By Karyn Lu, Director of Digital Experience and Chief Diversity Officer, Four Winds Interactive
As an Asian-American woman who has worked in tech for 15 years, diversity is something that’s
always been top of mind. It’s hard not to think about it during this era of #MeToo, from
scandals at innovative companies like Uber, to CES coming under fire for its selection of 2018
keynote speakers. The list goes on.
When I first moved to Denver a year ago, I started to feel like a minority a lot more strongly.
Compared to the east coast, where I came from, there’s not a lot of racial diversity overall, and
especially not in the tech community. I was lucky enough to land a job I loved as Director of
Digital Experience at Four Winds Interactive, overseeing design and culture for a wonderful
team. However, whether I was at work or a networking event, I was often startled to notice
that I was the only woman or only person of color in the room.
People culture is one of the three key pillars at FWI, and its amazing culture + investment in
people were key reasons I fell in love with the company. However, I felt disappointed when our
annual company kickoff in January did not overtly mention a commitment to diversity. When I
brought it up with Courtney Graham, our head of People Ops, that conversation turned into a
pivotal and wonderfully catalyzing moment. Courtney affirmed our company’s commitment to
diversity, told me about numerous initiatives that were already in the works, and invited me to
help shape them for FWI.
A company called Culture Amp started an experiment recently where they rotate their D&I
leadership role every year. As they explain in their blog: “Not even the bravest D&I leader will
go it alone because a single person has both a limited amount of empathy and an acute
awareness of their blind spots. Our Head of Diversity and Inclusion will rotate annually,
introducing new perspectives to the function and developing more advocates across the
organization over time.” I loved this approach and so did Courtney, so we decided to adopt it at
FWI. I especially love the idea of not hiring an outside person into a role like this (which can
often feel like a token move), but rather drawing from our existing pool of incredibly engaged
employees. I’m proud to serve as FWI’s first-ever Chief Diversity Officer (2018-19) and am
working to set the stage so that whomever comes next can make even more of an impact.
Diversity means a lot of different things, some of which you can see and some you can’t. At
FWI, we focus on fostering “2D diversity.” A study reported in the December 2013 Harvard
Business Review defines that concept as a combination of “inherent diversity” (involving traits
you were born with) and “acquired diversity” (the unique stuff you gain from life experience).
The study states: “By correlating diversity in leadership with market outcomes… we learned
that companies with 2-D diversity out-innovate and out-perform others. Employees at these
companies are 45% likelier to report that their firm’s market share grew over the previous year
and 70% likelier to report that the firm captured a new market.” There is no shortage of
compelling data on this front.
At FWI, these are the three pillars we have built our D&I foundation upon:
1. SHOW UP — There are many ways we can better show up in our local community as
volunteers, mentors and advocates. A few examples include our partnerships with Denver
Public Schools and CU Denver, as well as support of fantastic organizations like SheSays Denver
and Women of Denver.
2. LEARN – Diversity can be a tricky and sometimes awkward topic to talk about. We are
helping each other find a common language through company-wide training on topics like
3. CELEBRATE — Conversations around diversity can easily turn into “us vs. them” but at the
end of the day, we have so much more in common than not. We want to intentionally set a
celebratory tone. One of my favorite initiatives is an annual FWI cookbook where we aim to
celebrate our diverse workforce through the communal bonds of food.
We already know that diversity in the workplace drives innovation and leads to greater
profitability. But even better than that, it creates community. And a great community paves the
way for collaboration, psychological safety and a greater sense of purpose. That’s my north star.
The conversations we are starting here at FWI are timely, and important, and I couldn’t be
prouder of us for being brave enough to have them.
Happily, we are not alone. Recently, we serendipitously discovered that other Denver tech
companies have been on a similar journey. We have formed a sisterhood with our friends at
HGID (HealthGrades Inclusion & Diversity) to share progress, ideas and lessons learned as we
formulate these commitments at our respective companies. There are others within
the Colorado Technology Recruiting Coalition that are on parallel paths as well. What if,
together, we can create a reputation for Denver’s tech community as a beacon for companies
willing to have this conversation and evolve together? That’s a community and a vision I would
be proud to be a part of, and I’m committed to helping to make that happen.
Karyn Lu is the Director of Digital Experience & Chief Diversity Officer (a new, annually rotating role) at Four Winds Interactive. Prior to FWI, she spent nearly a decade at CNN, and with several startups & nonprofits, in roles ranging from UX to digital strategy to futurist. She has been a TEDx & Creative Mornings speaker, and her work has earned a Webby Award & a CES Innovation Award. A recent transplant to Colorado, Karyn lives in the greater Denver area with her husband, two young sons and their muppet dog.