Guest column

Data-driven inclusion platform founder says ensuring your workplace is diverse just isn't enough

Just making sure your workplace is diverse isn't enough to solve the problem. Inclusion should be just as important of a goal, says this expert. Getty Images

Business leaders have long recognized that a diverse and inclusive workforce results in greater employee engagement, innovation, financial returns and market share. Although the "business case" for diversity has long been proven over the years, and "diversity" has become a buzzword adopted by corporate America, few companies — big or small, new or old — have been able to cultivate real inclusion, acceptance and collaboration in the workplace.

According to a 2018 Atlassian study, State of Diversity and Inclusion in U.S. Tech, less than 30 percent of underrepresented employees feel a sense of belonging in their workplace. By and large, most diversity and inclusion initiatives focus primarily on recruitment and increasing the representation of various demographics in the workforce, with little attention given to inclusion — although research has shown that increases to diversity alone do not improve inclusion.

One reason companies have focused on diversity, as opposed to inclusion, is because it is easy to measure diversity — it is simply a matter of headcount. Traditionally, trying to quantify feelings of inclusion was difficult for organizations to measure. However, it is important to incorporate quantifiable and data-driven strategies to measure inclusion, in order to drive the necessary cultural and structural changes needed in the workplace.

What many companies struggle with, it turns out, is not solving problems, but figuring out what the problems actually are—especially when it comes to creating inclusive workplaces. At Kanarys, we have constructed a unique and robust framework for measuring inclusion, to help companies promote a sense of belonging among their employees in the workplace. Our data-driven approach and methodology relies on artificial intelligence and responsive, anonymous, quantitative surveys, to provide actionable insights in order to promote an environment where all employees feel included and empowered.

Understanding employees' daily lived experiences in the workplace is key and fundamental to understanding an organization's' inclusiveness. However, fear of retaliation and retribution prevents most employees from holding back true and authentic feedback. Benchmarking key aspects of an organization's culture—and understanding the employee experience—is important to understand in order to promote lasting inclusion.

Diversity without inclusion inevitably results in missed opportunities with diverse talent because they no longer feel empowered to contribute and lead. However, if you have both diversity and inclusion, retention and engagement for all employees increases–resulting in a potent mix of innovation, collaboration and success.

Instead of asking "how can we acquire more diverse employees?" we should be asking, "what is it about our systems and culture that prevents us from retaining diverse talent?" Employers must therefore recognize that hiring a few "diverse" employees alone is not enough, and that inclusive cultures don't just happen. They are intentional.

I invite businesses to re-focus their efforts on true diversity, equity, and inclusion and help create workplaces where their employees have a true sense of belonging.

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Mandy Price is the CEO and co-founder of Dallas-based Kanarys Inc., a web platform that incorporates data and AI to foster diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace.

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Building Houston

 
 

Kelly Avant, investment associate at Houston-based Mercury Fund, shares how and why she made her way into the venture capital arena. Photo courtesy of Mercury

Kelly Avant didn't exactly pave a linear career path for herself. After majoring in gender studies, volunteering in the Peace Corps, and even attending law school — she identified a way to make a bigger impact: venture capital.

"VC is an awesome way to shape the future in a more positive way because you literally get to wire money to the most innovative thinkers, who are building solutions to the world’s problems," Avant tells InnovationMap.

Avant joined the Mercury Fund team last year as an MBA associate before joining full time as investment associate. Now, after completing her MBA from Rice University this month, Avant tells InnovationMap why she's excited about this new career in investment in a Q&A.

InnovationMap: From law school and the peace corps, what drew you to start a career in the VC world?

Kelly Avant: I graduated from Rice University with an MBA, starting scouting for an investment firm in my first year, and by the summer after my first year I was essentially working full-time interning with Mercury. But, I like to tell people about my undergraduate degree in gender studies and rhetoric from a little ski college in Colorado. If you meet someone else in venture capital with a degree in gender studies, please connect us, but I think I might be the only one. I’ll spare you what I used to think — and say — about business students, but I have really come full circle.

I always thought I would work in a nonprofit space, but after serving in Cambodia with the Peace Corps, working for the National Domestic Violence Hotline, and briefly attending Emory Law School with the intention of becoming a civil rights lawyer.I found that time and time again the root of the problem was a lack of resources. The world’s problems were not going to be solved with my idealism alone.

The problem with operating as a nonprofit in a capitalism is you basically always pandering to the interests of the donors. The NFL was a key sponsor of The National Domestic Violence Hotline. The United States has a complicated, to put it lightly, relationship with Cambodia and Vietnam. It became pretty clear that the donor/nonprofit relationship was oftentimes putting the wrong party in the driver’s seat. I was, and still am, very interested in alternative financing for nonprofits. I became convinced that the most exciting businesses were building solutions to the world’s problems while also turning a profit, which allows them to survive to have a sustainable positive impact.

VC is an awesome way to shape the future in a more positive way because you literally get to wire money to the most innovative thinkers, who are building solutions to the world’s problems.

IM: What are some companies you’re excited about?

KA: There are a couple super interesting founders I’ve met directly engaging with . To name a few: CiviTech, DonateStock, and Polco.

I’m very proud to work on mercury investments like Houston’s own, Topl, which has built an extremely lightweight and energy efficient Blockchain that enables tracking of ethical supply chains from the initial interaction.
I’m also excited about mercury’s investment in Zirtue, which enables relationship based peer to peer lending to solve the massive problem of predatory payday loans.

We have so many awesome founders in our portfolio. The best part about working in VC is meeting passionate innovators every day. I get excited to go to work everyday and help them to build better solutions.

IM: Why are you so passionate about bringing diversity and inclusion into Mercury?

KA: I love working with exciting, highly capable, super smart people. That category includes so many people who have been historically excluded. As an investment team member at Mercury, I do have a voice, and I have an obligation to use that voice to speak highly of the best people in rooms of influence.

IM: With your new role, what are you most focused on?

KA: In my new role, I am identifying and researching high potential investments. We’re building out a Mercury educational series to lift the veil of VC. We want to facilitate a series that gives all founders the basic skills to pass VC due diligence and have the opportunity to build the next innovative companies. My goal is ultimately to produce the best returns possible for our investors, and we can’t accomplish that goal unless we’re building out resources to meet the best founders and help them grow.

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This conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.

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