By Madeline Kolbe Saltzman, VP of People & Talent
& Ben Christensen, Founder
We started Handshake to make a difference. As a team, our mission is to democratize access to opportunity and ensure any student can build a great career, regardless of who they know, what school they attend, or where they live. Our team shows up each day to create a more equitable and inclusive future for the over 14 million (and growing!) students on Handshake today.
We, along with the entire Leadership team, are equally focused on building an equitable and inclusive company culture where Handshakers from all backgrounds have an opportunity to build a meaningful career no matter where they come from.
For the past three years we have asked our team to participate in the Inclusion Survey - even when we were only 30 people. Using CultureAmp and Paradigm’s Inclusion Survey (which any company can use for free!), we gather feedback around internal fairness, belonging, diversity, voice, opportunities, and resources. As a company, a product, and as individuals, Handshakers are constantly seeking ways to learn, improve and iterate. (One of our core values is Learn. Grow. Repeat.) We strongly believe that inclusion and equity at Handshake improve only when we listen to voices from all backgrounds.
Inclusion & Belonging at Handshake
This year, 95% of Handshakers participated in our Inclusion Survey, sharing their feedback about how we can improve across a number of areas.
We are happy to see that our efforts to build a more diverse team resonate with Handshakers: 91% of our team members agree or strongly agree that we value diversity and build teams that are diverse. This is a 30% increase from our 2018 score which makes us proud. We also saw strong improvement in fairness at Handshake - we measured a 26% improvement in making sure administrative tasks are fairly divided across all individuals and an 11% increase in ensuring that people from all backgrounds are recognized at Handshake.
We are growing incredibly quickly (35% of the company joined in the last 4 months!) and we have more work to do to make sure that Handshake remains a great place to work for people from all backgrounds. Some areas that we need to remain very focused on include building diverse teams through our next phase of hyper-growth, establishing strong communication channels across Handshake so the team can voice opinions in productive environments, and supporting Handshakers throughout their career growth.
Our survey also shows the current diversity of Handshake across a number of dimensions, including gender and race:
Self-reported employee data showing the percentage of male and female employees (top) and race/ethnicity (bottom).
While the story doesn’t begin or end with data, there is illustrative information to learn from the raw numbers. For example, while most people likely think of tech companies as being comprised entirely of millennials or that teams are largely male, over one-fifth of Handshake’s employees are over the age of 35 and we’re nearing gender parity across the organization. There are over a dozen Handshake employees who did not graduate from college and a similar number whose native language is not English. There is wide diversity in political views among our employees, and there are over 15 religions represented across the company.
As a Leadership Team and a company, we’re committed to providing equitable and inclusive experiences for all employees. We’re able to gain a deeper understanding through the data that of all the different backgrounds, experiences and perspectives that show up each day at Handshake. These differences make Handshake the place it is today, and we’re committed to improving representation across the team and a sense of belonging for all Handshakers. We want team members to feel safe to show up as their authentic selves.
Building our Culture
Feedback from prior Inclusion Surveys has led us to build and create many foundational elements of life at Handshake. Last year we received feedback that we could do a better job at providing more opportunities for internal support, networking, and mentorship. With that feedback in mind, we launched Handshake’s Employee Communities, to go beyond the overall Handshake for All employee group we started in 2016. Today we have more than 11 employee-led communities, including:
- Women at Handshake
- People of Color at Handshake
- Wakanda (Handshakers of African descent)
- La Familia (Latinx at Handshake)
- Parents at Handshake
- LGBTQ+ at Handshake
- Immigrants at Handshake
- Mental Health Allies
These Communities have proven to be successful resources for employees to connect with one another, and Communities have led company-wide events and initiatives including a Hanukkah celebration, advocacy around Black History Month and International Women’s Month, and other opportunities for the team to learn from and share with one another around diverse backgrounds and perspectives.
Brad Turner displaying the rainbow Michigan sticker on his laptop. Brad, an early Handshake employee on our Design Team, wrote a blog post about his experience working at Handshake as a gay man.
Handshakers also let us know that they were hungry for more opportunities to grow and develop their careers internally. Handshake’s Leadership team, alongside managers and individuals across the company, deliberately established a Handshake career framework that clearly laid out our expectations around scope, skills, and values-aligned behavior that would lead to growth at Handshake. By establishing clear information accessible to everyone, every employee can gain a better understanding of how to advance in their careers, regardless of team, background, or experience level. Setting comprehensive and transparent company-wide expectations help us ensure that everyone has access to opportunities for upward mobility, rather than leaving it to chance that some may figure out how to navigate the organization.
Women @ Handshake gathered (in person and remotely) in celebration of International Women’s Day.
Our meeting rooms are also a result of direct team feedback. Our team chose to name our conference rooms after trailblazers from all backgrounds who have democratized access to education and opportunity. Handshakers nominated individuals and our space honors individuals such as Malala Yousafzai, Booker T. Washington, Ruby Bridges, Salman Khan, and Joyce Hunter. One Handshaker recently shared, “These rooms, these stories, these leaders… they challenge me. I walk in, and they're on the wall whispering ‘What are you going to discuss in this room that's worthy of me.’ I feel compelled to show up.”
Our conference rooms are all named to honor pioneers in education. The poster above is hanging in our conference room named Malala.
We’re proud of the culture we’ve built thus far and recognize that we still have much work to do to ensure we’re building a team representative of the students we serve. Building a culture of belonging and equity is something we will always be focused on - we want to be a company where anyone has an opportunity to succeed, feel welcomed, and show up authentically as their full self.
We’re hopeful and excited about what the future holds, and are already looking forward to what our 2020 Inclusion Survey tells us about our growth over the next year.