Hiring a diverse team of skilled workers benefits employers, employees and consumers alike. By drawing from a broader pool of candidates with different backgrounds, cultures and experiences, companies can uncover new opportunities for growth while gaining fresh perspectives to solving existing challenges, all of which results in the availability of better products and services.
In this episode of Zipcast, host Scott Heimes sat down with Kirsten Spoljaric, senior vice president of people at Zipwhip, to talk about the financial and personal benefits of hiring a diverse workforce. Regardless of a company’s size or number of years in business, Kirsten points out that there’s always room for new and innovative ways of thinking. In addition to the value it produces for customers, studies show that a more inclusive workforce leads to increased revenue and more engaged employees. When an employee shows up to the office, they’re going to feel like they belong.
Listen to the full conversation below:
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Scott: Welcome to the Zipcast, where we talk about the latest trends in texting for business, customer communication strategies, and technology. I’m your host, Scott Heimes, chief marketing officer at Zipwhip, and thanks for tuning in. What value does diversity and inclusion bring to a text startup or any workplace for that matter? These are questions we’re exploring as we celebrate Pride Month here at Zipwhip. Today we’re speaking with Kirsten Spoljaric, senior vice president of people at Zipwhip. Stick around. Welcome to the Zipcast, Kirsten. It’s great to have you here. Tell us about your role at Zipwhip.
Kirsten: Thank you. I’m happy to be here. My role at Zipwhip is I head up the people side of the group, so that is human resources, talent, so all the recruiting, and people operations.
Scott: Great. Give us a little bit of your backstory. How did you come to join Zipwhip?
Kirsten: I came to Zipwhip actually as a consultant through my Cloudery Consulting entity, which is actually an entity that I formed with my former co-founders of Mashery, after Mashery went through an acquisition and we rolled out of that organization. I came to Zipwhip really to focus on assessing what they would need from a people operations standpoint. I just became so enthralled with the leadership team and the team here at Zipwhip that I really wanted to be a part of it.
Scott: You’ve been engaged and are really driving several of our diversity and inclusion efforts here at Zipwhip. Why is it important for companies to pay attention to diversity and inclusion? What’s the benefits?
Kirsten: Yeah. I think we’ve all seen the statistics, that you have greater returns. You’ve got greater increase in revenue. I think it’s something close to 20% now in the latest study that came out. But I think it goes beyond that. It’s about creating great products, and when you have a diverse employee population, you’re going to get better products, because it’s taken in the insights and input from those individuals. I also just think generally that you’re going to have a highly engaged employee population. When an employee shows up to the office, they’re going to feel like they belong and this is more than just a job for them.
Scott: Yeah. Plus you get the benefit of diverse ideas, and experiences, and cultures playing into our decision making, and how we produce value for customers. Right?
Scott: What are some of the things that get in the way of creating a diverse workplace? What are some of the barriers we have to fight through?
Kirsten: Yeah. I think in general, particularly in tech startups, we’re moving so fast, and so I think your speed to market, your speed in hiring, I think all of those things we still want to do, but we want to do it in a purposeful way. I think oftentimes diversity and inclusion is a secondary thought, and people have good intentions. They’re trying to do their best, but we really want to I think make sure that we’re slowing down and being purposeful and deliberate in certain places, so that we can bring forth a real diverse environment.
Scott: One of the areas that we focus on to do just that is we’ve initiated a collaboration with the Riveter. Tell us who the Riveter is, what they’re all about, and what our collaboration [crosstalk 00:03:19].
Kirsten: Yeah. So, we have a unique collaborating with the Riveter. I mean, they really started as a coworking space built by women, but for everyone, and we’ve taken that a step further. We really are partnering with them on their programming. So, the programs that they offer out to the Riveter Community or to all of their community is something that we give our employees access to do. Then we also have a unique, custom program. So, we recently did a workshop specifically for the Zipwhip employees that was a partnership with the Riveter around some leadership programming as well and then also ran a women’s panel recently that included the CEO of the Riveter and another leader out of Microsoft, and we opened that up not just to Zipwhip, to the entire community here in Seattle.
Scott: Anything else planned coming down the road?
Kirsten: Definitely. We’re looking at a couple series with them also around diversity and inclusion. I’ve had a lot of men at Zipwhip ask me sort, “Hey. I want to learn a little bit more. What can I be doing? How do I be a good ally to other individuals?” So, we’re looking at a program called the Good Guy Series for them. We’re also looking at some unconscious bias programming and training that I hope to roll out this year, so definitely more to come.
Scott: Got it. Kirsten, what else is Zipwhip doing to promote diversity and inclusion across our company?
Kirsten: Yeah. We participate in a number of things. This year we became really active in the Lesbians Who Tech community. So, we sponsored the Lesbians Who Tech out of San Francisco. We just actually, last Friday night, also sponsored here in Seattle during their road show. We are participating in the Pride March coming up with a sponsorship. So, all Zipwhip employees are invited to come march and friends and family as well.
Scott: I’ll be there.
Kirsten: I will be there as well. I’ve gotten lots of other families to join in with us as well. We recently launched out Volunteer Committee internally, and so we launched a program, A Week Without. We were able to donate $5,000 to Mary’s Place. We’re also donating coming up here to Seattle Counseling Service, actually after this week’s Week Without. Then I know we also offer our texting capabilities out to different groups in the community, like Oasis Youth Center.
Scott: Yeah. That’s an impressive bunch of stuff.
Scott: So, what are some of the things that we’ve been talking about around diversity and inclusion that have helped you, as a woman, in your career in the technology industry?
Kirsten: Yeah. I mean, I think just having access to other mentors, like the Women’s Panel that we ran, so much of that development and those programs, if you don’t have them, you kind of don’t know what you’re missing. But the second you have that, it opens up I think your networking and your mentorship capabilities. So, that’s something that I hope that we can expand on here at Zipwhip as well.
Scott: Yeah. So, if you look forward 10 years into the future, how would you like to see US workplaces look 10 years from now?
Kirsten: Much more diverse. Yeah. I mean, I think, like I mentioned before, it starts pretty late in organizations. So, I’d like the investment in knowledge and engagement to start much earlier, so that people understand, okay, it’s a holistic view. How do you go out to the market and pull in diverse candidates? But then how do you have a trained workforce and a knowledgeable workforce that’s making sure that people feel included and like they belong here? I also think that from the top down every CEO and leader having some background, and some knowledge, and some skills in this area, because I think oftentimes it’s just too late.
Scott: How about as individuals? What can individual listeners out there do to advance diversity and inclusion in their business?
Kirsten: I think seeking out or offering your input into it would be really important. If it’s important to you, raise your hand. Speak up. Go look for allies in your company. If you have someone that you feel like diversity and inclusion is really important, go find them and partner with them. If you get somebody who doesn’t raise their hand or who feels like it’s not important to them, then go find someone else.
Scott: What other tips do you have for your peers in the HR/people ops world around diversity and inclusion, how to implement programs and make them stick?
Kirsten: Sure. I think one thing that I’ve really come to learn is that it needs to be purposeful and deliberate. I think oftentimes people operations and human resources is traditionally understaffed or there’s not as much head count there, but I think you can still go in with a deliberate and purposeful approach. That means engaging with your CEO, your leadership team, and making sure that they really support diversity and inclusion initiatives, your board. I think that’s a conversation at the board level you should be happening. Then really setting structure around it. What are the programs going to be that you’re going to target in year one, year two, and so on?
Kirsten: Then I think it’s also about as you’re looking to recruit a diverse workforce, what are you doing at the senior level? When you run a search for a board member, are you deliberately going out and looking for diverse individuals and pulling them in through everybody’s network? I think diversity and inclusion is often looked at something that just people and people ops handles, but it’s really all of our responsibility. It’s every employee that is involved in the organization, but that really starts at the top, at the board level and the senior level, executive level.
Scott: Yeah. So true. Well, thanks for everything that you’re doing to make Zipwhip a more diverse and inclusive workplace, and thanks for joining the Zipcast.
Kirsten: Thank you for having me.
Scott: Thanks for joining us. Hey. If you haven’t heard, Zipwhip recently published the Ultimate Guide to Texting Your Customers. Whether your business is considering texting or you’ve already adopted a texting tool, this new eBook has all the info you need for a successful texting strategy. For a free download just got to Zipwhip.com/UltimateGuide. Until next time.