for small businesses. For Xero, making sure their diverse customer base is reflected in their brand is important, said Julie Boardman, director of people operations.

 

Tell us about the diversity initiatives you are currently working on and the impact you have seen.

We are currently creating awareness of the difference between diversity, inclusion and belonging and its impact on our business goals, our culture and our individual well-being. We are experimenting with a variety of workshops, programs, mentoring and processes to up-level our interactions, reduce our unconscious bias and encourage flexible working, disability awareness, gender equity and LGBTQ inclusion. Xero has an inside out approach to D&I in our organization. We have an incredibly diverse customer base, and we always want to ensure that that is reflected in our brand.

 

Can you talk about an accomplishment that wouldn't have been possible if your company didn't value diversity?

Xero is the exclusive partner of the Latino Tax Professionals Association (LTPA). With Latino-owned businesses growing at such a fast pace in the US, it’s important that their advisors are equipped with the right education and tools to help them succeed. This partnership enables the LTPA members to do just that.

We've seen that diverse work forces bring better ideas to the table, and ultimately enable us to better serve our customers.”

What are some of the biggest challenges to promoting diversity, and what can be done to combat these challenges?

Continuing to increase our self awareness is an ongoing effort. One question we have to continue to ask ourselves is, “Are we reaching the wider talent market, and making our positions visible to a diverse candidate pool?” We have piloted efforts to post job openings on a variety of channels, and even experimented with augmented writing platforms to keep our postings balanced and consistent. While we still have a ways to go, we've seen that diverse work forces bring better ideas to the table, and ultimately enable us to better serve our customers and partners.

 

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