At Check I’m Here, we’ve found that getting to know each other on a personal level and sharing our life experiences is a key piece of bringing our whole team together.
We asked higher education expert and consultant Saby Labor, founder of Resilient Campus, to share her knowledge with our team to increase our awareness of the LGBT community and the privilege we hold as a higher ed tech company and as individuals.
For those just getting started on diversity and inclusion efforts, we want you to know that it can be intimidating: thinking of everything that is socially unjust in the world can be overwhelming. This serves as a reminder that it’s a process and a journey for each of us to embark on as we dedicate ourselves to inclusion work.
We’ve found through inclusion trainings, we share our own stories with co-workers about our intersecting identities based on what is prevalent in our lives. The narratives we share with each other about our identities change our perspectives and afford us the opportunity to support our co-workers in different ways, in and outside of work.
How We Got Started
So how did this first start at Check I’m Here? How do these privilege and identity trainings actually benefit our team?
We’ve been dissecting what the term ‘inclusion’ means to us as one of our values. Since, we’ve been inspired to do more, educate ourselves, and stay up-to-date with how our actions and lack of actions impact our employees, higher ed tech industry, and the world.
Earlier this year, we realized that we hold power which can make positive change within our organization and that could directly impact the field of higher ed and student affairs. We came together and decided to take action through a multi-faceted approach that includes trainings, content development and overarching company initiatives.
We noticed our team’s desire to be better allies to the LGBT community post the Orlando nightclub tragedy and arranged our first LGBT and Privilege training to give everyone the resources they needed to start reflecting on how these awful incidents impact the work we do.
We entered this training with the understanding that companies often declare their diversity work ‘done’ when they recruit a handful of diverse candidates, rather than thinking critically about (and changing) the environment that currently exists.
In analyzing policies and processes from the ground up, we’re hoping to make our company an even better place to work for our current team members and future new hires. In tandem, we’re expanding our recruitment efforts in an effort to reach a broader and more diverse talent pool. Combined, we know these efforts will help to bring new perspectives and ideas to our team – making our product and service and even better for our clients.
The Need for Identity Trainings in Higher Ed Tech
With the creation of the Social Justice and Inclusion knowledge community, underrepresented groups, and many others, student affairs has long prioritized the need for practitioners to be fluent in the intersectionality of the identities as they help us to be better in serving students.
We believe higher ed technology exists to help institutions develop meaningful relationships with students, it’s imperative that we’re on a similar proverbial ‘page’. How we get there, though, is the tougher question.
We knew challenging conversations were to be had and it was in our best interest to identify consultants in the higher ed field to facilitate conversations with our company. We needed someone who was removed from our work environment to move forward conversations around identity, privilege, and inclusion so everyone on the team could feel their voice was heard.
Spending uninterrupted time discussing things like privilege allow us as educators to reflect and understand others’ personal stories on our team and how they impact their every day lives.
Working with a consultant long-term has allowed our team to open up and feel comfortable in sharing their experiences and challenges with each other. Saby lead by example, sharing some of her own experiences and facilitated conversations in a way that resonated with each of us.
Why Inclusion Is Important in Tech Startups
In the tech world, we’ve been inundated by research demonstrating why diversity and inclusion are critical to companies from multiple perspectives. A more effective board, to a better bottom line, to more creative ideas and, most importantly, creating a place to work where everyone feels comfortable.
We’re lucky enough to work in a city like St. Pete, where creating inclusive environments is celebrated, making the process of finding resources and community members to network with much easier.
In the larger tech community, we exist in a community of startup companies like Quip, Slack, and Buffer that are constantly providing examples of how to do this work on a larger scale. From sharing their employee handbooks and company policies, to demonstrating how they enact their values, these companies are role models for us as we build our programs and trainings from the ground up.
We’ve come a long way (and have a long way to go) and we’re excited to continue challenging each other and bettering ourselves to better serve campus partners and listen to feedback from our fans and followers.
Following our LGBT and Privilege training in August, we asked our team to fill out an anonymous, opt-in survey to better gauge the impact of this training on their day-to-day work life, and their openness to future inclusivity trainings. The results: we obtained responses from new hires (only a few weeks on the job) to some of the most senior leadership.
We’ve highlighted a few of the answers below, the positive and the critical, to give you an idea of the training’s impact on the team.
What did you actually get out of this training? What did you learn?
“I learned that no matter how many times I go through an LGBT / Privilege [training] there is always something to learn about identity, intersectionality of those identities and how they impact people and the environment.” -Audrey Miller
“I feel more cognizant of behaviors and micro-aggressions that can lead to feeling discriminated against, and how they aren’t just ‘no big deal’. Their impact is quite significant.” -Anonymous
How have your behaviors or actions changed as a result of this training?
“I have noticed ‘mansplaining’ more often since the training and have made an effort to redirect control of the conversation back to the female if she is interrupted while speaking.” -Audrey Miller
“I have focused on getting rid of habits like addressing a group with ‘hey guys’ and assuming gender pronouns.” -Mark Schimmel
How has this changed the way you interact with colleagues and/or campus partners?
“I feel as though now, I am a bit more aware of where people are coming from when they talk about subjects they are passionate about. I’ve always been a big fan of learning about people and their backgrounds because I feel as though it shapes the reasons they do and say what they do. By hearing little bits and pieces of why the privilege walk ended the way it did, I was able to.” -Meghan Hakey
“I have changed my wording when talking to a group of people. I try to use more gender neutral wording.” -Matt Taylor
“My awareness of what it may be like to live in the a world that makes assumptions of how you identify based on appearance has increased tenfold. That awareness has led to subtle changes in my language to be more inclusive.” -Anonymous
Why do you feel this was important for us to do?
“Not only was it important for those of us who have been committed to this work to feel their company shares their values, it’s also the right thing to do, plain and simple. I think it was clear in the response of our team members how open to growth we all are.” -Andy Gould
“Every person deserves to feel safe and comfortable where they work—even from a productivity standpoint, how can companies expect employees to be their best when they’re constantly fighting internal and external battles?” -Anonymous
How likely are you to be receptive to future trainings with a similar focus/goal/outcome?
“I will continually engage people on topics of discussion to help expand my thinking.” -Matt Taylor
How do you think this experience will continue to impact us?
“Well, in the short-term I think it’s going to be a challenge to become hyper-conscious of all the ways in which common interactions can actually undermine inclusivity efforts. By supporting and challenging one another, we can push ourselves to get better and better, and eventually build the environment that is healthy and inclusive.” – Anonymous
What Changed Immediately
Immediately following the training, as a team, we decided on some small changes we could make immediately.
Team members decided to add their personal pronouns to their email signatures as to communicate their gender in an inclusive way and use gender inclusive language when unsure of someone’s pronouns or share pronouns at the beginning of a conversation.
Our development team who works on our software platform every day, decided to utilize gender inclusive pronouns when talking about users to accomplishing tasks and eliminating the gender binary in text.
We’re working on inclusive policies and job postings as we recruit members of diverse backgrounds and add these changes to our company handbook and procedures manual. We continually recognize the need for team check-ins to increase our awareness of each team member’s experience in a startup environment. These short-term quick changes have laid a strong foundation for us to expand on other inclusive practices we hope to explore.
Any one training cannot ‘fix’ a company or a culture and is only the beginning of creating awareness, so we’re developing a comprehensive plan to understand how we can build upon a great company culture.
Some of the next steps include planning an Implicit Bias Training for the team through Project Implicit and a survey evaluating the culture and climate of our company through a company called Culture Amped. Our hopes are to understand our biases and how each of us contribute to the company culture atmosphere.
We’ll continue to highlight our favorite resources as we develop new strategies to move forward. Part of enacting our culture of transparency is by continuing to give you a glimpse into our growth and challenges and we hope that you’ll follow along with us and bring some of these ideas back to your own team.
Incorporating inclusive practices at Check I’m Here is our responsibility as a company and as a team of unique individuals.
If you have any thoughts or feelings (or ideas!) about our inclusion initiatives at Check I’m Here we’d love to hear from you. Tweet us @CheckImHere, thanks for reading!