I can’t think of a better person to carry our #4TechDiversity blog series into 2016 than the brilliant and groundbreaking tech entrepreneur Shradha Agarwal. Named a Champion of Change by the White House and the 2015 Prominent Woman in Tech by the Illinois Technology Association, Shradha is the co-founder of ContextMedia, a health information services company. In addition to building an organization that delivers lifestyle education content to 20M patients nationwide every month, Shradha also co-founded JumpStart Ventures to fund other passionate entrepreneurs in healthcare, education and media communications. In just four years, JumpStart Ventures has backed more than 40 companies with over $15 million in venture investments. She brings bold, global and innovative thinking to all she does, and we are thrilled to explore important diversity questions and ideas with her here. Welcome Shradha!
Title: President & Co-Founder
Company: ContextMedia drives improvement in health outcomes by delivering industry-leading innovations that facilitate a more robust dialogue between patients and physicians. ContextMedia offers a suite of industry-leading technology that makes every moment of the patient journey purposeful.
Building organizations that connect people and information (She started her first business at age nine!)
Mentoring entrepreneurs at Techstars, Impact Engine and Blueprint Health
Serving on the boards of OneGoal and Chicago Children’s Choir and spiritedly supporting youth education, women leadership, and civic engagement
Sharing stories, traveling internationally and exploring new cultures, food and music
Do you think diversity will be a bigger or smaller recruiting and workforce discussion for IT organizations in 2016?
It will be a bigger discussion, and it will require even bigger action! We need to reach a day where we don’t have to discuss diversity—where we can look into any workspace and find diverse people who offer diverse perspectives. But, we’re not there yet and, unless every organization makes a concerted effort to build diverse workforces, our progress as an innovative society will slow. The companies that stay outside the diversity movement will eventually lose competitive ground and get left behind
What, ideally, does a diverse IT team look like in 2016?
A diverse team includes people with different backgrounds, experiences, learning styles and points of view, which are informed by socio-economic, demographic (gender, age, ethnicity) and even skill-level diversity. Workplace diversity shouldn’t be about checking off boxes or hitting quotas. Workplace diversity should be the shared mission to give people an environment where they can be their true selves, share their ideas and build products for the diverse audiences companies serve.
Do you think younger generations (Millennials and younger) see the diversity issue differently than older ones (Gen X and older). If they do, is it a problem or advantage?
The lens through which we view the world and the environments we grew up in gives us an added perspective on diversity and guides how we embrace it. The experiences of the Gen X workforce have been different. Their work experience began at a time in which many industries required tenure and ongoing skills development. As we’ve transitioned into a services-based economy, organizations are flatter and creativity often wins the day. In order for an organization to foster creative thinking, they have to build teams with diverse points of view.
Millennials have grown up with technology that gives us the ability to see the world from many different lenses and makes diverse perspectives more accessible, less foreign. They have grown up in a connected world and as part of a global culture. On the other hand, Gen X brings a work perspective that can be seen as diverse in today’s flexible, mobile world: For many Gen Xers loyalty, work ethic and experiential wisdom are values that can be shared with rising generations.
You’ve identified yourself as a “global citizen.” How have your experiences growing up around the world impacted your perspective on diversity?
As a female immigrant in technology entrepreneurship, I’m grateful for the experiences that have shaped me and taught me empathy towards those with different opinions and worldviews. I grew up in India, a country rich in diversity of faith, values, traditions and history. Attending a United Nations high school on a scholarship in Singapore was another immersive experience that taught me the value of learning and understanding diverse cultures, belief systems, personal histories and national identities. On the flip side of diversity, my experiences have also taught me to recognize that no one label or stereotype defines people. For example, all Indians aren’t similar in their thought processes. My broad world and business experiences have made me more sensitive to the different lens through which people see the world. They have inspired me to continue building a diverse workplace at ContextMedia and we are stronger for it.
How do you engrain diversity into your organizational DNA?
Diversity needs to exist and be reinforced in everything that a tech organization does. Martin Davidson from the University of Virginia discourages “managing diversity,” and instead encourages organizations to “leverage differences.” Diversity isn’t an add-on, nor is it an initiative assigned to a few members of the organization. We communicate our commitment to building diverse teams starting with the interview process in which we often talk of a dish we’re preparing together. The dish requires different flavors, ingredients and toppings in order to become a delicious meal. This analogy is shared to help people understand we expect them to become a part of our mission and journey, but they get to do it by being their authentic selves and adding their own unique flavor. During the interview process, they meet people from their functional area but are also interviewed by professionals from cross-functional teams as a way to explore their workplace values and ambitions.
While on-boarding, each new team member is asked to share personal fun facts. It encourages them to embrace and share their uniqueness. Even as we build benefits and policies, we are sensitive the culture differences. We offer an optional company holiday when people can choose to celebrate a day that honors their own culture or we have a parental policy that encompasses adoption. During our learning initiatives, we select speakers with an awareness of the importance of bringing in diverse points of view. As we create task forces for innovation internally, we are conscious of the importance of building teams with diverse perspectives. And we believe that diversity isn’t about how you look; it’s about how you think. Diversity is an organizational asset that we’re cultivating at ContextMedia through our mission, our talent, our customers, and the products that we build.
Are you a Chicago area technology leader or diversity advocate who would like to weigh in on #4TechDiversity issues? Contact me to learn more.
We recently had the privilege of participating in an event put on by our friends at General Assembly Chicago. ContextMedia generously hosted the panel discussion in their amazing space in downtown Chicago. We’ve got the highlights.