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Last week, Earnest hosted a Tech Meet-Up in our San Francisco office on the topic of Diversity and Inclusion. A key goal for Earnest’s diversity efforts is unearthing, attracting, and retaining different people, experiences and perspectives; while our inclusion efforts help us build a workplace where everyone can be who they are and share their own unique abilities. Both D&I are key to Earnest’s office culture.
The panel included our CEO, Susan Ehrlich, our CTO, Pamela Rice, and our Head of Research, Mariam Khan. Here are some of the questions and great answers from the conversation:
Come build the future of education financing.
We talk about building diverse teams and living diversity in the office—how do you do that? How do you build better systems?
Pamela Rice: The power of diversity is when it becomes part of the DNA of everything you do: Hiring, opportunity, whose voices get heard. From the front of the funnel, I like to use a general rule that no two people look alike because the pool of candidates that you choose from will represent the teams that you eventually hire. The pool of candidates needs to be diverse to build a diverse team and that’s a rule that I share with recruiters from day one.
We make sure that we set the table for everyone’s voice to be heard by actively talking about micro-aggressions we won’t tolerate. The other side of that equation is that your voice can’t be heard if you don’t speak up, so we encourage that as well.
Do you have any tips for the audience or maybe even an example where you had to work to create a workplace where all voices could be heard?
Susan Ehrlich: I’ve learned that you really have to be very focused and intentional about ensuring that you’re hearing from everyone, and if you’re not, to be proactive in reaching out and spending time and ensuring that you’re not letting anything silence somebody—that you’re encouraging your people to find their voice and have the confidence to speak up.
Mariam Khan: I didn’t grow up in America, but I went to college here and I’ve lived here coming on 16 years. In previous experiences, not at Earnest, there have been many times when people have assumed they don’t know what I’m talking about or they don’t understand my accent. I’m also a natural introvert. There’s a lot of assumptions and people’s brains shut down and may not even try to listen. Recently, somebody really smart said this to me, “you need to keep talking, and they need to stop talking so they can hear you”.
When you dig into this topic you come across words, like obstacles and barriers. What do you think of Diversity and Inclusion being associated with these words?
SE: ’Obstacles’ and ‘barriers’ implies things you don’t have control over. I prefer to frame things as ‘challenges’ or even more optimistically ‘opportunities’. To frame things as obstacles and barriers gives control to someone else over what happens in your future. Not the right premise to start from.
PR: I think it is really important, especially at this time when we have not only an opportunity but a responsibility to get involved from a diversity standpoint. If we are not creating a world that has the culture that we want, we are sitting back and letting the culture of today be recreated and that’s a scary thought. I encourage all of you who are in this room and part of the diversity sector to really step up and know it’s not just about you.
Mariam, you mentioned that you are on the design research team. How did you and your team think about diversity when it comes to both researching for the product and then designing Earnest products?
MK: For most products, if not every product at Earnest, we start with research. We recently launched our private student loan and the first step was to recruit a bunch of folks and learn what they think of lending and money by talking with them. Diversity in the people we recruit is very important. We want to make sure that the people that you’re interviewing don’t all have the same experience and background. Every time you do research for a feature or a product, we make sure we have age, gender, and geographic diversity.
What’s your experience been with mentoring others or being mentored? Can you speak about an example or generally how has that played a part in your career?
PR: Typically being a mentor to someone is something that I get a lot out of, so it’s never a one-way situation. The times that I feel I’ve been most effective are when that person really wants to know how to grow their career, but also how to expand their mindset.
MK: It’s my belief that no matter how high up you get, to not only learn to grow your career, but expanding the way you think is always important. When I’m the mentor what has worked really well is when the person comes prepared and with an agenda. It’s about being mindful of the time that someone is investing in you and utilizing it well.
SE: There were definitely points in my career where having a mentor helped. These were people who helped me have the courage to do a thing I didn’t think I was ready for or prepared to do. When I’m a mentor that is what I’m looking to do—encourage and give people the confidence to do something that they want to do and help prepare them for it.
What do you think about policies that make us celebrate diversity and inclusion, like hiring a Head of D&I or having unbiased bias training?
SE: I am a fan of the Rooney Rule approach to things, which is to make sure that you have representation in the panel. I wouldn’t have thought I would have been a fan of unconscious bias training and then we did it at Simple and I found that to be an incredibly eye-opening experience and we were then very deliberate about how we use the learnings that came out of that.
I think that a role like Head of D&I puts the responsibility in a box and makes it one individual’s responsibility, as opposed to a collective responsibility of a leadership team. I don’t have experience with that being as successful for an organization.
If you’d like to join us, we’re hiring.