The Year of The Diversity Council

This is the second part in a series about the experience of starting and running a diversity council. If you missed the first post, it can be found here. In the second post, I share the importance of creating structure and communication, the importance of achievable tasks, and what we achieved in one year. In the next post, I’ll share lessons learned along the way.

Starting the Council with a Communication Strategy

Before starting our Diversity Council, Jessica and I focused on our structure and communication because our were a dispersed company. We needed a consistent structure and open communication so we could make strides, hold each other accountable and move Diversity initiatives forward through achievable goals. The council needed to be a well-oiled machine. We both managed large teams, so we adopted our 30-60-90 day goals check-ins for the council. We built out our week-by-week template of communication: call for agenda items, formal meeting agenda items, quarterly meetings and recording minutes, scheduling individual pillar group conversations, and finally, publishing our meeting minutes with the rest of the company.

To achieve these goals, get external support, and help each other grow, we needed to vocalize them with each other and the rest of our company. As a learning institution, we realized that the best way for us to learn to be more inclusive is through transparency. We started a Slack channel called #Diversity_Council that was open not just for council constituents, but to every member of the company, part- or full-time. Along with our minutes on the internal blog, this helped us establish full transparency with each other and the whole company. Finally, we assigned pre-work to the new council members (who had been nominated or self-nominated, and had accepted a council role), to write about why they wanted to be a part of the council to share during the first meeting. We wanted to build a good habit of open communication.

A Rhythm for Goal Setting and Meetings

We wanted our council to make an impact starting from day one. In our first meeting, we highlighted the importance of respectful but hard conversations. We acknowledged that everyone committed to put in extra time for the council; everyone had their company roles to focus on as well. If we tried to completely change diversity and inclusion overnight, we’d be overwhelmed and unsuccessful. So we encouraged smaller manageable goals. Finally, we committed to save time for open dialogue outside of the meeting agenda items for each meeting. This was crucial step, and probably one of our most important in running a council, as it set the tone.

Now that everyone was aligned on the “how”, we wanted to align on the “why”. In the same first meeting, every council member shared their pre-work (why they joined). As each person shared, we began to understand and see how unique our reasons for being committed to diversity are. It showed us that our collective definition of diversity was inclusive and, more importantly, intersectional. Collectively we defined diversity and inclusion in a way that included race, gender identity, and orientation, much like a lot of the industry. However, for our staff and students, we believed that definition included anyone who may have been discriminated against in tech, including those with accessibility needs and disability, those outside of the 20-30 year-old tech worker age group, and military personnel, to name a few. Together, we recognized and valued the overlap of these areas with each other. Together, we wrote our council’s definitions of diversity and inclusion, our mission, and our rules of engagement together.

We met quarterly as a team, and monthly as needed for each task force (Staff, Students, Community, Scholarships, and Communication). In team quarterlies, we discussed procedures, website language usage, inclusive student events, ethics, and D&I onboarding for new staff. For example, one of our biggest goals included formal D&I curriculum for our corporate training and immersive students, a large undertaking. In monthly focused meetings, we focused on next steps for each goal. For example, reviewing language on our website to ensure it was inclusive. Using the 30-60-90 day goal forecasting helped us move ourselves forward as a company and as a school.

Half way through the year, I transitioned from Director of Instruction, to Director of Academic Operations and Diversity. I focused on running our council and projects that needed more attention, like scholarships. As the year went on, we adapted our needs, grew some additional support from non-council team members, and stayed focused on our achievable goals and got a lot done. Looking back at our small steps, I’m pretty proud. Of course, we had a lot more we wanted to get to, but we left things better than when we started and we stayed honest with ourselves about what we were capable of.

A Year of Steps

In July 2017, we announced a company closure slated for November 2017. Our council concluded its first year in September, with one last meeting as a group. Inspired by Zapier’s timeline of diversity initiatives, which is absolutely fantastic, here are a few things we achieved in our year:

Megan Smith, Sam Kapila, and Jessica Mitsch at The White House
Megan Smith, former CTO for the United States (left), Jessica (right), and I at the #CS4All Summit at The White House, October 2016.

Code: Debugging the Gender Gap

Photo of speakers at SXSW

HBCU track at SXSW 2017, announcing the #YesWeCode Fund. From left: Felix Flores, National Director for #YesWeCode; Sam Kapila, Director of Academic Operations & Diversity at TIY, Van Jones Founder of DreamCorps & #YesWeCode; Tess Posner, Managing Director of TechHire; Felecia Hatcher, White House 2014 Champion of Change, Co-Founder of CodeFeverMiami and Tech; Rodney Sampson, partner at TechSquare Labs; and John Hope Bryant, Founder, Chairman and CEO of Operation HOPE, March 2017, SXSW.

As a council and as a company, we were extremely committed to improving the state of diversity and inclusion. Hopefully, by sharing this, it can help you, the reader, take something our year, and bring change to your workplace and our industry. This isn't easy work, but the much needed impact it can make is worth it.

Stay tuned for the next post about lessons learned. For more D&I resources, stop by here, or watch my Creative Mornings talk.