As our first Chief Diversity Officer, Karyn Lu, ends her rotation in the position and passes the torch to our next CDO, Megan Abman, we took some time to get their perspectives on diversity, equity and inclusion at FWI. Read on to learn about the past, present and future of FWI’s DE&I program.
Q: How did the DE&I program originate, and what was involved in making it a reality?
A: “People Culture” is one of three key pillars here at FWI, and our amazing culture & investment in people were main reasons I fell in love with the company. However, I felt disappointed when our annual company kickoff in January 2018 did not overtly mention a commitment to DE&I. As a recent transplant from the east coast, I was often finding myself the only woman or person of color in a room, which I found disconcerting from both a personal and business standpoint. When I brought it up with Courtney Graham, our Chief People Officer, that conversation turned into a pivotal and wonderfully catalyzing moment. Courtney affirmed our company’s commitment to DE&I, told me about numerous initiatives that were already in the works, and invited me to help shape them for FWI. That was when I proposed the idea of a rotating Chief Diversity Officer role (inspired by Culture Amp). I will always be grateful to our executive leadership team for saying “Yes” to this framework and setting us on the course for the amazing work we’ve been able to do.
Q: What do diversity and inclusion mean to you?
A: As an immigrant, minority, and woman in tech, feeling like “the other” has been a pervasive theme in my life. As much as I’ve lived it, though, it’s also been humbling to be part of the larger evolving conversation around DE&I. For instance, like many, I used to think of diversity purely in terms of the stuff you can see (e.g., race, gender, age). But I’ve come to understand it goes deeper and encompasses much more, and that diversity needs counterparts like inclusion, belonging and psychological safety. I really like the concept of “2D diversity,” which balances “inherent diversity” (the traits you were born with) with “acquired diversity” (the unique stuff you gain from life experience)–that’s what we try to embrace and celebrate here at FWI.
Q: Why do you think DE&I is integral to a healthy company culture?
A: DE&I is integral to a healthy culture anywhere people gather, period. There’s so much to be gained when we venture past our areas of comfort and practice empathy for others. Often in a workplace setting, people focus on the how–how do we increase profit, have more innovation, get people to collaborate better, etc.? But what actually motivates people to show up for each other and for your company, especially when times are tough? When individuals feel valued and heard as humans first and foremost, and safe voicing their diverse ideas, a strong community emerges. Build your community, and you’ll pave the way to collaboration, innovation and success.
Q: What accomplishment are you most proud of during your first year as FWI’s Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer?
A: My goal was always to make DE&I a part of our company’s DNA—not have DE&I be seen as an “initiative.” I’m incredibly proud of all of us for being brave enough to start the conversation here at FWI. The foundation we’ve built this past year is strong in terms of fostering safety and a shared language. From Unconscious Bias training to our “Voices of FWI” series, honest conversations are starting to become ritual within our walls—that’s the legacy that will outlast any one of us. I’m also proud that our conversations have inspired a larger collaboration, as FWI became a founding member of the “Elevate Change” coalition this past year (in partnership with HealthGrades, Ibotta, Twilio SendGrid and Inspirato)–together, we’re working to shift the conversation at a larger scale within the Denver tech community.
Q: What excites you about the future of FWI’s DE&I program?
A: This month, Megan takes over as the new CDO and I couldn’t be prouder of her or more excited about the future of this conversation at FWI. I love that we’ve adopted a model where the CDO and steering committee rotate out annually. The handoff meeting between our outgoing and incoming committees—in which the new committee built upon our ideas & posed provocative questions we had previously not considered—showed me this was absolutely the right framework for us and that our company will be better for it year after year. I’m also excited for FWI to continue being a community leader and catalyst for brave conversations through the Elevate Change coalition.
Q: What drove you to get involved in FWI’s DE&I program?
A: Karyn and I fostered a meaningful connection through our mutual passion (or more accurately, our borderline obsession) for DE&I after I presented at the 2018 NCAA Diversity and Inclusion Forum on behalf of my alma mater, University at Buffalo. As we walked around Denver with coffee in hand, we excitedly discussed the strategies that UB adopted when I was a student-athlete and exchanged ideas on how those strategies could possibly benefit FWI in conjunction with a larger vision. From that conversation, I was inspired to look for opportunities to contribute to FWI’s DE&I efforts without really knowing where to begin. A few weeks later, when Karyn personally asked me to become a member of FWI’s inaugural D&I steering committee, I could not have said “yes” fast enough! Since then, I’ve been honored and elated to help contribute to FWI’s DE&I program.
Q: How did you become FWI’s second Chief Diversity Officer?
A: When FWI first adopted a DE&I steering committee, it was established with the notion that each committee member, including the Chief Diversity Officer, would have a limited term. Individually, we all have our own susceptibilities and implicit biases that make up our “blind spots”. Collectively, we can mitigate those blind spots by having various folks provide and voice ideas that uphold FWI’s zeal for inclusion. As Karyn’s term serving as the Chief Diversity Officer concluded, she appointed me to become the next Chief Diversity Officer. Since then, we have also selected seven new DE&I Steering Committee members with the help and insight of the former steering committee members.
Q: What do diversity and inclusion mean to you and how does it contribute to a healthy company culture?
A: Simply put, it means everything to me as diversity and inclusion are the vessels that empower and compel individuals to perform at their best within an organization. Diversity provides the framework and lens for others to value voices and ideas stemming from the culmination of various attributes, cognition, and life experiences. Inclusion is the compulsion to embrace and celebrate this lens. These working in conjunction with one another combat the unnecessary marginalization of talent while simultaneously amplifying and driving solutions. In other words, diversity and inclusion are at the core of my obsession with performance and my passion for ultimately inspiring confidence and empowerment. When employees feel empowered to perform at their best and are celebrated to be their authentic selves, they are then able to contribute to a healthy company culture uninhibited that fuels an organization’s success.
Q: What do you hope to accomplish by the end of your term as FWI’s Chief Diversity Officer?
A: I think it is important to acknowledge that there is not a one-size-fits-all solution for organizations when it comes to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Simultaneously, it is also important to acknowledge that there is no “end point” either. As a result, organizations need to have the ability to continually adapt to evolving circumstances to uphold their inclusionary efforts for all employees. This ability to adapt is only possible if everyone within an organization is willing to engage and have discussions pertaining to topics that may feel uncomfortable. Therefore, by the end of my term as FWI’s Chief Diversity Officer, it is my hope to not only build from the impressive framework that Karyn has established in upholding our DE&I steering committee purpose statement, but also foster a level of psychological safety where people within FWI are willing to engage and realize that conflict can be leveraged to achieve a greater depth of understanding and progress. This will allow FWI to take that much more action to uphold its inclusionary efforts and position DE&I strategically to help the organization thrive, overall.