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Mass Fintech Hub’s DEI Spotlight Series highlights the work of Massachusetts leaders to promote diversity, equity and inclusion in financial services.

This interview spotlights Jody Rose, Co-Founder and President of Hack.Diversity, and a visionary leader in the tech community.

In this Q&A, Jody discusses Hack.Diversity’s mission to transform the economy by breaking down barriers for Black and Latine/x professionals in tech and the nonprofit’s growing stake in fintech and financial services.

Tell us about Hack.Diversity and your work in the Boston tech community.

Hack.Diversity is a dual-impact workforce development nonprofit that partners with the city’s fastest growing and leading tech teams to identify, develop, and equip high-performing talent — who predominantly identify as Black or Latine/x — to launch careers within the tech and innovation economy. At the same time, we also work with these partnering companies to examine and iterate on their people operations and racial equity, diversity, and inclusion (REDI) strategies, connecting them with data-driven best practices as well as a community of practice among peers.

It sounds like your programs make an impact not just on candidates in the recruitment pipeline, but also on the companies participating in your fellowship program. Can you tell us more about that?

We help companies navigate their own REDI journey, whatever that may look like for them at their particular stage and context, and help to support them 1:1 throughout the same timeline as our Fellowship program. We provide workshops, resources, a community of peers dedicated to bringing more REDI considerations to their workplaces, and aggregated data and comparative progress reports to each of the companies we work with.

We focus on disrupting traditional hiring practices, but because we also know that retention of Black and Latine/x talent is a challenge, we don’t just stop at recruitment — we focus on full-cycle people operations, from onboarding retention to offboarding. We emphasize the importance of dedicated and inclusive management, supportive feedback environments, and data-driven rather than preference-driven performance evaluations.

Hack.Diversity’s approach seems very unique in the landscape of diversity and inclusion initiatives. Can you tell us more about the program’s origin?

Originally I came to this work as President of the New England Venture Capital Association (NEVCA). Jeff Bussgang, NEVCA Board Member and now friend, and I brainstormed about what it would take to move the needle on tech’s diversity problem in the local area, after reading a popular news article at the time that described the dismal realities of workforce trends and demographics. By that time in our careers, we had the connections to know that Boston would be supportive of this new initiative – and over time we’ve grown from working with just 6 companies to 30, with a waiting list of others interested.

Hack.Diversity has grown exponentially since we started, and just this year spun off into its own 501(c)3 nonprofit after incubating within the NEVCA. Now, I serve on the NEVCA Board of Directors – and also stay updated on the financial services and fintech industries within Massachusetts through serving on the Boards of Cambridge Trust and of MassChallenge.

We know Hack.Diversity primarily concentrates in the tech world. In what way has your work intersected with fintech and financial institutions?

There have been great initiatives in the financial space re: racial equity and closing the wealth gap we see for Black and Latine/x professionals, so we hope to partner with organizations to fund opportunities for fellows and hire talent into fintech roles.

When we evaluate potential for partnership, Hack.Diversity looks for companies that strike a balance between being established enough to have structures in place to be able to support early-career tech talent, while also being adaptive enough to be open to our feedback about REDI practices and innovative enough to afford great learning and growth opportunities. We’ve worked with Liberty Mutual since 2018, Toast since 2021, and we added Flipside Crypto and Bain Capital as 2022 Host Companies — and we hope that our partnerships with fintech and financial institutions are many more to come.

Further, while we’re increasing partnerships with fintech and financial institutions as Host Companies, we have been the beneficiary of many grants from around the local innovation ecosystem, including financial institutions like Cambridge Trust, BNY Mellon, and SVB — and welcome Mentors from all industries and professional backgrounds, who can help to support a Fellow 1:1 as they navigate their transition into tech.

In your experience, what is the role of startups in bringing diversity, inclusion and innovation to legacy institutions?

REDI work requires agility, smart risk taking and the ability to iterate while creating new ways of thinking and acting in an organization. Startups are catalysts for REDI work. They are still shaping and asking important questions re: vision, mission, values and strategy where REDI can be built into structures, processes and culture from day one. They can then in turn show legacy institutions that REDI work is worth the investment and smart risk taking in order to make sustainable impact in a sector.

Hack.Diversity is a Boston-based organization. Can you tell us how community and collaboration in the Commonwealth have contributed to your organization’s success?

While Boston may not be known nationally for being the most inclusive city, the community that we’ve found and built here in the Commonwealth has been integral to our organization’s continued growth and success. There are countless efforts and initiatives across Massachusetts that are working towards complementary missions and visions, that we’ve benefitted from collaborating with and mutually supporting.

We’re now about to launch a new site in New York City for 2023, but that would not have been possible if not for all of the champions we’ve had around the Commonwealth who have supported our work, contributed financially, and spread word about our work to prospective Fellows, Mentors, and Host Companies.

Our vision is a world where success is not limited by access, and the jobs of today and tomorrow create opportunity for ALL — but we know that this work can’t be done by ourselves. We need buy-in and partnership from a strong community, and believe that everyone regardless of background or circumstance has a place within our coalition of movement builders and sustainers.

What steps can fintechs and financial institutions take to create a more diverse and inclusive workforce?

Move from DEI to REDI. We know that racial equity is connected to all other aspects of diversity — gender, sexual orientation, ability etc. Root your REDI conversation and roadmap for fintech and financial institutions in data and research around historical exclusion, wage and wealth gaps. In inclusive workplaces, employees of all kinds are seeking purpose in their work. Connecting work to issues that serve the most marginalized communities will continue to prove effective in having sound values that people can truly bring to life in the organization.

As for diversity and representation of historically marginalized communities in finance, similar to tech in general, it may be time to reconsider hiring biases that might be present and creating barriers to a more diverse workforce.

We also know research shows that equitable product development has been key for the fintech sector. “Fintech algorithms are 40% less likely than in-person lenders to result in disparate outcomes based on racial and ethnic biases.”

How can Mass Fintech Hub members learn more about becoming a host company with Hack.Diversity?

Reach out to us! Visit our website — hackdiversity.com — for more info about becoming a 2023 Host Company, and drop us a note directly via info@hackdiversity.com.

We’re also looking for both Fellows and Mentors for our Hack.Diversity 2023 Fellowship. Fellows can apply here for opportunities in both Boston and NYC. Leading professionals in the greater Boston and NYC areas can apply here to be a Mentor.

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