How elevating diverse voices enhances work at 3 Seattle tech companies

by Quinten Dol
May 21, 2019

As most business leaders know, building a team that represents as much of society as possible is one of the keys to business success. But simply hiring from diverse backgrounds doesn’t mean much without a company culture that encourages all employees to feel comfortable floating new ideas and freely debating key decisions.

Some businesses, however, do go the extra mile to elevate all voices and tap into wells of experience and perspective that, for too long, have been ignored by the industry. To learn more, we had leaders at three Seattle tech companies take us through their methods for building an inclusive environment that elevates employees from all backgrounds, as well as the projects that have directly benefited from their approach.

 

axon seattle tech startup diversity initiative
photo via axon

Through a series of hardware and software products, Axon promotes accountability and safety in policing while helping to eliminate the officer’s scourge of paperwork. That product line includes body cameras, a range of TASER devices, automated reporting software and digital evidence management systems. Headquartered in Scottsdale, Arizona, the company’s Seattle base is located downtown.

Vice President of Product Sayce Falk said Axon makes sure to bring employees from all backgrounds and levels of experience into key decision-making processes.

 

Tell us about a project where having a diverse team with different perspectives led to a better business outcome.

Our body camera team is a great example of a diverse team achieving a more successful outcome. One of our product leaders, a woman of color, helped orient the team to varying face, cheekbone and nose shapes that allowed us to develop a point-of-view camera that fits comfortably on a wide variety of sunglasses.

Similarly, some of the former police officers now on our staff helped us understand the weight limitations we needed to place on the camera to ensure it could be worn comfortably for up to ten hours at a time. At Axon, we think about diversity of experience and diversity of thought, and by bringing a team together from different backgrounds and life experiences we've broadened our mental horizons — and built more successful products as a result.

 

We regularly include individual contributors in design, product and engineering in high-level executive discussions and key business decisions.”

How does your company ensure that employees from a diverse range of backgrounds are included in making key business decisions?

As part of our product development, we regularly include individual contributors in design, product and engineering in high-level executive discussions and key business decisions. That helps us address confirmation bias, mitigates group-think and introduces new and possibly contradictory data to our decision-making processes that help make our decisions more robust and considered. Having employees with less than a year of experience meeting with and engaging our CEO — who founded Axon 25 years ago — means we naturally are able to achieve a high degree of diverse experience and diverse thinking styles in key meetings.

 

yapta seattle tech startup
photo via yapta

In the age of price alerts and private browsing, the act of buying a plane ticket or booking a plane ticket is almost like capitulation. It’s an acceptance that the price will not get cheaper and even if it does, you can’t afford to play chicken with an airline or hotel as your planned travel date gets closer. Enter Yapta, which tips the scales back in a traveler’s favor. The company monitors the price of air tickets and hotel rooms after they’ve been booked, and sends a notification if the price drops. The company then outlines how to call the airline or hotel — and re-book at the lower price.

CTO Brandon Evans pointed to exercises where employees were forced to try out one another’s roles for the successful roll-out of a new data warehousing solution.

 

Tell us about a project where having a diverse team with different perspectives led to a better business outcome?

Our most recent example involved connecting individuals from different parts of the organization to participate in an offsite exercise. The exercise gave roles to individuals randomly — a developer became a customer, a product manager became a developer, a developer became a sales executive, and so on. The objective was to design and build a profitable data product at the price point driven by the negotiations between sales and customers. The exercise emphasized the contribution of each role, the power of an iterative process and the constraints in the project while fostering innovation and problem-solving through teamwork, as well as understanding and communication in diverse groups.

We feel the applied learnings from this exercise has led to the recent successful launch of Yapta’s new data mart. Built on cloud-native technologies and services, this data mart will power our TravelAI and other data products. The collective perspective gained by the exercise was felt by the team, and acknowledged as a contributor to the success of the launch.

 

Yapta engineering focuses on mastery of craft.”

How does your company ensure that employees from a diverse range of backgrounds are included in making key business decisions?

In a nutshell, Yapta engineering leaders strive to empower teams to be self-managing, working with their respective teams to take ownership of what they’re here to do. This requires servant leadership, and a dedication to our employees and teams. At the same time, our engineering leaders work to ensure teams understand their purpose. Finally, Yapta engineering focuses on mastery of craft. This takes the form of quarterly hackathons, access to technical books online, weekly informal meetings around various technical topics and allowing employees to attend conferences and user groups.

 

xinova seattle tech startup
photo via xinova

When businesses have a tough challenge to solve, they turn to Xinova. The Seattle company’s worldwide network of more than 12,000 researchers, inventors and techies are poised to help companies solve a wide array of business problems, from robotic vision to agricultural feed. Headquartered in Pioneer Square, Xinova was founded in 2016 and featured as one of Built In Seattle’s 50 Startups to Watch in 2019.

Vice President of Network and Technology Matt Ferguson said Xinova relies on the diversity of its team to come up with innovative solutions to perplexing business challenges.

 

Tell us about a project in which having a diverse team with different perspectives led to a better business outcome.

Our team comes from various fields, backgrounds and perspectives, and yet we are driven by a similar passion: to solve complex, global research and development problems. For us to develop new products and technologies in industries from food science to energy to automotive, we rely on unique contributions from our diverse team of software engineers, bioengineers, chemists, materials scientists and project managers who push each other to think beyond their own ideas. Simply put, we solve customers’ toughest innovation challenges by blending distinct perspectives into out-of-the-box solutions.

 

All of our stakeholders... appreciate the creativity of our technically, culturally and geographically diverse team.”

How does your company ensure that employees from a diverse range of backgrounds are included in making key business decisions?

As a global company building a platform to connect a global innovator network, we value our employees’ and partners’ diverse voices. All of our stakeholders — from our innovators to our employees, our clients and our investors — appreciate the creativity of our technically, culturally and geographically diverse team. We are committed to creating an open, welcoming and diverse team because it leads to unique perspectives and better solutions. By focusing on open communication and transparency through regular town hall meetings, weekly retrospective meetings and employee resource-based Slack channels, we encourage and produce more opportunities for everyone to share their voices and provide input.

 

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