In 2021, almost every company says they value diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).
They appoint DEI chairpersons, host quarterly DEI trainings, and establish DEI committees.
Yet this doesn’t mean that these companies truly incorporate diversity, equity, and inclusion in their business model. It doesn’t mean that their initiatives are marking their workplace better for underrepresented employees.
How can you find out whether a company really prioritizes DEI before you apply? One word: Kanarys.
Kanarys is a groundbreaking online platform that uses data to track and measure companies’ DEI. Kanarys not only partners with companies to improve their DEI strategies, but they also allow employees to anonymously review and rate their company’s workplace culture and DEI efforts.
In other words, Kanarys is providing the receipts… literally. The average job searcher can use Kanarys to get the “411” on a company before applying, including reviews of its culture, demographic information, and DEI ratings.
This month, TCHS caught up with Mandy Price, Co-Founder, and CEO of Kanarys, to talk candidly about why she started Kanarys, what DEI at work actually looks like, and where most companies miss the mark when it comes to creating inclusive work cultures.
Outside of Kanarys, who is Mandy Price?
M: If you asked me a year ago, I would say I’m a travel fanatic, and I love to eat out. My husband’s and my favorite thing to do was to take trips for birthdays and anniversaries. A large part of why we loved traveling was because we liked to go to different restaurants and explore new foods and cultures.
But, all the things I liked to do have been stopped because of the pandemic. My hobbies now consist of trying to find something on Netflix that we haven’t watched and praying that something new has come out on Disney+ so I can keep my kids entertained.
What is Kanarys?
M: Kanarys is a way to measure and track companies’ diversity, equity, and inclusion. We created Kanarys as a way for DEI to be treated the same as every other business priority.
We wanted to create a way for employees to communicate their lived experiences and challenges in a safe and anonymous way. We know it’s difficult for employees to talk about race, gender, or religion in the workplace. So Kanarys is that safe space where they can elevate any issues, anonymously.
Another big component of Kanarys is helping organizations think of DEI as a long-term strategy that has to be incorporated into the company’s fabric and DNA at every level.
Where did the idea to create Kanarys come from?
M: It came from my own experiences in the workplace. I’m a Black woman, and I had many challenges that didn’t go away as I became more senior. I wanted to create something that addressed these issues from a systems-based level.
I felt that many of the DEI initiatives were well-intentioned but weren’t doing things to move the needle. A lot of what I hear when it comes to DEI is that it’s about fixing people. For example, companies will say, “we need more training” or “we need mentorship for people of color.” While those are important, I don’t think that’s the root of the issue.
The root of these issues is the systems that are in place. We know so many inequities stem from the way our talent acquisition and performance management systems operate. So we wanted to make sure Kanarys brought in a systems-based approach because that’s what will result in long-term change.
Was it difficult to make the leap from practicing law to starting Kanarys?
M: There wasn’t a hesitation when I decided to stop practicing law because I felt compelled to do this work and create workplaces where everyone belongs. When I think about the reason I went to law school, it was because I wanted to be able to create change.
There was a small hesitation when it came to my personal life because I have two children, I’m married, and I knew that this meant I would go without a salary for quite some time — as many entrepreneurs do.
However, this is my purpose. I view Kanarys as aligned with my original career goals of making society better. Ultimately, this is what Kanarys is doing by advocating for employees and helping them have a voice in their workplace.
In your eyes, what does Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion actually look like at work?
M: We hear the terms said together all the time, and a lot of times, people don’t think about what they mean.
● Diversity means someone’s identity. We’re talking about gender, race, religion, and all of these attributes that make up people’s identities.
● Inclusion means you feel included no matter what your identity is. We see lots of workplaces that are diverse, but those individuals don’t feel like they belong or like they can be themselves at work.
● Equity means all employees have the same access and opportunities. No matter what their identity is.
We know equity is an area where corporate America struggles tremendously. They often have the diversity, they are working on inclusion, but they have miles to go when it comes to equity. When we look at the leadership and the C-Suite of these organizations, they’re not reflective of society or even their own workforce.
We have to move past the conversations of diversity; the goal can no longer be just diversity. Diversity is essential, but we have to ensure that the workplace is inclusive and equitable.
When it comes to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, where do you think companies miss the mark?
M: I believe that what companies are getting wrong is that when they think about diversity and inclusion, the first thing many organizations think of is training.
There’s nothing wrong with training, but we know that training alone does not solve these issues. So it’s crucial for organizations to look at this from a systemic standpoint and think about a long-term strategy.
It’s also important to do training relative to the issues that actually have been identified in your workplace. Everyone knows the term unconscious bias, so we see many organizations say “we need unconscious bias training” when they probably don’t even need unconscious bias training. They’re so focused on the training aspect that they’re not really pulling together the whole strategy necessary to move these issues forward.
Why was it important for Kanarys to allow employees to rate their employers anonymously?
We think it’s critical for any successful diversity, equity, and inclusion strategy to be built on employees’ input, advice, and lived experiences.
A lot of the strategies that companies are putting in place have no input from the employees themselves. Companies will default to “well, let’s do an unconscious bias training” without really understanding the employees’ challenges in the workplace.
The employee’s perspective is critical. All strategy has to start with the insights the employees have given us.
If I’m a graduating college student starting my job search, how can I use Kanarys?
M: You can go to Kanarys.com and look at companies’ DEI information. You can see things like the demographics of organizations’ employees and board members, their diversity initiatives, benefit policies, and more.
You can also look at the experiences that other underrepresented professionals have had there. We encourage everyone to come and not only see the information that we have but also leave feedback as far as the experiences they have had.
Ten years from now, what impact do you hope Kanarys will have?
M: Ten years from now, we want Kanarys to be global. DEI issues are not just happening in the United States; they’re worldwide issues. Although we work with clients right now with a global presence, our assessments are typically being deployed to their US workforce. We want to take that same intentionality that we put into the platform’s design into a global perspective so that everyone from around the world can work where they belong.
● Kanarys is the first platform to bring a data-based approach to companies’ DEI strategy.
● Many companies have made progress with diversity and inclusion, but they have a long way to go when it comes to equity.
● Training and mentorship programs are good — but they’re just not enough. To move the needle, companies must look at DEI as any other business priority and take a strategic approach to solving their DEI issues.
● DEI at work should not be about fixing people, it should be about improving the company’s systems that perpetuate inequalities in the workplace.
● Ready to be a Kanary? Sign up for free here.
Want to keep up with Mandy Price?
This article has been edited for length and clarity.