A software CEO reveals how she used the lessons of the pandemic to create a more diverse and inclusive workplace

Panel at Insider's Future of Work virtual event, June 29, 2021, featuring Insider's Rebecca Knight and Jessie Woolley-Wilson, CEO of educational-software firm DreamBox
Insider’s Rebecca Knight (l) interviews Jessie Woolley-Wilson, CEO of educational-software firm, DreamBox

  • DreamBox CEO Jessie Woolley-Wilson says diversity should be leveraged for success.
  • Employers must understand what workers want and need, as they now have the upper hand.
  • This was part of Insider’s event “What’s next: CEOs on How Talent Drives Transformation,” presented by ProEdge, a PwC Product, on June 29.
  • Click here to watch a recording of the full event.

There’s a wealth of evidence that suggests diverse, equal, and inclusive workplaces are more successful – but the pandemic and death of George Floyd forced leaders to truly reckon with this reality.

“Instead of focusing on how to manage diversity, we need to pivot to focus on how to leverage diversity,” Jessie Woolley-Wilson, CEO of educational-software firm DreamBox, said during Insider’s recent virtual event “What’s next: CEOs on How Talent Drives Transformation” presented by ProEdge from PwC, which took place June 29. “If you really believe that diversity is something to be leveraged and it doesn’t feel like just another project or another obligation, it feels like an opportunity.”

The conversation, titled “Diversity and innovation define the future of work,” was between Woolley-Wilson and Rebecca Knight, senior correspondent for careers and the workplace at Insider.

“Starting out as a woman of color in financial services, the expectations for excellence were either really high or really low,” Woolley-Wilson said. “We believe at DreamBox that diversity is required in order to build empathetic and relevant learning experiences.”

At the height of the pandemic, Woolley-Wilson said she took the unusual step of making the DreamBox digital platform free to help families, students, and teachers combat the equity gaps in education exacerbated by COVID-19.

Internally, she also oriented DreamBox to be guided by three simple principles: take care of each other, take care of our customers, and then by definition, we’ll be taking care of the company.

“We’re at an inflection point,” she said, referring to low unemployment and the changing job market. “The pendulum is swinging, and the leverage is swinging more in the employee camp.”

Woolley-Wilson said the last year highlighted that workplaces need to be more adaptive to the needs of women and racial minorities. Some women might need to work from home more, while others might not have a home environment that’s conducive to work and need to spend more time in the office.

“It’s about being intelligently adaptive, it’s about metabolizing new data, new stimuli from the environment, and meeting people where they are – just like we do with the platform and every individual learner,” she said.

DreamBox also hosts a monthly meeting – the most well-attended meeting company-wide, Woolley-Wilson said – to talk about diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice.

“We talked about hard topics like racial bias or white privilege, we talk about things that happen in the current news cycle,” she said. “All those are dealt with in a very open and authentic way.”

She added that MBA programs of the future are going to have to teach leaders how to create “positive gravity” so the best talent chooses them.

“We’re going to have to make sure that organizations are overt and explicit about what they value, because employees now – from the first day of the interview to the first day of onboarding to their first anniversary and beyond – are unapologetic and very courageous and very intentional about what they want and what they need in their professional environment,” she said.

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How major PR firms Ogilvy and Weber Shandwick are preparing for the new hybrid workplace

A panel discussion at Insider's Future of Work Event, June 29, 2021, featuring Insider's Tanya Dua, Gail Heimann, CEO of Weber Shandwick, and Devika Bulchandani, North America CEO of Ogilvy.
Insider’s Tanya Dua (L) interviews Gail Heimann (C), CEO of Weber Shandwick, and Devika Bulchandani (R), North America CEO of Ogilvy.

  • Businesses are investing in processes and technologies to manage the new normal.
  • Two CEOs said now is an opportunity to foster inclusion and positive well-being in the workplace.
  • This was part of Insider’s “What’s next: CEOs on How Talent Drives Transformation” presented by ProEdge, a PwC Product.
  • Click here to watch a recording of the full event.

As the US opens up, more and more employees are telling their bosses they want flexible and hybrid working arrangements.

“Three-quarters of our individuals around the world said flexibility is what they want,” Devika Bulchandani, North America CEO of Ogilvy, said.

Bulchandani said that Ogilvy, like many other firms, is also looking at a 3/2 working model and considering other positive changes it can introduce.

“We also shrunk our real-estate footprint because that allows us to reinvest into different areas of the business and reinvest into our people and what they need going forward,” she said.

She added that they’re instituting three compulsory days off per quarter for each employee to manage burnout.

“Just because we did it doesn’t mean we’re going to do it again,” she said. “Things like, do people need to travel to a meeting? Let’s ask ourselves why.”

Bulchandani said that she’s telling her staff to question whether there’s a perspective missing from the room in terms of gender, race, or disability, as well as capability.

“I have a different skillset, would this team do better? And then my question is, ‘Am I just thinking about New York, or should I be thinking about somebody from our Minneapolis office?'” she said.

In a similar vein, Heimann said that the “democratic” and inclusive nature of the virtual world is something her firm is trying to maintain as employees return to work.

Office space, she said, “will be a creative nexus, it will be a collaboration nexus, it will be a team nexus.” As for remote offices, Heimann said that they’re looking at a broad range of technologies that do more than simply combat “Zoom fatigue.”

“I think that the new age is going to be a little more immersive, more gaming-like, and those are the ones we’re testing,” she said. Weber Shandwick also hired a chief workforce innovation officer and a chief impact officer to push leadership toward “transformation that puts inclusion at the heart.”

“We talked to client after client about the need to solve at the intersections and therefore put together agile, cross-functional teams to bring that ability to clients again,” she said.

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I helped mint a trio of NFTs with a team of female and BIPOC digital artists. Here’s how NFTs can help more creators earn money with their artwork.

Jenny Wang
Re-inc cofounder Jenny Wang.

  • Jenny Wang is an investor at Neo and cofounder of re-inc, a streetwear apparel company.
  • In April, she helped mint a trio of NFTs for three US Women’s soccer team players and World Cup champions.
  • Wang hopes NFTs will inspire more creators to make and directly profit from their own artwork.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

This past month, I helped mint a trio of Non Fungible Tokens for three of the US Women’s soccer team players and World Cup Champions – the first NFTs to be released by elite female Olympic athletes.

It was an artistic experiment. We did it quickly – wanting to get the set of NFTs out there early to show anyone who has felt left out of the new world of crypto that they are included. We hope that they inspire more underrepresented communities to get into the NFT world as investors or creators.

Tobin Heath
A still capture of Tobin Heath’s rotating NFT card.

The NFT world is ablaze.

An abbreviation that few knew a few months ago is now part of the everyday vernacular. From Beeple’s $69M sale at Christie’s, to the SNL skit on NFTs, to Pizza Hut launching a pizza NFT, to Elon Musk tweeting about it day and night – NFTs are being minted, sold, swapped, and collected.

Celebrities have quickly embraced NFTs with open arms.

From Calvin Harris, Snoop Dogg, and LeBron James, amoung these success stories one trend stood out: The early NFT beneficiaries are all very talented creators, but lack demographic diversity.

Just like in any emerging market, the first adopters become the thought leaders, successful investors, iconic CEOs. With Bitcoin and Ethereum at all time highs, the cryptocurrency bull market hasn’t yet largely benefited underrepresented or underbanked communities, including those who haven’t had sufficient access to mainstream financial services.

Each of the three NFTs, which were drawn by US Women’s National Soccer Team player Tobin Heath and brought to life by a team of female and BIPOC digital artists, are unique in that they are one-of-one cards featuring a pixelated visual of each player and their authentic signatures. The winning bidders will receive personalized cameo videos from the player, as well as signed merchandise. These NFTs are also differentiated in that they include a donation to a nonprofit, in this case to Black Girls Code, and a promise to buy carbon offsets.

Alluding to her team’s ongoing legal battle for equal pay, Tobin told me that for “our entire careers, established organizations have been using our image and likenesses for their benefit, and without valuing it fairly – which is why we have to fight for equal pay. With NFTs, we can directly profit from our own work.” Both of us felt like it was time for more diverse creators to get their foot in the NFT door, and benefit directly from their work.

As a new form of digital art, NFTs are compelling because they empower creators directly.

Jenny Wang/Re-inc nfts
The NFT trio for the US Women’s Soccer Team players and World Cup Champions.

They do this by democratizing access to the art and entertainment industries, which historically have many walled gardens and gatekeepers, and by allowing creators to directly profit off their work in perpetuity. By adding unlockable content, NFT artists can also deepen the relationship with the eventual owner by including physical merchandise or tickets to a live experience – and even hidden premium surprises for those who collect more than one NFT from a collection. Just like buying a share of $BYND is like investing in sustainable meat, buying an NFT is like investing in a piece of culture.

After the launch, I received messages from two close friends who are also well-known creators: the first, a principal ballet dancer at the top of her field and curator of a popular dance account on TikTok, and the other, an entrepreneurial Supermodel with a blossoming YouTube channel and food brand. Both asked how they could also monetize their likenesses as NFTs, but were hesitant because they hadn’t seen anyone who looked or acted like them participate in the crypto world.

I hope these NFTs can be a success story and inspire more women to mint art, start a business, or create content.

Tobin Heath designing the card, brought to life by female and BIPOC digital artists. Jenny Wang
Tobin Heath designing the card, brought to life by female and BIPOC digital artists.

I think a lot about inclusion, from who can enter the art world, to who gets to play in financial markets. I believe that everyone has a talent to offer, can create things of value, and can build a community around them that shares their vision for the change they want to see.

If an NFT sale is able to empower an emerging singer-songwriter to be able to own their masters rights and sell copies of their work independently, without needing the connections or upfront capital to have a seat at a talent agency, then why not enable that? No asset is perfect – any industry has asymmetric power distribution and unintended side effects, including the inconclusive environmental impacts of cryptocurrency. But the beauty of the creator economy is in enabling this access, discovering new talent, and direct creator-fan relationships.

Meghan Klingenberg and Jenny Wang hosted a Clubhouse room on NFTs and startups. Jenny Wang
Meghan Klingenberg and Jenny Wang hosted a Clubhouse room on NFTs and startups.

After a two-week auction, both Tobin’s and Meghan Klingenberg’s NFTs sold in the thousands, and I was excited to celebrate these small wins. These winning bids are an order of magnitude away from the Beeple’s, Jack Dorsey‘s, or Gronk’s of the world, but a step towards increasing the overall franchise value of women’s sports teams and underrepresented communities. And if they are ever resold, I’m happy that the players will be able to receive an eternal commission on every resale.

Just like Robinhood allowed a new wave of consumers to be able to participate more easily in the stock market, participation in the creator economy, whether through NFTs, personal digital tokens, live tips, or other financial products to come, can empower each of us to use our dollars to vote on the talented artists and changemakers we believe in, and be included in their success.

As Megan Rapinoe would say, isn’t that what equity, progress, creativity and art is all about?

Jenny Wang is an investor at Neo and cofounder of re-inc. She is a Harvard computer science alum based in San Francisco. Follow her on Twitter.

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Starbucks to release new large-print and Braille menus this summer amid other accessibility moves

Starbucks
  • The coffee chain announced new moves to support blind and low-vision employees and customers.
  • The announcement of the large-print and Braille menus, as well as other accomodations, comes ahead of the annual shareholder meeting.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Starbucks announced Monday it would be making several major steps to make its menus and stores more accessible for blind and low-vision customers in a release preceding its annual shareholders meeting.

This summer, the chain will distribute large-print and Braille menus to all stores in the US and Canada. The chain is working with the National Braille Press to create the new menus.

And in the meantime, starting Monday, March 15, the company announced that it would be giving customers in the US access to Aira, an app that “connects blind and low-vision people to highly trained, remotely located visual interpreters to provide instant access to visual information through a third-party smartphone app.”

Starbucks has made other efforts to make its customer experience more accessible and equitable, and the company is highlighting those steps ahead of its annual shareholders meeting.

At the meeting, Starbucks is also expected to discuss its earnings from the first quarter of the fiscal year 2021, which saw the effects of the pandemic driving a 5% decline in consolidated net revenues.

The press release also touted Starbucks’ “inclusive design,” including its nine signing stores in the US aimed at promoting inclusion of the Deaf and hard-of-hearing communities as well as the company’s distribution of clear face masks to make signing and lip-reading more accessible during the pandemic.

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WATCH: Next-Gen founders talk racial equity in tech, and share insight on navigating the industry

Racial equity in tech has become a major talking point this past year, but has that talk been paired with action? 

In the United States, still only about 1% of Black entrepreneurs receive funding for their businesses. In 2018, TechCrunch reported over 80% of VC firms don’t have one Black investor, and though about 13% of the US population is Black, only about 4% of the VC industry identifies as African American, Bloomberg reported.

After calls for racial justice swept the nation last summer, Insider wanted to know if anything has changed for Black founders looking to find their footing in the tech industry. 

So, we spoke to them. 

On Thursday, February 25, Insider’s reporter Dominic-Madori Davis chatted with  Realtime CEO and cofounder Vernon Coleman, Yac cofounder Jordan Walker, and Cashmere cofounder Urenna Okonkwo about their journeys in tech and the future they wish to see in the industry. Okonkwo, who is based in the United Kingdom, also gave her perspective as to what it’s like raising money as a Black entrepreneur across the pond. 

Together, the trio shared advice for aspiring founders on how to navigate the industry, as well as lessons they wish they knew when they began their entrepreneurial journeys.  

You can watch the full digital event above. 

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How the rapidly growing Hive Diversity app is connecting students with big companies that put equality and inclusion at the forefront of recruitment

Hive
Students and graduates can use the app to connect with potential employers.

  • Hive Diversity, which launched in October, is a virtual recruiting platform that wants to match diverse students to employers with a focus on equality, diversity, and inclusion.
  • It’s already partnered with big-name companies including Accenture, Saks Fifth Avenue, and the owner of Jimmy Choo.
  • Its founder Bryan Slosar spoke to Business Insider about Hive, which was founded with students in mind.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The killing of George Floyd in May awoke a major socio-political movement across the globe. As the Black Lives Matter movement gathered momentum across the world, major companies were quick to respond and issued statements supporting activists.

But despite the push to take positive action, some major employers have come under fire recently for not prioritizing diversity in the workplace.

Black staff at the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative say they are ‘underpaid, undervalued, and marginalized,’ employees have spoken out about Salesforce’s slow progress in improving workplace diversity, and UPS only overturned its ban on delivery staff having beards and diverse hair styles in November.

Hive Diversity is a virtual recruiting platform that wants to change that.

The platform connects employers with a focus on EDI (equality, diversity, and inclusion) with eager-to-learn college students from under-represented communities.

Hive was founded in October 2020 by Byron Slosar, who spent the last 15 years in the careers industry.

Bryan Slosar
Hive was founded by Bryan Slosar.

He first thought up the concept in 2015. He was working at Tulane University when a young trans student who knew Slosar was part of the LGBTQ+ community approached him asking for career advice. The student told Slosar he wanted to work at a company where he could be his “true self” and feel at home.

Five years later, Hive has launched, and it’s growing rapidly.

The company works with more than 2,000 students from more than 225 American universities.

Some of this is rapid growth thanks to its network of more than 200 student ambassadors, who encourage their peers to join the scheme.

And some of it is because of Hive’s big-name partnerships. For its first cycle, Hive has partnered with 24 companies including Accenture, Atlantic Records, Saks Fifth Avenue, Steve Madden, and Capri Holding Limited, which owns the fashion brands Versace, Jimmy Choo, and Michael Kors. The companies all put an emphasis on diversity, and are working with Hive to ensure their recruitment processes reflect that.

Read more: Nasdaq needs SEC signoff for its game-changing rule on board diversity. Here’s a look at how it could play out.

What sets Hive apart from other recruitment platforms is that it was built with the students in mind, not the companies, Slosar told Business Insider.

One of his key ideas was to gamify the platform. Students have to complete five levels of courses based on their personal and professional development, including videos, text, and quizzes related to preparing for job interviews and thinking about career goals. Undertaking these gamified tasks keeps them engaged and shows their commitment to employers, Slosar explained.

And convenience is also an important driver for the company. Students can do the lessons on their phones via the Hive app, meaning they’re not tied to a schedule like other careers classes, Slosar explained.

DZ
Students and graduates can use the app to connect with potential employers.

Another way Hive has adapted to its college userbase is through its resume builder, Slosar told Business Insider. Its website includes a patent-pending resume builder which, unlike many others, is mobile compatible. Students are provided with a template with resume formatting, so that they just have to fill out the content, meaning the focus is on them and their skills rather than how well they can format a resume.

Hive provides students with more than just the opportunity to apply for jobs, Slosar explained. The partner companies put on virtual information sessions through Hive, where students can ask questions about different career paths and speak to recent graduates about their experiences. Through this, Hive focuses on meaningful engagement between talented students and prospective employers, Slosar said.

Though students get a lot out of Hive, they don’t pay to join. “They pay by putting the work in,” Slosar told Business Insider.

Employers also benefit from recruiting through Hive, Slosar explained.

Whereas most employees get EDI training on the job, students registered at Hive undertake an EDI module before being employed.

In addition, partner companies get aggregate data on students “following” them on the site, such as their locations, courses, and interests, which they can then build into their recruitment strategies.

Accenture, which is one of Hive’s partner companies, said that workplace diversity can help create a wider culture of equality. The company is collaborating with Hive Diversity “because they complement our purpose of combining human ingenuity with technology to serve a greater good,” Joseph Taiano, managing director of marketing & communications at Accenture, told Business Insider.

One of Hive’s core beliefs is that a student is worth much more than just their grades.

The Hive recruitment process focuses on the values that students’ skills, interests, and background can bring. It uses this information to connect the students with like-minded employers.

Hive focuses on students, ranging from first years to recent graduates. In doing so, Slosar hopes to cause a systemic change by creating an organic pipeline of talent in the future, he told Business Insider.

Slosar hopes Hive will help democratize the workplace by removing hurdles such as money and personal networks from the job-seeking process.

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