Creating an Internal Diversity Council
This is the first part in a series about the experience of starting and running a diversity council. In the first post, I share what inspired us and how we got started. In future posts, I’ll share what we achieved in the year we operated and lessons learned along the way.
In the late Spring of 2016, my TIY colleague, Jessica (now CEO and co-founder of Momentum Learning in the Research Triangle), and I worked on another project together like we had for years; across state lines or together on trains, planes, and automobiles. Jessica came to me with the idea of starting an internal Diversity Council. For months before the council began, we worked on our ideal council structure, our mission, measurable goals for staff and students, and transparency with the rest of the team. We were committed to creating the first ERG, or employee resource group, at work.
The right time to get started
In March 2016, we visited the White House to pledge our participation for The Opportunity Project (White House Fact Sheet). We were involved with some TechHire initiatives at the time, so we were excited to be a part of this another initiative. The project included private and government organizations sharing their collective data to create new civic apps and tools that could impact access to transportation, jobs, healthcare, and more. This was an eye-opening event that paralleled conversations in the tech community; discussions revolved around diversity and inclusion, gender pay disparities, ethics in tech, and inequality for minorities or the LGBTQIA+ community. Jessica and I already worked in our individual departments (Operations and Academics, respectively) to increase diversity awareness among our team members and students, so starting a council was timely. Further, I spoke to my sister about the time she started a diversity council at a prior company. She said the first step was having leadership or executive sponsorship, which is a key point in Ellen K. Pao’s 2017 book, “Reset”. Both Jessica and I were members of the Executive Team and deeply invested in our large teams, so we couldn’t wait to get started.
Setting up the Council
In the early summer of 2016, we strategized the formation of the council. Through brainstorming and reflecting with our company, we focused the Council on five pillars: Staff, Students, Community, Scholarships, and Communication. By organizing into these five focus areas was instrumental, each pillar task force is able to focus on tangible and achievable goals. We officially began our work on September 1st, 2016. Weeks earlier, in a company-wide email, we shared the goals and intended structure for the council and our one-year minimum appointment. We shared our quarterly schedule, definitions of each pillar, and the nomination process. The council included members of Academics, Operations, Human Resources, Corporate Training, Marketing, and Product.
For each of the pillars, two team members served as co-chairs to provide backup when needed and a sounding board for initiatives. The remaining team members volunteered to help in areas they felt most equipped. When we formed, we had about 20 members in our council, while our company was just over 100. This was incredibly encouraging and energizing.