Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Storj Labs

May 15, 2020

During this time, when so many people are focused on simply surviving, it's important to make sure a company's ongoing efforts, especially in the areas of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI), aren't overlooked. Given that DEI initiatives strive to create an inclusive environment, these efforts become even more critical when employees may feel more isolated than ever.

In the U.S. and throughout the world, people from traditionally underrepresented backgrounds experience a disparate impact from the COVID-19 pandemic. African-Americans have disproportionate impacts on their health; Asian-Americans often are the target of hatred and racism based on false assumptions and misunderstanding about the source and spread of the virus; women tend to be harder hit, moving to working at home where they may have additional household responsibilities and are caring for loved ones. On top of all this, a willingness to reach out for help may be hindered where mental health concerns have traditionally been taboo. For all these reasons and more, it's critical that companies keep their DEI initiatives front and center. This article shares what Storj is doing to ensure a continued focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion.

At Storj, our DEI initiatives are part of our core culture. We established a Diversity & Inclusion Council in early 2019, and continue to build on our efforts company-wide. The purpose of the Council is to improve inclusiveness, ensuring that opportunity, career advancement, wage equity, and access, is available to everyone equally. The Council is responsible for driving a culture of mutual respect and intersectional equality for team members of diverse backgrounds and experiences.

As explained in the Council's charter, "Diversity" is "the range of human differences, including but not limited to race, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, social class, physical ability or attributes, religious or ethical values system, national origin, and political beliefs." "Inclusion" is defined as "involvement and empowerment, where the inherent worth and dignity of all people are recognized. An inclusive company promotes and sustains a sense of belonging; it values and practices respect for the talents, beliefs, backgrounds, and ways of living of its employees."  We added "Equity" to the Council in the fall of 2019, so that the newly-named Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Council also explicitly aims to promote fair treatment, access, opportunity, and advancement for all people and remove barriers that impede participation of individuals who have been underrepresented in our industry.

Now, a little more than a year since the Council was formed, we have a vibrant, impactful, and broadly-supported structure for implementing our efforts.  To this end:

  • We hold quarterly All Company meetings, each of which includes diversity training.
  • In September 2019, at an All Company week in Salt Lake City, we held a listening session to collect feedback on diversity at Storj.
  • In Q4 of 2019, we analyzed each piece of feedback from the prior listening session and created a roadmap to implement the feedback we received.
  • In January 2020, at our All Company meeting in Atlanta, we unveiled a roadmap that consists of three key initiatives that grew out of the listening sessions. The three key initiatives are described below, along with several other projects inspired by the feedback we received.  Each initiative is headed by a project lead with the support of a manager or executive sponsor.

Despite current economic and social uncertainties, these efforts continue to thrive and progress. We keep them front and center. This blog post is shared in hopes that others may glean ways to keep their own DEI efforts alive in the face of uncertainty and disruption.

Three Key DEI Initiatives

In our analysis of feedback from the All Company week in the fall of 2019, certain themes appeared, including the need to implement a mechanism to analyze progress on our DEI efforts, continue to enhance our hiring practices to minimize bias, and provide support and opportunities to promote retention and advancement of our employees.

Metrics & Accountability / Reporting

The purpose of focusing on reporting is to measure how Storj is doing on matters of diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Our first step was to collect relevant data through an anonymous, voluntary engagement survey to all employees.  We researched different approaches and considerations on collecting data about race, gender, sexual orientation, and other individual attributes. Each question that related to identity provided an opportunity to not just "check a box," but also to self-identify in matters of gender, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability, age, and military status. In addition to questions about identity, we focused on employee engagement and feelings of inclusion at work.  We have discussed the findings of the engagement survey internally through presentations at our weekly People Ops open office hours, as well as in 1:1 meetings across the company.  We continue to analyze the results of the survey, and will include them in an annual diversity report later this year.

The data and metrics collected not only reveal how we can improve, but also show areas in which we're having the most success and impact. While it's incredibly important to pivot and make proper adjustments in weaker areas, it's imperative to know what our strengths and sources of achievement are.

Although we're still a small company -- fewer than 50 employees, about a quarter of which are international -- it's never too early to pull out the stops when it comes to our DEI efforts. Indeed, as many other companies have found, it's never too early but it's often too late. For this reason, we're eager to track how we're doing when it comes to hiring, retention, and perceptions of all employees on DEI matters. The annual report will present data that can be used to identify our current state and help target areas where we can have the greatest impact, such as hiring, retention, and promotions.

Hiring & Promotions

Hiring and promotions are areas that are susceptible to unconscious bias. We've dissected our hiring and promotions practices with the goal of minimizing that bias. We're documenting each step in the hiring and promotions process to enable us to identify and curtail unintentional bias.  By looking at each step in the process, we force ourselves to analyze how our process unintentionally could disadvantage underrepresented individuals. This exercise has resulted in a Hiring and Promotions Guide (the "Guide") that helps us be proactive in hiring and promoting talent, regardless of identity.  Key areas of focus include:

  1. Engaging in active and diverse recruitment marketing and developing a strong employer brand that highlights our DEI efforts.
  2. Conducting rigorous and guided reviews of our job descriptions to ensure they are inclusive and empowering.
  3. Ensuring that our interviews minimize bias, including  representing the diversity of our company in interviews.
  4. Analyzing the effectiveness of our Employee Referral Program with the goal of increasing diversity, not homogeneity.

The Guide will be distributed throughout the company. Some of the practices we already employ, while others have resulted from the exercise of analyzing them with an eye to eliminating bias.  The written Guide also reflects our ongoing approach to pay equity; we use external data to benchmark against others in our industry and assign each individual a level that aligns to compensation at comparable companies.  Our compensation process undergoes a rigorous analysis twice a year.

All of the practices, whether prior or new, are implemented company-wide, including, for example, using inclusive language in job descriptions, anonymizing participants in the homework process for job applicants, ensuring diversity in the selection of reviewers for 360 reviews, and a diverse slate of interviewers for job applicants, and others. Formally documenting these processes not only helps to establish expectations, continuity, and cohesion throughout the process, it also creates an opportunity to discuss and discover new ways to improve the process. In terms of DEI, the Guide also highlights areas where risk for bias is high and where we need to be intentional in making our process inclusive and accessible to all people.

Mentoring & Continuous Learning

Like most software companies, we have a blend of experience levels across the organization. We have some very senior engineers, and many current employees have begun their careers here. While informal mentoring happens all the time through daily interaction and teamwork, a formal mentorship can help people grow faster and in a more focused way. Team members feel engaged when they are continuously learning, whether through training or person-to-person interaction. Ultimately, this translates into happier team members and higher retention.

The Storj Mentorship Program is a key initiative of our DEI Roadmap for 2020. With more than half of the company signed up to participate in the program, we have been very happy so far with the level of engagement. We've tried to balance the structure of the program to provide enough process to make the experience meaningful and productive, while ensuring that the needs and goals of the individual participants are met.

We have a regular program of 1:1 sessions combined with group interaction and feedback in a dedicated Slack channel. Combined with our general performance management program based on SMART goals, we're trying to provide a comprehensive set of programs that help grow seniority within our engineering team and grow the future leaders of the company.

In addition to the Mentorship Program, Storj has recently provided each employee with a Udemy for Business account, an online learning platform that has educational content for professional growth. The courses cover an array of topics that help employees with all kinds of valuable skills. To bolster use of this educational content, Storj has a "Drop Everything & Learn" hour each week. While this is not mandatory, it communicates to our employees that we value and encourage continuous learning during the work week.

Additional Projects & Efforts

Our commitment to DEI is ever-present and ongoing. In addition to the initiatives described above, the following are some examples of ongoing projects to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion at Storj:

Executive Level Leadership

At Storj, we're all in. Our DEI efforts are proactive and intentional. Genuine commitment to DEI requires a tone from the top that embraces DEI-friendly policies and practices, allocating budget when and where needed, amplifying DEI efforts, and continually reinforcing DEI as a core value.

On a regular basis, the DEI Council hosts "Know Your Executive," fireside-chat style sessions. Once a month, a member of the DEI Council interviews an executive. During this interview, the DEI Council member initiates questions that prompt an in-depth discussion, followed by an open Q&A. Through these exchanges, the executive learns what is important to the participants, and the participants get to know the executive on a more personal level. Our leadership team recognizes the importance of tone from the top. We recognize the importance of continuously increasing our own understanding and awareness. Toward that end, in Q1 of this year, we engaged an outside expert to conduct intercultural agility training and development over the course of two weeks to the leadership team. We will follow this up with periodic training tailored to leading increasingly diverse teams.

Thought Leadership

For the DEI Council to continue to be effective, it's important to establish a baseline understanding of why the work matters, which can be accomplished by establishing channels for sharing resources and setting aside time to discuss them. So far, we've established a Confluence page, Diversity Roadmap, Slack Channel, biweekly DEI Council Meetings, and regular DEI training to provide ample opportunities for each employee to contemplate and participate in these initiatives.

Promoting Participation & Recognizing Contributions

The DEI initiatives described above are focused on diversity and equity efforts like creating corporate accountability, minimizing bias in hiring, and promoting retention and career progression. However, the initiatives benefit everyone in the company. For that reason, we have made clear that the company values everyone rolling up their sleeves and helping to build and roll out these projects.

We recently implemented software to create, track, and measure progress against goals for each person in the company. We've encouraged everyone to make one of their goals participation in enhancing company culture; involvement in one of the key initiatives is repeatedly provided as an ideal example. We're also revising our bonus structure to reflect not just the company meeting its overall objectives and key initiatives, but also to capture individual performance and contributions. It's our intention that the work our team members do to promote DEI and enhance these initiatives is rewarded when it comes time to place concrete value on our team members' contributions.

Storj will continue to lead the way in building and promoting a company culture that is intentional and proactive in DEI initiatives and overall employee health and engagement.

Congruence with Storj Company Values

Our product, business model, and culture are built upon and directed by our mission and values. This is also true of our intentional approach to DEI.

Storj Company Values

  • Secure -- We believe that security and privacy in product, process, and habit is key to everything we do.
  • Together -- We inspire, execute, and celebrate as one team, with a commitment to trust, inclusion, collaboration and accountability.
  • Open -- We are committed to the free and open sharing of software, information, knowledge and ideas.
  • Resolute -- We have the courage to do the right thing, even if it is not the easy thing; We resolve always to treat others ethically, with empathy, understanding and trust.
  • Empowered -- We empower our users to control their data, our teammates to do great work, and our community to build economic value.
  • Different -- We think differently, act differently, and always look to make a difference.

Interwoven through each of these values is the attribute of persistent transparency. We believe in being honest and clear about our product roadmap, financial viability, and overall engagement and morale of our people. In that same vein, we seek to be transparent about our team demographics and our goals for increasing diversity, equity, and inclusion.

As we hope you can tell, we feel strongly that diversity, equity, and inclusion is something to not only do, but prioritize to ensure we can build the best organization possible. We look forward to continuing to share our efforts and progress with you.

About Storj Labs

Storj Labs provides secure, affordable distributed cloud storage. The company's open-source cloud storage platform utilizes spare disk drive space shared by its community members. 

Storj Labs also created the Tardigrade decentralized cloud service, the world's first decentralized cloud object storage service.

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