What we’re doing to create a more inclusive and diverse business

As a woman working in tech, there’s one question I inevitably get during most panel events and media interviews: what’s it like to be a female founder, and what roadblocks have you faced along your journey? Like most of my female-identifying peers, I dread this question — mostly because it would never be asked of a male founder, and it distracts from what I really want to talk about (my business!).

But when I reflect on the answer, I feel fortunate to say that being a woman in tech has never been a hindrance for me because I’ve always been in female-dominated, diverse environments. From journalism school which was 90% female, to my first PR agency job — again, 90% female — to then starting my career in tech where I worked for a female founder, I always had strong female role models early in my career. When I embarked on my own entrepreneurial journey I knew that diversity would be a core part of how I grew companies — when I ran a PR and marketing agency, we were about 75% women, and had team members from various diverse backgrounds. When I founded a wine tour business, my co-founders were two of my female best friends. So when I joined my husband Kevin at Willful, it wasn’t a question that I would strive for the same level of diversity within our company as I had seen represented in all of my prior companies and jobs.

When I say that being a woman in tech hasn’t been a hindrance for me, it’s with the knowledge that I say that from a place of extreme privilege. I am an able-bodied, white, heterosexual woman from an upper middle class family. While I don’t have an Ivy League education and I wasn’t handed six figures by the bank of mom and dad to start a business, I know that I have so many advantages that set me ahead on my path to being a founder. Even the fact that we were able to raise friends and family funding is privileged, since our friends and family had the money to invest.

Diversity has always been at the forefront of mind in any of my businesses — I’m proud to have built an extremely diverse workplace at my previous agency, and I saw firsthand how having a variety of backgrounds helps create healthy debate, varying viewpoints, and ultimately a higher calibre of work — not to mention it adds rich culture and viewpoints to the company culture for our demo days, team events, and everyday work.

Despite my commitment to diversity, we could be doing better at Willful. This article outlines our public commitment to improve our efforts to foster diversity and inclusion at Willful, why it’s important to our business, and how we plan to get there. On some fronts like gender diversity we’re better than the norm — for example as of May 1st Willful will have 14 full-time team members, and of those, 7 are female-identifying. Of our C-Suite, 50% are female, including the CEO and COO (though we don’t have representation from non-binary folks, which means there’s still work to be done here).

But we get a failing grade for representation from other underrepresented groups, including people of colour, indigenous people, non-binary folks, LGBTQA+ folks, and people with disabilities. Our engineering team is comprised of white males. Our leadership is made up of white team members. And we know we have a lot of work to do here to ensure that our team is representative of more cultures, voices, and backgrounds. It’s always been a benefit to build diversity into your business plan, but it’s taken too long for leaders to view it as an imperative. It’s also important because our customers at Willful are from every demographic and socioeconomic group you can imagine, and having diversity on our team means we can better represent our customers’ best interests.

Instead of talking about this behind closed doors, I want to be open with our commitment, and how we’re improving our hiring processes and culture to be inclusive so we can not only attract great, diverse talent, we can foster an environment where anyone can thrive. Here’s what we’ve already done:

Hiring process:

  1. Transparency in the hiring process: We worked with Avery Francis and her team at Bloom to adapt our job descriptions to include more inclusive language, and to be more transparent about salary ranges when possible (knowing we’re a startup, publishing salary ranges can actually be detrimental when not communicated alongside the mission/vision/values and total compensation package), and what the hiring process looks like. Women specifically are apt to only apply to jobs if they meet 100% of the requirements, vs. men who will apply if they only meet 60%, so we’ve also been open about applying if you don’t meet every qualification. (See this in practice in our JD for a current open role — Senior Full Stack Developer). As part of that hiring process, we are also open about accommodations that may be needed during the interview process (for example interviews outside work hours to accommodate existing jobs and/or childcare), and we commit to being responsive to each candidate to ensure everyone has a positive experience.

Internal culture:

  1. Setting (and living) Willful’s values: In 2019 we undertook a values-setting exercise that helped us to develop our internal and external values: Purpose, Agility, Accountability, Empowerment, and Empathy. These values reflect diversity at their core — especially the values of accountability and empathy. While yes, these are posters on a wall at our office, we try to live the values every day — for example we have a five-minute values spotlight at our monthly town hall, where in the last one we talked about Purpose and how that’s reflected through our focus on legacy giving (Willful has generated over $33 million in gifts to charity in wills so far!), and we use these values as a barometer for day-to-day decision making (“is this reflecting our value of accountability?”) Values are meaningless if they’re not reflected in the daily work, so our annual reviews and performance feedback are all centred around how people exemplify these values both internally and externally.

Those steps have been a great start for us, but we know there’s still work to be done. Here’s an overview of what we’re committing to in the next 6 months:

  • Building D&I into our company OKRs — every quarter we set company-wide OKRs, and this quarter we’re making diversity one of four company-wide goals. This includes goals like diversity in our recruiting pipeline, and completing MESH courses and surveys. By making this objective front and centre at Willful, we can not only highlight its importance, but we can make it a part of every leadership meeting and conversation.

I know I’m not the only founder who struggles with how to increase the diversity in their team, but I wouldn’t be living our value of accountability if I didn’t share these thoughts publicly. While I think we’re taking the right steps, I’d also love any suggestions, advice, or tactics that have worked for your team as we continue on this journey. And on the accountability front, I commit to posting an update here every 6 months to showcase the progress we’ve made, and challenges we’ve faced.

PS — we’re hiring a Senior Full Stack Developer and a Director of Product, and we’ll be putting these recruiting adjustments into practice. If you’re interested in applying and have any questions, please reach out anytime.

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Erin Bury

Co-founder & CEO at estate planning platform Willful. Building a consumer brand that makes it easier to plan for and deal with death in a digital age.