Be your true self: How 6 Chicago tech companies create more diverse workplaces

by Alton Zenon III
October 10, 2018

Diversity and inclusion is a phrase used loosely in professional settings today, but to countless employees who bring value and new perspectives to the companies they work for, its importance cannot be overstated. 

To the people the initiatives are directed at, diversity and inclusion are far more than buzzwords — they’re indicators of acceptance in the workplace, and assurance that others like them will be met with open arms as well. We spoke to leaders at six companies about their efforts to make more people feel welcome.

 

Uptake team photo
image via uptake

Uptake serves industries like oil and gas, manufacturing, transportation, and energy by providing predictive AI and IoT software to improve their efficiency, productivity and safety. Director of Human Resources Alan Durand said the company’s diversity and inclusion efforts are varied and involve frequent internal and external conversations.

 

How does your company foster diversity and inclusion?

We share our knowledge, expertise and our missteps with other local diversity, equity and inclusion leaders through networking groups, panel discussions and hosted events.

We focus on increasing DEI internally by: Leveraging a shared governance model that involves a large number of employees in long-term DEI strategic planning; training and certifying our recruiters on how to proactively search for candidates who are underrepresented in technology; actively supporting our nine community groups; and holding open discussion forums with senior leaders to hear directly from minority groups at Uptake about what’s working, what’s not and how we can do better.

Without a diverse workforce, you are limiting the creative potential of your company.”

 

Why is diversity and inclusion so important?

Groupthink limits a company’s ability to innovate. The more informed, unique opinions there are at the table, the better the output will be. Without a diverse workforce, you are limiting the creative potential of your company.

 

Paro team posing in their office
image via paro

Paro is a platform that connects freelance finance professionals, like CFOs, accountants, bookkeepers and CPAs, to companies in need of on-demand, remote work. Product Manager Kody Myers said giving employees opportunities to be and express themselves, no matter who they are, is a key part of the company’s diversity initiatives.

 

How does your company foster diversity and inclusion?

One of my favorite things we do to foster inclusion happens every week during our company-wide meeting. A teammate presents for 10 minutes on anything — growing up Japanese, LGBT terminology, diabetes, Burning Man, athletic socks — it’s all about being yourself. But I think the best work happens when individuals take the initiative to bring their full selves to work and create the inclusive culture they want to see.

The best work happens when individuals take the initiative to bring their full selves to work.”

 

Why is diversity and inclusion so important?

I came out five years ago. After I came out, it took time to be fully me in all aspects of my life, especially at work. Paro was the first workplace where I’ve been unapologetic about who I am and been embraced for it. I produce better ideas and state my opinion more frequently when I bring my full self to the table. When people can raise difficult issues, voice concerns, provide honest feedback and be celebrated for who they are — that is what leads to innovation and growth. 

 

ShopRunner staff in conference room
image via shoprunner

ShopRunner is a members-only service that gives consumers perks like free returns and two-day shipping when they shop online with the company’s 100-plus partners. Nicole Carlson, senior data scientist, discussed changing company language to be more inclusive. Rachel Kraska, senior manager of talent, talked about her appreciation for diversity efforts overall.

 

How does your company foster diversity and inclusion?

Carlson: It is now implemented into our interview process to ask candidates for their pronouns and to provide the pronouns of the people they will be interviewing with.

We are also changing the language used in our employee handbook and policies to create a more inclusive environment. For example, our paid leave policy is called parental leave, rather than maternity or paternity leave. ShopRunner is also replacing the phrase “mother’s room” with “lactation room” to invite anyone who needs to lactate to use the room, not just women.

For me, word choice is a very important indicator of how inclusive a company can be, so I’m happy to see ShopRunner taking such proactive steps.

We cannot be successful as a product if we don’t have people within our company who reflect our members.”

 

Why is diversity and inclusion so important?

Kraska: Our product is used by people of all races, religions, genders and ages. We cannot be successful as a product if we don’t have people within our company who reflect our members.

In my 20-plus years working, I’ve been the recipient of discrimination based on my gender, religion and age. It doesn’t feel good, and it’s given me a large dose of empathy for everybody else who’s been there and experienced far worse than I have. Hiring and promotion processes aren’t fair. I’m lucky enough to have a job where I can do something about that.

 

Sittercity team on outing
image via sittercity

Sittercity helps parents hire professional caregivers for their children through an online marketplace. Director of Engineering Jazmin Schroeder said listening to clients and coworkers is vital to maintaining and increasing diversity.

 

How does your company foster diversity and inclusion?

We recently created a formal diversity and inclusion committee, with the goal of developing an inclusive culture within our own company and better engaging our diverse customer base.

We decided that in order to create a truly inclusive culture, we had to focus on education and alignment. We’ve developed a diversity and inclusion mission statement, revisited our hiring practices to identify where we can improve, and regularly bring in third-party perspectives to challenge our viewpoints and encourage conversations.

In order to create a truly inclusive culture, we had to focus on education and alignment.”

 

Why is diversity and inclusion so important?

Our core business is to connect people, and we simply can’t be successful if we ignore our diverse member base. We strive to consider many different viewpoints at every step of the way in order to understand the people we serve. That means listening, not only to our own team members, but to families and those who come in for user research, conferences we choose to sponsor or attend, and guest speakers we invite.

 

Shiftgig staff in a festive office
image via shiftgig

Shiftgig connects individuals looking for flexible work opportunities to companies in need of workers to staff shifts. Human Resources Manager Kevin McLaughlin and VP of Human Resources Vikki Caruso said taking the time to connect with others helps foster a culture of inclusivity, both professionally and personally.

 

How does your company foster diversity and inclusion?

Caruso: Recently, I attended a diversity, equity and inclusion workshop where we did a speed interview session with Upwardly Global. It became transparent how easily hiring practices can have a bias. To help remove bias, we will be hosting a speed interview session for hiring managers.

We’ve also integrated Coffee Buddies via slack, which randomly partners employees with each other to get coffee. This program encourages people to grab coffee with people they don’t always spend time with. We also recently hosted a diversity, equity and inclusion panel discussion with General Assembly that was a great opportunity to learn about what other companies are doing.

I think we all lose out on great people if we alienate and exclude.”

 

Why is diversity and inclusion so important?

McLaughlin: Growing up, my closest friends, who all come from much more diverse backgrounds than me, faced adversity in the way they were treated by teachers and authority figures. They were not given the same opportunities as me, or if they were, they had to jump through hoops to get them. I do not want people who are growing up in similar circumstances as my friends to face the adversity that I observed them face. I think we all lose out on great people if we alienate and exclude.

 

SpotMe staff chatting and looking at a computer
image via spotme

SpotMe is an enterprise engagement platform that creates industry-specific mobile apps and support platforms for live events, and virtual and hybrid company meetings. Senior Customer Experience Specialist Katharine Donohoe said their diversity and inclusion efforts are multi-layered when it comes to onboarding.

 

How does your company foster diversity and inclusion?

When screening candidates, not only are we looking for diversity in the traditional sense, but also with regard to their backgrounds and skills. While applicants who have hands-on experience in the technology sector have an advantage, we also keep a critical eye out for candidates who are able to work on multiple projects simultaneously, learn new systems quickly and are comfortable with technology and client-facing responsibilities. These qualities are not limited to individuals coming from tech companies, so we hire candidates who have built their careers in nonprofit, association or consumer spaces too.

Not only are we looking for diversity in the traditional sense, but also with regard to their background and skills.”

 

Why is diversity and inclusion so important?

It is a true reflection of the world we live in and the people we interact with on a daily basis. It allows someone to become more empathetic and understanding of individuals from different walks of life, and I honestly believe that it’s beneficial to those who wish to be their best selves. Being able to hone in that understanding will boost the experience of those around, you both personally and professionally, and it will only lead to more success.

 

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