How these NYC tech companies work to promote diversity in the workplace

by Taylor Majewski
April 13, 2017

The technology industry has been notoriously chastised for its lack of diversity, especially when it comes to employing women and people of color in technical roles.

But, just last week, local coding bootcamp Flatiron School partnered with Bustle to offer a scholarship for women trying to learn how to code and attain tech jobs. The Grace Hopper Program, a partner school to Fullstack Academy, recently launched to create a more productive learning environment in an all-women classroom. Andela’s training and education program provides tech companies with access to the top one percent of tech talent across Africa. Talent development company Everwise created a 12-month program that uses prediction and recommendation technology and matching software to connect senior-level women to the resources and connections they need to accelerate their careers in tech. And the list goes on.

A number of New York tech companies are taking the necessary and tangible measures to overhaul the issue. These two local startups have fought to combat the industry’s ingrained lack of diversity from their beginning and built their company cultures around inclusiveness from the start.

 

ThoughtWorks is a technology consultancy that develops software for people and organizations across a myriad of industries, from social to commercial to the government. ThoughtWorks’s capabilities span a diverse group of clients and projects, and as such, its employee culture reflects that diversity.

In its many efforts to build an inclusive workplace, the created ThoughtWorks University — an entry-level program where recent graduates and people looking to make career changes into tech alike can learn to build software from week one.

We chatted with James Grate, Program Manager for Diversity at ThoughtWorks to find out more about the company’s unique culture.

What are some of the major ways ThoughtWorks has built a diverse culture?

We recognized early on that not all technical excellence or innovation had to originate from within the IT industry or computer science departments. As a result, we expanded our focus to seek out individuals with transferrable skills, and the right attitude, aptitude, and integrity. Over six years ago, this culminated in the creation of ThoughtWorks University, an entry level program for recent college graduates, career changers, or those with less than two years experience. From this program, we've been able to hire, grow and retain underrepresented minorities, many of whom are leaders of our business today. I personally joined ThoughtWorks through this program nearly six years ago.

ThoughtWorks also maintains several other programs and initiatives to foster an inclusive workplace. We set a hiring goal of 50 percent women hires for ThoughtWorks University, which we commonly exceed because we go beyond the computer science department.

Our North America Leadership Development program proactively designates 50 percent of its spots for women in the organization. We also have quite a few councils comprised of diverse ThoughtWorkers (employees) who provide feedback and advise our leaders on things like our office community and culture, diversity and inclusion, and employee benefits and policies. I believe our approach to finding diverse talent and engaging them in how we manage and evolve our culture is what lead to us winning the 2016 Top Companies For Women Technologist Program by the Anita Borg Institute.

How has it built this type of culture from the beginning?

Our company's three-pillar model is the foundation of our culture. The first pillar is run a sustainable business, the second is to champion software excellence and the third is to advocate for social and economic justice. Our pillars remain our north star, whether it's regarding how we recruit and hire future ThoughtWorkers employees, manage our local office communities or how we evaluate a potential partnership or client relationship. As a result, you’ll find a shared, common experience at any of our global offices, despite ThoughtWorkers coming from a wide variety of social and cultural backgrounds and perspectives.

What advice would you give to other startups when it comes to prioritizing diversity while launching a company?

Hopefully by now, we all know that diverse and inclusive teams create better products and services. As such, diversity and inclusion should be a core component of your organization's mission. From the very beginning, set measurable objectives that tie back to your stated mission. Most importantly, be intentional about achieving your objectives, whether that means making an investment, empowering employees, or seeking outside consultation. Similarly, when you don't achieve your objective, keep yourselves accountable, and determine the next pivot or investment that you believe will lead to success.

Are there ways ThoughtWorks has directly addressed the systemic diversity issues often found in the tech industry?

Often, the systemic diversity issues are framed under the perception that there is a pervasive pipeline challenge, such as there aren't enough women or minorities currently in tech. By casting a wider net for talent and focusing on inclusion, ThoughtWorks University, our employee advisory councils and our leadership development programs become simple, yet effective examples of how companies can currently address the perceived pipeline issue.

Additionally, we look to our local offices to creatively engage local communities and function as community hubs. This can take the form of hosting technical talks, hackathons, youth technology mentoring programs, climate change workshops and community social and economic justice forums. In this capacity, we've had the pleasure to connect many people and organizations with needed talent, mentorship, capability development and networking opportunities.

Looking ahead, how does ThoughtWorks plan to continue to build a diverse culture as the company grows?

In addition to continuing the aforementioned efforts, our current plans include running more frequent diversity and inclusion trainings, such as unconscious bias training. We also plan to train more ThoughtWorkers to facilitate diversity and inclusion trainings, engage more ThoughtWorkers in our diversity and inclusion strategy and planning activities and share our lessons learned by exchanging best practices with our community partners, clients and the industry at large.

 

Managed by Q, an office management company that provides companies with on-demand maintenance services, abandoned convention when it came to investing in its employees. While a fleet of cleaners assistants, helpers and handymen is ingrained into Managed by Q’s business model, the company chose to employ these workers with W2 jobs.

We caught up with Travis Ousley, Managed by Q’s Talent Acquisition Lead to talk more about other strategies the company has used to foster equality among its workers.

What are some of the major ways Managed by Q has built a diverse culture?

Managed by Q believes in hiring people from all walks of life — and our workforce reflects that. Managed by Q has had conversations with organizations like Galvanize and Coalition for Queens about placing low-income people from diverse communities into tech and product jobs. We have a mentorship program in place where our executive team coaches and mentors cleaners and field operators from traditionally underserved communities on areas of interest to them, whether that's engineering or operations. We also have created career development pathways for our field operators, and several of them have been promoted from cleaners to become mentors, supervisors, and operations professionals.

How has it built this type of culture from the beginning?

Managed by Q is dedicated to creating an inclusive environment that allows for collective success and works to economically empower the different stakeholders in our community, from our cleaners in the field to the small businesses in our marketplace. From the beginning, we've celebrated the diverse backgrounds of all of our employees, several of whom are immigrants and from lower-income communities. New hires to the company are required to shadow cleaners in the field so that people at all levels of the company understand the business from that perspective. We facilitate community service days and initiatives to embed the company in the cities we serve and have partnered with workforce development groups to place job-seekers within our company and get a better sense of what the needs of the community are. We've also formed groups within the office that celebrate diversity, including Women of Q, a group that convenes all women in the company to talk about issues impacting women at both a professional and broader societal level.

What advice would you give to other startups when it comes to prioritizing diversity while launching a company?

Startups should be willing to consider or elevate non-traditional candidates. They can also seek out partnerships with non-profits and organizations that work to economically empower marginalized or underserved communities. Finally, they should create cultural institutions or initiatives within the company that facilitate open discussion and foster inclusion, like forming women-, minority-, or LGBT-centric groups.

Are there ways Managed by Q has directly addressed the systemic diversity issues often found in the tech industry? 

Managed by Q has partnered with Project Include, an organization that helps tech companies promote diversity and inclusion in the workplace and quantify progress. We've had speakers like Ellen Pao into the office to share some her insights on how companies implement effective and sustainable diversity programming. One of our investors, Kapor Capital, has helped us invest in tools to mitigate bias in hiring and recruitment, as well as recommended diversity and inclusion goals appropriate for our company stage. We also have a very robust people and culture team, comprised of recruiters, benefits specialists, and heads of culture who are always receptive to learning about how companies can improve and reflect different backgrounds.

Looking ahead, how does Managed by Q plan to continue to build a diverse culture as the company grows?

We'll look to partner with more workforce development groups and advocacy organizations that provide pathways to opportunity for students and job-seekers in traditionally underserved communities. We'll also work to send out surveys internally to ensure that women, minorities, and other groups are feeling included and well-represented within the company. Finally, we are seeking out partnerships with groups that help connect veterans and refugees to economic opportunity.

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