Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion at Zeus: Taking Stock of Our Progress
We take a look back at the past year and our progress, set-backs, and next steps on our DEI work.
Over a year ago, like many companies, we took a look at what we were doing to advance racial justice. Our conclusion? It wasn’t enough. Our team had a lot of interest in doing more, and around this time last year, we made a commitment to working towards being an anti-racist organization. As part of that commitment, we convened a cross-functional team dedicated to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) at Zeus Living. Now that we’re coming up on one year since the inception of this committee and our commitment, we wanted to evaluate what we’ve done and hold ourselves accountable to the promises we made. What have we achieved? Where have we fallen short? And what’s next?
Our DEI committee set out with 4 areas of focus:
- Measurement. To understand where we were, we wanted to measure our employee demographics, pay, and sentiment to identify areas to improve.
- Education. Provide opportunities for everyone in the company to learn, grow, and understand their own place in DEI work.
- Application. Help individuals, teams, and the company at large better understand how to make decisions, audit programs, and design tools using an anti-racist lens.
- Strategy. Crafting a DEI strategy integrated into our values, culture, and business.
In June 2020, we surveyed our team’s sentiment. The idea was to give us a baseline to start from and to identify areas to focus on first. What we found was that most people on the team felt a deep sense of belonging at Zeus (85% favorable), and that was true across race, gender, and other demographic markers. Though the majority of employees believed that Zeus values diversity, most did not believe that we build diverse teams.
The company’s overall racial demographics looked like this:
American Indian or Alaska Native: 1%
Black or African American: 8%
Hispanic or Latino: 16%
Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander: 1%
Two or More Races: 6%
Our leadership team roles were held by a majority of white and Asian men, and 50% of our manager-level roles were held by white team members. Our tech teams were largely male-identified. The team believed that we could do better at increasing diversity, especially in these areas.
At the same time, we conducted a pay study to assess equity across identity groups. We studied pay across job levels, and evaluated the differences that we found to see if they were warranted, based on years of experience, time in the role, scope of role responsibility, and finally cost of labor in each area. We found several individuals who merited a pay adjustment based on the findings of that study, and implemented the adjustment. An ongoing process is now in place to ensure pay equity at job levels across the company.
Education + Engagement
At the same time, we set out to offer educational opportunities to everyone at the company. We hosted an employee-led Black Lives Matter discussion, where we shared personal experiences and created a space for people to learn, push each other, and find ways to take action. We followed this with a recognition of Juneteenth through a volunteer and education day of action where employees were asked to spend the day learning or taking action. While we hosted educational sessions that day, we also created a collaborative, self-education guide for the team to use.
In the fall, we mobilized around the election. We held sessions to educate the team around the history of voting rights and voter suppression in the U.S., provided forums to learn about state-specific voter registration laws and ballot measures, and gave the team flexible time off to vote on election day. In addition, we organized phone banking and donation drives to support causes and candidates who aligned with our internal DEI values. In total for the past year, our employees donated over $15,000 through Zeus-led campaigns in support of causes aligned with our values.
We engaged consultants to facilitate a series of monthly workshops for the company, covering the basics of anti-racist work and uncounscious bias, to using an anti-racist lens to make decisions at work. Attendees spent 10 hours in education across the workshop series, and on average, we had 50 team members join for each session. We began a search in April of 2021 to bring on a new consultant to continue these workshops.
Most recently, we hosted an employee-led discussion on the incidents of Asian American & Pacific Islander (AAPI) hate and violence. Using an AAPI allyship resources list compiled by one of our team members, we learned, shared, and discussed together. Through a previously-established monthly employee donation program, we added an AAPI group to that list.
We turned our attention to hiring, and knew that we had some changes we could easily implement there, especially in light of our sentiment results. At Zeus, our hiring process has always included a values interview, where interviewers are trained to assess candidates for alignment with our company values. What we realized, though, was that our training process likely introduced bias. Having an interviewer identify if they’d like to spend time with a candidate outside of work does not truly assess for a values-fit. It assesses for likeness. We reframed these values interviews, standardizing the questions and giving specific instruction on how to monitor for personal bias when interviewing. We scaled back the values interview team to ensure that we had consistency across interviews.
We also reassessed our company values and implemented new systems for understanding how we use those values day-to-day with an anti-racist lens. In thinking about our value of iterative, for example, we further defined our application of this value as growth-minded, creative, progressive, dismantling broken systems, and actively improving ourselves.
We changed one of our values from customer-centric to human-centric, with the intention that our values should encompass not only how we think about & treat our customers, but should also be inclusive of our relationship with teammates, professional partners, and the wider community. As a result of this, we also took a company stance that we would sever relationships with any partner or vendor who didn’t share our anti-racist values. We severed one such relationship.
When we started this work, we found that there was a lot of low-hanging fruit. So we picked it. And we had some quick progress, but what we lost sight of was the bigger DEI strategic plan that we know is essential to our continued success. We didn’t make progress on crafting this, or in writing a mission statement to guide our work. These projects are fundamental to success. Without a team member directly responsible for DEI work, we learned that projects could easily slip lower on priority lists and take longer than they should. This is something we need to solve.
Education and engagement around DEI work has been ongoing, but we haven’t found the right way to engage the whole company in a robust way. We found that when we hit bumps in the road—which we did when we found that DEI education sessions in an all-remote format brought special challenges—we weren’t as quick to act as we could have been, which delayed our progress.
Lastly, we have more work to do on hiring. Though hiring has been slow in the last year, we still do not have the diverse representation we want to see, especially in our managers, senior team, and tech team.
Strategy and education. At the core of our work in the next year will be building a DEI strategy. We know that a clear roadmap, woven into the fabric of our business, is the only way that we can even approach the goal of being an anti-racist organization. We’re in the process of selecting a consultant who can, first and foremost, guide us in building this strategy. This consultant will also help us engage the company in DEI work and education.
Hiring. Our finding last year was that we don’t do enough to build diverse teams at Zeus. While we didn’t hire much last year, we will in the year ahead. As we begin to ramp this up, addressing how we build diverse teams and recruit diverse applications will be essential, including adding women and POC to our leadership team, ensuring our tech teams have greater diversity across gender, and investment in developing employees and providing growth opportunities.
Accountability and progress. We’re a small company, and as such, we don’t have a team member dedicated to DEI work. This year, we need to solve that accountability gap, and find ways to make our progress a key outcome for the company. We’re committed to publishing an annual assessment of our progress as a way to continue a baseline of accountability.
In taking stock of our progress over the past year, we are celebrating progress, and looking critically at next steps. The next year will bring new challenges, and we have some big hurdles to overcome, but we look forward to that work. Tomorrow, the company will take the day in observance of Juneteenth. While much of the celebrations will happen on Saturday, we’ll spend our day learning, volunteering, and preparing for the renewed work of the year ahead.