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Company Culture That Strives for Diversity and Inclusion

Rob Hartsock

Sr. Engineering Manager at Abstract

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Problem

I had worked for a company for many years and during that time we had gone through several leadership changes including changes in CEO. At first, the changes that were made tended to be good and benefited the company and the people working for it. However, in the last couple of years that I worked for that company it was evident that the changes being made, and the path the company was taking, were having a negative effect. The company made a couple of poor acquisitions and our company culture shifted dramatically. Where before we were focused on trying to build a culture of inclusion and diversity, after assimilating the teams and leadership of the other companies our organization quite suddenly had become a toxic “bro” culture. The leadership team had become very white and very male resulting in people- especially women and people of color - leaving the company.

Actions taken

I wish I could say that I stuck it out and was able to turn the place around, but instead that toxic culture was one of the final reasons I decided to leave the company. I had done what I wanted to do with my career, built my team, and fought hard to change the culture. I spent a lot of time pissing people off by speaking up about the prominence of whiteness and maleness in leadership. This rubbed a lot of people the wrong way and so I made my fair share of enemies. I was advocating for what I believed in but they didn’t want to hear it. So ultimately I decided to leave, reboot, and look elsewhere for a company with a culture of inclusion and diversity.

I interviewed around at some big-breaded companies but it wasn’t until I stumbled upon a startup that I found what I was looking for. When I talked to people about the company and when I was going through the interview process the product they had sounded really cool. But, in fact, it was the people at the company and the culture that they were trying to build that really resonated with me. I found that they were trying to accomplish what had been destroyed at my last company. So I jumped at the opportunity to work in that type of environment again.

After having spent some time working with this new company, I have been able to contribute directly to the company culture. I am proud to say that I work with the recruiting and people teams to increase the number of women that we have at our company. And not just women in general but especially women of color. I have been given the autonomy to source women that are in technology, women who are amazing programmers but that might not have had the opportunity to join companies like ours before. I have increased our diversity numbers and I continue to figure out ways to make improvements, not just for numbers sake but so our company is inclusive and whole. I am also working to ensure that those who already work for the company are happy here, that they are being heard, that they are getting the opportunities that they deserve, and that they want to continue to work for our company.

Lessons learned

  • Company culture is more important than the product. It just is. If you don’t have a company culture that is striving for diversity and inclusion, for women, people of color, women of color, of ethnic backgrounds, LGBTQ+, then you are not driving to make your team whole and in that way the product is going to inevitably fail. And the company itself will also fail because if you have a disgusting, toxic culture then nobody is going to want to work with you. So if you put the people first, put the culture first, and the product second then your product is going to naturally be better.
  • In hindsight, if I could go back to that job that I left I think I would figure out a way to be louder and make more people angry about the toxic culture that had prevailed. If I could do it again I would get more joy out of making people mad because I know that what I was advocating for was the true and right thing to fight for.
  • Being an ally isn’t always going be easy and it certainly shouldn’t be. It means you have to accept that you’re biased, that you’re privileged, and it requires you to be constantly listening. Most importantly, being an ally requires you to take action when you see or hear something that feels off, wrong, and/or oppressive. To be an ally means that it isn’t about you. It’s not about what you’re getting from being an ally to someone else, it’s about what someone else is getting from you being an ally to them.  
  • I’m a privileged, straight, white male who works in technology. I’m biased, I’m flawed and I’m an ally to women, people of color, and LGBTQ+. My hope is to turn my privileges into tools that can be used to improve the lives of those close to me, those I work with, and for those whom I’ve never met.

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Rob Hartsock

Sr. Engineering Manager at Abstract


CommunicationCulture DevelopmentInclusion in TechWomen in TechDiversity and Inclusion InitiativesDiversity ImpactOvercoming BiasIndividual Contributor RolesLeadership RolesTeam & Project Management

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