What We Learned from Our 2018 Diversity & Inclusion Report

Illustrations by Iris Wong

View the results of our 2018 Report here.

Last year, we published our first annual Diversity & Inclusion Report, stating our commitment to making intentional choices to ensure that we are an open and inclusive workplace. We are thrilled at the overwhelmingly positive feedback we’ve received and we feel incredibly encouraged to continue the work we’re doing in this arena. Over the last year, we’ve learned a lot of valuable lessons — sometimes learning the hard way — that have and will continue to inform our decisions moving forward. We hope that our transparency in setting targets, publishing annual reports, and sharing our research will effect change both internally and within the industry at large. 
 
In the spirit of radical candor, something we’ve embraced at Versett, we’ve decided to share where we succeeded in our D&I efforts, but perhaps more importantly, also where we came up short. 
 
One of our first steps was to update our recruitment strategies. One major initiative was to be more intentional about how we write our job postings so that we are attracting the best talent from the largest possible pool. Over the past year, we’ve removed all gendered language and gendered pronoun usage from our postings. 
 
Studies have shown that female and non-male identifying applicants are less likely to apply for positions that use heavily masculine language in their job postings. As such, we’ve avoided using masculine-themed words like independent, competitive, assertive or achievement-oriented, and instead use words like collaboration, empathy, understanding, and communication. Additionally, women and non-binary folx are less likely to apply for roles where they don’t meet all or most of the job requirements, whereas men will apply even if they meet only half of the listed requirements. Rather than displaying a laundry list of required capabilities, we focus on informing prospective candidates of their expected responsibilities. Similarly, instead of requiring proficiency in an exhaustive list of programs and applications, we simply disclose the tools and technologies we use. These strategies and others have helped tremendously in attracting more diverse talent from a wider pool. 
 
Recently, we also started to include a set of D&I-specific questions as part of our interviewing process. In the past, we have admittedly been both heavy-handed and too casual with our approach. First, asking a candidate if they harbour negative feelings toward people different from themselves is not likely to produce an honest response. No one wants to openly admit to their biases if they even recognize that they have biases at all. 
 
Secondly, hiring someone who seems like a “nice person” is not enough. “Nice” people can still be bigoted and can harm team members who represent marginalized identities, even in an inclusive environment. 
To help gauge a candidate’s openness to Diversity & Inclusion, we’ve put together the following set of interview questions:

  • Have you read our D&I report?
  • What do diversity and inclusion mean to you?
  • What do you see as the most beneficial aspect of diversity and inclusion to the company and to your work?
  • What do you see as the most challenging aspects of working in a diverse environment?
  • Describe what kinds of experiences you have had interacting with others who have different backgrounds than your own.
  • What kind of awareness or knowledge did you gain from these experiences?
  • How have you handled a situation when a colleague was unreceptive to the diversity of others?
  • We occasionally run workshops and publish articles on D&I. What would you hope to learn from this kind of knowledge sharing?

These questions are deliberately open-ended to help generate thoughtful responses. In our experience, we’ve never had to run through the entire list of questions in a single interview. It becomes evident quite quickly whether or not the candidate will be a good fit for our team. We say we’re looking for openness to D&I because we don’t expect everyone to come to the table with all the answers. When it comes to D&I, you don’t know what you don’t know. What’s important to us is an unwavering respect for others and a willingness to learn.
 
Despite our efforts, however, we still do not have equitable gender, race/ethnicity, or GSD (Gender & Sexual Diversity) representation at Versett. Though we did improve slightly in some areas since last year, we have yet to meet our targets. 
 
To be truly representative of the communities where we work and the populations we serve, our Calgary office should aim for 33.7% visible minority representation, 51.4% in Toronto, and 56.9% in New York. Company-wide, 48.5% of our team is non-White (up from 32% in 2017); however; in the spirit of complete transparency, we feel it’s important to break that number down a little bit. In addition to our teams in North America, we also employ a number of remote workers who, incidentally, are not White. This skews our ethno-racial diversity numbers in a way that does not accurately reflect the representation in Calgary, Toronto, and New York. In fact, we’ve identified a huge gap in our New York office where currently all of our team members are White. By posting our job listings in places with greater diversity, such as career sites for institutions with more diverse populations, as well as incubators and bootcamps for specific groups such as Women in Code, we hope to sign on more high-performing employees who can bring their unique perspectives and valuable contributions to our team. 
 
Cross-office, we are aiming for a target just north of 50% combined female and non-male identifying representation, based on 50.4% female population in Canada reported in 2016 Census results, and 50.6% in the United States reported in 2018. Currently, only 24.2% of Versett employees are female or non-binary identifying (down from 27% in 2017). Despite the downturn in overall non-male representation, where we made one of our most significant improvements was in the promotion of our first female employee to Versett’s leadership team. Prior to this, the leadership team had been exclusively male. In our 2017 report, we committed to developing advancement and hiring strategies and working to define clear paths to leadership that prioritize diverse representation and gender parity. We’ve made some improvements, but we recognize that there is still much opportunity for growth. For women, and particularly women of colour, seeing yourself represented in leadership positions is crucial for career advancement. The saying “you can’t be it if you don’t see it” rings very true. 
 
Though we now have female representation on our leadership team, which is a tremendous step in the right direction that we are very proud of, there unfortunately comes the issue of becoming an “Only” — the isolating experience of being the only woman in the room. McKinsey & Company’s Women in the Workplace study reports that Onlys experience a tokenism dynamic, where women aren’t seen as the individuals that they are; instead, they are seen as a representative for all women. One of the consequences of this is that one woman in a group of men physically stands out, thus drawing a larger share of the attention. Under this heightened visibility, her performance is more likely to become scrutinized. Everything an Only says and does can be put under a microscope, and while she is just an individual person, her individual success or failure can become representative of all women. An Only’s success or performance becomes a litmus test for what women as a group are capable of, which raises the stakes on any kind of interaction or contribution. 
 
Another dynamic that occurs is that Onlyness can lead to greater stereotyping. When there is a group and several team members are women, the variation among those women helps to counter generalizations; however, when there is only one woman, she becomes a stand-in for all women. This primes gender stereotypes and there is greater pressure to conform to traditional feminine expectations. As an Only, she is more likely to receive pushback if she steps outside of those gender lines. 
 
To counter this, and other identity-based experiences of Onlyness, we encourage our team to be good allies, especially in front of our clients. Being a truly inclusive workplace means making sure that folks aren’t just given a seat at the table — they are given a voice. When a female director gets mistaken for a junior-level contributor, it’s up to her male allies to speak up and make that correction. Good allyship also means passing the microphone. If a team member of a marginalized group is repeatedly interrupted or talked over in meetings, it’s the responsibility of their peers to make a distinct point of offering them the spotlight and making sure their contributions are respected. 
 
GSD (Gender & Sexual Diversity) representation is, unfortunately, more difficult to benchmark. Due to persisting stigma and discrimination, many people who identify under the GSD umbrella choose not to disclose their true identities. Statistics Canada estimates that roughly 3% of the population identifies as lesbian, gay, or bisexual, but has yet to provide an option for individuals who do not identify with those labels, and it is widely suggested that this number is far too low. A Gallup poll from 2016 suggests the number is at 4.1% in the United States. However, GSD advocacy and ally groups place this estimate at closer to 10% of the population and in thriving tech-centric cities, these populations are greater than the national average. As such, our company-wide target for GSD representation is above 4%. Currently, 3% of Versett employees identify as GSD (down from 5% in 2017).
 
As a result of the survey we sent out this year (you can view our survey questions here), we identified the need for more robust D&I onboarding education for new hires. Our team has doubled since the release of our 2017 report, and our new hires come from very diverse backgrounds. Generally speaking, there seems to be a common ground of knowledge in terms of our D&I efforts and targets; however, it became apparent that we were not doing our due diligence when it came to communicating those efforts to our new hires. 
 
Diversity & Inclusion has become the organizational buzzword of late, partly due to the rise of social activism (and a growing interest for doing what’s right), partly due to well-researched ROI (and the perennial interest in doing what’s profitable). Be that as it may, D&I initiatives seem to be a largely Canadian and American phenomenon. Perhaps this can be attributed to our respective colonial histories* and the longstanding racism and White supremacy that is so interwoven in the fabric of our cultures. Perhaps it’s the very nature of our multiculturalism that encourages discussion about and celebration of what makes us different. Perhaps it’s the acknowledgment that marginalized groups face greater barriers when advocating for equity and that folks who face less discrimination have a responsibility to use their privilege to advocate on their behalf. Perhaps it’s simply White guilt. Nevertheless, race, gender, sexual orientation, class, and other factors of power and oppression are not as openly discussed in many other cultures. 
 
Despite D&I surveying and reporting becoming common practice among many companies, when asked to fill out the survey, several of our employees felt “culture shocked”. This was an immediate red flag that we had failed to communicate what Diversity & Inclusion means for us at Versett. While understanding the benefits of a more diverse and inclusive workplace, some of our team members didn’t understand why we were asking such forward questions. Interestingly, the issue wasn’t about disclosing personal information; it was about what we were using that data for. Why label people? Why put them into boxes? Don’t we hire and recognize people based on the merit of their qualifications and hard work?
 
Our D&I surveys are certainly not intended to be reductive. We recognize that humans are tremendously layered and complex and are greater than the sum of their identities. Unfortunately, discounting people’s diverse identities is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, the idea that folks don’t see colour/gender/religion/age/etc and treat everyone based on the content of their character and the merits of their professional qualities is likely what minority groups hope to be true. Wouldn’t it be fantastic if it were? On the other, this same identity-blindness is what many individuals use to mask their bigotry. Purposely disregarding identity-based differences denies marginalized folks of their lived experiences and the very real discrimination and disenfranchisement they face. This is an insidiously damaging form of microaggression called gaslighting that involves telling (and/or convincing) an individual that what they are experiencing isn’t real, or isn’t as bad as they imagine. We hope that by recognizing and acknowledging our differences at Versett, we let our employees know that they are seen and heard. 
 
To help better communicate why we care about Diversity & Inclusion at Versett, we’ve since put together a more robust D&I onboarding framework for new hires. This includes a high-level discussion on power and oppression, a primer on identities and intersectionality, cultural and historical context for folks who are not Canadian or American, an overview of the work we’ve done to date, and how all of this aligns with our company values. As our team becomes more diverse, we are actively trying to incorporate experiences and ideas from other perspectives as we enrich our D&I initiatives. The process of educating others is a learning experience for us as well.


We are very proud to highlight that as a direct result of our 2017 report, we have hired a number of individuals who noted that the reason they applied to Versett was that of the report and Versett’s commitment to a safe and inclusive workplace. That being said, perhaps our greatest shortcoming has been in the implementation of policies that directly support the safety and inclusion that we’ve promised. 
 
It is well-established in D&I literature and research that a diverse and inclusive workplace is only as strong and meaningful as the comprehensive and clearly outlined employee protections that support it. Without explicit policies in place, a workplace may appear more diverse and perhaps inclusive at a surface level, but may still present many sources of difficulties, conflicts, disadvantages, and discomfort for employees from marginalized groups. Versett has been incredibly lucky that, up until this point, we have experienced limited identity-based conflict in the workplace. This is perhaps a testament to our rigorous screening and hiring process (and, as a result, the wonderful group of people we have on our team); however, it is irresponsible to continue riding on that luck. 
 
Organizational culture is created, influenced, and preserved by the behaviour that leadership rewards and punishes. Without a clear set of guidelines and expectations outlining what is and what isn’t acceptable behaviour, we were not being proactive about making Versett a truly safe and inclusive place to work. Using an ad hoc approach to HR worked when there were only 9 of us, sitting in the same small office, where we appreciated each other’s humour, where nothing could be taken out of context, and where mutual respect was unspoken but always understood. Now that we are a team nearing 40 (and growing), spread across three offices in three countries, we can no longer afford to play fast and loose. 
 
This year we made a very important commitment to protecting our employees by hiring dedicated Human Resources personnel. We are in the process of putting together a comprehensive People & Culture Employee Handbook (which includes, and is not limited to, a clearly outlined code of conduct, a process for reporting violations of the code of conduct, procedures for conflict resolution and disciplinary action, and other widely-established protective policies), with a standardized compensation structure to ensure pay equity, and better documentation for employee evaluation and professional development in the pipeline. We look forward to empowering all of our current and future employees with this renewed commitment to safety and inclusion. 
 
Versett is still a young company, but we’ve matured a lot in the last year. As our team continues to grow, it is a top priority for our company to double down on its commitment to diversity and inclusion. Since publishing our first report last year, we’ve celebrated a lot of progress, but more importantly, we’ve identified key opportunities for improvement. We welcome the challenges ahead of us and hope that our transparency inspires other organizations not to congratulate themselves too much for their D&I efforts, but instead face the shortcomings of their ethical responsibilities head-on.
 
 
 
* We would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the traditional territories of the people of the Treaty 7 region in Southern Alberta, which includes the Blackfoot Confederacy (comprising the Siksika, Piikani, and Kainai First Nations), the Tsuut’ina First Nation, and the Stoney Nakoda (including the Chiniki, Bearspaw, and Wesley First Nations). The City of Calgary is also home to Métis Nation of Alberta, Region III. We would also like to note that the Versett Calgary office is situated on land adjacent to where the Bow River meets the Elbow River, and that the traditional Blackfoot name of this place is “Moh’kins’tsis”, which we now call the City of Calgary.

We acknowledge the land the Versett Toronto office is on is the traditional territory of many nations including the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishnabeg, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee and the Wendat peoples and is now home to many diverse Indigenous, Inuit and Métis peoples. We also acknowledge that Toronto is covered by Treaty 13 with the Mississaugas of the Credit.
 
We further acknowledge that the Versett New York office is located on the unceded land of the Lenape. We acknowledge the Lenape community, their elders both past and present, as well as future generations.


Does your company report on Diversity & Inclusion? What successes or challenges have you faced in your D&I efforts? We’d love to hear from you on Twitter, or you can email us.


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