Hackathons have been a part of Dwolla‘s internal team culture from the beginning. For those unfamiliar, a hackathon is loosely defined as people working collaboratively—hours on end—to solve or “hack” on a specific problem or passion project they have that’s related to the company.

Over the years, hackathons have evolved and shifted in focus. Sometimes the hackathon is open to the public, other times it’s focused on growth or backend engineering improvements. In our most recent quarterly hackathon—on a Thursday and Friday last month—we decided to try something new—a diversity and inclusion themed hackathon.

As an organization we hold the core belief that the best teams are built by the inclusion of diverse ideas, experiences and people. In holding true to that belief, we set aside dedicated company time to encourage each team member to think critically and consider what diversity and inclusion meant to them. Easy enough, right?

Staying true to our core

We’ve been exploring who we are and have an evolving set of core beliefs that define us.

Prior to our hackathon, we selected four phrases that describe the people who make up our company:

  • We are inventors, creators and believers
  • Inclusion fuels innovation
  • Money equals data
  • We are never done

We intend for these core beliefs to act as our guiding principles and philosophies as we build our company. As we continue to grow our team, we won’t talk about “culture fit,” we’ll ask ourselves how each potential new teammate aligns to our core beliefs.

The hackathon provided us an opportunity to dedicate time to explore each of these core beliefs. We held five, one hour sessions to explore our core beliefs and discover anything we missed. Our core belief statements pack a lot of meaning into a small package and like our team, the whole of our core beliefs is greater than the sum of the parts.

We believe our core beliefs will be best if they are vetted by a group of people with diverse backgrounds and experiences. We wanted to make sure our words represented who we are and who we aspire to be. We pushed ourselves to become uncomfortable and ask challenging questions such as “what perspective might we be missing” and “what might our customers think when they read this”?

Talking about our core beliefs in this way was very gratifying and while we know we are never done, we convinced ourselves that we were on the right track.

Being comfortable with being uncomfortable

Where does one start when given the theme of diversity and inclusion? How does this impact our roles in the company? How do we step out of our comfort zone into a topic we don’t normally “hack” on? Diversity is an extremely broad and complicated term that can be overwhelming, but it was through the challenge and discomfort that created the open discussion and the seed for improvement internally.

While we have held various trainings related to diversity and inclusion, this was an opportunity to actively engage in the effort while having some fun.

Acting intentional

Not only was it fascinating to hear the various pitches from colleagues related to the theme, but you also could feel a distinct, powerful energy in the room.

There was a unique presence within this hackathon that was evident as cross-functional teams came together to collaborate on an idea—regardless of their department. As an organization, we became more deliberate on what we all could do to build a diverse and inclusive workplace. Ideas ranged from creating a handicap accessible website to setting up lunch groups for team members to get to know each other.

Our guest speaker Susan Parker owner of Sparker Solutions and currently at Danfoss, joined us to speak about developing intentional inclusive practices for an international company and how they can benefit the workplace.

For an international company, even the smallest things such as finding a time that works for everyone to meet, or understanding cultural differences proved a challenge to conquer.

Susan admitted that finding solutions to these challenges was not always an easy task to implement, especially when some of her colleagues were in completely different time zones.

However, as the company has expanded, they realized that these cultural differences are important factors that need to be considered if the organization wanted to build an inclusive working environment.

She stressed the importance of, “Honoring the person in front of you,” which is a simple rule anyone can recognize within their personal and professional life.

There’s always room for fun

It wouldn’t be a normal hackathon, if there wasn’t a little fun involved. While some hacks were more tech focused, there were others that didn’t require any computers at all.

A shoebox, construction paper, stickers, glitter (optional), scissors and a little touch of creativity was the list of supplies needed for a shoebox hack to gather input on a company initiative. It turned out great and was one of the hacks that was feasible within a two-day time period.

Not only were the ideas “out of the box” but through the entire week, we shared laughs and stories with colleagues we don’t normally get to chat with during the busy work week. The hackathon served as a valuable catalyst as we continue to dive further into ways to create a more diverse and inclusive space.

In the end, it’s important to remember that progress in furthering our core belief of diversity and inclusion is—as they say—a journey and not a destination. It takes time and patience.

We are never done as an organization and look forward to seeing the extending efforts to not only educate, but learn from those around us.


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