Effort Over Time – How Apptentive is Building a Diverse Workforce
Diversity in the workplace is important. Companies build better products, and better teams when they have diverse thinking.
At Apptentive, we talk about diversity a lot. We don’t have it all figured out. We are transparent about wanting to build a diverse company – diverse in all senses of the word – and transparent about the fact that we have work to do. We’ve made big strides – for example 50% of our leadership are women – and are committed to building a great team.
We don’t want to be in a situation where we look back on the company we’ve built two, three, four years from now, and what we’ve done is institutionalized a homogenous culture.
Growing up in Redmond, I often listened to KUOW. I never thought I’d actually get to hear myself on it, but I got to chat about proactive culture building with Marcie Sillman on The Record.
Here are some of the key points we discussed (this is the clip if you prefer to listen: http://kuow.org/post/effort-over-time-leads-diverse-workforce):
Don’t beat yourself up over where you are:
Initially we pretty much stank at diversity. For the first year and a half we were bootstrapped. When we raised some money and began hiring people we hoped we’d see people of all backgrounds applying – but that wasn’t the case.
Marcie asked me: What did we do to turn it around?
Our initial approach was reactive and we had to be proactive. The best thing we did is we talked about it on a regular basis instead of sweeping it under the rug. We asked ourselves, why do the candidates applying look like us? Talking about it kept diversity on the top of our minds. We are fortunate that Seattle is a very progressive city. We went to lots of events – events for women in tech, STEM for youth, etc. We talked to people to learn how to reach people from different backgrounds. We asked who they knew and who we should be talking to. We asked who could help us get better at this.
Be Intentional; Invest For the Long Run
I’ve learned through entrepreneurship that things don’t happen unless you make them happen. You don’t get a company built by hoping, you can’t build product or sell your product by hoping. The same is true with hiring and building your company culture; you have to make it happen.
Marcie asked me: What kind of tradeoffs have we had to make for this goal?
We don’t think of ourselves as making tradeoffs. Tradeoffs imply there are costs there. I think of this as an investment. Today we are a 30-person company. We are very ambitious about our goals. We’re looking to find people who can help us achieve our goals. Does it take longer to find the right people? Yes. If the best person in the pool of applicants is still not the right person, we don’t have to hire them; instead we increase the size of the pool. We always try to pick the best candidate for us. We’re taking our time to build the team that’s perfect.
Open and Regular Dialog Are Part of the Effort Required
Marcie asked me: Is there one question that bubbles up the most?
I hear the question, “Does diversity mean that we hire less qualified candidates?” That’s the latent question in a lot of people’s minds. Thankfully people at our company are comfortable asking the question. The good news is it doesn’t mean we are lowering our standards.
Why is this so important? Why does it matter beyond Apptentive? What does it mean to greater community?
To the extent that we can be successful, we can serve as a role model. We can show that some expectations are wrong. A lot of companies think it’s so hard, that they give themselves a pass. We see this differently – it’s not going to change right away but we have to work on it constantly. I see it as a continuum where effort over time will lead to results. It’s not effort over a month, it’s effort over time.
So, for those of you reading this, is your company building a diverse team? What has worked and what hasn’t worked? What are you learning along the way?
[If this philosophy resonates with you, we’re hiring: www.apptentive.com/jobs]