Evolutions in inclusivity: How 5 Chicago tech companies have benefited from their diversity initiatives

by Alton Zenon III
April 26, 2019

Diversity and inclusion isn’t merely a trending topic in today’s workforce — it’s a movement that’s transforming offices around the country to more accurately reflect the community around them. It’s also a growing effort on behalf of employers to make sure all members of their company — from the C-suite to the interns — feel welcomed and embraced, as well as heard. 

We spoke to five employees involved in developing their company’s diversity efforts about what those inclusion actions look like, how they’ve already made an impact and how those strategies may evolve over time.

 

Braintree team members standing at an altar

Braintree’s platform gives companies the opportunity to streamline their payment processing through tools that let them accept money from a wide number of sources and keep their payment data secure. Diversity and Inclusion Program Coordinator Lisa Vasquez said employees have direct control over the diversity-based events that the company hosts, like their Día de los Muertos event last year.

 

What diversity and inclusion initiatives do you have at your company, and how have they shaped your company in a tangible way?

Our diversity and inclusion initiatives include trainings, events, recurring meet-ups, employee resource groups, and thoughtful and intentional diversity program communications. 

Hosting events is one way we actively encourage inclusive practices in our offices and create firsthand inclusion opportunities for all. We opted for a volunteer system — we ask our teams to submit ideas for diversity and inclusion events they would like to see happen in our office and if interested, to sign-up to help plan it. This approach ensures the events we host are relevant to our team and, we hope, create a positive experience for both the participants and the hosts. It also helps avoid situations where we try to identify people in the office who observe or are affiliated with a particular group and then ask them to do work to share their perspective with us. 

We ask our teams to submit ideas for diversity and inclusion events they would like to see happen in our office and if interested, to sign-up to help plan it.”

 

How do you plan to strengthen your diversity initiatives in the future?

Continuing to actively listen and receive feedback from our team members is key to future planning — their voices are the ones that matter most. I believe if you create an inclusive community, your team members want to continue being a part of it. And in turn, you may find their friends and their friend’s friends wanting to join.

 

SpotHero staff in team photo

SpotHero helps drivers in over 30 U.S. cities digitally find parking spots at businesses, airports, entertainment venues and more locations. Chief People Officer Tiffany Voltz said efforts have been made to highlight the diversity of backgrounds of team members across the company to foster more connections.

 

What diversity and inclusion initiatives do you have at your company, and how have they shaped your company in a tangible way?

In addition to making our diversity statistics public across the company, we launched diversity and inclusion book clubs, conducted manager and employee training on gender inclusion and unconscious bias, integrated diversity and inclusion behaviors into our performance check-in process and created employee resource groups. We are making a commitment at every level of our organization to create a culture of belonging, allowing each employee to show up to work everyday as their whole, authentic self.

The ERGs and book clubs have sparked important conversations throughout the company. They’re helping to build connections between those who personally identify with a particular group and those who come in as allies. Although we’re just beginning, employees are now able to share and connect about topics that impact how they show up every day; the creation of this space where that’s not only OK but encouraged, is boosting employee morale and creating a stronger sense of community.

We’ll be expanding our recruiting initiatives to incorporate more diverse voices in the decision-making process as well as the candidate pool.”

 

How do you plan to strengthen your diversity initiatives in the future?

We’ll be expanding our recruiting initiatives to incorporate more diverse voices in the decision-making process as well as the candidate pool. We also see ERGs as being an integral part in finding solutions for business challenges and to help create policies that drive our commitment to diversity and inclusion. Finally, we’re reimagining some of our employee events to create more visibility around employee’s identities outside of work such as Family Day, employee-led lunch and learns and an “All Team Week”, where we plan to celebrate people’s unique skills and talents.

 

StratEx staff in group photo

Working with names like Jimmy John’s, Arbys and Dunkin’ Donuts, StratEx helps restaurants manage their HR responsibilities with a variety of cloud-based tools. Vice President of HR Gretchen Van Vlymen said the company is diversifying the way it sources new hires in efforts to create an ever-inclusive team. 

 

What diversity and inclusion initiatives do you have at your company, and how have they shaped your company in a tangible way?

One inclusion initiative that we launched in 2018 is an employee engagement group called StratEx Spectrum. The mission of Spectrum is to educate the StratEx community about each other’s backgrounds, identities and viewpoints and celebrate those differences in a fun and meaningful way. Since the inception of this group, Spectrum has sponsored several creative and educational events that have brought our company together in a new way to help us better understand and support the people we work with every day.

We now post on more public job boards, and are hoping to start attending local career fairs, especially those that highlight diversity in our local community.”

 

How do you plan to strengthen your diversity initiatives in the future?

Our first priority is to expand our sourcing techniques to reach a broader candidate pool. In the past, we had relied on a single recruiter for our hiring needs. However, as we grow, we realize that we need to use many recruiting methods in order to bring in a more diverse group of new hires. In addition to recruiters, we now post on more public job boards, and are hoping to start attending local career fairs, especially those that highlight diversity in our local community. We also regularly ask our recruiting and job board partners to share their diversity efforts so we know that they are also helping us reach a more varied pool of candidates.

 

Rocketmiles team at escape room outing

Via its partnerships with hotels around the world, Rocketmiles lets travelers rack up rewards points during their stays by booking through the platform. Lead QA Engineer Aleksandra Korobko said the company works to promote and enhance diversity among its staff internally, but also actively supports diversity in the Chicago community at large. 

 

What diversity and inclusion initiatives do you have at your company, and how have they shaped your company in a tangible way?

We focus on attracting very diverse talent. Our employees come from countries around the world and speak multiple languages, and everyone shares a passion and thirst for travel. One of the initiatives that we are really proud of is our recently launched mentorship program — it encourages our employees to build and strengthen new skills and it also opens opportunities to create meaningful connections with colleagues from teams they might otherwise never work with. 

Our company culture is also strengthened by our women-empowerment group, the diverse range of speakers that we welcome at our office, and collaborations with other brands under the Booking Holdings umbrella of the company.

We support the Chicago minority tech community by volunteering as a company, speaking at conferences, and hosting events at the office.”

 

How do you plan to strengthen your diversity initiatives in the future?

We are going through a rapid growth spurt and we are reinventing our hiring processes to prioritize diversity and inclusion. We conduct unconscious bias training, hiring training and include several stakeholders in the hiring process. We support the Chicago minority tech community by volunteering as a company, speaking at conferences, and hosting events at the office. We support our LGBTQI+ community and work together to make our offices open and welcoming spaces for everyone. Most importantly, we’re constantly learning and are always working on ways we can improve to be more inclusive, helping shape our tech community to welcome everyone.

 

NextCapital team at outdoor field day

NextCapital’s cloud-based platform helps personal investors and institutions manage their portfolios and make informed investment decisions. Senior People Manager Sloane Larson-Shidler said the company has multiple committees dedicated to facilitating diversity in a variety of ways.

 

What diversity and inclusion initiatives do you have at your company, and how have they shaped your company in a tangible way?

We have two great groups focused on diversity and inclusion efforts: DIVE and our monthly Ladies Lunches. DIVE — meaning diversity, inclusion, values, and equity — is a group of people throughout the company that meet weekly to ensure that NextCapital has the most inclusive culture, processes and policies possible. The Ladies Lunches are once-a-month lunch meetings where women, and sometimes men, get together to discuss different topics regarding women in the workplace, technology and the world. 

There has been a lot of positive progress made by both groups. DIVE has shaped our company through employee trainings on key topics like: removing bias from performance feedback and recruiting practices; company policy development and review; quarterly executive presentations; and most recently, our updated compensation change review process.

We have two great groups focused on diversity and inclusion efforts: DIVE and our monthly Ladies Lunches.”

 

How do you plan to strengthen your diversity initiatives in the future?

I’m extremely excited to be working with both of these groups and the rest of NextCapital to continue to drive forward additional diversity initiatives, and it’s especially encouraging to know that we have leadership’s support in these. Our list for future areas to discuss and implement change include: employee recognition, engaging remote and satellite office employees, and expanding our learning and development programming.

 

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