Lakewood neighbor Mandy Price did all the right things to become a top-tier lawyer. She went to an Ivy League school, joined a prestigious law firm and worked on top transactions for high-profile clients. But when a partner referred to her as the firm’s “diverse partner,” she felt like nothing more than a checked box.
“It was clear I wasn’t valued,” she says. “People should be valued for being their authentic and full self.”
Less than 30 percent of employees of color feel like they belong in the workplace, according to an Atlassian 2018 study. That leads to low retention rates that cost companies $16 billion annually in attrition expenses, such as onboarding and training.
So, after more than a decade practicing law, Price and her longtime friend Star Carter quit their jobs as attorneys to change the workplace culture. The Harvard Law School graduates founded the technology company Kanarys, which provides employers and employees with a platform that fosters collaboration on diversity, equity and inclusion measures.
On Kanarys’ corporate platform, which launched Jan. 31 to early adopter companies, employees can give anonymous feedback on work-related issues like discrimination, lack of mentorship opportunities and quality of assignments. Artificial intelligence then aggregates that crowdsourced information into data that companies can use to pinpoint areas of improvement.
“Companies have a desire to be inclusive, but they don’t have anything to go on because of the reluctance of individuals to report experiences,” Price says.
Declining to report negative experiences is particularly common among women and minorities, who may fear retaliation. When Carter was sexually harassed by a supervisor as a 19-year-old law intern, she didn’t report it. With the Kanarys platform, the founders hope employees will feel comfortable reporting problems that could lead to positive changes.
“I was nervous, putting my career on the line,” Carter says. “I wish I had reported it though because a lot of women after me were harassed years later by the same man. What’s great about Kanarys is that it takes the emotional part out of the equation. It just provides companies with data.”
Data will also be free to individuals when the platform is publicly released in June. On the platform, which will operate like Glassdoor, job hunters can read employee testimonies and see how the company ranks among its peers.
“You can see real-life experiences from a specific workplace,” Price says. “Even if the work is the same, day-to-day experiences can be different, and we provide insight into the culture and environment of a company.”
Hiring and retaining diverse employees not only saves on attrition costs, it provides numerous other benefits that can’t be measured, Carter says. For example, inclusive companies may attract talent more easily and benefit from innovative ideas stemming from people with diverse backgrounds.
“A lot of companies understand diversity, and it’s good to strive for that, but we have to recognize it’s much more than a numbers game,” she says. “To benefit from a melting pot of backgrounds, we have to get intentional about inclusion.”
Kanarys has already been introduced at a large law firm in Texas and a multinational company with 500,000 employees, Price says. Discussions are also underway with a large heath care institution in Dallas, with plans to market to more clients as funds become available.
Although 0.2 percent of $100 billion in venture funding goes to African-American women, Kanarys has already secured $575,000 and surpassed the average investment amount of $42,000. However, the pair have yet to find their “Mark Cuban” of investors.
“For the past 10 months, we haven’t been paying ourselves salaries,” Price says. “We’ve cut a lot of things. That’s been difficult, but it’s been well worth it because we’re moving the needle. If we don’t do it, who will?”
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