Candid Talk About Diversity and Inclusion, With Jennifer Skrapits, Beacon’s Head of HR

Where did you grow up, what is your background?

I am the daughter of a Hungarian immigrant and a second-generation Italian. My mother was born in the Bronx and my father was born in Hungary. He escaped in 1956 during the Hungarian Revolution.

I grew up in a small town in Westchester county in New York, which has since been put on the map by New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, although we were a few years apart in school.

After high school I went to college in Boston and landed an unpaid internship at PaineWebber where I fell in love with the markets! After graduating I got a job as a sales assistant at an investment bank to get my foot in the door, and eventually worked my way up to trader and then sales trader. I worked as a trader for eight years before taking a leap and joining Beacon as Head of Human Resources and Business Management.

How have your past experiences with diversity influenced Beacon’s efforts?

Growing up with a father who was a NYC school teacher, I was included in many activities that exposed me to people with diverse ethnicities, backgrounds, and life experiences. During high school my parents arranged a summer long visit to Europe, where my love of traveling and passion for experiencing different cultures around the world began. This helped me realize that we should meet people that encourage us to expand our worldview and be able to relate to people from many different walks of life.

As one of the few women working on the trading floor, I was very aware of what it feels like to be in the minority and excluded from some groups and activities. As I moved into HR, I was acutely aware how important it is to make sure that we respect and include everyone and make them feel welcome. The effects of this attitude on a company’s culture are considerable, as are the contributions of a diverse team of employees to our overall results.

What value does diversity bring to Beacon?

I think that diversity contributes two very important benefits to Beacon: it expands our pool of potential employees, and it increases the number of viewpoints on a problem or opportunity. As a growing company in a complex and competitive environment, having the broadest possible set of candidates helps us get the best people. And that diverse set of people bring their individual experiences to work, improving our product development, customer support, and employee experiences. As we say in one of our Beacon Core Values: “We foster an environment where our differences are valued and respected, because it’s the right thing to do and because applying different perspectives to problems is a better way of solving them.” When you are building a new paradigm for an industry, the value of different thinking is enormous.

What actions are you taking to make sure that everyone feels included and that these values flow throughout the organization?

Action is the important word here, because making a difference in diversity and inclusion requires active participation from everyone in the company, especially the executive committee and managers. We start with strong, positive statements that everyone at Beacon is treated with dignity and respect, and that we celebrate our differences. And then we put that into practice with Diversity & Inclusion Training from Traliant that is mandatory for all employees, and are working with Stonewall, the UK’s largest LGBT charity, to enhance our team’s understanding of LGBT identities, experiences, and active allyship. We regularly survey our staff to understand what they are experiencing personally and identify areas that require additional focus. These values are incorporated into our hiring and performance review processes, and when giving employees feedback we ask what values have been demonstrated.

We also understand that work is just one part of our lives and that we are all part of larger communities. We acknowledge and honor multiple religious and cultural practices, and make sure that employees get leave for holidays that are important to them but are not (yet) incorporated in the official company calendar. And we actively find ways to bring the team together, with weekly catch-up meetings, company updates, and (for now) virtual social events. Pre-COVID we had plans for potluck lunches where staff could showcase food from their culture and background, because eating together is a great way to build relationships!

How does the executive team express their commitment to diversity?

It’s easy to talk about and promote Diversity & Inclusion, but for real change and results in an organization, leaders have to lead by example. At Beacon, these initiatives started with the executive team, who felt strongly enough about it that it is one of our core values. Our executive team itself is reasonably diverse, and actively works to foster a culture where every person is welcome, heard, and respected. We had suggestion boxes in the office, which have migrated to online surveys as the company has grown and is operating remotely. These leaders also encourage diverse thinking, seeing it as a useful mechanism for generating ideas and getting valuable feedback, while also creating an environment that makes everyone feel relevant and part of a shared mission.

How do you get feedback on diversity/inclusion and ensure that people feel listened to and that managers are held accountable?

We started with anonymous surveys, and then created a Diversity & Inclusion committee to review the results and take appropriate actions. We recently opened a Diversity & Inclusion chatroom for all employees, where they can make suggestions to the Committee or speak freely on current world issues.

For managers, we start with leading by example from the executive committee and augment this with statistics and diversity scorecards for each group. For a small company this is a careful balancing act, as the stats can swing dramatically with the change of one or two people. But it keeps the issue at the forefront of our managers’ efforts as they work to grow and develop their team.

How is diversity impacting your recruiting efforts?

We begin with job descriptions, reviewing them to try and identify and eliminate any exclusive language. Then we use a variety of job posting boards, hiring fairs, community programs, and recruitment consultancies to draw as broad a slate of potential candidates as we can. With remote working and office locations in Tokyo, London, and New York, we also have the advantage of attracting candidates from diverse markets and cultures. This brings an added dimension of working with, and welcoming, a multilingual workforce, and ensuring that employees feel comfortable and secure communicating in their preferred language. And when communicating with potential candidates, we ask them from the outset about any preferences for pronouns or titles that impact identity.