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Case Studies

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From Silos to Squads: A Blueprint for Startups to Sustain their DEI Efforts

Company: Participate

Industry: Education Management

Employees: ~30

The Challenge: In the fall of 2019 and at a very early growth stage, Participate teamed up with Feminuity to design a DEI strategy based on Participate’s data and values and then develop a model to implement and sustain the efforts over the long haul.

Our Approach: We began with a company-wide assessment. The assessment was a single survey with DEI sentiment questions and a fulsome demographic question set. We paired this with a series of qualitative interviews. The survey and interviews help us uncover barriers to DEI and pinpoint improvement opportunities.

After the assessment, we worked with Participate to develop a high-impact, organization-wide DEI strategy through a series of collaborative co-design sessions. The DEI strategy we landed on focused on human resources, recruitment, learning and development, and communications and content.

After developing the DEI strategy, Participate broke it down into individual problem statements, then assigned a “DEI Squad” to each statement. They analyzed the data we collected and presented, looked for processes that would work for remote and office workers, acknowledged various team workflows, and encouraged flexibility and agency depending on staff member needs.

The DEI Squads are collaborative, cross-functional teams that serve as stewards for the DEI vision. At our suggestion, they utilize a RACI (Responsible Accountable Consulted Informed) process where all employees cycle in at least once and own the solutions. Shifting out of siloed workflows ensures that Participate embeds DEI into all they do for their customers and their team members.

On top of these efforts, Participate created an additional DEI squad that would simultaneously create resources and frameworks for how to collaborate better together in squads. After the first round of Squads, they saw organizational progress and collaboration in a way they didn’t anticipate.

From here on out, we acted as an arm’s length advisory to answer questions and provide resources and support to the DEI Squads whenever they needed it. For example, we offered advice on product inclusion, content inclusion, mentorship, and internal learning practices such as navigating tough conversations anchored in honesty, kindness, and growth.

The Results: Since Participate tagged us in during the early stages to help them with DEI, they have made substantial progress with impactful improvements in systems and processes for more diverse collaboration in key business functions for both partners and staff.

Nearly 60% of full-time staff have directly participated in organization-wide DEI strategy development and implementation, not including individual participation in DEI initiatives led by DEI teams. And the results illustrate these efforts.

For example, Participate released a new mentorship structure rooted in peer mentoring and accountability partners to support all employees’ professional growth and development. As part of the rollout, Participate set aside time for staff so they can “upskill,” relieving a common roadblock to such efforts. Employees also can share individual and group progress through synchronous and asynchronous forums for feedback and reflection.

Additionally, Participate expanded its recruitment pipelines, has benefitted from important staff hires since these changes were made, and now includes its company DEI vision statement in all role profiles.

We believe that addressing DEI at an early growth stage and embedding it in the company’s goals and processes will help them to avoid intractable, expensive problems that inevitably happen when you push DEI off the priority list. Finally, by giving everyone a stake in DEI work, the company’s values became truly engrained from top to bottom.