Diversity Drives Esper’s Culture of Innovation

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Diversity Drives Esper’s Culture of Innovation

Esper’s Commitment to a Culture of Diversity and Inclusion

Diversity is at the core of Esper’s culture code and success. It’s the only way we can maintain our current pace of innovation. Continual efforts to hire, retain, and promote diverse talent are necessary for our success or we risk falling behind. 

Researchers continually find evidence that links diverse teams to business performance. Diverse teams are more innovative and profitable. Organizations perform better if they promote diverse leadership. Diversity can mean many things in today’s workplace, but it’s a conversation that should include:

  • Race
  • Ethnicity
  • Gender
  • Sexual Orientation
  • Religion
  • Generation / Age Group
  • Disability
  • Personality
  • Thinking and Working Style

In some ways, tech startups like Esper have an advantage when it comes to creating cultural change since we can pivot quickly. But, I know from firsthand experience that change is possible at organizations of any size. Here are five important lessons that guide Esper’s ongoing efforts to create diverse, inclusive culture.

Diverse Culture is Never an Accident

Diversity and inclusion never happens by accident. It has to be a conscious effort. And, in my experience, diversity only thrives in organizations where senior leaders are really committed to true change beyond filling quotas or making the right public impression.

Leaders need to believe that diversity benefits everyone. They must put this belief to work by hiring and promoting talent from underrepresented backgrounds.

Esper’s DevOps team is currently 31% female and we have many skilled women technology leaders. I’m the first to acknowledge that gender is only one measure of diversity and 31% is not equity. But, we’re proud of the steps we’ve taken to close the pay and participation gap among women in tech. SWE estimates that just 13% of global engineers are women. 

I credit our progress to our senior leadership at Esper, who encourage diverse talent to contribute, make decisions, and thrive. Our efforts to improve diversity are ongoing, but they’re effective because our leaders trust women and individuals from other underrepresented backgrounds to lead large, remote teams. 

Consider Diverse Talent Retention

Only 44 percent of executives at large global organizations have formal plans for employee retention, per Forbes. But, 65% have a strategic plan for recruiting diverse talent. It’s time to close the gap between hiring and retention. I believe we need to have conversations about how to help talent from all backgrounds thrive after they’re hired. 

Esper has put a lot of thought into talent retention because it is critical to our success and survival. Any time a contributor quits, they can walk away with a lot of unwritten organizational knowledge. The impact can be devastating for tech startups.

We work hard to retain diverse contributors by creating a horizontal culture where everyone has a chance to learn, grow, and be promoted.

Inclusive Leadership is About Listening

Our culture rewards people who speak their thoughts, even when it isn’t the easiest thing to hear. Our leaders know that no one has all the answers. That sets the tone for an inclusive culture where everyone can give feedback.

Inclusive culture thrives in an environment where leaders are open to fresh perspectives or challenging ideas.

Sometimes a culture of feedback can spark passionate debates about ideas. There can be friction between conflicting viewpoints, but that’s the goal. Wharton research has found that a little friction is actually great for innovation. 

Our horizontal culture is also important to our efforts to improve inclusiveness. A flat organizational chart means everyone has a chance to be a leader and learn from others. Sodexo USA’s Dr. Rohini Anand said “inclusive leadership starts with self-awareness, being introspective, knowing your blind spots and possessing the ability to listen and learn.”

Confronting Biases is a Collective Effort

Unconscious bias is a barrier to a culture of diversity and inclusion. Everyone is conditioned to have biases, but the most effective organizations combat bias with awareness and systems of accountability. 

Everyone has the responsibility to step back and think about how our conditioning and biases shape our interactions with others. Evaluating whether you have inhibited inclusion or a healthy flow of ideas is a valuable thought exercise. 

Anti-bias efforts are always important, but they’re especially valuable during current social distancing mandates. Remote, cross-cultural innovations are hard, and it’s more important than ever to stop and consider your conditioning.

Both leadership and individual contributors can fight unconscious biases in any team environment. The most important success measure is letting others make important contributions and decisions. 

Challenge Assumptions About Talent

The global talent pool of working age adults is huge and it’s growing quickly. But, we need to stop and think about how we perceive our future hires and leaders. We all make sure we know how to recognize talent from all different backgrounds and remove barriers to more diverse hiring practices.

We must change how we recognize talent among a diverse candidate pool.

Talent is vital, but talent is not the same as experience, skill, or raw potential. Individuals with critically-needed perspectives may have had fewer opportunities to build experience in a traditional setting. You may be surprised what happens when you start looking for talent without traditional qualifications. Successful candidates need soft skills for collaboration and communication to flourish in an environment of innovation.

Empathy is another valuable characteristic Esper looks for among candidates from all backgrounds to understand an individual’s long-term potential for success. These candidates are prepared to tackle abstract problems, and design solutions keeping customer empathy at the center. Empathetic people are great listeners, team players, and collaborators thus nurturing an environment of inclusion.

Diversity is About Building Better Conditions for Collaboration

If we can’t nail the basics of diversity and inclusion, Esper’s teams will struggle to create innovative solutions to customer problems. The only way our startup can win is by creating a collaborative culture where people of all different backgrounds have room to share ideas and experiment. 

Inclusion is a cultural change that everyone needs to commit to, and it’s one that has to start from the top. We recognize that diversity and inclusion are ongoing, conscious efforts, and we’re committed to working to help close the pay and opportunity gap among talent from all different backgrounds. 


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