Late in 2017, snow hit hard one afternoon while we were working. Rather than drive immediately home, Rapid7's CEO Corey Thomas and I trudged our way to a bar down the street to wait out the traffic. We sat down, and started game planning our people focused areas for the upcoming year. Diversity, equity and inclusion was gaining a lot of attention as an area in need of action in the business community, much as the topic of company culture had earlier in the decade. And while it was an area of importance that resonated deeply with both of us, we wanted to ensure that our approach felt thoughtful and authentic to Rapid7, and not like we were jumping on the bandwagon because other companies were leaning in. Historically, our industry is largely white male dominated, and yet somehow, embracing and celebrating diversity organically. The question remained, was it enough? It didn’t take us long to determine, no, not nearly enough.
So we set out to do what we do well as a company. We brainstormed, considered what made the most sense for our company, its people and our customers, and set some fairly audacious goals. Then we got to work.
At the beginning of 2018, we set a challenging goal for our company - in two years, we wanted 50% of our workforce to be women and people of color. In order to achieve this, we had to look inward and honestly evaluate our company culture, our hiring practices, and our management styles. We provided education to our employees and offered unconscious bias training. We partnered with organizations outside of Rapid7 that we could both learn from and support through volunteering and donations. We took an already inclusive company culture and upleveled it by leading with vulnerability and empathy.
By the end of 2020, we achieved 49.7% of our 50% goal. One could consider that progress a rounding error, and yet we don’t. We are immensely proud of our progress to date, but we know we have so much more to do.
Being at the forefront of this mission, I’ve learned a number of things I’ll vulnerably share here. My hope is that anyone reading shares their insights as well. This is one of the most challenging areas I’ve ever tackled at work...and also one of the most meaningful. For companies looking to advance their own DE&I efforts, here’s what I’ve learned.
- MAKE IT AUTHENTIC TO YOUR COMPANY. It seems as if every company is scrambling to create a thoughtful DE&I strategy right now. Amazing, but ensure it is true to your company culture, and supporting the culture you wish to evolve to.
- DON’T TRY TO BOIL THE OCEAN. There is so much work that needs to be done to achieve true diversity, equity and inclusion in the world. But that doesn’t mean your company has to attempt to fix everything at once. Pick a handful of thoughtful, meaningful goals and focus on achieving those. As you make progress, build from that foundation. By staying focused and keeping goals easily understood and relatively simple, any company can make inexpensive and fast impact.
- TAKE A GOOD HARD LOOK IN THE MIRROR AS YOU IDENTIFY YOUR BUSINESS NEEDS. You can measure diversity in terms of where your company currently stands, but true inclusion can be more subjective.As you set your priorities, there must be a strong correlation between the company’s overall business goals and your DE&I goals. Though an emotionally charged topic, by thinking from the lens of your leadership team and asking yourself, “Who are we? What can we accomplish together to meet these goals? What do we need to change?” can add the dose of realistic perspective which will bolster your efforts.
- DE&I IS EVERYONE’S JOB. Not every company has the luxury of adding a Chief Diversity Officer to their ranks. And yet, I’d argue as you are getting started, you don’t need one. What you do need is someone accountable and influential enough who can lead the charge, partnered with leadership who holds every manager and employee in the company to embody diversity and inclusion into their everyday behavior. It’s not enough to talk about it. It needs to be measured. Manager and leadership behavior needs to map their stated intention. Appropriate actions need to be taken when people act in ways that counter your efforts.
- EMBRACE FLEXIBILITY. There is no “one size fits all” approach. Whether you are applying detailed metrics or a less regimented means to track progress, select a method of tracking which allows you to periodically assess, and tweak as appropriate. Engagement surveys, for example, can offer great insights, but have to be crafted in a way that ensures true sentiment and representation is occurring.
I’ve often thought my journey through DE&I required the need for a flak jacket. Sometimes, doing the right thing requires grit, resilience, and the willingness to manage through moments that won’t be readily embraced by all. However, if you truly believe in the work’s importance, you wear that jacket proudly. Rapid7 has certainly made some progress, but we are just getting started. Read our 2020 DE&I report here.