How Every Employee Can Move the Needle on DEI

It starts by making room for everyone at the table.
Written by Tyler Holmes
May 27, 2021Updated: February 22, 2024

Creating spaces of equity for everyone in the workplace is long overdue.

While many tech companies were created to improve upon previous processes and make the world a better place than how we found it, sometimes an organization’s mission gets lost in practice or in the long-standing team culture. That’s when other people or groups can get left behind, or worse — excluded altogether.

“We are programmed a certain way based on each of our upbringings with biases,” Bobby Wilkinson, Jr., senior director of diversity, equity and inclusion, said. “These biases lead to microaggressions — unintentional or intentional verbal, behavioral or environmental circumstances — that suggest negative or derogatory views toward marginalized people or groups.” 

Exclusion and inequality don’t just hurt the employees experiencing this kind of behavior, either; both the business and internal teams as a whole suffer. That is why teams have started to come together in order to create the change they wish to see within their organizations.

By forming diversity, inclusion and equity committees or like-minded employee resource groups, coworkers have begun harnessing their power in numbers through organized participation in order to better self-reflect and learn how to best support each other.

To gain a sense of the current DEI landscape within the tech scene, Built In Colorado asked leaders across seven local companies to break down what their organizations are doing to create a more inclusive workspace, and every step that led them to bring about meaningful change.

 

freshworks
freshworks

Empathy through awareness

“The most powerful thing an individual contributor can do to bring about meaningful change in diversity, equity and inclusion is self-reflection. This might bring about a level of awareness of unique privileges they might have. The experiences they have growing up, throughout the individual’s earlier career journey and life experiences, help create the perception they may have toward others. This self-awareness will help to move the needle on DEI in organizations.

“When they are able to look at those individual privileges — for example, the support and ability to work from home during the pandemic, access to reliable internet, healthcare access and well-being tools — it will increase levels of empathy, resulting in the ability to see things from others perspectives. Empathy and awareness in all situations at the workplace will trigger people to speak up when they see a voice is being stifled, or someone from another identified group is being overlooked for a promotion, and so on. Other ways individual contributors can help make a positive impact in DEI in their organization include mentoring, being an ally to others and acknowledging aloud the contributions their peers make.”

Tara Morrison is the North America talent acquisition leader at Freshworks, a unified customer engagement platform.

 

ringcentral
ringcentral

People over product

“You can start change by joining an employee resource group (ERG). If your company doesn’t have any, ask to start one. The ERGs at RingCentral — from our women’s groups, Black employees, Pride, Pan-Asian network and more — are an integral part in understanding the people who build our business. I belong to several, some of which are specific to the intersectionality that represents who I am, and others where I learn, support and act as an ally. Beyond speaking up, you can bring meaningful change by actively listening and supporting. Being intentional in building relationships with people who are vastly different than me has been inspirational. The best part is that, together, we have moved the needle on diversity, equity and inclusion here at RingCentral and will continue to do so.

“A company can have the best product in the world but if they don’t embrace the people at the center of it all, they’ll struggle. I believe when more companies become better at investing in diversity on every level of business, they’ll be even more impactful in showing how diversity drives innovation and makes the ‘whole expression’ of a company that much better.”

Danita Oliver is the global DEI program leader at RingCentral, a cloud-based communications company. 

 

vertafore
vertafore

Don’t confine culture — add to it 

“Start with self-reflection. The Harvard Implicit Bias test is free and confidential. It can highlight potential blind spots, stereotypes or perceptions that you may have around a different race, gender or age group. Taking the test can be incredibly transformative by giving you feedback on judgments that you may not have realized you had – or worse, been acting on.

“Second, up your meeting game. Invite all the appropriate people to the meeting, especially if the meeting topic impacts their work. During the meeting, pay attention to who is speaking and if needed, coach the attendees that you are going to ask for everyone’s feedback on a topic. If you make it a point to strive for equitable time in meetings, you’ll find that some of the quieter teammates are weighing in way more frequently — and have great ideas!

Finally, change your perspective. If hiring or forming a project team, look for culture add, not culture fit. That means actively finding people who have different viewpoints and perspectives. In fact, try to banish the “culture fit” phrase from your company’s shared language. By talking about who fits and who doesn’t, you’re excluding others who might be the key to the solution.”

Katie Dake is the director of talent at Vertafore, an insurance software company.

 

fanatics
fanatics

Recognize individual power

“At Fanatics, one of our core values is ‘One Fanatics … Win as a Team.’ In pursuit of that mission, we have created a team devoted to inclusion, diversity, equality and advocacy, or IDEA. The IDEA team guides the company on this journey by formalizing employee resource groups, hosting company-wide summits, crafting informative webinars and designing a process to measure impact.

“However, developing an inclusive workplace does not have to be formal. These initiatives are in service of fostering a culture where individuals feel they can show up as they are. Individuals must realize the power they possess to bring their authentic, unique background to drive fresh thinking at work. It is through the connection and cooperation of varied, value-adding perspectives that teams can solve complex problems. So, bring that perspective of yours to the table, and recognize that there’s a myriad of others sitting across from you, unique in their own way and thus worthy of your openness and curiosity. Learn about your colleagues and let them learn about you — be a part of each other’s journey toward becoming your best possible selves.”

Emily Nelsen is the associate program manager of global inclusion at Fanatics, an e-commerce sports company.

 

matillion
matillion

Widen the horizons

“Actively seek input from a variety of team members — not just those you work closest with. Not only does this help bring new perspectives to business decisions, but it also drives inclusion and equity as more thoughts, opinions, and expertise are used to create strategies.”

Ashley Lozito is the global marketing communications manager at Matillion, a cloud-based data company.

 

spotx
spotx

Community support through sharing

“In order to bring about meaningful change, DEI buy-in needs to happen at all levels of an organization. All employees can get started by participating in unconscious bias training or helping the HR team create a plan for organization-wide training. At SpotX, we gave employees the opportunity to participate in unconscious bias and psychological safety training to encourage employees to review, question and analyze their own personal biases, assumptions and behavior. 

“Community-building initiatives can also make a huge impact, whether it’s hosting book club discussions around books focusing on anti-racism or starting an employee resource group (ERG). Our parents and caregivers ERG offered a deep sense of support, empathy and belonging to participating employees facing challenges during the global pandemic. These gatherings allow employees with commonalities to meet, build trust, share ideas, support each other, and produce specific outcomes that help improve employee job satisfaction and retention. ERGs help to build a genuine sense of inclusiveness and provide a dedicated space where employees can share ideas and challenges to ultimately drive change within an organization.”

Cori Keuler is the Senior Director of Global Recruiting at SpotX, a video advertising platform.

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