Impact through inclusivity: 6 Chicago tech companies share how diverse teams influence the business

by Alton Zenon III
July 23, 2019

Diversity and inclusivity efforts are meant to foster connection, understanding and acceptance and make team members feel comfortable to the fullest extent when in the workplace. And once the humanizing work is done, the professional work can begin to its greatest degree. 

But how do companies go about making sure the diversity of their teams is incorporated into its customer-facing work? How can companies improve outcomes by tapping into the diversity of backgrounds and perspectives within their teams? Accomplishing this task looks different from company to company, so we recently asked six Chicago-based teams to weigh in on diversity and inclusivity within their organizations in order to find out more about their methods. 

 

TransUnion’s team working in a conference room

TransUnion’s Senior Director of Data Acquisition Geetha Kagathi says creating an environment where communication within and across team members of different personal and professional backgrounds is a simple, yet necessary and effective part of the company’s success. 

 

How have diverse teams helped shape a specific project or business decision?

Diversity goes beyond age, gender or ethnicity; it’s about understanding individual capabilities and tapping into each person’s potential skills and experiences. This drives better solutions and innovation. If you think about it in terms of a hand, each finger serves a purpose and most functions need a combination of fingers; when all the fingers come together to form a fist, a powerful punch can be achieved – that’s what diversity brings to my team.

One project we’re working on is scaling our meta-data operations capability globally. The newer team members are stepping out of their comfort zone to push themselves and expand their technical tool box while collaborating with longer tenure associates who are subject matter experts on the platform —  this is definitely creating an atmosphere in which people can speak up and be heard.

 

Inclusion is a key component to bringing in creativity.”

How does your company ensure that employees from a diverse range of backgrounds are included in making key business decisions?

Inclusion is a key component to bringing in creativity. I believe diversity and inclusion need to be bonded. On my team, it doesn’t matter what walk of life each individual comes from or what level of work experience they bring, everyone’s opinion is important and accounted for. We have a collaborative environment, where communication is transparent. This is essential to make on-time decisions. Our global teams work together over video conferencing or calls adjusting the meeting times as each one is sensitive to the other’s commute constraints, holidays and potential personal needs at home, but ensuring that they are included in the key meetings.

 

ActiveCampaign chatting at a table

Principal Product Manager Kelly O’Connell recently discussed diversity and inclusivity in professional backgrounds at ActiveCampaign with our team. She provided a recent example of success born from diversity of thought in gathering team members from different departments with different fields of expertise and points of view.

 

How have diverse teams helped shape a specific project or business decision? 

A few weeks ago, I sat in a meeting related to the next key component of our customer experience automation platform. Members from education, support and marketing helped product and data science understand how to best position the feature set, what potential problems or questions could come up from users, how we could better educate around ways to implement and some potential pitfalls in how we were going about design. We wouldn’t have been able to move as quickly or effectively without a collaborative effort across departments within the company. While this is all part of product development, this was unique in that all members were women, and many of them are women in leadership positions within their respective areas.

 

We teach that the biggest barrier to diversity is indifference and have each employee consider moments in their lives where they felt excluded.”

How does your company ensure that employees from a diverse range of backgrounds are included in making key business decisions?

Every new employee goes through an interactive training on diversity, equity and inclusion. While this isn’t too uncommon, we teach that the biggest barrier to diversity is indifference and have each employee consider moments in their lives in which they felt excluded. We make very tactical efforts, like ensuring financial support for continued education, creating open floors for feedback where ideas aren’t ranked by level and facilitating regular career pathing conversations so that everyone knows their next step. However, we believe that true progress in DEI starts at a cultural level, which is why we invest in and believe our interactive training is so valuable.

 

Upwork team members standing together for photo

Director of Employment Counsel Hanna Badmus at the freelancing website Upwork said the company is involved in a number of outside diversity initiatives that help affect change for other members of the local community. Additionally, the company has internally run resource groups intended to benefit people of many different backgrounds, which are directly sponsored by individual members of executive leadership. 

 

How have diverse teams helped shape a specific project or business decision? 

When you have a diverse team working on a project, you have diversity of thought, which can assist with obtaining the optimal result. Upwork’s mission is to create economic opportunities so people have better lives. Last year, we founded the Upwork Foundation, which aims to build a future of inclusive learning and opportunity by serving those at risk of being left behind by the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Through the Upwork Foundation, Upwork has worked to increase equal access to knowledge through donations to Black Girls Code and the Malala Fund and has also helped build a library with Chicago Hopes for Kids.

 

Upwork has worked to increase equal access to knowledge through donations to Black Girls Code and the Malala Fund.”

How does your company ensure that employees from a diverse range of backgrounds are included in making key business decisions?

Upwork is committed to building a workplace where diverse perspectives are included within key business decisions. The approach, as I see it, has been two-pronged: ensuring that persons from diverse backgrounds have a seat at the table, which is positional, and through our growing employee resource groups that are designed to create a sense of community and a forum to raise awareness regarding issues that impact particular subgroups. We currently have groups for veterans, women, black, latinx and LGBTQ employees. Each ERG has an executive sponsor from our leadership team who helps advance concerns and initiatives of these respective groups. Diversity, inclusion and belonging is critical to the success of our business and our ability to further our mission.

 

Rocketmiles team in canyons area

Chief Revenue Officer Bart Welch and Head of Data Science Gary Ng at the travel rewards platform Rocketmiles shed some light on diversity efforts at the company. They commented on how the company as a whole has hugely benefited from tapping into the viewpoints of its international team members from a cultural and business perspective. 

 

How have diverse teams helped shape a specific project or business decision? 

Welch: Rocketmiles was able to establish successful and fruitful relationships with our South American partners mostly because of our talented and diverse partnership team. Many of our team members are from Brazil, Mexico and Colombia and have deep cultural roots, which makes their input in decision making invaluable while working with international business partners. I don’t think we’d be able to achieve such a great collaboration without the diversity of skills and experiences that our international team members bring to the table.

 

I know how different perspectives will help us achieve our goals with efficiency and creativity.”

How does your company ensure that employees from a diverse range of backgrounds are included in making key business decisions?

Ng: I pay more diligent attention to hiring diverse candidates, mostly because I know how different perspectives will help us achieve our goals with efficiency and creativity. My team is a mix of Chinese, Japanese, American and South Asian folks who learned how to speak the language of data that brings us all together.

 

Bounteous team members at formal event

Vice President of Talent and Culture Leah Weyandt of the digital consulting firm Bounteous shared details of the various events, partnerships and internal resources provided by the company that help promote inclusivity not only in the office, but outside of it as well.

 

How have diverse teams helped shape a specific project or business decision?

To compete in today’s marketplace, we recognized that growing a heterogeneous workforce was a business imperative. To truly understand and serve our diverse customer base, we knew that our company’s demographics had to follow suit. For example, in an industry like ours where women typically fill less than 20 percent of the seats, Bounteous team members have worked to move the gender balance within our walls from less than 19 percent of women to 36 percent in less than five years.

Although we still have some more work to do, by offering and anticipating a variety of unique viewpoints, we are better equipped to successfully ideate and innovate for a wide array of clients, shape globally responsive businesses, and increase the pool of talent to attract, reward and keep team members long-term, as shown by our 92-percent retention rates.

 

We formed a diversity and inclusion taskforce, inviting collaborators to generate ideas, implement initiatives and provide oversight.”

How does your company ensure that employees from a diverse range of backgrounds are included in making key business decisions?

To inspire community and influence culture and key decisions, it’s essential that companies gather input from a wide-range of team members with diverse backgrounds and experiences. As part of this effort, we formed a diversity and inclusion taskforce, inviting collaborators to generate ideas, implement initiatives and provide oversight.

We’ve also built in-house resource groups and mentoring programs. We’ve seen this take hold organically in Slack, allowing additional support and discussion for our woman, parent, people with disabilities and LGBTQIA+ communities, to name a few.

One of our most recent hosted events, Designers of Color in Conversation, and our partnerships with local chapters of women engineers, IT professionals for people with disabilities and public schools are great examples of increasing access to diverse populations and creating additional channels for recruiting, showcasing talent, networking and sharing resources. 

 

Punchkick Interactive team chatting

Matthew Straub, product manager at the website and app developer Punchkick Interactive, said, internally, the diversity within its team members across their backgrounds, skill sets and foundations of knowledge lends itself to providing better business outcomes for clients. And sometimes, even the clients themselves help drive impact with their insight. 

 

How have diverse teams helped shape a specific project or business decision? 

Punchkick is a small enough firm that we don’t rely on formal diversity and inclusion initiatives as much as our natural culture is exceptionally inclusive. We have a lot of LGBT and immigrant employees, for example, and we’re adamant that this improves our client-facing product teams’ abilities. This is especially true because everything Punchkick builds is heavily focused on user experience. As a minor example, we recently had a great, educational conversation with a client about including other gender options in a new user onboarding flow. 

 

We recently had a great, educational conversation with a client about including other gender options in a new user onboarding flow.”

How does your company ensure that employees from a diverse range of backgrounds are included in making key business decisions?

Punchkick runs flat, which means we don’t have any managers. That means everyone’s contributions and expertise matters, and new hires pick up this aspect of our culture pretty quickly. We constantly reference our ‘advice channel,’ which is the process of asking for input from the people who have expertise about a topic and who will be affected by a decision. This way, we’re able to organically collect varied and valuable points of view without bureaucracy getting in the way of having a decision made.

 

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