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In Conversation

Cultivating a Culture of DEI with Sarah Castle

A company's culture of inclusion, engagement, and belonging goes so far beyond just hiring practices. We can all be allies and do work in our own roles to make our companies a better place to work for all.

August 19, 2020

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Our guest Sarah Castle makes it her mission to ensure all of her colleagues are included and given equitable treatment. From hiring through company policies and internal programs, she walks us through how to set your company culture on the right track. 

The following interview is an excerpt from our video series, Marketing - In Conversation. To watch the full interview and see more video content, click here. Or you can listen to the SHIFT - In Conversation podcast here.

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Sarah Castle - Manager of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion - Toast
Grace Amodeo - Program Manager - SHIFT 

Grace:
Tell us about Toast and the work you do there.

Sarah:
I am the Manager of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Toast, and we build restaurant management software. We are based in Boston, but we work with restaurants all over the country. It's a pretty exciting job because we work with the restaurant industry, which is one of the most diverse industries in the country and the world.

Grace:
In previous episodes we’ve talked a lot about recruitment and hiring when it comes to diversity and inclusion at any given company. But the company culture is also so important. What do you see as the difference between working on a company’s hiring practices and working on their internal culture?

Sarah:
When I think about diversity, equity, and inclusion, I often feel like that acronym does a disservice to the work. It’s so much more about creating an equitable company that allows for inclusivity to thrive, which will ultimately grow and attract and retain a diverse group of people. Starting within is actually going to emulate out and attract the types of people you want to come work for your organization. Really think about the benefits you’re offering, the professional development that you’re offering, how are you creating succession plans, what does your competency structure look like? And beyond that, what are your company policies? How are you making decisions? Who are you representing? Really going beyond that hiring element and actually focusing more on the culture piece is really critical, because ultimately that’s what employees are experiencing when they’re at your organization.

Grace:
Are there any particular projects or programs that you’ve implemented at Toast that you’ve seen have a lot of success?

We spent a lot of time really thinking about what behaviors were being rewarded and celebrated, and how we praise them. We then asked employees about their experience. What do you see being rewarded and celebrated in our company?

Sarah:
One of the most influential projects we've done was launching our values refresh. Often when you think of a company’s core values, you think of the different words on the wall and they kind of become a mantra. But do you ever stop and think, what do they actually mean? We spent a lot of time really thinking about what behaviors were being rewarded and celebrated, and how we praise them. We then asked employees about their experience. What do you see being rewarded and celebrated in our company? And then we can use that feedback to actually inform how our current set of values was created, and not only putting a large emphasis on the value itself but the behaviors attributed to it. And the coolest thing about it is when you can then weave that into your core competencies. So job expectations, promotions, anything that involves your employee life cycle as well as your community philosophy. 

Grace:
Do you ever partner with outside companies or organizations to supplement the work you do at Toast?

Sarah:
Yes, one of my favorite parts of the job is getting to know different organizations in Boston and Omaha and Chicago where we have office locations. For example, we partnered with an organization in Boston called Food and Folklore, their mission is really to provide a platform for chefs of color to spotlight their cultures and traditions through a dining experience. The way I’ve thought about partnership specifically is making sure our work is elevating the community. Instead of sponsoring massive tech conferences or sponsoring a large event on a national level, really thinking about it a little more organically. How is this benefiting the community that we’re in already?

Grace:
What are your thoughts on practicing allyship, and how best to support a group of people that you may not be a part of?

This is a lifelong journey, it’s not going to be something that’s a one-and-done check of the box. You have to consistently be intentionally placing yourself in positions or situations that you will learn from.

Sarah:
There’s a really critical element of owning your education, and owning the responsibility of learning about your own privilege. What does it mean, how does it show up? And this is a lifelong journey, it’s not going to be something that’s a one-and-done check of the box. You have to consistently be intentionally placing yourself in positions or situations that you will learn from. It’s also recognizing when to listen. Listening to people, and taking different perspectives really seriously. Making sure that people not only have representation at the table, but that their voices are heard and taken into serious consideration and are brought into whatever decisions you’re making at an organizational level. That representation is really critical. Something that I always remind myself when I’m in conversations with other people is the power of impact over intent. There’s a saying, “always assume good intent”. But it’s the responsibility of us as individuals to really recognize the impact of our decisions, our actions, and our words rather than focusing on whether you meant it to be a positive thing, or you didn’t mean for it to be harmful. As we are in places of privilege, we’re never going to get it right. We’re going to say things that hopefully someone feels comfortable enough telling you, “maybe you could have said this differently”. Because that perspective is a gift. Thanking, acknowledging, and respecting that feedback is important -- because giving feedback like that is not always easy. 

Grace:
What is at stake for companies who are not prioritizing diversity, equity, and inclusion at their organizations?

Sarah:
They are missing out on so much opportunity to make their business and their culture so much stronger. There’s so much research out there that says that this is good for your business and good for your bottom line. But ultimately at the end of the day, this is the right thing to do. If you as an organization can’t realize that, you’re going to miss you because employees really do care about this. Our generation is really starting to understand why this matters, and why this is so important. As our country grows and develops, this is something that we have to evolve and change. It can’t keep going on like this. Organizations who don’t embrace this will fall behind. 

Grace:
What are some real action items that anyone can do at their organization to get started?

This type of work really succeeds when we’re all in it together. Because it’s not just my job or someone else’s job, it’s all of our jobs.

Sarah:
The beauty of this work is it belongs to everyone. People often ask me if they need to go get a certification, or if they can become a part of my team. The reality is, this work exists in everything. You can absolutely find ways to weave this into whatever you’re doing. If your company doesn’t have an employee resource group, start one. If your company is small, you can start one for a group of people who are passionate about this work and really want to make a change. This type of work really succeeds when we’re all in it together. Because it’s not just my job or someone else’s job, it’s all of our jobs. It really does exist in every single thing that we do. If you’re a product manager, how is your product inclusive? If you’re an engineer, how is what you are building inclusive? The great thing about this is you don’t have to be a part of “DEI” because it is already there, it already exists. It exists in every single element of the business, which is super powerful when you tap into it and you can make really significant changes. 

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Would you like to participate in a future In Conversation video interview? Email grace@shift.io for more information. 

Grace Amodeo is a program manager at SHIFT, where she oversees the annual SHIFT Creative Fund grant program. She is a graduate of Emerson College, where she studied film with a concentration in directing narrative fiction. Grace lives in Los Angeles.
Read more by Grace Amodeo