Fall 2019 Academic Scholarship Contest: Winning Essay

The following essay written by Alexa Grabell was selected out of more than 300 submissions to Hired's Fall 2019 Academic Scholarship Contest. Applicants were asked to submit an essay about the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace. More information about our winner and the contest is available here. It is vital for companies to create inclusive, equitable, and diverse places of work to motivate employees, increase profitability, and benefit the world. Inclusive environments create a collaborative and safe space for employees, which leads to innovative thinking and productivity. In full transparency, I did not completely understand the true importance of inclusion and diversity, especially related to gender dynamics, until recently.  Growing up, I had an incomplete understanding of gender dynamics. My worldview was informed by two equally impressive and accomplished parents, who instilled in me the sense that gender did not matter when it came to success. The worldview of my youth was first challenged when I stepped onto Vanderbilt’s campus as an Engineering major. I vividly remember my first Computer Science class – I was shocked and unsettled to be one of only two girls. Rationally, I knew this should not impact my experience, but it did. At first, I was hesitant to speak up in class, never had a partner for group assignments, and constantly wondered whether I could excel as a female engineer. Fortunately, I discovered the “Society of Women Engineers,” where I met female peers and mentors who showed me that it was possible to be a successful woman engineer and gave me the confidence to continue to pursue engineering. From this experience, I knew that I wanted to empower other women facing similar obstacles, which I saw was well underway through organizations such as “Society of Women Engineers.”  My optimism about the institutional presence of strong female empowerment eroded when I started my career in consulting. I was consistently the only female on my team and sometimes felt the need to “act like a guy” to be successful. Additionally, I did not have any female role models. How could I grow into a successful female leader if no one else had paved the way? Eventually, I realized that I was looking at the problem the wrong way – I could act like myself and still be successful. Additionally, I could pave the way for future female leaders if I focused on making female empowerment a central pillar of my career.  Following these experiences, I became active in the consulting firm’s Women’s Group and joined a pro- bono project for a non-profit that promotes policies aimed at gender equality in the workplace. After I joined a technology company, Dataminr, I felt better equipped to handle women empowerment, so I started a Women’s Group that now has over 100 members across five global offices. I brought in external speakers, organized a women’s shelter volunteer event, spoke at a Women in Software Engineering event and facilitated “lean-in circles” (modeled off of Sheryl Sandberg’s book). However, the most impactful experience was a monthly meeting where I interviewed a senior leader at Dataminr on topics ranging from gender equality to building confidence as a woman in tech to work-life balance as a mother and more. These leaders consistently opened my eyes to new strategies that motivate women to be authentic and take risks in order to become leaders in their organizations  When I reflect on the concept of inclusivity, I remember that feeling I consistently experienced as the only woman in the room. Now, having participated in activities aimed at building more inclusion during my consulting career and having built a women’s group at Dataminr, I have seen first-hand the impact an inclusive culture has on employees’ mental health and work product. I have helped create safe spaces for other women to express their concerns with gender dynamics and brainstorm tactics to overcome these obstacles. I facilitated open dialogue to catalyze a culture of openness and honesty. The employees are now enabled to find peers with similar interests and seek out mentors to help guide them through problems. Inclusivity has driven positive mindsets, leading to better company performance and hopefully has made the world a better place through the improved work product and people.  When I consider diversity, I think about the importance of diversity of thought that results from such institutional shifts aimed at uplifting previously silenced cohorts. At Dataminr, the diversity in gender, race, and backgrounds drives rich discussions and healthy debates that lead to innovation. Everyone in the organization feels that they can contribute with one employee’s skills complementing another’s weakness, and vise-versa. This pushes every employees outside their comfort zone and boundaries to be truly innovative and disruptive. At a technology company such as Dataminr, diversity is key to drive innovation and disruption to develop better products for our customers.  I truly believe that employers are starting to see the benefits of inclusive, equitable, and diverse workplaces, and I am committed to helping my future companies drive towards this progressive workplace.    Have a Question? Contact the Hired scholarship committee: scholarship@hired.com