Last summer, SevenFifty posted a set of actions on LinkedIn that we planned to take to address the racial injustice across our country. We announced we would listen and learn, amplify BIPOC voices, and step up our hiring practices, along with other steps we identified to get us on the right path toward making meaningful changes.
In the wake of the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and too many other lives senselessly lost, companies responded to the call for racial justice with similar posts. Executive leaders published statements, some companies (including ours) added Juneteenth as a company holiday, and most set new hiring goals for diversity in the workplace.
It’s been 12 months since those statements were made by SevenFifty and others, and I wonder, how many of us have put in the ongoing work? What was the outcome and the real change made for the folks on their teams? Do underrepresented groups actually feel included and safe?
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At SevenFifty, we spent the last year thinking critically about diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI)—and what they mean to us as an organization. Rather than react immediately, we got introspective.
Listening and Learning
As a first step, all members of our senior leadership read Me and White Supremacy by Layla Saad and we had eye-opening conversations about race and its impact on us. We also discussed why diversity is not just a ‘nice to have’ for SevenFifty, but rather, that it is essential to each of our functional areas and to our organization’s success.
That’s when our entire team set out to make some changes. We realized that before we could expect our organization to be inclusive for a diverse population of team members, we had to establish an environment that would help us achieve that goal in a meaningful way.
So we opened up the conversation to the broader SevenFifty team. We needed to hear from them, and we needed their input and participation to be able to make changes that feel significant and purposeful for all. Here are a few things we implemented as a team:
- We established Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) and let members of those communities have safe spaces to talk. (As a 50-person company this was awkward at first; now with a team of over 100, these groups are growing and thriving.)
- We added an Executive Sponsor who speaks with a representative from the ERG each month to see how we can better support each group (For example, Aaron Sherman, SevenFifty’s CEO, meets monthly with members of MxSf: a group comprised of our female/non-binary team members.)
- We now host monthly Community “All Hands” meetings in addition to Company All Hands—we focus the community meetings on what we can do to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion at SevenFifty, plan ERG-sponsored events, hold space for the difficult but rewarding conversations, and more.
- Encourage employees of all levels to present, run, and share their ideas in Community all-hands.
Our ERGs take turns owning a whole month filled with activities and educational opportunities to inform and include coworkers to learn about that particular group. What do these activities look like? For example, our AAPI (Asian American Pacific Islander) group hosted Asian Heritage Month and put on an incredible panel discussion as well as a cooking competition, and the Queers and Black ERGs co-hosted a viewing and discussion of the movie Moonlight during Pride Month. Our Parents ERG hosted a “Lunch & Learn” about how to balance work and family life.
Stepping Up Our Hiring Practices
Our People Operations team spent time auditing our hiring processes to ensure they were inclusive. We found lots of opportunities for improvement, and we knew this is an area where we could make a big impact for the company. Here’s what we did this year to combat inequality in respect to career opportunities and pay structures:
- We implemented salary bands and a compensation philosophy that rewards work done, with less emphasis on location. As a remote company, individuals working for SevenFifty do not have to live near a major city or pricey neighborhood as a prerequisite for employment. We believe that taking location out of the equation can level the playing field for those who may not be able to live near the traditional “tech hubs” that tend to offer the best career and salary opportunities. Underrepresented groups, parents, and others may not be able to afford the cost-of-living in cities like New York.
- We established external sources to set salaries firmly rooted in New York City market rates. And we committed to these salary bands in hiring because negotiation tends to favor men, and typically, white men, which can mess up an equitable pay structure. The “E” in DEI stands for equity, and we feel that salary transparency and consistency is key to creating a more equitable workplace.
- We put checks and balances in place for promotions; senior leadership reviews manager’s requests jointly at year-end.
Then, when it came time to hire, we:
- Partnered with #hireblack, Tribaja, Power to Fly, PDXWIT, the Mom Project, Out in Tech and more, to intentionally seek diverse talent.
- Established goals for new hire demographics, focusing on including more folks from different racial and gender identity perspectives. We’re also focusing on diversifying our management and leadership tier this year.
- Focused our job descriptions on what’s actually needed to succeed in a role versus what’s just a shorthand or screening convenience (such as college degree requirements). Ensured a consistent process in interviewing so that team members were comparing apples-to-apples. We also allowed for live or take-home exercises pending learning style and preference. Initiatives like these ensure we are interviewing for value fit and not culture fit.
Amplifying Diverse Voices
Our company ERGs are helping us to raise up the voices of all our employees, and to bring visibility to a more diverse set of experiences and perspectives within SevenFifty. That’s what we’re doing internally. But as the publisher of trade magazines SevenFifty Daily and Beverage Media publications, we know we have a powerful platform for making the contributions of BIPOC professionals more visible across the entire beverage alcohol industry.
We have always been proud of our mission to reflect a full spectrum of voices in the magazines, but this past year we recognized that we could do better. We hired writers like Dorothy J. Gaiter, Chasity Cooper, Shakera Jones, and Caroline Shin, who shared their talents and experiences with our readers. We spotlighted Black Drink Innovators and AAPI Drink Innovators (Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.) We profiled BIPOC pioneers in the drinks space. We openly tackled the issue of our industry’s overwhelmingly white workforce and the dynamics that are holding back a more diverse demographic from participating more fully. We fostered dialogue intended to inspire change, reported industry events to drive change, and highlighted opportunities and ideas for moving forward.
This work does not have a finish line, it is ongoing. Yes, we’ve made progress, but we made mistakes along the way and we will likely do so again. The important thing is that we will not stop. SevenFifty will continue to put heart, intention, and focus into DEI efforts, from our hiring practices to our trade media coverage. We will continue to talk openly with our team members about how we can get better, together.
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Erin McCann has been the senior vice president of people operations at SevenFifty since 2019. During her two years, the company has experienced 2x headcount growth, completed two acquisitions, and transitioned to a fully distributed organization, with employees now in over 20 states and in four time zones. Erin currently resides in the Chicagoland area with her husband, Matt, and her furbaby, Winston Lennon McCann.