Last month, our team penned a promise to become an active part of the solutions to racial injustice in our industry and communities. Since then, we’ve convened a team of passionate, skilled folks here at Madaket to make sure we’re walking the walk.

There are no quick fixes to racism, and the road ahead of us is long, but it is one we are deeply committed to. For this edition of Open Source, we sat down with Stacey Lancaster, VP of Operations—who handles all things people operations and service delivery—to discuss what actions Madaket will take moving forward.

First, tell us why Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I) work is personally important to you.

For much of my career, I’ve been fortunate to manage people. My management style has focused on helping people feel comfortable and like they have a safe place at work. Diversity has always been something I cared about deeply, but it wasn’t until recently that I realized how passive I was being in the DE&I conversation at work. I was excited about bringing in diverse talent and making everyone feel at home but had never put much energy into policy or structural change. Through the years, I’ve spent a lot of time learning and challenging myself in my personal life, and intentionally expanding the conversation with my children. Digging into DE&I work at Madaket fits really well for me, as a natural extension of the management work I have been doing for many years, and my own personal education.

Tell us about Madaket’s efforts on DE&I.

About a year ago, I took over the people operations organization and function and really saw an opportunity to take a look at DE&I at the start of 2020. We were so focused on coronavirus response, and remote work, that I didn’t dedicate as much energy as I should have until the end of May. George Floyd’s murder was a wakeup call to us and many others. We said, “Stop—this is actually the most important thing we need to be thinking about right now.” It was time for us to really take a close look at what we were doing and how we could do better. Often small companies use their size as an excuse to not have active conversations about racial disparity. While we fully recognize that we should have been more proactive all along, we have now really bought into making diversity and inclusion a priority for the company.

Tell us about the Madaket’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Working Group and the goals you are looking to accomplish.

For a while at Madaket, we’ve had “Culture Councils”, which are groups of employees centered on the four pillars of our culture: Learning, Results, Caring, and Purpose. And so, this all actually started by getting the Caring and Purpose councils together to talk about what felt important to us as a company, where we were failing, what could we do better in making sure that everyone at Madaket feels welcome and empowered. We then opened it up beyond those councils and said, “Everyone is invited to the table here. Participate in whatever way you are interested and feel comfortable.” The support and responses were overwhelming, and we had eight people form into a core working group—the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Working Group—to explore more deeply what we need to do at Madaket, and really drive to action items and next steps. We’re really in the first phase of this process as our efforts evolve.

How is the team educating itself?

We’re all reading and sharing a lot. I’ve attended a number of webinars specific to the roles and responsibilities of HR related to diversity, equity, and inclusion. We have internal channels through which we’re tracking resources and sharing information. In our personal lives, we’re also watching lots of movies and documentaries, attending webinars, and those sorts of things on the broader issues of race—not just in the workplace. So, we’re getting the information from all over the place, and as a team, consolidating and landing on what’s most relevant to our work. We have also started a series of town hall conversations to involve the whole team in the learning process. Our next step is to expand our broad town hall topics into targeted focus groups.

As part of this discovery process and initial DE&I work, what have you learned, personally, that has been the biggest surprise to you?

In a lot of ways, we’ve made a concerted effort on some angles of diversity. We’re over 40% women and have been intentional about trying to hire women at every level. We have a number of international employees and actively support the visa process. All things that, for a company of our size, are actually pretty impressive. Yet we’ve never had an explicit conversation, at the leadership level or as a company, about why we have so few Black employees or why I am currently the only woman on the leadership team.

The level of engagement across the organization has been a pleasant surprise. When we opened up this conversation, we had more than 90% participation of employees sharing their stories, discussing how they feel, and communicating their passion about diversity. Everyone is supportive, whether they’re fully engaged in it or just listening in on the conversation. There was no pushback. There were no questions about, “Why are we focused on this?” or “We have bigger fish to fry.” Everyone agrees that focusing on DE&I is important to our success as a company—as a country—and wants to do better.

So, we know that the DE&I Working Group has an extensive list of action items to start making progress. How are you going about tackling them and prioritizing them?

Our plan right now is to prioritize the items that we think are meaningful, but easily accomplishable in the short term. This is going to be something that we’re talking about forever. There’s no real endpoint here. Our goal is to continue to better ourselves on every component of diversity, equity, and inclusion. So, we have to start with the stuff that’s right in front of us—improving our hiring process, making sure there are avenues for people to talk about experiencing racism or microaggressions in the workplace, and supporting the company in continuing the conversation. It’s more about where we can be impactful and build momentum to be able to tackle some of the bigger items.

It sounds like the hiring process is an important goal. How are you tackling that?

We’ve done a couple of things. First, we wanted to expand our pool—our hiring pool is primarily white people and people of Asian descent. In our most recent round of hiring, we pushed out the job description to the Professional Diversity Network to try to expand our pool proactively, rather than just limiting it to people who are in our network, visiting our website, or following us on LinkedIn.

We also did an assessment of our job descriptions and removed what we considered to be the immediate barriers to entry. We removed references to specific degree requirements and years of experience. And given the situation with COVID, we also eliminated the location requirements, so we’re hiring people who will be remote long term and don’t need to be based in Cambridge. We also looked for language in the job description itself that we believed to be potentially insensitive or off-putting to people from different backgrounds.

In the interviewing process, we’re being intentional about calling out potential biases. We also changed our cultural fit questions to be, “Does this person add to Madaket’s culture?” Because one of the things we want to be really careful about with “cultural fit” is that we don’t hire a bunch of people who are identical to our existing team. We need to add people to the team that bring different perspectives, backgrounds, and experiences. Every aspect of diversity should be encompassed in our efforts. We know there are a lot of next steps here. These first few steps were kind of our first pass at it, and we’ll continue to reassess it.

Can you talk to us a little bit more about the industry challenges with diversity in with health-tech and tech in general? What, if anything, do you feel like the industry can do, as opposed to individuals or individual companies?

I think technology as a whole, and health-tech more specifically, have a responsibility to do better. It’s true of many industries. But health-tech, has a particular responsibility to address these issues because of the tie to disparities in care. How can we position ourselves as an industry to support providers and patients of all backgrounds, with the technology and services we provide, and yet still ignore the inequality in our workforce?

Clearly many of the issues we are talking about are grounded in systemic racism—particularly so in the broader technology industry, where historically, you needed a specific technical degree. There’s also a lot of competition, and the tech industry has really made access an issue. It’s frustrating that, because people don’t necessarily have access to getting a computer science degree, or access to that entry level position in technology, that has created this environment where promoting and hiring people of color, into leadership roles especially, is a challenge. One of the problems is that companies are not looking in the right places and not supporting people as they develop. Getting people of color into technology, supporting and mentoring them as they grow, is one way the industry can help solve that problem.

We’re definitely interested in working with any other companies that are thinking about these things and want to be involved in a dialogue. This is a problem for the industry to solve together.

What does success look like for the Madaket DE&I Working Group?

One of the first things we’re working on is getting some metrics in place. One realization that I had, when we first started this conversation, is that we don’t do any demographic self-reporting, and therefore any metrics that we have currently around gender, race, and sexual identity, are purely based on what we know and what we see. That’s not real data, even for a 50-person company. We’re working through how to get the team to self-report in a way that is trackable so we can really understand our baselines. That’s step number one.

Step number two is taking those baselines and figuring out what is valuable to measure and where we should be. It will all be incremental. What’s our goal for the end of this year? What’s our goal for the end of next year? Because like I said before, this is going to be an ongoing conversation. Hopefully we can start to get feedback from the team to get a sense of how we are progressing. Belonging and inclusion is a really hard thing to measure and to report on. But really, my goal is that I hear from employees of all different backgrounds, races, sexual identities, neurological ability, all of those kind of different aspects of diversity, and I hear that they feel a sense of belonging in the workplace and they feel supported enough that they are comfortable speaking up when something isn’t working.

Where can we find more updates on the goals and what the team is doing?

Right now, I’m focused on showing meaningful change. I want to tell people what we’re doing, both so that we hold ourselves accountable and because we have found it so helpful to hear how other companies are approaching DE&I efforts. For now, we’ll plan on doing a diversity readout every six months or so—something along those lines—but I want to make sure that it’s spread out enough that we have meaningful information to contribute. You can definitely expect to hear more from us!

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