How diversity drives innovation at 3 Chicago tech companies

by Andreas Rekdal
June 20, 2018

Assembling a team with tons of shared experience is great if you want to build consensus quickly and forge ahead with a project.

Whether that idea will be innovative, or the best solution for the problem you’re solving for, is a different question entirely. In fact, the best ideas tend to come about when diverse teams bring a range of perspectives to the table and challenge each other’s assumptions. Here’s why Chicago companies take that lesson to heart.


enova chicago tech company
image via enova

A Chicago-based fintech company that serves consumers in three countries around the world, Enova uses advanced analytics to underwrite loans for consumers whose credit scores keep them from receiving traditional bank loans. Chief People Officer Stacey Kraft said the company has introduced a range of initiatives to maintain a vibrant, diverse workplace, and that Enova’s management encourage all employees to speak up with their ideas — regardless of their backgrounds or day-to-day responsibilities.


How does a broader range of perspectives help your team create better products or services?

Diversity and inclusion are embedded in Enova’s culture and values, and leaders at all levels work to create an environment where people can bring their best selves to work. One of our most-loved values is “Best answer wins,” which means that no matter your background, level, department or where you come from, your ideas matter — in fact, you’re expected to voice them. People with diverse backgrounds and experiences bring diverse viewpoints and ideas to the table, and we believe this helps us approach and solve problems in better, smarter ways.


What concrete policies and initiatives does your company have in place to promote diversity on your team?

To foster an inclusive environment, we offer unconscious bias training, which is mandatory for people managers; interview for “culture add” instead of “culture fit” and have piloted removing resumes from the engineering interview process. Our employee-driven diversity council focuses on providing opportunities for learning, community building and celebration during nationally recognized months of diversity.


4c chicago tech company
image via 4c

A marketing technology provider fueled by data science, 4C helps marketers reach audiences more efficiently across channels. Its offerings include advanced audience analytics for campaigns spanning from television to social media and other digital channels, as well as tools for syncing digital campaigns with real-time TV events. According to Kim Norwesh, 4C’s chief human resources officer, the company’s globally distributed workforce bolsters innovation by introducing new ways to think about problems.


How does a broader range of perspectives help your team create better products or services?

4C was built on diverse backgrounds, which has made us who we are and will continue to be our fuel for success. Diversity challenges us to be open to new ideas and provides different approaches to problem solving and creativity. For example, we have a globally diverse team, with offices in the United States, Europe, the Middle East and Africa region, as well as the Asia-Pacific region. A Chicagoan might approach a problem in one way, while a team member in London or Singapore will bring a completely different perspective. Ultimately, diversity helps us achieve our goals more effectively and efficiently.


What concrete policies and initiatives does your company have in place to promote diversity on your team?

Diversity is a priority at 4C, and we have several initiatives in place to promote it. We have mandated that there must be a diverse slate of candidates for every open role, and to measure our success, we track how diverse the slate was along with the hiring outcome. Gender diversity in our engineering group is a particular focus, and we are actively involved in the “Girls Who Code” organization to broaden our exposure to the great female engineering talent out there.

In addition, we are building a diversity and inclusion training program to ensure 4C is an environment where all employees can bring their whole self to work, feel valued and contribute at the highest level. This training is meant to help our employees learn more about themselves and their unconscious biases, and raise awareness about the needs of others.


avant chicago tech company
image via avant

Avant’s online lending platform uses machine learning to offer loans to middle-income consumers whose credit scores fall just short of traditional lending requirements. The company’s platform is also used by other financial institutions. Chief Compliance Officer Karoline Andris said Avant gives employees opportunities to move to other areas of the business, as a way to promote diversity of thought. The company also provides internal trainings about how bias negatively impacts businesses by standing in the way of innovation.


How does a broader range of perspectives help your team create better products or services?

Diversity drives innovation on our teams because it challenges employees to think and perform at a higher level than they would if they were working with a homogeneous group of peers. We have also found that it helps us serve our customers better — particularly as we move employees to different areas of our business. The knowledge, experiences and perspectives they bring from having worked on other teams helps us tackle problems we may have not otherwise known about and create more effective solutions for our customers.


What concrete policies and initiatives does your company have in place to promote diversity on your team?

We have focused many of our diversity and inclusion efforts for 2018 in the talent development space. We have launched internal classes to help employees learn more about our business or develop new skills like coding, we introduced a mentorship program to help junior employees get to know and learn from our leaders, and we trained our entire executive team and all people managers in unconscious bias and the ways it can stymie employee growth and innovation.


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