About two years ago, when Jennifer Dulski was brought into Change.org as chief operations officer, the social enterprise's engineering staff was overwhelmingly homogenous. "I think there was one woman, but it was dangerously close to zero percent female," says Dulski. Today, less than two years later, the company's tech team of nearly 50 people is 27 percent female, the company disclosed in previously unreleased diversity statitstics.

That gender-diversity improvement has been part of a deliberate push at Change.org for what it calls "embracing openness," which means not just working toward gender equality, but also embracing employees with different perspectives--such as international workers, older employees, and ones who have come from different careers. Today, 51 percent of the company's employees are women. Of leadership positions, 40 percent are held by women, and 43 percent are held by non-Americans.

"Larger tech companies don't look like this, and we didn't look like this when we first started," Dulski says. (True enough: At Facebook, just 23 percent of managers are women, and 32 percent of all employees are women.) "I think it's important for tech companies to think about it early, but it's not impossible to inflect a change later."

We asked her how Change.org turned around its engineering department over the past two years--and how other organizations might emulate its approach to consciously boosting diversity.

Step one:

Make everyone part of the mission.

If diversity isn't in your company's core values, or mission statement, get it there. But make sure it's a genuine sentiment, and one that actually fits. Then, bring it to life. "This isn't just writing it down into a value and letting it sit there," Dulski says. "This is about putting your money where your mouth is."

How Change did it:

"When we rolled out the values, and we gave examples of people in our team who were nominated by their peers and who already embodied these values. We shared their stories," Dulski says. "People got standing ovations, and people cried. It was like the Oscars."

Step two:

Fix your hiring process.

It's really easy to just sit back and take the resumes that come to you--especially if you're a company with name recognition. Instead, Dulski says, "You have to be proactive and do outreach to candidates." Once a wide and representative slate of candidates is available, go on as usual, and hire the best candidate. Dulski adds, "if you get a wide-enough spectrum of candidates, the best candidate will often be a woman."

How Change did it:

It partnered with organizations for women in engineering, including Femgineer, Hackbright, and Hack Reactor, to help recruit candidates.

Step three: 

Get your policies right.

Do your company policies allow people from different backgrounds and with diverse needs to thrive? If not, change 'em. "It's our belief that if you even that playing field you can reduce that subconscious bias in the workplace," Dulski says.

How Change did it:

It increased paid vacation for employees company-wide (not just in Europe!) to five weeks, and created a gender-blind--and generous--paid parental leave of 18 weeks. Dulski says she believes the policies have helped ease hiring and improve employee retention for Change.

Step four: 

Create a culture where asking for what you want is normal.

This one isn't easy--and changing culture takes time. Dulski suggests a baby step toward open communications between employees and managers is creating a system where employees are rewarded in ways that actually motivate them. The trick is: That's different for everyone. Some employees love praise, others love flexibility, and others value money above all else.

How Change did it:

Dulski says employees were asked to fill out a motivational pie chart, indicating what things motivate them to work hard--and how the company was doing in rewarding them. "What it does is it allows people to bring up compensation in a friendlier context, in terms of other things they care about," she says.

Published on: Nov 7, 2014