Case Study

Boulder Diversity Lab

  • Principles & Ideas
  • Workshop

Hacking diversity in the tech industry with a one-day design thinking workshop.

Challenge

Diversity has long been recognized as a persistent shortcoming in one of the most rapidly growing industries of the past century. A diverse workforce is a critical driver behind creativity, empathy, and business success. Despite the ongoing discourse surrounding the topic, little has been done to outline pragmatic solutions to create a more diverse and inclusive workplace environment.

We partnered with our friends at SHYFTco to present a day-long Diversity Lab, focusing on creating tangible diversity solutions to immediately implement following the conclusion of the workshop. We invited local tech companies to join the workshop with the goal of “hacking” diversity to establish a more inclusive industry, right here in our Boulder community.

How might we create an actionable diversity curriculum for participants to return to their companies and implement immediately?

Approach

We modeled our lab after Google’s week-long design sprint; however, it was a challenge to compress each phase of the process into an 8-hour experimental workshop. Participating startups included Sparkfun, Brandzooka, Turing Center, Full Contact, Techstars, Tendril, VictorOps, MojoTech and IMM, with participants ranging from C-suite executives and VPs to directors.

Kickoff

The lab kicked off by defining “diversity.” Is it a buzzword? Does it only apply to race or the ratio of men to women, or is it also embedded in age and socioeconomic status? Or does it encompass all of these facets and more?

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We centered our kickoff discussions on opening up the tech space to everyone and not just for a single subset of people — e.g. young, white males.

Our participants shared and discussed 3 key motives for joining the workshop:

  1. To learn about design thinking and how it can be used to attack big, intangible problems,
  2. To take home at least one tactical strategy for making their business more diverse and inclusive, and
  3. To create and acquire a community of like-minded individuals who are struggling, yet impelled to grapple and combat the homogeneity of the workforce.

As one participant aptly put it, “my goal is to make the tech industry look like America.”

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Defining a Goal

After outlining a problem, we agreed upon a broad goal:

“To increase and retain presence of underrepresented groups in core technical, product, and leadership positions from the current baseline to reflect the general population of the United States by 2030 in order to outperform competition and make the world a better place.”

From there, we deep dived into the questions we were most afraid of confronting, interviewed a panel of experts, and worked collectively to create storyboards of a brighter, more inclusive future for the tech industry.

Main Issues

From participant interviews held prior to the workshop, we discovered 3 main areas of concern: recruiting, retention, and space.

  1. Recruiting: not knowing where to find or how to recruit employees from different backgrounds.
  2. Retention: the problem isn't solved with inclusive hiring, but branches into retaining employees and making sure that the company welcomed and accommodated them.
  3. Space: we wanted to find out what sort of environment felt most welcoming across a broad range of individuals. For example, if alcohol is the central point of celebration and recreation in a company, employees who are recovering alcoholics or non-drinkers will feel excluded and won't find benefit in that culture.

Storyboarding and Expert Panel

We broke into three teams to sketch and iterate on different potential solutions each of issue, choosing the best of each to populate a three-panel storyboard.

During the halfway point, we introduced experts on these concerns in an expert Q&A panel facilitated by Mandaline from SHYFTco. Participants were able to ask “how might we” questions, draw insights, and elicit feedback that they implemented into their drafted solutions.

By this time, we distilled our main goal into clear, actionable objectives for each team to respond to. For example, Space team’s goal was to “create guidelines, considerations and a ‘playbook’ for designing inclusive space(s) for all employees to gather, whether physical or virtual.”

Presentations

To communicate their solutions, each team sketched out their final solutions and presented their ideas through storyboards. At the conclusion of the workshop, everyone arrived at a single, collective solution that incorporated all the different ideas.

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These ideas helped paint larger picture that our HR and C-level participants took back to their companies to establish a stronger, more open workplace.

Outcome

At the beginning of the lab, participants were eager to learn more and overcome some of the toughest barriers to a more inclusive workplace. After diving into the most critical problems blocking diversity from permeating the tech industry and presenting the solutions they crafted in response, we found that participants were even more eager — and now more prepared — to return to their companies with practical action plans in hand to bring the goals they envisioned to life, setting an example at home in Boulder for the rest of the tech industry to follow.

"It was great to meet a group of people dealing with the same diversity issues and to be able to discuss each other's experiences." - Heimir Sverrison, Engineering Mentor, Mojotech LLC, Boulder

"I loved the session! It was great to come together with people I had never met before all coming from different backgrounds and experiences but passionate about addressing the same problem. It was also super helpful to tackle these seemingly overwhelming issues through bite-sized and creative means. I absolutely came away with some immediate plans to improve diversity and inclusion right away!" - Michelle Van Veen, People Operations Generalist @ Techstars

EchoUser and SHYFTco will partner again at the 2017 Boulder Startup Week to discuss the outcomes Diversity Lab among the broader tech community, and how to promote inclusivity and create holistic diversity solutions through the medium of design thinking.


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