Our commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging continues
In Part I of our “DEI is in the details” blog post, we explored three of the ways we’ve been working toward creating concrete, actionable DEI policies and practices guided by our mission and rooted in our values. In this second installment, we take a closer look at three more policies and processes we’ve changed to make our internal systems more equitable. In doing so, we hope to further the DEI conversation and think about areas where we can improve, giving student support professionals the foundation to consider their own processes.
1. Re-evaluating the employee reimbursement process
To ensure that employees can feel comfortable when asked to spend money on behalf of the organization for reimbursable expenses like travel and departmental spending.
What was our previous process?
With our previous corporate spending system, we often had to ask coaches or others traveling on behalf of the company to pay upfront for certain types of expenses — such as hotel accommodations, rental cars and per diem expenses. Even though these costs would later be reimbursed, they could easily add up to hundreds of dollars that the employee had to cover upfront. When possible, we tried to arrange a cash advance, or buy gift cards that they could use for travel expenses. But for the most part, employees had to pay out of pocket, then wait to be reimbursed.
Why was a change necessary, and how did it begin?
As we took steps to make our workplace feel more inclusive and supportive, we realized that every employee’s economic and financial situation is different. For some, asking them to use their own funds for travel expenses was a huge burden and a major source of stress and anxiety. In 2014, we were finally able to change the way this was handled by setting up corporate airline, rental car and hotel travel accounts, trying our best to piece together ways to cover key expenses that wouldn’t leave employees footing the bill upfront.
Because finances often feel extremely personal and difficult to discuss with your employer, it was important for us to step up to meet the needs of employees, without requiring them to come to us with concerns. After all, a component of equity work is to understand and manage power dynamics in the workplace to enhance a healthy and comfortable environment for all employees. The adjustments we made helped to defuse this potentially uncomfortable dynamic.
What changes are continuing to happen?
These improvements are a start, but we have a long way to go. More recently, we made a shift to proactively identify employees who will be traveling and set them up with a corporate credit card for business expenses, including travel. They can use their card to pay for airline tickets, rental cars, hotel stays and other travel expenses. We also now have UBER and Airbnb corporate accounts to add additional options to the mix. This levels the playing field a bit, but the process can still be bulky and time-consuming.
What work is left to be done?
While the system we use today is better, we have not fully arrived. We’re trying to find as many ways as possible within the traveling and spending environment to reduce the amount that coaches and other employees have to spend out of pocket. We want the process to be as simple, easy and un-intrusive as possible, so no employee ever needs to reveal personal financial information in order to travel for work.
How does this relate to the student support professionals we work with?
Perhaps the biggest takeaway here is to not make any assumptions about a student’s financial situation. You never know what anyone’s financial position is at any given time — and sometimes it’s the seemingly small costs that can feel like the biggest burdens. It’s common in higher ed, for example, to give students a list of things to pay for, assuming they have the funds to do so. Instead, try asking students you meet with if any financial barriers stand in the way of them continuing — like an application fee or account hold — that your institution may be able to waive.
2. Mandating the option of transcription services across internal meetings
To make proper accommodations and ensure accessibility for all employees in our remote work environment — specifically via our internal communications — to work toward a more equitable and inclusive workplace.
What is this tool and how does it work?
We received employee feedback asking to have a closed-captioning system available for our many Zoom meetings. The need was to make meetings more inviting for all participants and provide additional support for anyone with hearing or focus impairments — allowing them to read what was being said in real-time.
How did the process begin?
As an organization that’s fully remote, using Zoom for meetings is a major part of our workdays. Yet when the requests to add closed captioning first came up, Zoom didn’t have an option to include this service. Our Learning & Development team was already using a separate system for video transcription called Rev. So with support from our IT department, we were able to pair Rev with Zoom to create a temporary solution to provide closed captioning. Behind the scenes, we (and many others) submitted requests to Zoom, asking for the platform to add an in-meeting option for closed captioning.
Eventually, Zoom came out with an upgrade that added closed captioning as an option to its service. But in its initial iteration, you had to take extra steps to turn it on — something we always did for company-wide meetings. Before long, another update made it so the closed-captioning feature could be simply turned on or off for ALL meetings.
Why do we need this tool?
Being able to use closed captioning during a Zoom meeting seamlessly accommodates anyone who wants or needs that service. It helps people better understand what is being said in meetings by allowing them to read along with real-time captioning. And it’s ideal for those who want to use the service but feel hesitant about asking their manager or coming to HR with a “special request.”
How has this tool changed InsideTrack’s organizational culture?
By making closed captioning an everyday part of our Zoom meetings, the process has become normalized. Feedback we’ve received has been very positive, and employees really appreciate having this inclusive service available. As closed-captioning has become more integrated into our culture, coaches have also begun using it during meetings with students. Sometimes you need to hear and read something to truly give it your full attention. This is another style of learning, and we’re glad to be able to add that experience to continue to meet students where they’re at.
What work is left to be done?
According to a 2019 American Community Survey, fewer than 6% of American workers worked primarily from home before the pandemic. A recent Gallup poll shows that now, after three years of the pandemic, 56% of U.S. workers work remotely, either full- or part-time. That’s a huge shift — and one that requires thinking about the limitations of the remote environment.Creating a culture of inclusion is an active choice for an organization. Closed captioning for Zoom (or other types of video) meetings is just one feature of accessibility. What are some other areas to explore and implement as a way to increase overall accessibility for all employees?
- Offer an option to send out video transcriptions for folks. This can be helpful for people who have trouble focusing on meetings or want to be able to refer back to the notes
- Draft emails that are readable by all As an example, try not to put text on an image. Instead, use live text or HTML that a screen reader can find.
- Provide assistive technology to help accommodate employees with disabilities, such as keyboard accessibility for virtual whiteboards and background noise reducers for the hard of hearing
These are just a few examples. It’s important to remember that just like all home workspaces are not the same, neither are the people working in them. One way to ensure that remote employees have what they need is to provide a way for them to make requests and suggestions. When we, as an organization, are made aware of specific employee needs, we can commit to finding the right technology or other solution to help.
How can student supporters learn from this?
Whether it’s an admissions counselor meeting with a prospective student or a professor leading a large online class, using closed captioning can provide the necessary accommodation for learners who can benefit from being able to read what’s being said. You can’t assume that all students have the same abilities and the same access to necessary resources — especially when conducting classes remotely. It’s important to be proactive about meeting students where they are in terms of accessibility, both on and off campus. Especially in a remote environment, focusing on accessibility is critical to student success.
3. Fostering a culture of employee-led engagement and learning
To ensure that conversations and actions around diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging aren’t just happening from the top down, but are also happening via employee-led learning groups and committees.
What does this look like?
InsideTrack is fully invested in having our employees take an active role in our DEI journey. Our Equity Engagement Group is a good example of this. It’s a group of employees that volunteer a portion of their work time to meet and bring in external speakers for sessions in which all employees are welcome to join and learn from. Recent events include:
- A talk hosted by Justice Funders to discuss racial and economic justice and philanthropy
- A screening of the documentary “LFG” to discuss the implications of the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team fight for equal pay
- A discussion about how comedians talk about intersectionality in their work and how comedy can be used as an effective tool to talk about DEI topics
Another example is our yearly Month of Learning (MOL) event. Scheduled each October, the month is filled with learning sessions from both internal and external speakers. Many of these conversations are centered around equity topics, with titles from our sessions this year that include:
- Masking in Education from the Lens of a Single Mom
- Oppression: From Recognizing to Responding
- Critical Perspectives and Strategies for Building Resilience on College Campuses
- Social & Emotional Support of Families and Young Children
- … and many more
An interesting aspect of our MOL sessions is that employees are free to bring in their own topics and speakers — selecting subject matter they want their colleagues to hear about and benefit from.Why is employee-led DEI engagement important?
- It’s in the name – diversity, equity and inclusion begin with listening and really hearing folks most impacted by organizational decisions and processes
- It helps foster ideas and perspectives that we wouldn’t have if we led with a top-down approach
- It keeps our organization collaborative and growth-centered – people feel like they have the power to speak up and have a platform to be heard
How can student supporters learn from this?
The ideas for these speakers and events come from InsideTrack employees, many of whom work with learners every day. For student supporters, the best ideas come from... surprise... STUDENTS! That’s why we always say “meet the learner where they’re at” — which means listen when your learner has something to tell you and act on the suggestions they’re giving you.