The most important issue for tech companies right now, Cydni Tetro believes, is diversity.
”Every company should be in action on this,” regardless of their size, said Tetro, president of the nonprofit Women Tech Council and CEO of Draper-based Brandless, which offers an ecommerce platform.
According to the Utah Department of Workforce Services, 44% of women in the state had jobs from 2015 to 2019, but they aren’t represented equally across sectors. For instance, management jobs have almost twice as many men than women.
Women made up only 35.9% of officials and administrators on the Wasatch Front between 2014 and 2018, according to an equal opportunity analysis of the workforce by the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute at the University of Utah released in August.
Workers who identified as Hispanic made up 14.9% of the civilian workforce, but just 7.7% of official and administrative positions. Black workers made up 1.3% of the workforce, but held 0.7% of professional jobs.
To get a sense of what businesses are doing to address these inequities, The Salt Lake Tribune’s Top Workplaces program invited candidate companies to complete surveys about their diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) practices.
Several received honorable mentions from Energage, the employee survey company that partners with The Tribune to collect and analyze Top Workplaces data. A few of those companies shared their strategies with The Tribune.
The workforce of Boostability, which helps small businesses with search engine optimization, is 51% employees who identify as female and 49% male, based on statistics it shared with The Tribune. Its employees range in age from 18 to 69, and nearly a third are people of color.
“We’ve created a very formalized philosophy around diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging,” said Taud Olsen, vice president of people at Boostability, which ranked at No. 21 in the 2022 midsize Top Workplaces category.
The goal of the company’s diversity statement is to show that it “actively seeks out diverse people to work for our organization, that we appreciate the diversity of people,” Olsen said, adding that “appreciate” is a deliberate word choice. To appreciate someone is to value them, Olsen said.
“We’re actively seeking out people who are different” — including people of different races, ages and sexualities, Olsen said. The company expects employees to “bring their whole self” into work every day, Olsen said, and believes the unique “voice” that each person has is key to the company’s success.
What does this mean in practice? It includes inviting employees to suggest “events or activities or groups” in the community that they are a part of that the company could support.
For example, this year one of Boostability’s employees was involved in planning the Utah Pride parade, which was seeking funders. Boostability financially supported Pride and sent volunteers from the company to host a booth there, Olsen said.
The company also holds events to celebrate the culture or background of the people who work there, has a dedicated Slack channel for celebrating achievements of people from typically underrepresented communities, and spotlights employees and their connections to their communities in company emails, Olsen added.
For example, for the start of National Hispanic Heritage Month, the company hired a small, Hispanic-owned business to provide lunch for workers, and over the month it has used company channels to draw attention to people of Hispanic descent who have led impactful lives.
”Every day, we have some type of event, activity or educational note” on the diversity Slack channel, Olsen said.
Boostability also uses its own expertise to support DEI goals, Olsen said. Following the suggestions of employees, Boostability has supported minority and women-owned businesses with free SEO educational opportunities and services, he said.
Having workers who feel engaged at Boostability is in part about giving them a mission, he said.
”What we do is search engine optimization, but why we do it is more important to us,” Olsen said. “And that’s to help small businesses succeed online.”
Lehi-based Weave, which makes communication software for medical, dental and veterinary providers, said it has made a concerted effort to improve the diversity of its workforce in the last two years.
In the past, these efforts arose “organically,” said Brooke Shreeve, chief people officer at Weave. She declined to share current numbers about the diversity of the workforce at the company, which has about 830 employees in Utah and has been operating for more than a decade. It placed 18th in this year’s Top Workplaces category for large companies.
Hiring a diverse workforce “is a challenge within all of Utah,” she said, and going into 2023, Weave has plans to be more methodical.
It is beginning with finding diverse job applicants, she said.
“We’re going out to universities, we’re going to community colleges, we’re going to coding boot camps, local organizations, we’re utilizing our referral program” in an effort to reach people from different backgrounds, Shreeve said.
It also will work on “creating that inclusive work environment,” Shreeve said. This starts in interviews — such as asking what pronouns applicants prefer, making sure that the interviewer has received diversity and unconscious bias training, and ensuring that the pool of interviewers is as diverse as possible.
On a systemic level, the company tries to make its advancement process fairer by posting all job openings publicly and giving specific feedback to internal candidates who are turned down for positions. The feedback can include strategizing for how workers can attain the skills they need to advance to the position they want, Shreeve said.
It has created peer resource groups, which it calls “people resource groups,” for employees to connect with others that share a part of their identity, such as being a woman or having a specific ethnic background.
Peer resource groups “come in all different names and titles, but ultimately they’re about the same thing”: how to address inclusion and belonging in a company, said Tetro of Women Tech Council.
These groups can transcend the business and help it integrate with a broader community, she said. They are extremely valuable because having such groups “provides a forum” to acknowledge issues and work on them, she said.
DEI decisions should be part of everyday dialogue and strategy operations within a company, Tetro said. In addition to finding ways to connect employees with their communities, she said, strategies include small procedural steps, as simple as running job descriptions through a “decoder” that scans for biased language that may put off women or people of color interested in applying.
Weave also has partnered with the firm Paradigm, which does diversity and inclusion training, with the idea that creating an inclusive environment starts with how the company leadership behaves. “They’re the experts in DEI,” Shreeve said.
The company doesn’t have the size for a full-time diversity focused employee, Shreeve said, but a member of the people team was promoted this year to become an “inclusion leader,” which will make part of his time focused expressly on DEI efforts.
How do companies know what’s working? Watch how often workers participate in events and ask employees to share their opinions, Shreeve said.
“Feedback,” Shreeve said, “is key.”
Correction, 10:54 a.m. Tuesday, Nov. 1: This story previously misstated the number employees at Weave, the correct number is 830.
Leto Sapunar is a Report for America corps member covering business accountability and sustainability for The Salt Lake Tribune. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep him writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by clicking here.