2020 was a year of reckoning for many big name companies who took pride in having an inclusive work-culture, but upon investigation and reflection actually didn’t. One such company that looked at themselves and pivoted accordingly was Shopify, the leading e-commerce company headquartered in Ottawa, Ontario. Real conversations were had, research was done, new roles were created, and as a result, they’re leading the path in a long but attainable goal to implement a robust but attainable Diversity, Inclusion and Equity rollout plan.
Building and maintaining a diverse workplace where everyone feels like they belong is no small task.
Shavonne Hasfal-McIntosh works as a Senior Lead of Diversity and Belonging (D&B) at Shopify, where she manages a team that guides the company to foster an inclusive environment so they can continue to attract, engage and retain high-impact talent globally. In her work she is committed to ensuring that the voices from underrepresented communities help guide and inform Shopify’s aspirations to building a 100-year company. This is essential for not only the success of the employees but also for Shopify users.
“In order to build a product that makes commerce better for everyone, we have to have everyone building it.”
We caught up with Shavonne to discover her experiences as a Black female in the tech industry and how she cultivates an inclusive environment.
How do you foster diversity and inclusion in the workplace?
We take a humanized, research-based approach to diversity and belonging. We look at multiple dimensions of diversity alongside belonging, engagement, and retention data to create a holistic picture of how we attract, empower, engage, and retain top talent. This helps us understand what’s going well and identifies opportunities for improvement. In 2020, we added our voices to the global, collective movement for intentional action, engagement, and progress on D&B. We launched our Global D&B strategy after consulting employees around the world, making us one of the first tech companies to build a strategy with global perspectives from the outset. We took action within each of the four pillars of our strategy: fostering understanding (research and learning), reflecting the world (merchant and employee representation), creating community (belonging for merchants and employees), and sharing our stories (storytelling and communications).
What actionable measures is the organization taking to implement their diversity, inclusion and equity strategy, and how are they sharing this with their employees?
My work with the Employee Experience Research team at Shopify helped create a board diversity policy, and has engaged seven executive sponsors to align diversity ideas with overall business goals. Our Diversity and Belonging team piloted anti-bias training to global leaders, which has led to an increase in awareness of unconscious bias. Our team has also evolved our Belonging Connectors program by compiling a roster of diverse, qualified volunteers who drive awareness about what it means to be an inclusive organization within our network of employees.
Do you have any suggestions on how others can implement inclusion in the workplace and in their everyday lives?
Do the work and commit to this being a lifelong journey. Starting with investing in diversity, equity, and inclusion, learning is key on an individual and organizational level. Move through discomfort, be open to getting feedback even if it’s tough to hear, remember the impact of your actions over your intention, and understand what it means to be an ally. Allyship is not an identity – it is a lifelong process of building relationships based on trust, consistency, and accountability with marginalized individuals and/or groups of people. Also, allyship is not self-defined – our work and our efforts must be recognized by the people we seek to ally ourselves with. It’s about self-learning and unlearning, and not expecting to be educated by others.
What inspired you to work in the tech industry? How did you get to where you got today?
Shopify is actually what inspired me to get into the tech industry. I was looking to work for a company that was purpose-driven, had a mission that deeply resonated with me, and in an innovative industry where I could be surrounded by people that I could learn from. I had my reservations about tech, but as soon I walked into my first interview, I knew that it was meant to be. It sounds cliche but it’s the truth. I got to where I am today through being relentlessly curious and by always thinking about ‘what does this work look like three years from now?’, then building towards that- something that is informed by the past, relevant and impactful right now, and can scale in the future.
Tell us about your experience as a female working in the tech industry?
I can’t speak to my experiences navigating tech as a woman without acknowledging how that experience is informed by the intersection of both my gender and race/ethnicity. As a Black woman in tech over the past six years, it’s been interesting looking up and looking around and not seeing a lot of people who look like me. My goal on this journey in tech has been dedicated to supporting organizations who are addressing this gap through the work that they do (i.e. Accelerate Her Future and Technovation), and make sure through the work that I do as a D&B practitioner, that when future generations of Black women enter tech that they see themselves represented across levels of leadership and disciplines in this industry.
What advice would you give to someone looking to break into the industry you’re in?
As a first step, I would encourage speaking with people who are currently working in the industry to get an understanding of what the actual day-to-day work looks like (LinkedIn is a great place to start). This work is so fulfilling, but it can also be really hard and challenging at times. What we are trying to do is dismantle centuries of systemic oppression, hold space for what can be uncomfortable conversations about privilege and racism, guide people along their learning journeys, and audit and rebuild organizational policies and practices. After breaking into the industry, I would say take a data informed approach to how you build out your D&B strategy. It’s important to know where your biggest gaps are, so that you can prioritize your programming while also learning where your efforts are working and where they could use some work. And above all else, prioritize yourself care and wellness over everything.
Since you started working in the tech industry, what changes have you seen in terms of diversity and inclusion?
The gaps in the representation of people from underrepresented communities across all levels in an organization still persists. What feels like a shift though is that tech is starting to recognize that this work has to be an organizational imperative in order for transformational change to occur. This is no longer being viewed as just a HR problem, but something that needs to be woven into all aspects of how an organization functions.
What pressures do you feel as somewhat of the quintessence of “righteousness” at Shopify? Is it exhilarating or exhausting?
At Shopify, diversity is an organizational imperative and our vision is that everyone feels included, valued and heard. Everybody has to play an active role in moving us closer to accomplishing our goal, and the journey to get there will be simultaneously exhilarating and exhausting. A D&B team undoubtedly plays a key role in guiding and steering the organization in the right direction and builds out programs and products to support and organize the work, but the business has to actively participate to create systemic, equitable, and scalable change.
Want to learn more on how Shavonne cultivates positive change? Stay up to date by connecting with her!