More than a buzzword: How diversity impacts innovation for these 3 tech companies

March 8, 2018

Sometimes it’s hard to see the forest for the trees. Workplace diversity has been a major discussion for the better part of the last half-century, but only recently have companies started making inclusion a cornerstone of their hiring practices. Too often, businesses bandy about the word “diversity” as a marketing tool, but for these three LA tech companies, diversity means differentiation, innovation and keeping the burning desire for positive change front and center.

 

tala santa monica

Bonnie Oliva-Porter
Director of Global Operations

As a company with a global mission, the Tala team’s diversity initiatives stretch far beyond the company’s Santa Monica roots. With clients in emerging markets like Kenya, Tanzania and the Philippines, Tala’s workforce includes employees in several countries, but at home in Los Angeles, the company’s gender balance is nearly even, and more than half of people managers are women. According to Bonnie Oliva-Porter, director of global operations, the necessity for a diverse team is augmented by the diversity of customers the company caters to.

 

How does a staff composed of representatives from a number of different backgrounds influence the company’s culture?

Tala’s culture is global in nature because the markets that our customers live and work in are diverse. Our headquarters may be in Santa Monica, but more than half of our employees are either from or work in our various markets, and they have a huge influence on our overall culture. We have collaborative meetings across markets (and time zones) to share insights and resources, as well as proactively shape the culture we want to work and thrive in.

Our culture starts at the top with our Founder and CEO, Shivani Siroya, who grew up in India and the United States and spent the early part of her career as a researcher, interviewing thousands of people across Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia to learn about their lives and financial needs. This value is still central to our team and business and we’ve formalized it by creating a set of founding principles that encourage innovation through empathy, humility and collaboration.

Our global workforce also influences what we do to unwind and have fun as a team. In Santa Monica, for example, we make an effort to celebrate the holidays that our international offices celebrate. Most recently, we had a colorful decorating party to celebrate the Hindu holiday of Holi.

 

How does a diverse workforce influence consistent product innovation?

Tala was founded on a belief that all people, no matter where they start from, should have equality of financial opportunity. Diversity in our workforce is fundamental to our mission. Diverse voices offer a constant, available stream of new perspectives and understanding, which unlock insights and opportunities to reach customers in ways that are relevant and resonant to their lives.

Our team understands that the way we think, design and build our product will only succeed if influenced by a deep understanding of our customers’ needs, values and preferences. Our success and growth depend on building a team, in the U.S. and in our global offices, with a diversity of experiences and backgrounds who can effectively service our customers and bring our vision of an inclusive financial system to life.

Diversity should always be something that’s discussed and acknowledged, even when it’s the norm."

How can the tech community help influence increased diversity in other industries?

We’ve heard tech referred to as “the new Wall Street,” which means that the tech community has the opportunity to create a new global standard for the kinds of voices and products that power our economy. Lack of workforce diversity is not a standalone problem —  it’s an issue due to larger systemic injustices our country is still working to address, alongside global market forces.

In order to unify behind diversity, the tech industry needs more champions in CEOs and informal influencers, and not just diversity teams. We need companies willing to admit where they fall short and why. The industry has to care and act, on every level, and that may make people uncomfortable for a while. Ultimately these efforts can generate positive change.

Actions like diversifying the company’s vendor and supply chain, auditing company culture for exclusionary norms and definitions of high performance, creating safe spaces and forums for marginal voices to be heard, investing in pipeline-building programs like Girls Who Code or Code2040. These are real and tangible ways any company can contribute, and these actions add up.

 

When will a diverse workforce become the norm, and not something that needs to be discussed?

Diversity should always be something that’s discussed and acknowledged, even when it’s the norm. The goal should be that the tone of the conversation changes from asking to be made a priority to celebrating that it’s a priority.

This begins when we align on what diversity means and when we act to bring the definition into reality. Encouraging employee self-awareness and admitting unconscious biases go a long way. A diverse workforce becomes the norm when people aren’t satisfied with only having “different kinds of people” in a room, but when those individuals are leading meaningful conversations about directional business and organizational decisions, with equal merit and authority as their counterparts.

We don’t like to think of inclusion, but equity. Think of it as a party or gathering. It’s not enough to invite someone into a space, or to dance at the party — what ways are you making sure this person has an opportunity to throw the next party?

 

consumertrack el segundo marketing advertising

Joy Au
VP of Strategy and Analytics

As El Segundo-based marketing agency ConsumerTrack grew, its executives insisted on making a concerted, consistent effort to make diversity a major part of its hiring plans. Because of this, the company has created a workforce that is 53 percent female and 47 percent male, with an executive team split evenly at 50 percent male and 50 percent female. According to VP of Strategy and Analytics Joy Au, this emphasis on inclusion has shaped the environment within the office.

 

How does a staff made up of representatives from a number of different backgrounds influence the company’s culture?

Having a diverse workforce has definitely made a significant impact on the culture here at ConsumerTrack. We are dedicated to creating an inclusive workplace, which is evident starting with our recruiting and hiring practices through to our rigorous professional growth plans. The company’s culture was one of the things I was impressed with and it made me want to join the team. It was refreshing to find several women in senior leadership positions — that made it clear to me that the culture is passionate about learning from others, embracing new perspectives and growing stronger together, regardless of gender, race or sexual orientation.

We are dedicated to creating an inclusive workplace, which is evident starting with our recruiting and hiring practices." 

How does a diverse workforce influence consistent product innovation?

The decision-making process within a diverse workforce is a lot more collaborative, especially when you don’t have the same type of people leading the process all of the time. Working with a team that has a variety of backgrounds and experiences, we are able to define and approach a problem from different angles and draw from a wide range of interests.

With a diverse workforce aligned with product innovation, we can ideate a lot faster and come up with creative solutions. In analytics, it is analogous to identifying more insights, new patterns and developing a richer story from the same set of data. We are constantly learning from each other.

 

How can the tech community help influence increased diversity in other industries?

The tech community formed over the shared passion for learning and constant innovation. The beauty of having such a strong tech community in Southern California is that it’s especially well-positioned to drive widespread change and connect people at scale. Technology can be a great equalizer rather than a barrier, we just need to use it that way. To truly become a platform for inclusion, I think there should be an increase of awareness and education. We know that honest conversations and authentic change are happening, but do we know how effective our efforts have been over time?  

The awareness starts with being able to measure success and track performance. It would be great to see how the ratio of minorities hired in tech or the percentage of women in senior management improve over time from these initiatives. I think sharing success stories may help with education. We need to evaluate what initiatives (grassroots recruiting, flexible training, project team mix, etc.) have worked and how those have quantitatively helped overall business results. Then the movement toward inclusion becomes more tangible and actionable.

Diversity as a norm implies there’s a finish line; I think it’s more of a never-ending journey that we all need to embrace."

When will a diverse workforce become the norm, and not something that needs to be discussed?

Diversity as a norm implies there’s a finish line; I think it’s more of a never-ending journey that we all need to embrace. I don’t know that we need to stop talking about this, because only by keeping it in the conversation do we affect change. We need to continue the discussion, across all levels, across different industries, and insert this topic into old agendas. We need to understand that diversity and inclusion is just as important as any other business initiative. Our audiences and customers are becoming increasingly more diverse, as leaders we need to recognize that there’s weight and urgency behind this movement.  

 

hyrecar los angeles

Elizabeth Reynolds
Chief Operating Officer

Founded in 2014, HyreCar offers rideshare drivers a platform that allows them to easily rent a vehicle and start driving as soon as possible. The downtown LA-based company places a premium on diversity in its workforce, with 40 percent of employees identifying as a race or ethnicity other than white. As a technology company operating in the automotive industry, Chief Operating Officer Elizabeth Reynolds said that she is proud of the emphasis the company places on diversity.

 

How does a diverse workforce influence consistent product innovation?

We are all shaped by our personal experiences; not only do we bring unique sets of knowledge, but we have unique ways of seeing the world and approaching problems. The collective pool of experiences has allowed us to come up with creative solutions and innovative ideas consistently.

...we are squarely in the midst of massive workforce globalization, and diversity is necessary to remain competitive with fast-changing macroeconomic trends."

How can companies make concerted efforts to become more diverse?

Hiring can be very challenging in competitive markets, and in my experience, small companies often hire from their existing network; so you are hiring the most qualified candidate but from a limited circle. If you take a little more time to hire and keep applications open until you have a wider selection of candidates, it makes it easy to hire a qualified and diverse team. Step one, though, is simply to value people who bring experiences that are different than your own.

 

How can the tech community help influence increased diversity in other industries?

Everyone is watching the tech space, and they see that we’re driving economic growth. Big companies like Google, Facebook and Apple are releasing demographics that have fueled the conversation; if we dedicate ourselves to improving those figures across the industry, we will show the importance and value of diversity.

 

When will a diverse workforce become the norm, and not something that needs to be discussed?

I think we’re seeing the shift now — we are squarely in the midst of massive workforce globalization, and diversity is necessary to remain competitive with fast-changing macroeconomic trends.

 

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