Hi! I’m Jess, and together with Talisa Humphrey, I’m one of the co-chairs for the Diversity and Inclusion Group (DIG) at Optimizely. I wanted to write this blog post to introduce DIG to the world, and to talk a little bit about DIG’s history, the wonderful people who’ve worked on it, and the kind of work we’re doing.
In short, the Diversity and Inclusion Group is a grassroots group of employees who meet twice a month to plan initiatives around diversity, inclusion, and equity at Optimizely, and to generally provide a safe, friendly space for coworkers to talk about topics related to D&I.
DIG has its roots in the engineering org. While attending Grace Hopper in 2014, Neha Singla, an Engineering Manager who was our first female engineer, tried to recruit her friends and fellow women engineers to Optimizely. On hearing about Optimizely’s paid maternity leave of six weeks, they tried to recruit Neha to their own companies, citing their workplaces as much more supportive of women. Neha returned to San Francisco vexed by the question, I like working at Optimizely. But why is our paid maternity leave so short?
She brought this up to Bill Press, our former Senior VP of Engineering. Before hosting the first Girl Geek Dinner at Optimizely, Neha wanted to send a powerful message to the attending women about Optimizely and its culture. Bill spent weeks gathering data, building a financial model, and advocating for an extended parental leave. By January 2015, Optimizely’s parental leave policy was extended to 17 weeks, and announced at our very first Girl Geek Dinner.
But it wasn’t just Neha and Bill who were asking Why? Multiple engineers folks at Optimizely were ready to stare down the elephant in the room: How could we make our workplace more diverse? And so, in 2014, Optimizely’s Diversity Community of Practice was formed. In addition to updating the parental leave policy, the group drove an audit of our job descriptions to make them more inclusive, and they started the I/Own It scholarship to get more women into the engineering organization. To Yonatan, Jenny, Mikena, Neha, and Bill: thank you for your passion and initiative in those early days.
What started as a grassroots group of mostly engineers has now grown to include people from across the company. We’ve broadened our focus from gender-diversifying the engineering team to welcoming and creating a home for all underrepresented people and allies.
There is no Chief of Diversity running our meetings; it’s been chaired at various points by individual contributors from Engineering, Design, Marketing, and Recruiting. To Jenny, Silvia, Jame, Rachel: thanks for all your hard work and leadership. We are also fortunate to have continued support from our executive sponsor, Bill Press.
Accomplishments to date:
- We’ve run the I/Own It scholarship twice in partnership with Hack Reactor. We started it back in 2015, creating an opportunity for three women (including me!) to attend the coding bootcamp on a scholarship, and intern at Optimizely thereafter. Last year, when we ran it again, we opened it up to anyone who is underrepresented in tech, and received more than 250 applications, and gave three more scholarships and internships to people undergoing a career change.
- We’ve hosted a diversity panel in 2015, and talked to people with experience building diverse and inclusive teams.
- We’ve hosted three Girl Geek Dinners and had lively discussions with other women in the tech industry.
- We partnered with Hackbright to present a panel of coding bootcamp grads working in different roles at Optimizely to show women different trajectories into technical roles.
- We wrote and socialized a Diversity & Inclusion Statement, and worked with company leadership to ensure that Diversity & Inclusion is a company priority.
- We established a company mentorship program which allows Optinauts who are eager to mentor to opt in to be contacted by anyone. Through this program, Optinauts have found new mentors and made career switches into different parts of the company.
- We’ve given people lots to think about through our posters for the Learning on the Loo series to improve diversity literacy. Topics have included How to be a Good Ally; how diversity (or lack thereof) correlates to attrition in tech; Pronouns; and so on.
- We’ve hosted a regular reading group and film screenings, and run a Slack channel for people to post articles and encourage discussion on topics of diversity and inclusion.
- We’ve recognized the work of people who have contributed to Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity at Optimizely by recognizing DIG Heroes.
- We’ve collaborated with Optimizely.org to host a Lunch & Learn featuring the Tech Equity Collaborative.
- We’ve created a space for people to reflect on current events like gun violence.
- We’ve held mixers with diversity and inclusion orgs at other companies.
- We’ve given visibility to our organization by sharing our work at company All Hands meetings.
- We’ve invited and hosted company leaders at our DIG meetings.
Lastly, I want to share our Diversity & Inclusion Statement with you:
Each and every Optinaut is responsible for cultivating a diverse and inclusive company where Optinauts from all backgrounds and identities can thrive. This leads to stronger empathy for customers, happier employees, and better products. Three factors are critical to diversity and inclusion: belonging, empowerment, and recognition.
Belonging: Cultivating a space where everyone feels that they belong in the community
Empowerment: Creating a space where everyone feels encouraged and enabled to contribute
Recognition: Having the space where your perspective is given consideration and you are proactively incorporating other perspectives into your own
Creating inclusive environments is a learning process and requires us to be proactive. We educate ourselves, take ownership, and hold each other to a higher standard every day.
We’ve certainly engaged in our share of messy conversations. The work is hard! But I like to think that we have moved the needle, and I’m proud to work with such engaged, talented people who do diversity work on top of their regular work. To every individual contributor who has put in the time, effort, and heart into making Optimizely a better place for everyone: you make me proud to work here.
If you’re at another company and want to share ideas or learnings in Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity work, Talisa and I are excited to meet with you!
Note: As of June 2020, Lawrence Bruhmuller, Optimizely’s CTO, is now the executive sponsor for our Diversity and Inclusion Group. Talisa and Jess remain involved with new DIG chairs Devin Saxon, Shagun Aulukh, and Gabriel Galarza.