Boulder Diversity Lab

Bringing together the startup community to create an actionable game plan towards reaching a more inclusive, diverse workforce.

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.

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 eight-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?

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

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 three main areas of concern: recruiting, retention, and space.

Recruiting. Where can we find diverse candidates? Knowing where to look and where to find candidates that don’t match your typical worker is an elusive but good place to start.

Retention. After we get someone through the door, how do we make sure that our company was welcoming? Retention is key to maintaining a diverse workforce, and a good indicator of employee satisfaction.

Space. How do we perpetuate a company space and culture that continuously involves a diverse workforce? For example, our group highlighted that there were a number of of industries that maintained a heavy drinking culture. Not only was the culture overtly masculine, but the focus on alcohol centered excluded recovering alcoholics and people who don’t drink.

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 Madelyne 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. 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.

Impact

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.

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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