Why just talking about diversity isn’t helping anyone––including your company.
I subscribe to the notion that, the vast majority of time, the best way to write something intentional and thought provoking is by telling a story. I love telling stories––especially true ones. My hope is that, by the end of this story, you are genuinely inspired to be intentional about diversity within your own company. My hope is to also further inspire those at my own company.
I live in a city that is 89.4% caucasian, and the reality is that most computer science graduates (the degree Gravity Jack most-often seeks) in our area are young, caucasian males. Organic diversity is hard –– daunting, at times.
With me, the story always starts with the motivations of the characters. I grew up with a strong mother who did her best to protect us from an abusive father. Long before there were hotlines, long before there was even a term domestic violence, long before people would advise those women to get a divorce, she was putting her body in harm’s way. She was loving––and strong. She is the type of person who loves so deeply that she never mentions just how her (now titanium-plated) neck was broken.
I also had a Grandpa, named Jack. Our company is named after him. ‘Grandpa Jack’ was never abusive but was extremely “masculine.” The man was tatted-up before it was cool to have them. He was a boxer and full of love, and he taught me things. He told me that strong people had an obligation to protect those who are weaker. He told me what my father did was wrong. Thankfully, I grew up imprinted with a sense of justice. I now have two sons and two daughters.
Too often today, the word ‘diversity’ is spoken alongside strategies of checking boxes to get your diversity ratings higher, earn public respect or attempt to create a politically correct culture to avoid too much of a negative spotlight. That’s not what this article is about. It is about hiring truly excellent people, and being intentional and thoughtful about your approach. The honest truth is this: In order for any business to work, there has to be an unrelenting dedication to hiring the best possible person for a role. That said, I understand the secondary challenge we’re often met with. The one that says, “let’s also give people a shot––someone that maybe wouldn’t typically get it somewhere else.” I’m guilty of this.
It usually takes me about three revelations to really understand something. I call them “2×4’s to the head.” At the end of this article I will have my action plan laid out.
When my first daughter was born I started reading. I wanted to know how to raise strong daughters. Daughters that had the same sense young men do; that they have a right to be heard and that nobody ever has the right to treat them with anything less than respect. That same sense of entitlement I was organically given as a young, white male. From the time they were born I spoke to them like they were important, I spoke to them like a peer, made them back up their arguments at the dinner table. Their intellect was valued, I encouraged them to speak over my boys and disagree when they wanted to. They’ve (by choice) been in MMA since they were age 4. They can shoot straight, and all have their own .45 caliber pistols. (Yeah, yeah. We’ll get to more of that in a bit.)
I married the strongest girl I could find. She can ride her sport bike as fast (at times, admittedly faster than) me, speaks more eloquently and wins triathlons. It’s no exaggeration to say that she’s ‘superior’ to me in virtually every way. My wife is not just my peer, but my mentor too.
Box checked, right? I’ve raised some seriously badass, uber intelligent women!
2×4 To The Dome #1
Lauren, Gravity Jack’s lead user experience (UX) designer, started out as an intern with us. She was the only girl in a team of about 40.
Boom, our small team was diverse! Checking another box. I was such a modern CEO.
Lauren performed––in fact, she was excellent. Lauren held her ground with the team, backed down when she should and, naturally, we wanted to tell her when college was finished we would be first in line to hire her.
Our, now, CEO––then, General Manager––Josh Abel (affectionately referred to as “Trout” amongst the team) did her internship exit interview. She gave excellent feedback on everything, from our process to her experience, but one thing stuck out in the notes: “Lauren requests we hire more female developers.”
I defended this to Trout at first.
“Listen, we have made an offer to every female to walk through that door. There aren’t any to hire here. Not to mention, the ones we have tried to hire have actually blatantly said they don’t want to work at a company of all dudes.”
That’s how it was in my mind.
After a week of self-justification, I realized something. For all my bravado about my own flesh and blood, I was full of shit! For all of my intense motivation throughout life to be different and stand up––really make a statement––I was just checking boxes.
It was time to let my professional actions align with my personal beliefs and what I knew was important. “Ok then Luke, it’s critical to our success as a complete company to add some valuable females to the team.” Not in whatever spot was easiest to find–– but in key, leadership-focused spots. Spots that would help define the culture of our team moving forward.
Over the next year I tried, but (in my typical fashion) I tried the entrepreneur way. Also known as the “see what sticks” approach. I didn’t create a plan.
The light bulb was flickering but wasn’t lit.
#2 – 2×4 To The Dome
Fast forward a bit. Lauren (the bane of my ability to keep my head in the sand) is now a core part of our team. In a conversation with Trout about bringing “significant others” to a company party, Lauren asked Trout if I would be offended, due to the fact that her partner was a girl.
I was speechless. How did I ever give off that vibe? Why would it even have to be a question that she felt she needed to consider? I was hurt for her and was disappointed in myself for apparently acting in a way that clearly didn’t express my true heart. It was one of those moments that actually kept me up at night, thinking.
Awake, I ran through every possibility. I wondered if it could be that I am not shy about telling people that I am a Christ follower. I love to read the words He spoke and believe in the two rules He handed out. According to Him, these two rules encapsulated every other rule: “Love God above all things,” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Where does Christ say “only love them if…?”
I want to be known and remembered for the love I showed––for the good fights that I did fight. Not the legalities of religion I followed or the people I pushed away.
So like you would expect, I jumped at the chance to fix this––right?
Only, I wish that were the case. I grabbed handfuls of sand and dug the hole deeper for my head never expressing to Lauren my feelings on this. In fact the first time she will read about my regret here is in this post, and she is also the first to proof read it.
#3 – 2×4 To The Dome
I better get it right this time, or the big heavenly boot’s droppin’. My friend and mentor Ron Gillyard and I were on the phone. I was prepping for a trip to L.A. and wanted to see him. We were working on a meeting with Will.I.Am, whom I had recently heard speak at an event. Not only was he aligned with me on my stance with a lot of things, his entrepreneurial advice was fantastic. I realized Gravity Jack had a technology offering that could help his wearable in a huge way.
Ron was laughing because, in his words, “reading your Facebook on any given day, someone could swear you’re a liberal…and the next day swear you were an entrenched conservative.”
So I’m balanced. I laughed it off and, to be honest, thought nothing of it.
Not long after, I was in LA having brunch with Ron at the Wilshire Beverly. He told me, “Luke. You have an optics problem. You need to start writing more about what is in your heart.”
“What optics problem?”
“Honestly? Your team page looks like a Klu Klux Klan meeting.”
I chuckled for a second, then explained the stats.
“So, what the hell am I supposed to do about that Ron?”
He explained to me that guys like Will.I.Am will care about the optics of my team.
“Well you know who I am. You could vouch right?”
“It’s not like that,” Ron said. “You need the world to know what is in your heart, and you need to look more like the world you serve.”
That last part impacted me. He then continued, providing me with some very actionable steps.
I was more than a little humbled. Sitting at LAX the next day, I realized that I had to start executing intentionally. I speak about being intentional to our team all the time. Creating a plan, executing on tasks, taking action, forward movement. I love (and, admittedly, hate) when my own advice bites me in the ass.
I realized I needed to reach out to Lauren and let her know the impact that she’d had on me and ask first for forgiveness –– and second, permission to share our story. I am still at the dawning of my revelations but I have a plan.
Luke’s Intentional Diversity Plan
(AKA: “Avoid 2×4’s To The Face Plan”)
Start writing again – in my new role as Founder and not CEO, I have more time to be thoughtful and speak about the heart of Gravity Jack’s culture and leadership.
I want our company’s leadership to believe and espouse that differences are an asset, impossible to ignore, especially in a company Creating The Future Experience™.
Reinstate our advisory board that we disbanded in our pivot. Not only will Ron receive an invite, but we need a powerful female. Is this checking a box? No way. It will not only be a valuable voice for diversity, holding us accountable to the beliefs that we hold, but it will hopefully show all potential team members in our area that this a place to put in a resume. Our message will be that, whether you’re male or female, the majority or minority––we’re all responsible for this team, together.
Work with local colleges to specifically target minorities and females in our intern program. We will always hire the best person suited for a role, regardless of age, sex, race, gender. That said, I am going to take every chance I can get to make it clear that this is what Gravity Jack is, genuinely, all about.
As we grow, I would like to establish a benefit for daycare or childcare programs and support single parents, as they work towards creating The Future Experience™.
This isn’t the end of the story. I really consider this more of a “Part 1.”
This will grow and change, as our team does. I know I will grow and change as well. Do I know if it will work? No, I just hope it does. But if you ask me whether or not I feel better about being intentional and holding high hopes for a very diverse workforce––one that brings new angles, passions, beliefs and views to the Gravity Jack table? I’ll take that every single time and hope you do too.
I’ll be back to fill you in soon.