Educators across the country have tool boxes full of strategies and materials to build equitable and inclusive classrooms. And for many, planning a lesson begins with the Universal Design for Learning method, rooted in representation, engagement and expression and meant to allow every student the support and motivation needed to access all lessons.

As companies work to ensure teams are recruiting and retaining a diverse workforce, similar needs are echoed across the tech industry.

At GoGuardian, the commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion sits at the heart of the organization’s goal of building a tech workforce ready to build products that serve every student.

According to Chief Diversity and Public Affairs Officer Dionna Smith, “The tech industry has gaps in representation, which means diversity and inclusion initiatives are necessary. Companies must start building for everyone now, even as they work to improve diversity and inclusion over the long term.”

For Smith, fostering diversity within the company will not only support internal culture at GoGuardian but also help create more inclusive products, as well. “If we think about those at the margins and build to ensure their needs are addressed, those in between will likely also be served,” she wrote in April 2023. 

Smith’s appointment to her role in August 2022 has been transformative to the DEI work within the company, according to Earl Turner III, senior researcher in equity research & development, and Will Anyu, a senior program manager on the same team.

“Hiring a CDO and providing her with the support to build her team has allowed our internal team to rethink and redevelop DEI through programs like our employee resource groups. Externally, our equity research and development team is focused on examining outcome gaps associated with challenges faced by students from groups that have been historically marginalized,” they shared with Built In.

Since joining GoGuardian, Smith has focused her recruiting efforts toward reaching underrepresented groups in tech, including through historically Black colleges and universities, women’s colleges and Hispanic-serving institutions. Those efforts led her to bring on talent like Anyu, who previously researched how to build equity for first-generation and low-income students in higher education. As the team focuses on building long-term opportunities through equitable services, his experience offers a wide lens on preparing students for post-secondary success.

Turner, who joined GoGuardian in 2020, believes that the task at hand is a natural progression from his work with K-12 students. 

“As a lifelong educator passionate about educating all students, particularly those from marginalized populations, our work within the equity research and development team is close to my heart,” he said. 

Smith sums up the journey of building equitable outcomes succinctly. “All my life, education has been this great equalizer,” she said. “With innovations in education technology, a student’s zipcode no longer has to determine their access to life changing educational resources.”

Built In heard from Turner and Anyu about how their work in equity and inclusion is supporting GoGuardian’s mission and values and creating a work environment that supports the company’s diverse team.

 

DEI Priorities at GoGuardian

According to Smith, “Ultimately, our goal is to be able to create products and programs that can benefit all students. We are uniquely positioned to make a huge difference in how we can use technology to add equity to education.”

As part of her belief that “the future of edtech must focus on equity,” Smith has put internal practices in place that support the DEI mission both internally and externally at GoGuardian.

Per an April blog post from the company, those priorities include:

  • Co-creation with internal groups
  • Co-creation with partners with specific expertise
  • Inclusive testing
  • Product development

 

How does diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging relate to GoGuardian’s mission and values?

GoGuardian’s mission embodies our commitment to DEI. We envision a future where all learners are ready and inspired to solve the world’s greatest challenges. Our company values include advocating for all, committing with accountability, engaging with courage, thinking customers first, experimenting and learning and seeking solutions together. 

 

What is on the horizon for GoGuardian’s DEI efforts?

Turner and Anyu: One of my favorite quotes states, “go where you are celebrated, not just tolerated.”

Too often, we are in spaces where we don’t feel welcomed or wanted. Resources like employee resource groups are of utmost importance as they serve as a space where people feel their voices are heard. As a person of African descent, I love being part of the African American/Black ERG. Simultaneously, as a parent, I enjoy learning from other parents throughout Parents and Caregivers ERG.

 

 

What were the origins of GoGuardian’s equity research and development team? What work is the team doing now?

Turner and Anyu: The origins of GoGuardian’s Equity Research and Development Team can be traced back to the vision of Dionna Smith, our chief diversity officer. She advocated for a more equitable education system, realizing the importance of understanding and catering to the diverse needs of our customer base. Recognizing the challenges preventing many students from marginalized communities from accessing a high-quality learning experience, Smith initiated the formation of the equity research and development team, which is committed to helping the education system rectify these disparities.

Subsequently, we came together to draft a vision that laid out three pillars of commitment to equity research; student, family, and educator needs, market trends, and regulatory landscape, with distinct short-, medium-, and long-term goals to guide the organization’s DEI efforts. In the short-term, the first goal was to develop a shared definition of equity within the company, enabling everyone on the team to align their actions with this overarching principle. The second goal was to create a comprehensive and structured framework to guide our actions toward achieving educational equity. The third goal was to set and align on objectives that would allow us to support the K-12 education system’s quest for educational equity.

By meeting these goals, GoGuardian will be able to engage in empathetic conversations with education stakeholders, gaining a deeper understanding of the systemic inequities students face in the education field. We began with an internal evaluation of educational equity. Thus far, the insights derived from these conversations will be instrumental in shaping our product development strategy, enabling us to create more targeted solutions that can effectively serve diverse student populations.

As of now, the Equity Research and Development Team is working tirelessly to realize these goals. Our current work is centered on leveraging our research findings to optimize our understanding of product offerings, ensuring that they are accessible and beneficial to students from all backgrounds. Additionally, we will partner with educators, schools, and districts to implement these solutions, striving to make a tangible impact on student’s lives. We aim to drive systemic change in the education sector through these endeavors, one student at a time.

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