The Tech World Has Long Been Known for its Lack of Diversity. One Denver Business is Changing the Story.
Slalom is challenging the status quo by making diversity and inclusion a core value—and then measuring its progress.
On a brisk morning this past October, Bhavna Chhabra, engineering director and site lead for Google’s Boulder campus, sat on a stage in downtown Denver with a microphone in her hand. She wasn’t there to discuss a cool new app update or yet another thing you could accomplish by saying, “Hey Google.” Instead, she was talking about “psychological safety,” or creating a work environment where every member of her team can be vulnerable, feels comfortable taking risks, and “allows for a diversity of viewpoints.”
Yet, she also acknowledged that her workplace still had a way to go to reach this state—particularly as it related to diversity and inclusion. Last year, only 33% of the behemoth’s new hires were women, and less than 14% were Black, Latinx, or Native American. Google is not alone: According to an October article in Wired, while the country’s major tech firms have experienced unprecedented growth and achievements, “none…has made much progress in diversifying their workforces.”
There are a number of complicated reasons why these inequities continue. Thankfully, the solutions are clearer: remove, or reduce, conscious and unconscious biases; invest over the long-term and don’t expect quick fixes; build systems to help retain and promote diverse hires; and prioritize diversity and inclusion efforts at all levels of the company.
These are steps that Slalom, a global consulting firm with 500 employees in Denver, has been quietly taking for years. “If we can create an environment that allows people to show up as their authentic selves, we create an environment that allows people to thrive,” says general manager Binh Diep, who has further championed and prioritized these efforts since his promotion to lead the Denver office in January 2019. “Creating a space where we have very diverse backgrounds and ways of thinking allows us to really challenge ourselves as well as challenge our creativity and bring a different level of innovation and a different level of thinking that I think is really powerful for what we do.”
When Diep mentions diversity, he’s referring to a broad swath of individual experiences, including gender, ethnicity, age, veteran status, economics, and even politics, as well as the intersections between them.
Some of the firm’s diversity efforts are quantitative—like requiring that at least 55% of job candidates represent diverse groups, ensuring there’s diverse representation among the interviewers (at least 20%), and reaching gender parity on staff. Slalom hosts bias trainings and uses a technique called competency-based interviewing—asking consistent questions and streamlining messaging—to help avoid unconscious bias from seeping into the process. In monthly Days of Learning, employees are given the opportunity to attend workshops designed to help them recognize diversity in others and celebrate their own authenticity. For example, Widening the Circle, a cornerstone course in the program, challenges each participant to confront their own unconscious biases and actively solution with the group on how to move into a position of advocacy and support for all team members—regardless of their differences. It provides an opportunity for vulnerability and real human connection, all proctored and championed by fellow Slalom team members. The goal is not only to make this type of education accessible, but to empower those with a passion in the area to become trained as facilitators and mentors for their teammates.
At the upper levels, leadership evaluates who has received promotions to make sure there’s equal opportunity to move up the ladder. Even the leadership team itself is assessed to make sure there’s representation at all levels. “You need to measure diversity and inclusion to see if you’re making an impact,” says Kylee Eikenberg, director of talent and strategic operations. That focus on measurement brings a tangibility to I&D goals, which can often feel distant and nebulous, making them easier for all members of the team to understand, recognize, and actively support. “It’s constantly focusing on micro behaviors to make sure you’re reinforcing, that you’re constantly learning, that you’re building up your awareness. We’re not all going to be experts, but we can continuously learn by just listening to others,” Eikenberg says.
Other initiatives are more qualitative and focused on making sure the experience of working at Slalom is an inclusive one. “We spend way too much time at work to be covering our true selves and to be living in fear and not feeling like we have people we connect with,” Eikenberg says. To that end, Slalom employees run six affinity groups, such as CODE (Celebrating Our Diverse Employees) and a Women’s Leadership Network, and numerous activity groups (think Board Game, Movie, and Fitness clubs). They focus on creating community among individuals with common interests and backgrounds, attracting and retaining talent, and educating the broader office.
This year, Slalom is launching an accelerator program that will identify employees with high potential and fast-track their careers. “It’s going to be a program for everyone in the company,” Eikenberg says, “but how can we look at some diverse groups that don’t have equal representation in all levels of leadership…and get them the skill sets they need to be successful at that level?”
Still, even with all these efforts, Slalom and its staff know there’s more work to do. Missteps happen. Lessons are learned. That’s okay. Building a strong foundation of transparency and a culture of psychological safety, while emphasizing a learning mindset, allows leaders to own up to errors while continuing to work toward diversity and inclusion goals. Looking in the mirror and being honest about what’s reflected—and why and how it needs to change—is an integral step in Slalom’s approach. “There’s no silver bullet to inclusion and diversity,” Eikenberg says. “Things we do now may not pay off for five or 10 years. We have to put in the building blocks. We have to continue to evolve.”
Slalom is a modern consulting firm focused on strategy, technology, and business transformation. We redefine what’s possible and create what’s next. Here, personal connection meets global scale. We build deep relationships with our clients in over 35 cities across the U.S. and around the world, while sharing insights across markets to bring the full breadth of Slalom’s expertise to every engagement. Our regional Build Centers—including one right here in Denver—are hubs for innovation, attracting top talent to rapidly co-create the technology products of tomorrow. We also nurture strong partnerships with over 300 leading technology providers, including Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud, Microsoft, Salesforce, and Tableau. Founded in 2001 and headquartered in Seattle, with roots from day one in Denver, Slalom has organically grown to over 8,000 employees. We were named one of Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For in 2019 and are regularly recognized by our employees as a best place to work. Learn more about joining the Slalom family at slalom.com/careers.