Since its 2015 launch, Philadelphia’s bike share system has put a significant amount of resources into ensuring diversity in its ridership. Just this summer, Indego earned $2.5 million for research and outreach into underserved neighborhoods. But what about its staff?
Bicycle Transit Systems, Indego’s management company, has been thinking more seriously about the makeup of its team in the past year.
“We didn’t start our internal diversity and inclusion efforts because of a specific problem, but more because of my own realization this time last year when the [presidential] election happened about what was going on in our society that I didn’t even know about,” President and CEO Alison Cohen said. “Suddenly, I looked at our leadership and we were not diverse.”
“Alarm bells went off in my head,” she said.
As a woman and a lesbian mother, she thought Bike Transit’s leadership already looked a little different compared to most other small startup companies. But as a white person, she also wanted to do more to address her personal points of privilege and ignorance within the company.
And that’s where Bicycle Transit’s marketing manager, Kiera Smalls, came in: Smalls was instated as the company’s chair of leadership for diversity and inclusion in February to help lead these efforts with the help of committees.
Her first job was to survey the organization’s employees to find out their thoughts on company climate and advice for what they’d like to see. From there, Smalls and her team crafted a few goals:
- Expand the network the company uses to find diverse candidates in the recruitment stages
- Add cultural programming to learn more about other people’s backgrounds and how to be mindful of all employees
- Communicate to employees that everyone should feel included and ask the right questions before other policies are put into place
- Advise senior leadership in diversity and inclusion policies and procedures
- Evaluate efforts based on data
To tackle that second goal, for instance, the company hosted a heritage potluck around Thanksgiving to give employees the opportunity to come together over a meal, bring in dishes that were important to their background and learn more about each other.
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Of course, diversity and inclusion is not “one size fits all,” Smalls said: Each city where Bike Transit manages bike share systems (Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Oklahoma City and Philadelphia) has its own unique quirks. And discussions of race, gender and other identity traits have the potential to become uncomfortable.
“Because our cities are so diverse, when we created these committees it was important to have a diverse mix of folks at the table so we can have a mix of input,” Smalls said.
The ongoing process of developing diversity and inclusion efforts within the company has been to approach it from every level, she said, because every policy has an effect and it’s important to address challenges upfront.
“We’ve seen employees raise issues [and] feel comfortable that they can raise concerns to their peers or leadership, which is great,” Smalls said. “For the employees to say, ‘That wasn’t cool,’ or ‘I’m not sure how I felt about it, let’s talk about it’ is creating a culture where we can feel comfortable day-to-day and educate each other.”
Companies looking to diversify need to focus on elevating the voices of the underrepresented, Cohen said; having people in leadership who are humble, open-minded and willing to hear where they can improve can also benefit a company.
“Think about it not as a checkbox in something that needs to be done, sit through training and roll your eyes at,” she said. “It’s not just related to race or gender or political groups that separate people, but thinking about all the ways we’re different, and integrating it into all aspects.”
“If you see more than one type of person [in the company] and you’re making decisions that impact everyone, really take a look at that,” Smalls added. “Make a real, intentional effort. Take investment and time and resources to get something like this off the ground and get support from employees.”-30-
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