Some tech companies continue to find value through the integration of diversity, equity, and inclusion measures that have been proven to help drive business growth, boost productivity, and promote positive work cultures, executives at three Spokane County-based tech companies say.
The continued support of DEI by some Spokane-area tech companies is in contrast to a growing movement at some Big Tech organizations that have started scaling back diversity-focused teams due to concerns of reverse discrimination, according to a June 2023 article by Las Vegas-based online media company Tech.co.
Laurie Hahn, senior vice president of human resources at Liberty Lake-based Itron Inc., says the utility-tech company began to ramp up its DEI efforts formally about three years ago through an intentional shift to an inclusion-first mindset.
"An inclusive workforce really drives innovation," says Hahn. "We feel that it helps drive much more innovative products for us because we're able to have so many voices around the table."
Supporting corporate DEI initiatives also has increased client and employee participation at Itron, Hahn says.
To date, there are about 450 full-time employees who work at Itron's headquarters in Liberty Lake, and the company's has a total global workforce of about 5,000 employees who altogether have logged over 8,000 hours of diversity and inclusion training that introduced a basic foundation of DEI through standardized language, concepts, and terms.
Last year, the company introduced a modernized employee resource group program to provide space for personnel to connect through shared interests or topics.
"When you have employees that feel like they're being seen, they're being heard ... their needs are being understood and appreciated by the company, it really creates an environment where they want to contribute back to the company," Hahn says.
Hahn, who works in Austin, Texas, says Itron hired its first director of inclusion and diversity and created a council of employees to manage the company's DEI programs about three years ago.
"The council is chaired by our director of inclusion and diversity and is made up of a variety of different members across the company," says Hahn. "It's a platform for Itron leaders across functional areas to really talk about and identify best practices that go beyond just our workforce, but really begin to cross into the supply-chain space as well as the communities in which we live and work."
In addition to gains in worker contributions and innovation, companies that prioritize diversity can earn up to 36% higher financial returns, according to a 2021 report from McKinsey & Co., a global business consulting company.
Inch360 founder Heather Stratford, who also is CEO of Spokane-based cybersecurity training platform Drip7 Inc., says she intentionally pursued a diverse group of partners to help plan the cybersecurity community group's second annual cybersecurity conference.
The event, held Dec. 3 at Gonzaga University's John J. Hemmingson Center, drew about 175 regional cybersecurity professionals together to discuss education and training, resources, and networking activities, Stratford notes.
"We had a special emphasis on how to be more inclusive on many levels, inclusivity for socioeconomic levels, for gender, and for age," says Stratford.
Historically, the Spokane area cybersecurity community has been composed of seasoned professionals who have longtime industry experience, and who also are typically male, Stratford says.
Inch360 aims to mix up the tech workforce here to be inclusive of a variety of ages, experience levels, and educational backgrounds.
"Cybersecurity and compliance needs more people in the fight and more people learning about it," says Stratford. On the other hand she says, "I see people just trying to get the right people in the right jobs. ... I think the region itself is looking for the best people and to have an open, inclusive environment. That will attract those people who want to be here, to work for companies from Spokane."
At Inch360 and Drip7, the support of DEI efforts works to highlight perspectives and backgrounds of nontraditional industry professionals that benefit the tech industry by bringing alternative ways to address cybersecurity challenges, Stratford says.
"I have always felt that having a diverse group of people can create a stronger solution," says Stratford. "Inch360 is trying to be a place where people can come and be involved and have a diverse group that is both respected and learned from."
At Spokane-based tech company Gravity Jack Inc., Jennifer Richey, co-owner and chief strategy officer, says the company's videogame development arm is working to raise funds for a mobile platform that will be inclusive of people who speak every language in the world.
The game, dubbed WarTribe of Binyamin, is set in the year 2133 and harnesses artificial intelligence and geolocation technologies to assign a variety of quests to unite players against an evil AI character on a mission to destroy humanity.
Instead of having players fight each other, WarTribe of Binyamin encourages gamers to seek help from different communities around the world to collaborate and beat the evil AI, Richey says.
The platform also provides an opportunity for players to benefit financially after completing translation tasks and challenges in the game, Richey explains, adding that the income opportunity can be lifechanging for some players.
WarTribe translation missions will target people who speak languages outside of the top 100 global dialects, including those from economically challenged countries that have access to smartphones, Richey says.
Mobile phones have a worldwide penetration rate between 85% and 94%, says Richey. "That means people in tiny villages in the middle of nowhere have a smartphone," she adds.
Additionally, WarTribe will provide opportunities for players to receive equitable compensation, which will vary depending on the complexity of the assignment and will be paid after the successful and verified completion of the translation task.
"There's roughly 7,200 languages in the world, and Big Tech only goes after the top 100," Richey asserts.
Gravity Jack, WarTribe players, and other companies will benefit as well, says Richey.
The player wins by earning revenue for translating activity. Gravity Jack benefits through the creation of an additional revenue source and charging companies to use its natural language processing technology. Other brands and companies are expected to benefit by delivering their content in a previously overlooked language and reaching a larger audience.
"People are 70% more likely to buy a product when they read about it in their (native) language," Richey contends.
Some of the momentum that began in the fall of 2020 for DEI verbiage used in tech industry job posts has been lost after peaking in March 2023, according to data provided by Mike McBride, business and industry analyst at the Spokane Workforce Council.
Additionally, job ads that incorporate DEI keywords and phrases are declining, but McBride notes that overall, the use of inclusive language remains relatively high.
Statistics for DEI-related jobs at Spokane County employers however haven't been reliably captured, due to inconsistent categorization that sometimes places DEI roles with human resources positions, McBride says.
The presence of DEI in a company policy or mission statement doesn't necessarily correlate to an increased number of applicants, the three executives agree. Having these elements as part of business operations does, however, help keep the focus on the overall goal to boost diversity in the workforce.
At Itron, Hahn says the company's two-person DEI team helps identify how and where to find new talent.
"We've been attending more conferences put on by the National Society of Black Engineers ... the Society of Women Engineers," says Hahn.
Potential applicants have an expectation that they'll experience what the company has been promoting as a diverse and inclusive work environment, Hahn says.
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