Episode 25: Helping Tech Companies Develop a Culture of Diversity and Inclusion

Hello listeners, and welcome back to Tech Forward! This week, I’m excited to share my conversation with Paria Rajai, Founder and CEO of ModelExpand. Using the best practices that Paria and her team have observed over the years, ModelExpand partners with companies who want to attract and retain employees from diverse backgrounds. Paria began her work in diversity in 2008, designing global women in tech events with Yahoo's Business and Human Rights division. Since then, she has played an integral role leading the marketing team at Hackbright Academy, helped organize the inaugural Women of MENA in Tech Conference, and was profiled in Forbes for being a leader and advocate in the world of tech, marketing and diversity. We discussed her history of work around diversity and inclusion, as well as her recommendations to companies who know they want to change, but aren’t quite sure where to start.

As the business world has struggled to match the growing diversity in the world at large, it’s important to clarify the differences between diversity, inclusion, and belonging. At a diverse company, your employee base should be representative of your customer base. Taking it a step further, inclusion refers to whether or not employees have “a seat at the table” and ample opportunities for career advancement. In Paria’s words, belonging means “you can take your mask off and be yourself, and be accepted and celebrated.” For a deeper dive on these concepts, and how they benefit your business, I encourage my listeners to read her excellent blog post on the ModelExpand website.

The team at ModelExpand work with their clients to broaden their company’s hiring pool, build relationships with nontraditional candidates, and share success stories from other organizations. This process has particularly promising applications for the tech sector, where concrete skills are often more important than a prestigious degree, but legacy hiring practices still shut out a massive talent pool.

While building a diverse and inclusive company might feel overwhelming, Paria emphasizes that even seemingly minor tweaks can have meaningful results. “It’s about progress — not perfection.” As for first steps, Paria recommends focusing on these 3 areas:

  • Visual branding. When potential applicants see themselves reflected in your company’s visual branding, they feel encouraged and welcomed to apply.
  • Use of language. Changing even a single word in a job posting — for example, saying “develop” a team, rather than “manage” a team — will change who you attract. Paria recommends textio, a data-driven writing tool that provides users with data on how to attract a broader audience.
  • Community groups. Not only do community groups build relationships and trust, they’re also a fantastic source of talent with long-lasting recruiting effects. “Getting to know your groups does great things for your pipeline.”

Paria, thank you so much for coming onto the show and sharing your advice. Thank you as well to all of you out there listening, sharing, and reviewing the show. See you next week!


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