Fostering an Inclusive Company Culture

At Check I’m Here, our team has experienced a unique journey: full of experimenting, successes and failures, reflections and transitions.

One of our customers, Valencia College, lost 7 students in the Orlando tragedy. In addition to coping with the proximity of the gay nightclub Pulse, we’re mourning the loss of these students and the lives that were shattered so suddenly.

We realize by staying silent, by saying nothing, by doing nothing, we’re missing an opportunity to be a part of the solution of creating safe communities. We’ve decided to take action.

We’ll be working alongside higher education industry leaders and consultants to organize intensive trainings to foster a more inclusive company culture. We realize this is one step in a journey of learning and critical reflection, not a one-time quick fix, and we invite you to join us every step of the way.

Why It’s Important To Us

With an enacted value of transparency, we believe building inclusive practices into the foundation of our company is critical for intentional growth.

As an ed tech startup growing fast, we’re thinking about culture in a holistic way.

We’re researching companies that are setting an example of this growth mindset and providing resources as they pave the way in building more inclusive teams. During this pivotal time, we’ll be pulling ideas from places like Project Include and Buffer’s Open Blog to help inform our practices as a company.

“If we want a diverse and inclusive workforce, we need to build that foundation from the beginning. When we think about the tech industry and how our practices impact the world and the students entering the workforce, the presence of diverse perspectives is paramount.”

– Reuben Pressman, CEO & Founder

We’re thankful we have this platform to share our plans with you:

1. Inclusivity Initiatives

In making this a priority, we’ve appointed both Lindsay Murdock and Kayley Robsham as ‘Inclusion Strategists’ to bring in the best resources to the company. We’re evaluating our site and software content to reflect our values, audience, and the clients we work alongside. We’d also like to share best practices and benchmark with other higher ed tech companies.

2. Company Wide Trainings

We’re starting with privilege and safe zone trainings. We’re excited to work with the best educators and consultants in higher education and plan to incorporate more identity trainings in the future.

3. Providing Content

As we learn, we want you to learn and reflect as well. We’ll be providing recommendations on trainings, providing new content, and weaving in best practices into each piece of our company.

What We’ve Learned

As you’ll see below, we’re reflecting on our current foundation and sharing our journey of how we’re updating our blueprint to a more inclusive future.

Product Imagery & Functionality

Everything from our marketing materials, to our website and demonstrations includes imagery that provides insight to our company and our product. In the past, we’ve made a few blunders with images that have been primarily white and male. These images are not representative of the diverse population of students our software currently serves, nor does it align with our company values.

In developing software updates, we’re thinking about how we can create less prescriptive and more flexible functionality for professionals who work in potential departments: multicultural, gender & sexuality departments, and people who dedicate their time to supporting students who feel isolated or marginalized.

For example, we discussed with a customer how to best organize gender identity data so our platform could report the most accurate data analytics about involvement to understand how they can best support students.

We’re appreciative of current customers and readers who have provided us feedback, allowing us to make these changes. While these may seem like small changes, every small piece of functionality makes a difference in the usability and comfortability of our platform.

Company Culture

As we increase gender diversity, we realize a predominantly male culture has informed conversations with the team that typically start with ‘hey guys’ and we’re working to change this language to include all genders.

We noticed discomfort on our team as we stopped to reflect on the Pulse shooting that occurred in Orlando because not everyone was not sure how to reach out or respond as LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) allies. In our need to formally process together and support each other, we’ve decided to bring a Safe Zone facilitator and trainer. We all want to be better allies and advocates, and for us, bringing in an outside facilitator is the best decision to move forward as we learn from each other and challenge each others’ perspectives in a constructive way.

Seeing as gender, race and sexual orientation are often intersecting identities, we’re also working with outside experts to provide more comprehensive identity trainings. In realizing that everyone’s intersectional identities and worldviews inform their perspectives, we want to ensure that our team is prepared to be inclusive as we hire more diverse individuals with different religious affiliations, socioeconomic backgrounds, ability statuses and gender identities.

Recruitment & Retention

In recruiting we’ve discovered that our networks look a lot like us, so we’re reaching out to potential hires through new platforms (i.e. women’s coding sites and groups) to broaden our net.

We’ve learned that women only apply for jobs when they meet 100% of the criteria, whereas men feel comfortable applying to positions when they meet 60%, so we’re constantly iterating our job postings. We’re learning how introverts and extroverts operate during on-site interviews, so we’ve added various interview techniques to ensure we’re not missing out on top talent due to a poorly constructed interview strategies.

In addition to gathering hiring feedback from new employees and current staff, we’re learning more about how our unconscious biases impact our decision-making.

Our first step is educating our team to combat unconscious bias at work. We’re using resources and best practices from Google and others to help further inform our awareness and knowledge.

Our focus on building a strong foundation is to ensure we retain top talent, and thus, need everyone to feel supported as part of our team. We’re continuously iterating the ways our values of inclusivity, social justice, and diversity play out in our team dynamics, software development and the content we develop.

We initially thought about creating a diversity committee or task force within the company to reflect our values, however, we quickly realized that everyone can and should be a catalyst for change. Lindsay Murdock and Kayley Robsham have been appointed as ‘Inclusion Strategists’ to continue to move the company forward by selecting the best trainings in the industry, pulling together resources, and developing up-to-date content.

In developing these inclusive practices we will continue to learn, reflect, and make both our people, product, and platform better for our customers and for creating an inclusive tech world.

-Reuben Pressman, CEO & Founder

Final Thoughts

In writing a post about culture, diversity, and identity, we would be remiss if we didn’t address our own identities. While watching this post come to fruition, we reflected on our own privilege as cisgender white women and the platform we have because of it.

It’s important for us to be doing better. We’re making this work a priority as we realize this educational and equity work often falls on the shoulders of people who hold marginalized identities.

We’re excited to challenge the hierarchies and biases that exist in the tech field and we hope to inspire others who are looking to become catalysts for change.

“It’s imperative we change the way we talk about inclusion in tech. No longer is it a to-do item on a checklist, rather it’s an exciting opportunity to propel the industry forward.”

– Lindsay Murdock, Inclusivity Initiative Coordinator

A Note From Kayley

Hello Folx & Folks,

I’ve had the privilege to write for Check I’m Here, listen and watch the conversations and successes of our audience (you) as we continue to grow. Thank you for cheering us on, challenging us, and giving us feedback to grow as a successful startup.

Before I found my home at Check I’m Here, I experienced work environments from corporate settings to student affairs (mainly in reslife). I’ve often come into a workplace observing, asking questions, and understanding a company culture. It’s a little different at a startup. We have the opportunity to create what we want the culture to be from the ground up.

Everyone at Check I’m Here has empowered each other to become culture creators. Andy, our Director of Campus Development continues to remind me that culture is made by the people – how we interact, react, and support each other, every day.

I often think back to my environments class in my student affairs graduate program at the University of Rhode Island. I learned that a student’s environment contributes to their success as a student – and if that environment is one of inclusivity, it’s almost expected when they are searching for their first job. It’s important we use some of these environmental theories and extend them into our professional lives. The culture beyond the campus and the classroom needs to be better for students entering the workforce.

As we continue to critically reflect and call upon resources in the field of higher education, we invite you to join us in the journey of expanding your own awareness, knowledge, and skills. I must thank my professors Dr. Annemarie Vacarro and Dr. Katie Branch for equipping me with the tools to push these crucial conversations forward in our company.

For now, we’re making small steps as a company surrounding issues of diversity and social justice in the best ways we can with limited resources.

Thank you for reading,

Kayley Robsham, Community Engagement Manager

If you have any thoughts or feelings about our efforts and would provide us with feedback please send an email to kayley@presence.io or tweet us @CheckImHere.

P.S. Check out some of these posts highlighting programs and practices in student affairs:

Cultivating Cultures of Inclusivity on Campus

How to Create a Welcoming Environment in Student Affairs

Resource Round-Up: Engaging Women in Meaningful Conversations on Campus

Beyond Black History Month: Creating an Inclusive Culture that Transcends February

Resource Round-Up: Equal Pay Day 2016

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Lindsay Murdock

About the author: Lindsay is a Campus Outreach Coordinator for Presence. Learn how we can help get your students involved.

Check I'm Here is now Presence. Learn more about this change in our blog post here.

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