During my three and a half years in the Bay Area, the lack of diversity and inclusion (D & I) in the tech industry has become an accepted national narrative with Google, LinkedIn, Apple, Facebook, Twitter, Slack, and others providing more transparency into their employment statistics and pledging to improve. Here at SchoolMint, we’ve also committed to changing the status quo.
Diversity and inclusion are always important. Always. And it’s even more imperative here at SchoolMint given the customers we serve. We have one of the most diverse customer bases — parents and school administrators throughout the U.S. — so, it makes sense for us to reflect the backgrounds of those customers. Furthermore, our mission directly impacts the pipeline that is often referred to by those fighting through the difficulties of creating diverse and inclusive offices. By providing a simple, accessible way for parents to apply and register for schools at home, we’re assisting families in the first steps to setting up their children for success.
The time is right for us. With 29 team members in the U.S. (and another 24 in Costa Rica), we’re at a good size for instilling the values and processes necessary to foster the environment we’re seeking. With that in mind, a small group of us, including a co-founder and HR/Culture manager, formed organically to work on these issues. Here are a few ways we’re tackling the challenges.
“Bring your whole self to work.”
Before we created our D & I committee, SchoolMint already had a great set of values including two that really strike a chord with me: “No jerks. Period.” and “We, not me.” However, we realized that if we’re serious about diversity and inclusion, then we need to capture that commitment in our stated values so that it’s crystal clear for current and future team members. That realization led to us deciding that “Bring your whole self to work” was a vital addition to the list.
Why that particular phrase? Well, we believe that it’s important to address what happens after a diverse candidate joins SchoolMint. Are they comfortable? Are they struggling with stereotype threat? Imposter syndrome? What is the company doing to retain them? Google has found that psychological safety is one of the most important factors in building successful teams, and thinking about this has pushed us to consider authenticity and what it means in the workplace.
We’re a small, three-year-old startup. Like many companies at this stage, our interviewing processes were not well defined until recently. There wasn’t much coordination between interviewers, we weren’t always consistent with our questions, and we weren’t taking deliberate steps to avoid biasing each other during or after the interview process. We’ve improved on all by acknowledging these problems and making small changes to our processes including coordination of questions and avoiding conversations about candidates until individual reviews are written. The next step will be formal interview training for all hiring managers, conducted by a third party.
On the recruiting front, we’ve become aware of biases in the phrasing and tone of our job postings. Textio has been a useful tool for this. It pointed out where we were using too much jargon or unintentionally using a tone that could skew our applicant pool. As we’ve tested minor tweaks, we’ve witnessed how viewing postings through this lens improves our pipeline.
We haven’t done all of this on our own, and we’re super fortunate to have Kapor Capital as investors. Their founders’ commitment and its “four actions” have been a guiding light, and because of our close partnership, we asked Freada Kapor Klein and Mandela Schumacher-Hodge to visit, share their research, and help facilitate our first company-wide discussion on the challenges of building a more diverse and inclusive organization. It was very insightful, and served as a great way to introduce the committee’s efforts to the rest of the company.
Following that initial talk, we came up with an activity to help everyone in the company learn more about each other: creating “life maps.” With options to use a web app or just old-fashioned paper, markers, and stickers, we held a “lunch and learn” for mapping out and presenting our life stories. It was enlightening to hear my co-workers’ stories, and I was surprised and encouraged by the willingness of teammates to discuss personal details of their lives. It made me optimistic about creating psychological safety at SchoolMint.
And in another effort to promote open, honest communication, after election night, we created a channel in Slack (#movingforward2016) and encouraged local and remote teammates to vent and share thoughts on the future of our country. It was a small gesture, but it was one that was appreciated as evidenced by the amount of activity in the channel.
This is just the beginning. Our goal is to continue these conversations through monthly “town halls” and activities focused on life and matters outside of work.
While we feel good about our progress as well as our efforts earning us a slot on BeVisible Latinx’s 2016 List of Top Companies, we recognize that we’re just scratching the surface. And it bears mentioning that these are just our current initiatives. This is an ongoing journey that we’re approaching with a kaizen mindset. We won’t get everything right; no company has it all right. We’ll be constantly monitoring and adjusting as needed. Additionally, we intend to be public in the journey and share our learnings in subsequent posts. In the meantime, we’d love to see your feedback, and we hope that you’ll stay tuned!
Shout-out to my fellow D & I teammates: Taryn Moore, Emily Knox, Forum Desai, and Katy Burk.