Diversity matters: 3 startups where inclusivity drives innovation

John Siegel

There’s no beating around the bush: There are glaring social inequalities in the U.S. we need to fix. Despite the explosive growth of the tech community here in LA, companies still struggle to assemble teams who reflect the diverse group of people, cultures and ideas that make California feel like home.

We spoke to four tech companies about how they address diversity in the workplace, and why it's good for both business and the community proper.

 

Founded in 2012, Sidebench is officially designated as a “diverse supplier,” meaning the company is at least 51 percent owned, operated and controlled by people in underrepresented communities. According to Director of Product Innovation Jay Chang, diversity in background leads to diversity in thought — and given the company’s identity as an innovation lab and startup venture studio, the more diversity in thought, the better.

What is Sidebench doing to ensure a more diverse workplace?

“We don’t enforce qualifications around hiring diverse talent, but diversity happens naturally in our search for candidates that have a variety of expertise,” Chang said. “We’re open to all ages, genders, races, backgrounds and skill sets because you can’t expect a small company to grow quickly if you keep on hiring the same type of employee. When we’re presented with an opportunity to add a new dimension to our team, we reach out and take it.”

What sort of results has the company seen so far?

“One of the primary synergies we’ve found in having not only an ethnically and gender diverse staff is the multitude of talents, creativity and work experience that comes from having a diverse staff,” said Chang. “In our industry, where creative solutioning and problem solving driven by technology mandates having a team with a breadth of skills, we’ve found the best candidates for a job can never come from a single silo.”

Why is it important to have a diverse team?

“We’re at our best when our teams are comprised of a variety of backgrounds and skill sets,” Chang added. “One of the most important pieces of our success at Sidebench is harnessing our ‘collective genius.’ This means creating a workplace where everyone feels empowered to share and combine their ideas and passions. Employing a diverse staff amplifies our collective genius and broadens our perspective and knowledge base. We see this as the most valuable aspect of employing people with a wide range of backgrounds and experience.”

What do your employees think about Sidebench’s multicultural workplace?

"Creative solutioning and problem-solving through technology is at the core of what we offer our clients,” said Director of Product Delivery RJ Stidd. “Having a team with a breadth of experiences, backgrounds, talents, and perspectives breeds a culture of diversity that enables us to do amazing work."

 

Since 1998, Matchcraft has grown in size and scale, and now boasts offices in a number of countries around the world. As the team has grown, they have found that diversity isn’t just important for the company’s performance, but for its team’s morale, as well.

What is Matchcraft doing to ensure a more diverse workplace?

“Our goal is to attract the most diverse and competent pool of talent, find the best candidate for the role and retain our talent by providing an environment that inspires diversity in all domains,” said Nicole Webb, head of people and culture.

“Creating a diverse workplace is multifaceted. We’ve implemented ways to cultivate a diverse workplace by encouraging diversity of thought and empowering team members to come up with alternative ways of doing things. We also survey employees on a quarterly basis to ensure that we are keeping our finger on the pulse and inspire diversity through anonymity for those who don’t feel comfortable speaking up on company practices. Even seemingly simple acts involving providing diversity in cuisine at our weekly MatchCraft sponsored lunches is an effort on our end to provide a workplace that creates an environment where diversity is embraced. We host monthly Lunch N Learns where we encourage employees to present special interests and hobbies.”

What sort of results has the company seen so far?

“We’ve seen increasingly positive feedback in our employee happiness index surveys as MatchCraft grows and continues to evolve,” she said. “When employees feel heard and see that senior leadership is authentically interested in understanding how to create a cohesive and diverse workplace, employees feel more confident sharing, and thus positive action can be implemented.”

What do your employees think about Matchcraft’s multicultural workplace?

“Although I am a woman, a 'foreigner' and someone who isn’t a recent college grad, none of that matters at MatchCraft,” said Marianne Faas, an account manager and partner experience lead. “What counts is my knowledge, commitment and motivation. As a mother of two kids, I am happy about the flexibility we have in terms of working remotely if needed, but I'd rather work at the office every day. With my colleagues, we are supporting each other in knowledge, but we are also sharing our laughter, and sometimes our tears. What else would anyone wish for? I honestly enjoy working at MatchCraft.”

 

InvolveSoft co-founders Gaurav Bhattacharya and Saumya Bhatnagar started their first company in India not long after graduating high school. The project, a software platform designed to help fight infanticide in the country, was eventually acquired and is now mandated for all radiologists in New Delhi. After relocating to Los Angeles, the duo started up again, and quickly assembled a diverse team of employees.

What is InvolveSoft doing to ensure a more diverse workplace?

“We believe that maximum creativity can occur only when people from different backgrounds put their heads together,” said Bhattacharya. “We are ardent supporters of creating an inclusive environment. One of the most successful methods that we had was to ask for referrals and have each member of the founding team have a say in the hiring.

“Another method we have implemented was to introduce diversity as an active part of discussion. People on our founding team discuss each other's background, culture and religion and ask questions. Making this a regular part of conversation aligns every employee's values with diversity and inclusion and propagate it.”

What sort of backgrounds make up the team?

“The team 50 percent male, 50 percent female,” Bhattacharya said. “Our team includes a number of nationalities, bringing together people from India, Venezuela, Mexico, Philippines, Iran, Vietnam and China. From a generational standpoint, our team includes Generation Y, Millennials, Gen Xers and Baby Boomers.” 

Why is it important to have a team made up of people from a number of different backgrounds?

“InvolveSoft is a platform catered to volunteering and diversity. Our mission and vision is centered around diversity. Also, we feel everyone’s background gives a new perspective to every part of the company initiatives. It has promoted mutual respect in the team and also improved team adaptability to different situations."

What do your employees think about InvolveSoft’s multicultural workplace?

“Involvesoft is definitely diverse in the skill sets of its team members, but it’s also culturally diverse and that’s allowed me to experience the richness of my colleagues’ backgrounds and appreciate the interconnectedness as human beings while we attempt to help others experience the same through our platform,” said Amy Mayyen Wong, user experience designer.

 

Responses edited for clarity, length and style. Images via participating companies.

Have a news tip for us or know of a company that deserves coverage? Let us know or follow us on Facebook. You can follow John on Twitter @JohnBuiltInLA.

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